Justifcation by Grace Alone Through Faith Alone in the Lord Jesus Christ
Occasion: Closing Sermon of the Founding of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference, Oberwesel, Germany, April 29, 1993.
Excerpted from print: Forget Not All His Benefits – 2007 (The Reverend George M. Orvick)
Text: “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24)
Fellow redeemed, brothers and sisters in Christ from many lands and nations, grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
This has been a remarkable week! That eleven different church bodies from all sides of the globe could come together and form the new Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference is indeed something to behold. In this day and age when diversity in doctrine is so taken for granted, yea, even held up as praiseworthy by some, it is amazing that representatives from so many different churches could arrive here at Oberwesel, speak with one voice, express unity in all the doctrines of scripture, and pledge their allegiance to God’s holy word. Yes, that is amazing.
We therefore come together this evening in a spirit of great rejoicing! We are experiencing the truth of the psalmist’s words: Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity (Psalm 133:1).
We have, as it were, launched a new ship to sail on the sea of this turbulent world. The name of the ship is the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference. The rudder which determines the direction of the ship is the Word of God. The passengers are people from many lands and nations. And flying high atop the mast is a flag. There is an inscription on the flag. It reads: “Justification by grace alone through faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ”.
The holy scriptures guide us as we journey through life. They clearly tell us what we are to believe and teach. But there is one doctrine that stands out above all others. It is like the sun in comparison to the stars. It is the chief article of God’s Word. Without it, there can be no salvation, no forgiveness, no church. In fact, our Lutheran Confessions call it the “articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae” —the “article upon which the church stands or falls”. This is, of course, the blessed doctrine of justification. Of this article, Luther wrote: “It is this article alone which begets, nourishes, sustains, keeps and defends the church. And without it the church could not subsist for an hour.”
Our text reads, “Being justified freely by his grace.” In the first three chapters of the letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul has laid bare in scathing terms the total depravity of the human heart. His description is as applicable today as it was when he wrote it. Paul says: Their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their way. There is no fear of God before their eyes (Romans 3:15-18).
As we gather here this evening, we come not just to lament the wickedness that is in the world. We come to examine our own hearts. Let us remember to apply the Law to ourselves. The fact that we had faithful forefathers does not justify us. The fact that we may have suffered on account of these actions, the loss of friendships, the loss of income, and so on, doesn’t justify us.
No, we are made of the same clay as are all other people. We are victims of that hereditary sin from which no one has escaped. Luther writes in the Smalcald Articles: “This hereditary sin is so deep a corruption of nature that reason cannot understand it. It must be believed because of the revelation of the scriptures.” But in the total darkness of sin as described by the apostle, in the complete blackout of all human merit there burst forth a “brilliant light.” It shines through these words: “Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
Oh, this justification did not come cheaply. There was a price to be paid. The justice of God had to be satisfied. His wrath against sin had to be appeased. And that is why our text says, “Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” The Bible says, Without the shedding of blood there is no remission (Hebrews 9:22). And so we know what our gracious heavenly Father did for us. He gave His only begotten Son. In patience and lowliness, our Jesus went about fulfilling the law for us. He showed humility where we show pride. He felt perfect love where we feel anger and hatred. His thoughts, words, and deeds were perfectly pure where ours were polluted. Then in His great love, He took upon Himself the punishment for our sins. He endured the lash of Pilate’s soldiers, the pain of the crown of thorns, the cruel mockery and finally death upon the cross. And so our justification is through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. There is no justification without the vicarious atonement. No forgiveness without the shedding of the blood of Christ. Not only did He die, but He rose again triumphantly from the grave also for our justification, as the scripture tells us. He was delivered for our offenses and raised again for our justification (Romans 4:25).
The word “justified” is of paramount significance. It simply means “to be declared righteous”. The Formula of Concord assures us that even with our weakness and failures, we can be certain of our salvation. Listen to the words of the Formula of Concord: “We also believe, teach and confess that although the genuinely believing and truly regenerated persons retain much weakness and many shortcomings down to their graves, they still have no reason to doubt either the righteousness which is reckoned to them through faith or the salvation of their souls, but they must regard it as certain that for Christ’s sake, on the basis of the promises and the Word of the holy Gospel they have a gracious God” (FC Epitome, III 6).
Our new Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference has a tremendous message to proclaim to the world, the message of justification by grace alone through faith alone in our Lord Jesus Christ. Only as we continue to proclaim this message can our existence be justified. May that ever be the flag under which the ship of our new conference sails. Amen.