In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Law is common to all religious endeavors and experiences. The reason why is because the Law is written on the hearts of men. Every man, woman, and child is born knowing that there is such a thing as right and wrong, and even has a general sense as to what’s right and wrong.
You know this because you have a conscience. You know that nagging feeling you get when you do something that isn’t right, or when someone tries to goad you into doing something you know you shouldn’t do. Conscience is simply the awakening of the Law of God that’s written on your heart. You might think of it as sort of a failsafe that God has installed within humanity to keep it from falling into gross, destructive sins. Even the steadfastly wicked have a limit as to how far they will indulge their sinful nature before the Law that is in nature will curb his behavior.
The only thing about the Law that’s written on your heart is that it’s vague and unclear. It’s like looking into a cloudy mirror—you get a general sense of what’s there, but there’s really no detail. You know that the Law demands something, but it’s hard to tell exactly what it demands.
Which is why the Law is common to all religious endeavors and experiences. It doesn’t matter the religion—every one of them is concerned with what is right and what is wrong, and how to act according to it. Even those who claim no religion at all are concerned with what’s right and what’s wrong. This week as I was driving through St. Louis on my way to a hospital visit, I came across a building whose sign identified them as the ethical society, a humanist congregation (have you ever heard of anything more ridiculous?); even if you don’t claim a god at all, you can still gather to ruminate about what the Law tells you to do.
The only real way to know the Law, however, is by way of revelation. You can know the Law in some sense through nature, but it only comes into full focus with crystal-clear resolution through God’s Word. The Law of God as revealed in the Ten Commandments polishes the mirror to high definition. And when you look in this mirror, every little imperfection, every little transgression is reflected back at you.
St. Paul writes to the Romans: We know that whatever the Law is saying, it is speaking to those in the Law, so that every mouth may be shut and all the world come under the judgment of God (v 19). The Law speaks to everyone because everyone is under the Law, ever person born of woman was born into the Law. The Law of God speaks to every person, whether that person believes that the Law is from God or not. Sure there are some who may manage to dull their consciences, or rationalize their wicked behavior, but they can never fully escape the Law—the entire world is under the judgment of God.
You, O Lutheran, know the Law better than 99% of the people who have ever lived. You have the catechism, which teaches the Law of God in beautifully detailed simplicity. You have been taught how the Law puts a curb to wicked behavior (for fear of punishment), how it reveals your own sin and your need for a savior, how it informs you as to what a holy life is. Even though you know the Law of God, you are intent upon using it for a fourth purpose—to justify yourself.
The justifying use of the Law is an appeal to good works, good behavior, being an upstanding citizen, being a good worker, being a faithful husband, being a straight-A student, being a respected member of this congregation, and so forth, as proof of your righteousness. And when you look into the vague, fuzzy reflection of the Law in nature, the Law written on your heart, it’s very easy to do. Before the world, you can claim perfect righteousness. But before God, things are different. The crystal clear resolution of the Law as revealed in His Holy Word puts all under condemnation. And there is no justification for your flesh under the Law. Therefore, from works of the Law no flesh will be justified before Him, for through the Law is knowledge of sin (v 20).
The justifying use of the Law always originates from within. What works I do, my behavior. There is no righteousness before God within yourself. If you are to be righteous before God, you need a righteousness that is apart from yourself—an alien righteousness. This is the foundational (re)discovery of the Reformation. The righteousness that counts before God is a righteousness that comes outside of yourself and apart from the Law.
But now apart from the Law a righteousness of God has been revealed, being witnessed to by the Law and the Prophets, a righteousness of God through faith of Jesus Christ unto all who are believing. For there is not a distinction, for all sinned and have come short of the glory of God, and are justified giftedly by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. whom God set forth as a mercy seat, through faith, in His blood, for a proof of His righteousness, through the passing over of sins that had come before in the forbearance of God, toward the proof of His righteousness in the present fullness of time, to be just and the justifier of the one who is of the faith of Jesus (vv 21-26).
Christ is the Righteousness that is revealed apart from the Law; faith is what receives Him and makes His righteousness your own.
The Righteousness of Christ is a gift. It comes to you by way of grace. It requires no work, no worth, no quality, no status. Grace is gift freely given.
This grace is a redemption in Christ Jesus. Redemption is to trade one for another. Christ traded His righteousness for your unrighteousness. This exchange was made in Holy Baptism. You were washed clean of your trespasses when you were baptized, but He was covered with them when He was baptized. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and dies for it on the cross.
He is the Mercy Seat, the hilasterion, the place where the God and man meet, the place where the blood of the sacrifice is sprinkled. Where the blood of the Lamb is sprinkled, there death passes over. Through faith He is your Mercy Seat, in His blood you are covered, He is the proof of your righteousness before God, because in His divine forbearance, God passed over your sins for the sake of Christ.
God is just, and He is the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. The proof of your righteousness is not in your works, nor your position before men, nor in your righteous behavior. The proof of your righteousness is the blood of Christ, which He also gives to you freely as a gift, under wine, as a token and pledge of His mercy.
Where then is boasting? It is excluded. Through what law—a law of works? No, but through a law of faith. For we regard a man to be justified by faith apart from works of the Law (vv 27-28).
Human nature is always drawn to boasting in the Law. But the righteousness of God that is given freely as a gift renews your nature. There is a new you that stands before God righteous, and the only Law in which the righteous you may boast is the law of faith. And that’s really no law at all—at least not for you to follow. It’s the Law that God follows on your behalf. It’s the Law with which He binds Himself to you on account of the blood of Jesus. It’s the Law of His promise to you. The Law of Faith is simply to receive God’s good gifts, to believe that His righteousness is for you.
God Regards You To Be Justified apart from Works of the Law, through Faith in Jesus Christ
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard