The Righteousness of God: Sola Fide

Text: Romans 3:19-28

This year we mark the 498th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. To celebrate, we’ve been looking at three pillars of the Reformation, the truths that the Holy Spirit worked to preserve among us: Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone. God’s Word comes to us in the Scripture alone, it is the only place where we hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. We hear through it that we justified through faith alone, which we receive through God’s grace alone. Last week we spent some time looking at the Scripture Alone part; this week we will look at the idea of Faith Alone. It is only through faith that we are counted righteous in God’s eyes. We are justified by faith alone, without any merit or work on our part.

There was a period of time while I was back in seminary where I thought that record collecting was a cool thing. I would take weekly trips down to Neat Neat Neat Records to peruse the bins until I found something I had to have. Then I would take it back to my dorm room and fire it up. Almost always, everything would work just fine. But, was I ever filled with fury when a record skipped. That thing that I most hated about records, I also love about Lutheranism. Lutheranism is like a broken record. No matter what we’re talking about, no matter where we are, we always return to the fact that we are saved by God’s grace through faith. We preach Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of sins. That is what the Bible is all about, and so it’s what we’re all about. This week as we look at the Faith Alone pillar of the Reformation we confess with St. Paul that the righteousness of God comes to us through faith in Jesus, and by this faith we are justified, that is, forgiven our sins.

I.

As Lutherans, that is our bread and butter. We eat, sleep, and breath justification by faith alone. We all have those verses in our text from Romans and from Ephesians 2 in our brains, and rightly so, but this was not always the case in God’s Church. I’m going to read you a little bit of a lengthy quote from Martin Luther, but I want you to pay close attention because it is very telling of the Church at the time:

I hated that word “righteousness of God,” which…I had been taught to understand philosophically…God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner.

Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly…I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted. [1]

What Luther was confessing here is that during his time, the Church had lost faith in the words of Holy Scripture – that man is saved by faith alone. Instead, it taught that our works contribute to our salvation. It held that, since God is righteous, we must also be righteous. How do we become righteous? Not by faith, but by following God’s Commandments. As if the keeping the commandments wasn’t hard enough, God then punishes with eternal damnation those who fail to keep them. So much for a righteous God, thought Luther. God is not love, God is not mercy. According to Luther at the time, God was an unjust tyrant.

The Church was mired in a misunderstanding and a misapplication of the Mosaic Law (The Ten Commandments). They taught that the chief work of the Law was to justify sinners. Here what St. Paul says in our text, “we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.”[2] The role of God’s Law in the Commandments is not to justify, but to condemn. The Law stops mouths. It cuts through our lies, our false pretenses, our attempts to justify ourselves; it shows us for what we really are: sinners. It shows that, according to God’s standard of righteousness, we aren’t.

St. Paul continues, “by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”[3] The role of the Law, the right understanding and application of it, is to show us our sin. True, it is God’s will for our lives, and after repentance and as a result of faith, we do try to keep it. But that’s the key – without faith, the Law only kills. Jesus said that those who live by the sword die by the sword. In another context: those who attempt to justify themselves through the Law will die by it. As Paul said, through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. No human being will be justified in God’s eyes through its works. And at that thought, Luther crumbled. “If there ever was a person who could be saved through monkery,” he said, “I was that monk.” But, alas…

II.

With Luther we come to these words in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”[4] What a brilliant statement! Such profound gospel! The righteousness of God is not something that He alone has and then demands of us. The righteousness of God is something He has, and He gives it to you. The righteousness of God comes apart from the works of the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it. This means that the entire Old Testament testifies about the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ. Remember on the road to Emmaus, how after the resurrection Jesus went through the books of Moses and the Prophets to show how it was about Him? Or, remember how Abraham was credited as righteous, even over 400 years before the Ten Commandments were given? The text says, “Abram believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness.”[5]

This is the chief article of the Reformation, the chief article of our faith. Luther, and those with him, really did face the possibility of death for their confession of faith, but they knew – as we do – that it’s all about Jesus. It’s all about Jesus because, as the text says, “there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”[6] There is no distinction among us. We have all sinned. We are all sinners, and, because we are born this way, we lack the glory of God. Man no longer exists as God created him to be. Therefore, the Son of God took on human flesh. He became the new Man, the new Adam, to obey God’s will and fulfill the Law in our place. Apart from Him there is no salvation, be we who believe are, “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”[7]

Therefore, in this the 498th anniversary of the Reformation, let us hold fast our confession. From Luther’s own words:

Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification…

All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works or merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood…

Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls…

Upon this article everything that we teach and practice depends.[8]

We confess that we are all by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned in thought, word, and deed. We deserve nothing but God’s eternal wrath and punishment. But, He sent His Son Jesus to take on human flesh and die in our place for the forgiveness of sins. We are justified by God’s grace through faith alone. We receive faith through the preaching of the Word and the Sacraments, and faith becomes the channel through which we grasp the forgiveness of sins. We neither earn eternal life, nor do we deserve it. We made righteous before God only through the blood of the Lamb, who sets us free through alone.


