+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: John 8:36
Theme: Freed In Christ
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
God never leaves unfinished business. The freedom we have in Jesus Christ from the penalty of sin and the punishment of death is not the result of God’s apathy about sin. Every violation of God’s holiness must be punished. In Christ it was. The Father does not overlook sin. He sent His Son as a sacrifice on behalf of the world. The Holy Spirit grants individuals the faith to believe that sacrifice is for them.
Today as we celebrate the renewal of the church through the rediscovery of the gospel we are mindful of these central truths from which the church continues to draw her life. The Reformation was not about a single man, a single issue, a single abuse, or a single error that had beset the church. It wasn’t simply about indulgences or papal abuses. It was about everything relating to and flowing from the certainty of how one received God’s favour in Christ.
The traditional date of the Reformation is marked by the pinning of 95 statements for discussion about Christian theology and practice to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany by an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther, on October 31st, 1517. It was a small stone that started an avalanche. It was a tremor that started a tsunami. It changed the history of Christianity and the lives of millions of people.
How do we measure the import and impact of the Reformation today? A few pointed questions might be helpful. How important is the forgiveness of sins? What value do you place on it? What assurances do you need that you possess it? On what basis do you have peace of mind that God’s favour rests on you? The answers to these questions go a long way in determining if the struggle of the Reformation is still relevant to you.
Martin Luther was a man caught between heaven and hell. In the accusations of Satan Luther recognized the portal to hell. He longed to have his conscience freed. Freed not from some blatant sin but freed from doubt. He agonized over his failure to meet God’s righteous demands. The Saviour says, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed,”1 Luther brought to light again the meaning of true freedom in Christ.
He did this in a way many did not expect. Christ says also today, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”2 Here Luther was a faithful student of the Apostle Paul. The essence of sin cannot be assessed by our observation. We cannot quantify or define it.
Symptoms are often mistaken for the cause. The thoughts, words, and deeds that offend God and harm others are symptoms of a deeper reality. The act of sinning does not make one a sinner. We transgress because we are already sinners by nature. The water from the well of human procreation is deadly because it is poisoned.
Luther understood the implications of this truth with profound clarity. He said in the Smalcald Articles, “This hereditary sin is such a deep corruption of nature that no reason can understand it. Rather, it must be believed from the revelation of Scripture.”3This truth in no way downplays or makes light of the innumerable actual sins committed everyday. It does not excuse your lying, your lust, or your selfishness. It does not make light of your unkindness, your hard-heartedness, your apathy and your anger. You are still accountable for every misstep and guilty for every violation of God’s holy law.
Justification by faith- if it means anything earth-shattering, anything life-altering, anything mold-breaking- requires real sinners. Only the sick need a physician. Only the lost need finding. The grace secured and offered by the blood of the Lamb serves only souls truly bound for hell. Never underestimate the seriousness of the law’s condemnation. Never downplay the reality of your guilt. Doing so only robs Christ of His glory. Luther was intent on showing the glory of Christ was revealed on the cross and therefore the repentant soul should never despair over the favour of God.
For Luther the spiritual world was alive, palpable, and dynamic. Angels were not the flitting cherubs but powerful agents authorized by the highest power. Satan was not a paper tiger. Heaven was not a platonic state of mind. For Luther the cosmos was locked in a cosmic struggle between good and evil.
And yet Luther also understood things viscerally. He was immensely practical. He was no academic locked away in an ivory tower. For Luther faith was no pie-in-the sky, philosophical, esoteric religious triumph. It was not a theoretical achievement. He was no Humanist. Faith put the Christian at the coalface. The baptized are immersed in a cosmic struggle. The struggle with sin is the daily contest in which the Christian is necessarily engaged. There is no opting out, no exceptions.
The enduring relevance of Luther lies not only in the breadth of his theological genius but in his capacity to relate to the common person in the midst of struggle with extraordinary ability. Luther was a man for the people. Luther also felt Satan’s attacks and the attacks of his opponents very personally. He understood that false teachings in the church were well established and assiduously protected. The heart of what he fought for was where he most acutely felt the pressure. Where could the certainty of God’s grace be found? And in what did Luther take refuge? In his baptism! In the Scriptures! And in Christ, and Him crucified. The heart of God was revealed at the crucifixion.
What is more reliable the promise of God and the work of the Holy Spirit or human reason and assessment? Wherein is the certainty of salvation found; in our own efforts or in the sacrifice of the Lamb of God? For Luther the answer was clear. Sinners “are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus,”4 as the Scriptures say. Christ was condemned and sentenced by sinners and yet hung there on the cross for their salvation.
Yet the grave could not hold Him so sin will not have dominion over you. Christ is living. He is reigning. The resurrection is not simply an historical anomaly; the risen Christ rules at the Father’s right hand. He has atoned for sin. He has conquered death. He comes to us here and now in time and space. You hear His word of absolution. You receive onto your lips His sacrificed body and into your mouth His holy, precious blood. He meets you in the holy meal with forgiveness, life, and salvation.
The Reformation helped Christians focus on ultimate things in a very practical way. The Christian learns to live in view of death. That doesn’t mean we have a morbid fixation with dying. It means we measure and value this life from the perspective of the much greater vitality that awaits us. We are not only freed from sin’ condemnation we are freed to love others selflessly as Christ has loved us. If we are not dying to self we are not living to God in Christ. We are practicing for eternity. We are already citizens of heaven. The church in glory continues to grow. The Holy Spirit continues to gather into eternal bliss the elect of God who finish the good fight of faith in this earthly life. He has already gathered the prophets and apostles, the martyrs and confessors, the Luthers and the saints numbered for heaven and through Christ has recorded you in the Lamb’s Book of Life5 too.
+ In nomine Jesu +
27 October 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 John 8:36
2 John 8:34
3 SA III, I
4 Romans 3:24
5 See Revelation 20:5