Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1324
Dr. Ed Pettus October 29, 2017 Galatians 6:11-18
(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)
“Reformed According to God’s Word”
There has been a lot of buzz on the internet leading up to this day. It is Reformation Sunday and this year marks 500 years since the famed nailing of Martin Luther’s protest against the church. Luther was not attempting to start a new branch or a new church, but really trying to reform what already was. The Catholic Church was the only church in town for Europeans. I learned that the Orthodox Church, Greek Orthodox in particular, had actually cut ties with Roman Catholicism 500 years before the Reformation. But that’s another story.
Today we celebrate the Protestant movement of which we are a part. A recent article on the internet said that Luther took about eight years to get his theology in the form that would eventually reshape the understanding of the gospel that differed from the Roman Catholic Church. Luther was not alone in this Reformation movement. There were many others like John Calvin who we consider the father of the Presbyterian understanding of theology and church government. But what I found interesting about this article were the main books of the Bible that led Luther to his new found revelations from Scripture.
The Psalms were a primary source for Luther. He had been preaching and teaching in the Psalms and came to understand that what the Catholics taught was not quite true. They taught a doctrine of general sinfulness. I’m not sure what that means, but what Luther’s understanding eventually developed was the doctrine of total depravity, that we are totally sinful! We are utterly depraved of the capacity to choose what is right, therefore, we must be regenerated by God by His grace. The apostle Paul sites multiple verses from the Psalms in his quote in Romans 3:10-18.
The second book where Luther sent much time was, of course, Romans. Paul gives perhaps the greatest presentation of justification by faith in this volume. We look at Romans 1:17 in particular, “17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” In this verse and many others Luther began to see that faith was not based on works, which was the teaching of the church in his time, but was based on the gift of faith. God’s righteousness, not our own, is the saving nature of God. By Christ’s faith we are saved. It is not our own doing of works, but the imputed and gifted faith from God that saves us.
The third book Luther was reading was Galatians. I was glad to see this one among them because we have been reading and preaching in Galatians and I wanted to get to our last passage in Galatians today! The gift of faith enables us to choose the right, that is, to choose Jesus Christ. God enables that choice through faith. It’s the reason I think thanksgiving is such a radical discipline, because we only have God to thank for our salvation, not our own works or even our own decision. It is all God!
The fourth book was Hebrews. In this reading, Luther saw that Jesus had been preached throughout the Bible, not just in the New Testament. The message of the Bible was salvation for all people. The nation of Israel was chosen for the sake of all other nations, to see God. Jesus, was the promised Messiah for Israel and for all nations and peoples.
I trust that Luther was reading lots of the Bible, but perhaps these four were the most instrumental in his understanding of the errors of the Church at the time and the incredible truth of the Bible that had been neglected in the teachings of the Church.
Reformed According to God’s Word
The Reformation was a biblically based movement. Many reformed bodies will site the mantra of “reformed and always being reformed”. But what some tend to omit both in citing and practice is the next phrase that follows, “according to the Word of God.” It is the main reason we are also celebrating today five years in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination. In essence we have here, in this church, gone through a mini reformation or at the least a renewal of conviction in the Reformation. We have reclaimed the authority of Scripture in our understanding of what it means to be the church. We have reaffirmed our understanding that the only authority for us is the Bible. This notion of always being reformed does not mean that we should adjust the Scriptures to accommodate the culture and regressive movements of the day, but that we need to focus on the eternal truth of the Scriptures and why God has revealed to us the power of that truth in our lives and the life of the world. We hold fast to God’s word as the authority for life and faith, not because we hate people who do not abide by it, but just the opposite, because we are called to love those same people as God loves them. But reforming one’s life in light of the authority of Scripture means stating the truth to difficult situations and false teachings that have taken over much of our particular culture and institutions, even in some churches.
Yes, the church should always be reforming because the church is prone to get away from God’s word and needs to get back to it! That is what happened to the medieval church and why people like Martin Luther started to protest. What the Reformation did was not just start a new expression of church called Protestant, but it got people back to God’s word.
One of the things I admire about Judaism is how rabbis are known to argue over interpretation of the Torah. They will spend hours and days and generations talking and discussing and arguing about major themes and the smallest punctuation in order to better understand the meaning of the Word. We still do that today, somewhat, which is why we ended up with so many denominations. The Reformation was a huge debate setting where people like Luther and Calvin and others debated the meaning of Scripture. If Christians today could spend more time within particular churches and among different churches coming together to talk and discuss and even argue (in friendly ways) over the text, we might have a more potent position within society today.
Justified by Faith
The main teaching of the Reformation was that we are justified by faith. In our first Scripture reading we have one of Paul’s summaries in his argument about faith. Perhaps the most poignant are verses 8-9 of Romans 5, “...but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” We have been justified by His blood signifies that it is Christ’s work, Christ’s faith, Christ’s obedience, Christ’s gracious act that brings us justification. Oswald Chambers often speaks of being rightly related to God. This is how I think about justification by faith, we have been set right and deemed just before God. It’s a huge part of all that the Reformed faith stands for. In our confess of faith, the Westminster Confession, we have this statement about justification:
Those whom God effectually calls he also freely justifies. He does not pour righteousness into them but pardons their sins and looks on them and accepts them as if they were righteous—not because of anything worked in them or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone. He does not consider their faith itself, the act of believing, as their righteousness or any other obedient response to the gospel on their part. Rather, he imputes to them the obedience and judicial satisfaction earned by Christ. For their part, they receive and rest on Christ and his righteousness by faith (and this faith is not their own but is itself a gift of God).
We are justified because of Christ’s work, His life, death, and resurrection. It is nothing done on our own accord, but through what God has given freely in Christ.
Boasting in the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ
Since we have been spending time in the letter to the Galatians, I want to finish our time with the last passage in that letter, particularly in Galatians 6:14. “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Remember that Paul had written to the Galatians because they had fallen away from the teachings of the faith and were beginning to adopt false teachings that added to the gospel. In some ways they were advocating a works righteousness, you had to be circumcised (a work) in order to become a Christian. It is much like the Catholic Church before the Reformation, teaching works righteousness.
So Paul, putting the whole of the story of the gospel in the symbol of the cross, will boast of nothing else but the cross. For it is on the cross where Jesus shed His blood in order that we might be forgiven of sins and set right with God. All the doctrines of about Jesus and our relationship are bundled up in the cross. When Paul claims his only boast is in the cross, he is reminding the Galatians that nothing needs to be added. There is no salvation outside of Jesus. The false teachers cannot add on to the gospel and the Catholic Church could not turn the gospel into a works righteousness.
The Reformation has taught us, among many things, among them to boast only in what God has done for us. So we boast in the cross, we boast in the Lord (Jer. 9:24; 1 Cor. 1:31). So we might celebrate 500 years in the Reformation, 5 years in the EPC, and celebrate the cross that has brought us faith, grace, justification, sanctification, and many many reasons to boast in the Lord.
I will close with one more passage in Romans,
Romans 3:21-26 21But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
God has justified us by His grace – a gift of life.
God’s righteousness is in full display in this understanding of the gospel.
It is God who is just and the justifier.
Therefore we give thanks to God this day for the witness of the Reformation and our return to the authority of Scripture in the EPC.