[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 34: Career of the Reformer IV, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 34 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 336–337.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 3:19.

[3] Rom. 3:20.

[4] Rom. 3:21-22.

[5] Gen. 15:6.

[6] Rom. 3:22-23.

[7] Rom. 3:24-25.

[8] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 263.

“Sola Scriptura: The Sword of the Spirit”

Text: Hebrews 4:1-13

We are just 2 years away from the 500th anniversary of the posting of the 95 Theses. Though it would be a while before Luther stumbled upon the true teaching of Scripture, his action ignited the powder keg of the Reformation. But, the work of the Lutheran reformers some 500 years ago was not just the work of men. Rather, the work of the Lutheran Reformation was begun and led by the Holy Spirit to return the Church to the well of God’s pure Word. In hindsight we describe this work by the three pillars that held it up: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, and Sola Fide. We’re going to celebrate the Reformation this year by looking at each of these in turn. The Sola Scriptura principle states that it is through God’s Word alone that we learn of His grace, which we receive through faith.

Today we’ll look at three primary aspects of God’s Holy Word: A) The Bible is God’s divine Word, which alone has the power to kill and make alive; B) Because the Bible is God’s Word, it alone is perfect and sufficient for salvation; C) Because the Bible is God’s Word, and because it is perfectly sufficient for salvation, it also is open and accessible to all who read it.

A.

We begin with our text from Hebrews 4, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”[1] From this we see that the Word of God, the Bible, is not just a collection of words on pages; it is a living and active thing. The first thing we believe as Christians about the Bible is that it’s inspired. This means that Bible comes from God, as individual books and as a whole, and was written by the direction of the Holy Spirit.

This is what we mean when we say that the Bible is inspired and inerrant. St. Paul wrote to Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God.”[2] This means that Scripture comes not from man, but it originates from God – and what God creates, He creates perfect. Now, when Paul was addressing Timothy the Scripture he was talking about was the Old Testament. From Paul, we know that the Old Testament is holy. But, what about the New Testament? St. Peter addresses this in his writing. He wrote, “our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters.”[3] Peter goes on to say that some of the things Paul writes are hard to understand, and that people twist them as, “they do the other Scriptures.”

By Paul’s writing we know that the Old Testament is from God, and by Peter’s, we know that Paul’s writings are to be included in Scripture. We know that though they were physically written by men, they are in fact God’s words. Peter once wrote, “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”[4] Not just the subjects spoken about in Scripture are God’s Word, but the exact words. The Lord once told Jeremiah, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you.”[5]

B.

As the Bible is the Word of God, both in subject matter and in the exact words, it alone is perfect and without any error whatsoever. Now, this is where we come to the Sola Scriptura [Scripture alone] aspect of the Reformation. What Lutherans teach is what has been confessed by the orthodox Church for all time. That is, that the Bible contains all that is necessary for salvation. There is nothing that you need to know that isn’t in the Bible, and there’s nothing outside the Bible that can be added to it. This aimed not just at who you might think – the Roman church that insists on tradition – but also the Protestants who teach that in order to have a full knowledge of God you must add human reason, such as the study of science and mathematics.

While others teach that Scripture must be measured against human reason or tradition, the Lutheran church teaches that, “the only rule and norm according to which all teachings, together with ‹all› teachers, should be evaluated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testament alone.”[6] All human teaching is to be judged by Scripture and never added to it. The Scripture alone, as Paul teaches, is what makes man wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.[7]

It is true that the Bible does not teach us everything. The Bible is not a science textbook or a technical manual. It does not even tell us all the things of God, for we see, as Paul says, through a glass dimly. St. John also says that, were every one of the things that Jesus did to be written down, the world itself couldn’t contain the books. But, “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”[8] That is the goal and aim of all Scripture – the salvation of mankind. Through the Law God reveals His wrath against sin, and through the Gospel He gives us the Good News that Jesus Christ died for the forgiveness of our sins and creates faith within us. There is no other book or teaching in the world that does this. Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ alone.

C.

So far we’ve learned that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Each word on the page is from the Holy Spirit and is without error in part or whole. In addition to being the living and active Word of God, it also contains all we need to go to heaven. There is no information that we need to be saved that is not in the Bible, and nothing should be added to it. The Bible is the standard by which we judge all teachings. Now, with the Bible being the inerrant Word of God and profitable for salvation, we also confess that the Bible is an open book. The good news of Jesus Christ and the faith that comes through hearing it is accessible to all people.

