131103 Romans 3:23,24

Last Updated on Monday, 04 November 2013 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Romans 3:23, 24
Theme: Focus On The Fundamentals Of Faith

I had heard the quotation by Vince Lombardi many times before, but I wasn't able to identify exactly what it was that inspired the legendary coach to utter those famous words. One source suggested that Lombardi spoke these words shortly after he became the coach of the Green Bay Packers, a once proud franchise that had fallen on hard times. Another source claimed that it was something he said every year when the team began its preseason practices.

Whether these words were spoken after a particularly tough loss or before the team had played a single down, they live on. As the story goes, Lombardi gathered the team around him at the beginning of practice, held out his hand and said: "Gentlemen, this is a football."

Lombardi wasn't just stating the obvious. With those five words he was sending his team an important message. If they wanted to succeed, they would have to get back to the basics of running and catching and blocking and tackling. If they wanted to win, if they wanted to become champions, they would need to focus on the fundamentals.

Maybe it is more than coincidence that Reformation always falls in the middle of football season. And perhaps the wisdom of Vince Lombardi can be applied beyond the football field. Today we celebrate the Festival of the Lutheran Reformation. The service has a special Reformation focus with special Reformation music.

I have every intention of preaching an authentic Reformation sermon, but that doesn't mean I will stand up here for twenty minutes and talk about what a great man Martin Luther was...because I know that he wouldn't want it that way.

If Martin Luther was here this morning, he would encourage us to get back into our Bibles, to get back to the basics of sin and grace and law and gospel. And so to honor his legacy that is precisely what we will do. As Lutheran Christians we celebrate our Reformation heritage by....


I. You are a sinner
II. You have a Savior

What is your favorite book of the Bible? If you asked Luther that question, my guess is that he would probably choose Romans, or at the very least it would be in his top two. I say this because of what he says about this beautiful letter:

"This epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament, and is truly the purest gospel. It is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but also that he should occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul. We can never read it or ponder over it too much; for the more we deal with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes" (Luther's Works Vol. 35, p. 380).

As sweet as the book of Romans is, there are some parts of it that don't taste so good. In fact, we might even describe them as bitter. For an example, listen again to the first verse of the text: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (23).

This verse leaves a bad taste in our mouths because it begins with the condemning word, "all." If you are a human being you are a sinful human being. There are no exceptions. There are no loopholes. Paul may not be writing to you, but he is most definitely writing about you. You are a sinner.

The sinful mind is many things. It is hostile to God. It is foolish enough to believe that a person doesn't need God, but at the same time the sinful mind can be quite clever. When confronted with a verse like Romans 3:23, a verse that cannot be misunderstood, the sinful mind will try any number of tricks in an attempt to quiet his/her conscience.

The sinful mind might say: "I may not be perfect, but I'm still pretty good. I'm honest. I'm dependable. And even though I have made some mistakes in my life (and who hasn't?), I would like to think that all the good things I do have a way of balancing out the bad."

If that doesn't work for you, how about this one: "I may not be perfect, but at least I'm here today. That's more than I can say for a lot of other people. I'm not saying that I'm the best person in the world, but I can come up with a long list of people I know who have done a whole lot worse things than me."

You can try to convince yourself that you are pretty good. You can make the argument that you aren't so bad. In the end, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter which approach you take. It doesn't matter how many excuses you make. Paul's words refuse to go away: "All have sinned."

If you have ever harbored a hateful thought in your heart, you are a murderer (I John 3:15). If you have ever stolen a lustful glance, you are an adulterer (Matthew 5:28). If you have ever given in to greed, you are guilty of idolatry (Colossians 3:5). If you have sinned even once, if you have broken one of God's commandments, you are guilty of breaking them all (James 2:10).

Because we are all sinful we all "fall short of the glory of God." Picture a chasm, a chasm so deep that you can't see the bottom. You are on one side, and on the other side is God. No matter how hard you work, no matter how hard you try, it is impossible for you to reach the other side. Because you are a sinner your fate is inevitable. You will fail. You will fall short. You will die.

