On this Reformation Sunday, Pastor Neil preaches on “Grace Unknown.” The story of Martin Luther and the implications for us today. Here are some excerpts.
After being scolded by her father for misbehaving, a 4-year-old girl said to him: “Daddy, sometimes I am good, and sometimes I am bad. And that is just the way it is” (Tony Smith, www.preachingtoday.com). That is the truth, isn’t it? We all do bad things, and the good things we do are not good enough to commend us to God or to justify us in His sight. Sometimes we are good, and sometimes we are bad. And that is just the way it is. If we are depending on our own goodness or righteousness to get us in good with God, it is a lost cause.
Listen to Luther again as he explains that the righteousness by which we are justified in God’s sight is not our own: A Christian, he says, “is righteous and holy by an alien or foreign holiness – I call it this for the sake of instruction – that is, we are righteous by the mercy and grace of God. This mercy and grace is not something human; it is not some sort of disposition or quality in our hearts. It is a divine blessing, given us through the true knowledge of the Gospel, when we know or believe that our sin has been forgiven through the grace and merit of Christ…. Is not this righteousness an alien righteousness? It consists completely in the indulgence [a word with which Luther was well acquainted!] of another and is a pure gift of God, who shows mercy and favor for Christ’s sake” (Quoted in Sproul, Grace Unknown, 67).
The words “justified” and “justification” are legal terms. Both justification and its opposite, condemnation (of which Luther, as a young man, was terrified), are pronouncements of a court, whether judge or jury. In negative terms, to be justified is to be declared not guilty. In positive terms, it is to be declared innocent – righteous – and thus not deserving of any punishment or penalty. With respect to our relationship with God, to be justified is to be declared righteous – not guilty – in the sight of God.
If Romans 3:23 were all we knew of the Bible’s message, we would, like Luther, live in terror of God and His just judgment. If “all” means all when it says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God;” how can anybody ever be justified or declared righteous in God’s sight? Only by this alien righteousness of which Luther spoke – by the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed (credited) to us by the grace of God.
You probably know this acronym for GRACE: God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense. John Stott describes grace as “God loving, God stooping, God coming to the rescue, God giving Himself generously in and through Jesus Christ” (Stott, 112).
The source of our justification is grace. God’s grace. It is all by grace, the grace displayed most dramatically and completely in the saving work of Jesus on the cross. The voluntary, sacrificial, redeeming death of Jesus on the cross – to pay the debt we owe to God because of our sin – is the ground of our justification. In the ancient world, redemption involved paying a ransom or the debt owed by another to set a person free…
Grace Unknown. Pastor Neil has a lot more to say about this topic. Please click on the link below to hear the sermon in its entirety.