The Bible is not a book of hidden knowledge. It is not a hard book to read. The Bible is written in plain words so that all who read it may understand and believe the doctrine necessary for salvation. God’s Word is, as David says, “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”[9] The Bible is not just a book for pastors, but it is for all people. Jesus commanded that the things He spoke be delivered to all people, and this comes through His written Word. King David also says, “the law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.”[10] St. John testifies that little children are able to understand the Scriptures.

Okay, if Scripture is such an open book, what about all those passages with the long names, all the whos-its and whats-its? And what about the Small Catechism, why do we make our children learn that? To the first question: there are parts of the Bible that are unclear to us. Typically, there are three reasons that. The first is a plain lack of familiarity. If you read Ag reports eight times as much as you read the Scripture, you should expect that the one will appear harder than the other. Second, the Bible appears unclear to those who are hostile towards it. This is what St. Paul writes, “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”[11] Third, the Bible is unclear to those who, though Christian, are prejudiced against certain parts of Scriptural doctrine. This would apply to those who believe the Baptism is simply a sign of our commitment to God rather than a washing of renewal and rebirth in the forgiveness of sins. They allow their human wisdom to rule over the Word of God. Within all this, we maintain that the more obscure portions of Scripture are mostly dealing with history and geography. If they do pertain to doctrine, then they are explained more clearly elsewhere in Scripture.

As for the Small Catechism, and for the rest of the Lutheran teachings, please open to page 273. It asks, “Do you confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Scriptures?” We use the Small Catechism not in addition to the Scriptures, but because what’s in the Catechism comes straight from them. It is merely a restatement of what the Church has always believed against the errors that have crept up over time.

God gave His Word for a definite purpose: To save man from sin and death through faith in Christ; to educate and train in holiness; and to magnify His glory. No other book in all creation is able to do this. Only in Scripture are we told that God exists, that He loves us, and that He sent His Son Jesus to die for our sins. God’s plan of salvation is revealed nowhere other than in the Holy Bible, and faith comes through the preaching of Scripture alone. That is the meaning of Sola Scriptura.

By the guidance of the Holy Spirit through Scripture, Martin Luther and the other Lutheran Reformers worked to purify the Church and bring it back from the many errors that had developed over time. Fundamental to that was the teaching the Bible alone is God’s Word. It alone is the verbally inspired Word of God in all its parts. It alone is God’s power to put to death the impenitent sinner and make alive the one who repents in faith. It alone contains all that is necessary for salvation and is accessible to all who read it.

May God the Holy Spirit continue to call people to faith through His Holy Word and direct the study of and growth in among us here.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Heb 4:12.

[2] 2 Ti 3:16.

[3] 2 Pe 3:15–16.

[4] 2 Pe 1:21.

[5] Je 30:2.

[6] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 473.

[7] 2 Tim. 3:15.

[8] Jn 20:31.

[9] Ps. 119:105.

[10] Ps. 19:7.

[11]1 Co 1:18.

Everything – Everything = Everything

Text: Mark 10:17-22 (23-31)

“How do you get to heaven? Well, I’m a good person.” That’s what most people think. Or, at least, that’s what you hear at funerals. “So-and-So was a good person.” They’re meant to be words of comfort, and they’ve probably come from my mouth; but when I hear that, in my head I always ask, “Why?” What do you mean? Do you mean that they were a morally good person? Okay, I’ll give them that – at least on the outside. Were they then a good enough person morally to get to heaven, though? Is that even the right thing to say, “So-and-So was a good person,”?

If God had a list of clichés that He hates to hear, I’m sure that “I’m a good person,” would be on there. Do you know why? With those four words the devil cuts the cross and Jesus out of the picture. It’s marvelous. We see it our text. The rich young ruler comes up to Jesus and asks Him what he can do to inherit eternal life, and then he rejects the answer Jesus gave, figuring that he was already a good person. He was already a good person, so he didn’t need Jesus. The devil wants us to answer the question, “How do you get to heaven,” with those four words instead of the ones God’s Word gives: “Jesus died for me.” Of our own powers, we will never say that. The Bible says no one can call Jesus Lord except by the Holy Spirit. By the works of man salvation is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

I.

In the text we’re couched square in between the time of Jesus’ transfiguration and the Triumphal Entry. We have here a period of intensified instruction. During this time Jesus predicted His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins three times. All three times the answer He was looking for (amen) was rejected: first, by Peter, then by the rest of the Disciples, then by James and John – who wanted to be seated in glory. The whole point of Jesus’ teaching is that He is going to suffer and die for the forgiveness of sins so that our trespasses may no longer be held against us. He is suffering so that we can be given salvation as a gift.