Martin Luther tried to reach God by living up to God's perfect standard. He dedicated his life to God. He even beat his body to appease God, but no matter how much he did it was never enough. Day and night his conscience tormented him until he discovered that the righteousness God demands is the righteousness God gives.

It is fundamental to the Christian faith to recognize that you are a sinner, that you can't get rid of your sin, that you can't make up for your sin, that you deserve to die because of your sin. When you come to grips with the fact that you are helpless, when you realize that your situation is hopeless, that is when God comes to you. He comes to you, not with threats of punishment, but with a promise of hope. He comes to you and says: "You have a Savior."

Paul puts the promise this way: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus" (23, 24). It is amazing how a word that is so condemning in one verse can be so inviting in the verse that follows. All have sinned. Every single one of us has fallen short. All are justified. Every single one of us has been redeemed.

It almost seems like Paul is anticipating that his readers will say that this sounds too good to be true. In order to convince us that what God is promising is true, he piles up words and phrases that make the same amazing claim in slightly different ways. Let's look at them one at a time.

"All...are justified." Before we look at the meaning of this word, there is something we can learn from the tense of the verb. It is passive. Paul made it a passive to remind us that salvation isn't something we do. Our salvation has been totally and completely accomplished for us.

"Justification" was a favorite word of Paul's (he used it over twenty times in his letters), but it didn't originate with him. He borrowed the term from the courtroom. In a legal sense "to be justified" meant "to be declared not guilty." In a spiritual sense it means that sinners have been declared "not guilty" of their sin in God's court of law.

I am guessing that you have heard this description or something similar before, but if you want to put some flesh and bones on it, if you want to make it more personal, imagine that you are the one on trial. Experts and eye witnesses have lined up to testify against you. There is video evidence, physical evidence, DNA evidence, every kind of evidence that you can imagine to support every single charge against you.

At the end of the trial all rise as the judge prepares to hand down his verdict. You are shaking so bad that you can barely stand. You know what you have done. You know what you deserve. You brace yourself for the worst, and then you hear those precious words: "Not guilty."

You think to yourself: "How can this be? It can't be. There must be some mistake." But there is no mistake. You are free to go, not because you are innocent, but because someone has taken your place, because someone else has taken the punishment you deserved. And Paul explains who that someone is: "All...are justified...through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."

Jesus redeemed us, but it wasn't easy. He couldn't just open up his wallet to buy us back. He couldn't just snap his fingers or say the magic word to make us his own. God's law declares that "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" (Hebrews 9:22), and so Jesus did what he had to do. He shed his blood for us. He died for us. By his sacrifice we have forgiveness. By his wounds we are healed.

In a single verse Paul explains that we are justified, how we are justified, and finally why we are justified: "All...are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."

"Grace" is sometimes defined as God's undeserved love, but God's grace really defies explanation. I can't explain why God loves me. I can't explain why God's Son made the ultimate sacrifice to save me. Even if I make it my life's work I will never be able to put God's grace into words, but I can appreciate it.

I can appreciate the fact that God loves me, that he cares for me and that there is a special place in heaven prepared just for me. And here is the most amazing part about God's amazing grace. It's free. Forgiveness is free. Salvation is free. Because Jesus has done everything, because Jesus has done it all, eternal life is mine, and it is absolutely free.

If Martin Luther were sitting in the front pew this morning, I think he would be smiling. Not because our church body bears his name. Not because we sang one of his hymns. Not because he was quoted in this sermon.

I am confident that Martin Luther would be happy with our little celebration because with this service we honor the spirit of the Reformation. By getting back to the basics, by focusing on the fundamentals of faith, we honor Martin Luther. But more importantly we give glory to the God he served. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

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Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seek to reach out to our families, community and world, using Law and Gospel to make disciples, growing and nurturing them in their Christian faith and life.


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