Reformation Returns You to Repentance and Righteousness
Reformation Day [Observed]
Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity
Commemoration of Simon and Jude, Apostles
October 28, 2018
Here are some questions for you to ponder on this celebration of Reformation Day:
If we are saved by the Gospel and not the Law, do we still need the Law? If the Law of God condemns you, is the Law of God bad? Since the Law ultimately condemns you, does God do away with the Law?
This is why this is puzzling: You are saved only by the Gospel, only by what God does. Not by anything you do. You are saved by the Gospel, not by the Law. So it would seem that we need only the Gospel and not the Law.
But God in His Scriptures has a different take on that. The apostle Paul says a few verses after today’s Epistle reading that we uphold the Law. Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount that He has come not come to abolish but to fulfill the Law.
Let’s be abundantly clear, in no way does the Law save you or even have any part in your salvation. And yet, the Law is very much alive and vital to your life as a Christian. So what is the purpose of the Law? How are we to use it?
The answer is in the exact opposite of the way we use it. We use it to justify ourselves. We use it to show ourselves how good we are. We use it to prop ourselves up. To compare ourselves with others. To show God how pleased He must be with us.
That is how we use the Law. NOT the way we’re supposed to use it!
And that my friends is why there was a Reformation. The one we’re celebrating took place 501 years ago. And yet, God’s Holy Church has always gone through times of reformation. You can see that it happened many times in the Old Testament. It is described many times in the New Testament. We see from Church history that it has happened many times since. We are in need of reformation today.
The Scripture readings for today show us what reformation does. It takes you back to repentance and to righteousness. Since we misuse the Law of God, we need the Law more than ever. And what does the Law of God primarily do for those of us who misuse it? It convicts. It condemns. It reveals. You do not like what it reveals. In the Epistle reading Paul says that through the Law comes knowledge of sin. Not knowledge of how good you are or that you’ve measured up or that at least you’re better than the many hypocrites you know.
No, unfortunately for you and your sinful flesh, all you ultimately get from the Law in your inflated sense of yourself is knowledge of your sin and the condemnation you are under.
So why does God wish to condemn you in such a way? Why does He wish to point out your sin and your utter inability to measure up to His Law? The answer is reformation. He wants to reform you. He has already saved you. But you continue to go back to the Law and live as though your salvation and good favor with God rests in yourself. You will never measure up. God’s will perfect. His Law is holy. Every sin you commit is a strike against your faith. You constantly fall short and always will. You need to repent.
In the Church of Martin Luther’s day, but also in other times in history including our own day, the message was that you must get right with God. This is what Luther was struggling with. What could he do to be the Christian God called him to be? No matter how Luther tried he saw that he failed. The harder he tried the greater His failure.
But there was a breakthrough for him. It came not through the Law but through the Gospel. This was at the heart of the Reformation and what always is at the heart of every time the Church needs to be reformed and every Christian that needs to be reformed. It is righteousness. But not just righteousness. That would just take you back to the Law. It is what Paul say in the Epistle, the righteousness of God.This is something completely different. Completely new. Totally from outside of yourself. Not something you produce but what God provides. How? Through faith in Jesus Christ.
This faith, Paul says, is apart from works of the Law. It is not something inherent to you. Not something you produce or come up with or maintain. It is all gift. It is all given to you by the Holy Spirit. All produced by God for you so that you may believe what Christ has done for you, that He saved you in His death and resurrection. There is no Law here, the righteousness of God is pure Gospel. Pure gift given to you.
In the Epistle we are shown that the Law and the Prophets witnessed to this righteousness of God. In the Gospel reading Jesus speaks of a towering figure in the history of His Church. We can readily think of people larger than life God raised up to bring His people back to Him, calling them to repentance. Moses, Elijah, Peter, of course on this festival day we think of Luther. Paul is another. In the Gospel reading Jesus speaks of John the Baptist. He says that all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John—and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.
Luther had some similarity with John the Baptist in that John came along in a time when the Church needed to be reformed. Listen to his preaching at the beginning of Matthew; it is harsh, severe Law. He calls people to repentance so that they may see the righteousness of God instead of holding on to their own. He also Baptized people. He Baptized them with water. He was paving the way for the one who would Baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, Jesus Christ.
The Law and the Prophets prophesied until John. He was the Elijah who was to come. Now that he had come, he did his work. Preparing the way, pointing people to the one who had been promised. John was a preacher and prophet of pure Gospel, showing people their salvation in the person of Jesus. When Jesus was Baptized by John Jesus said that it was in order to fulfill all righteousness. That is because Jesus is Himself the righteousness of God. He is the Gospel in the flesh.
Salvation is in Him and Him alone. Not in yourself. Not in what you do. Not in what you’re supposed to do. Not in the Law. In Jesus Christ alone. Don’t look upon our celebration of the Reformation as an annual celebration. Your life in Christ is a daily reformation. You are Baptized. You are daily returning to repentance and righteousness. You daily die and rise. You daily repent of your sins and daily arise to new life in Christ’s resurrection.
Just as our annual celebration of Easter isn’t the only time we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, so reformation for us must be an ongoing thing. What all those men God raised up sought to do was point the people of God’s Holy Church to Christ and Christ alone. Whether it was Moses or John or Paul or Luther, there is only one person that they could point you to who not only could save you but has saved you.
But you may be thinking, so that’s it? Saved by grace, not by Law—I don’t do anything? Yes, you are saved, He has done it all. But you still want to do something? He has given you more grace. Be here, where you are forgiven and your faith is strengthened. Be in the Word, where you are filled with the mind of God. Be the person He has called you to be, serving others in their needs. He has given you to them so they may see Christ.
And when you fail and are in need of reformation, repent. You are Baptized. You have the Righteousness of God, Christ Himself. Amen.