Now, as Jesus was setting out on His journey toward Jerusalem, the text says, “a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’[1] Have you ever met someone for the first time and made a total fool of yourself? Maybe you called them the wrong name or sneezed on them, or in whatever other way made yourself the butt of a joke. It’s called getting started off on the wrong foot, and it’s what the young man in our text is doing. To start with, the man calls Jesus, “teacher.” This isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s definitely a red flag. Anyone who believes in Jesus in the Gospels calls Him, “Lord, Son of David,” or something similar. Those who address Him as teacher are the Jewish authorities who see Jesus as just another rabbi, whose opinion people are to seek.

The man really steps in it, though, because he puts these two words together: good teacher. See, if Jesus is just a teacher to you, why call Him good? Jesus rebuffs the man from Scripture, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”[2] I’ve said before, aside from the demons and few others, nobody gets it in Mark’s Gospel. Nobody gets that Jesus is out to die, that He is going to suffer and die for the forgiveness of sins. The man, believing that Jesus is just a teacher, is asking Him what must be done to earn eternal life. It’s not a stupid question, but it’s definitely the wrong one.

Jesus lets him have it. “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’ ”[3] There it is. What must we do to get into heaven? Follow the commandments. Perfectly. Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie. If you want to earn eternal life, Jesus says, go for it. Keep the commandments. But remember – it’s not just your actions that count, but the things you don’t do, and your thoughts either way. Jesus shows us that in the Sermon on the Mount. If you want to earn eternal life, go for it. Knock yourself out; But, if you fail once – in thought, in word, or deed – it’s over, and you’re going to the eternal hell of fire where there is only weeping and gnashing of teeth. Deal?

What does the man say? “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”[4] The text says that Jesus looked at the man and loved him. Certainly his zeal for God’s Word was commendable. His desire to live according to God’s commandments was laudable. But, there was just one thing. Jesus said, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”[5] The man thought he had all the commandments down, but he missed one: the First. He had all his ducks in a row, but he wasn’t ready to forsake his possessions and take up the cross of Christ. Instead, he went away sorrowful.

II.

How difficult it will be, Jesus says, for those having possessions to enter the kingdom of God. It is easier for camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. To inherit the kingdom of God one must keep a perfect guard upon their heart and mind by obeying God’s Law to completion, which means forsaking all things – family, home, possessions, and life – to follow Christ, and Him alone. Upon hearing this, the Disciples were exceedingly astonished. “Who then can be saved?” With man it is impossible.

With these words, Christ puts us all in our place. We all think we’re good people. On the outside, it appears that way, too. We are present in the community, we give our offerings, we give keeping the commandments the good old college try. But if you think that you are going to get into heaven because of those things, you might as well give it up now, because you still lack one thing. Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees, you will not get into heaven. Unless you give up your cabin, your farm, your devotion to the Bison, your whatever, and spend all that you have and are seeking to learn and obey God’s Word – you will not earn either God’s grace or your way to heaven. With man it is impossible.

With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”[6] According to man’s power, salvation is impossible, but not according to God’s. My friends, when the rich young man went to Jesus looking for a way to earn his way to heaven, Jesus sent him away in sorrow. The answer to his question was right before his eyes, even though he didn’t want hear it. What must we do to inherit the kingdom of heaven? Absolutely nothing, except believe in Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”[7] That is what one must do to inherit eternal life. There is nothing that we must do except know and believe in Jesus Christ, and Him crucified for our sins. Though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. Therefore, He emptied Himself by taking on the form of a servant. The eternal Son of God took on our human flesh and was tempted in every way, yet without sin. In that way He became the perfect sacrifice for all sin on the cross. By His death you have been forgiven all your sins.

Through the preaching of His Word and through the Sacraments, Christ comes to you with that forgiveness. You don’t have to search and scour where to find Jesus. He finds you here. He found you at the fount when you received the Holy Spirit and the gift of faith. He finds you here, at His altar, as He gives you to eat of His body and drink of His blood for the forgiveness of sins.

The rich man went to Jesus figuring that he was already a good man. According to himself, he had kept all the commandments since he was baby. Jesus showed that he still lacked one thing: faith in Christ. Without that, all the riches in the world, and all the righteousness that we appear to have, come to nothing. What must you do to inherit the kingdom of heaven? Believe in Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Call yourself a disgusting sinner, but one clothed with the white robe of Christ’s righteousness.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk. 10:17.

[2] Mk. 10:18.

[3] Mk. 10:19.

[4] Mk. 10:20.

[5] Mk. 10:21.

[6] Mk. 10:27.

[7] 1 Cor. 2:2.