The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. 21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.
“Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”
In these two verses, God makes it absolutely clear that the whole world, every single person who ever was, who is, and who will ever be stands accountable under the Law and before God. No one escapes the Law and its judgment (apart from Christ). No one, no flesh will be justified, that is made righteous by works, or thoughts, or words, or good intentions, or on the merits of personality.
God says here, “under the Law . . . every mouth may be closed” and “no flesh will be justified in His sight.” This is the result of the Law. The Law was not given by God to sinners to make sinners holy. It was given as a theological and moral mirror to show us what we are–Sinners through and through. It was given to shut our mouths and to teach us that under the Law we are not righteousness. As Paul was given to write in Romans 3:23 & 27 “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” “Where then is boasting? It is excluded.”
The purpose of the Law of God is to show human beings that we are sinners, that we fall short of the glory, and that we need a righteousness that comes from outside of us.
Martin Luther did not discover the Law. That wasn’t the problem in his day. The Law was omnipresent. In fact, that was the problem. Mixing the Law in with the Gospel had always been a problem for the Church. That problem reaches back into both the Old and New Testament church alike.
What Martin Luther was made to see was 1.) the purpose and function of the Law and 2.) he was made to see the righteousness that came through Jesus Christ. John 1:16-17 “16 For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. 17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.”
It was through the book of Romans that God taught Luther (and the rest of us) the difference between the righteousness of the Law and the righteousness that is given in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ and through the means of grace-the Word and the Sacrament Ministry.
Before writing the two verses of our opening Epistle lesson for this morning (Rom. 3:19-20), St. Paul had laid out his argument in the previous two and half chapters of the epistle, some 60+ verses. In those 60 verses Paul argued that the Gentile and Jew stand under the judgment of the Law. Romans 2:12 “For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law.” All die because all are sinners.
Luther came to see that the Law cannot and does not save anyone. It only condemns and gets in the way of salvation when wrongly understood and used. Thus, Thesis #1 of the Heidelberg Disputation. “The law of God, the most salutary doctrine of life, cannot advance man on his way to righteousness, but rather hinders him.”
Now the first part of that sentence you can agree with. It’s the last part that gets in the way. But as long as people think they are keeping the law and doing what is pleasing to God, they are trusting in their own work, rather than in Christ’s work. Thus trying to keep the law as a way to please God the Father hinders the work of the Gospel.
On the other hand St. Paul wrote, it is 21“apart from the Law [that] the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe.”
This was the great rediscovery of the Reformation, the righteousness of God is twofold. There is the righteousness of God according to the Law which brings about judgment and death. Then there is the righteousness of God that is given away freely in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. Thus, Romans 1:16-17. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it [the Gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”
Here God teaches us that there is second kind of righteousness born in the grace and Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a righteousness that comes to us apart from the Law, apart from who we are and what we do.
The great mistake and the great lie is to mix the Law and the Gospel so that one is taught or believes that faith and good works combine to bring create an acceptable righteousness before God, thus producing forgiveness and salvation.
Luther turned the world upside down when he wrote and argued in Heidelberg in 1518. That “the law says, ‘do this’, and it is never done. Grace says, ‘believe in this’, and everything is already done.” And “He is not righteous who does much, but he who, without work, believes much in Christ.”
The entire Reformation, its preaching, doctrine, worship, Gospel freedom, educational reforms, vocation, and all the other spiritual and temporal benefits flow from this fundamental discovery – the discovery that there are two kinds of righteousness – one according to the Law and the other which comes from God by grace alone.
Again Luther, “Finally after days and nights of wrestling with the difficulty [The righteousness of God], God had mercy on me… I began to understand that the righteousness of God… is [to be understood] in a passive sense; that righteousness through which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, the just shall live by faith’. “Then I felt as if I had been completely reborn and had entered Paradise through widely opened doors. Instantly all Scripture looked different to me … As intensely as I had formerly hated the expression, the righteousness of God, I now loved and praised it as the sweetest of concepts.”
The righteousness of the Law requires an active all consuming and impossible obedience. No wonder Luther hated God. He understood that becoming righteous by way of the Law was a truly impossible task. If this was indeed the way God had given to salvation, then God must indeed be a cruel and intolerable God Who demands perfection from you even though you can’t even come close to it.
God has given, in the true sense of the word, given us the righteous obedience, life, and death of Jesus Christ. Christ was active and obedient as the fulfiller of the Law and did so in your place.
Verse 24 teaches that this righteousness, this justification is “a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness.”
Propitiation means to “calm, to placate, to soothe, or mollify.” Sin earns God’s anger. God’s anger over sin needed to be placated, calmed, soothed. It was by Christ, not by our pitiful attempts that satisfied the righteous anger of a holy God, that God’s anger was satisfied.
Christ Jesus was displayed for the whole world to see as a blood payment for sin. His propitiation satisfied the righteous anger God the Father had toward sin, toward your sin, and toward you..
This Gospel is free and freely given to you in the means of grace. You are righteous. You are forgiven. Not just a little righteous or a little forgiven. Not just partly righteous or partly forgiven. Not event mostly righteous and mostly forgiven. You are completely righteous and completely forgiven because you wear the righteousness of God Himself.
Through Christ, you are in perfect harmony with the will of God. You are judged not guilty of any and all wrongs. Although you have sinned in thought, word, and deed, God does not judged you by the Law. Rather, by the declaration of the Almighty Judge, you are declared to be the righteousness of God.
There is no room for boasting in yourselves. Instead, boast in Christ. Live in the Gospel. You are nothing. He is everything. We don’t have to try to balance the scales. Through Holy Baptism and in the preached Word of God, you have been wrapped in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. You have become the righteousness of God.
May the peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.