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The 31 October 1517 is a significant date in the history of the church. A young Martin Luther nails his 95 statements to the door of the church in Wittenberg, hoping to spark conversation that would reform the church. Luther quickly realised the church wouldn’t change and so began the Protestant Reformation.

Luther was awakened to the truth of the gospel by discovering Romans 3: 21-31. Having concern for his own sin, the knowledge that righteousness from God was by faith alone in Jesus Christ. The closing verses of this passage provide us with three responses to the truth of this gospel: Humiliation, Integration and Affirmation.

Romans – The heart of the Gospel is a teaching series from Annalong Presbyterian Church. Find out more at

David McCullagh:

On Friday morning, I had the privilege of being the preacher in Mourne Meeting House for the 70th anniversary of Kilkeel High School. It genuinely was a privilege. I had no idea what I was going to say. What do you say about a high school that you didn't go to, that you've only known for five years and that's celebrating its 70th anniversary? Well, I thought I'm not going to go on my own. So I brought my friend with me. My visual aid that was with me on Friday morning there in Moran Pulpit. If you don't know who this is, this is Martin Luther. Uh, Martin Luther, we're going to hear a lot about tonight. Um, I love church history. My grades at college may not have demonstrated that, but I love church history. It tells us who we are, and it tells us those who have fought the battles ahead of us, so that we can be free to worship today. And one such battle began on the 31st of October, 1517. In our house, I said this morning, we don't celebrate the H word, it's Reformation Day. We get our Martin Luther out, we get our John Calvin book out, and we make sure we know what is the significance of All Hallows Eve on the 31st of October, 1517. Now the girls have not yet asked to dress up as Martin Luther. I have to work out what my answer to that is going to be, but that's who we look to. Because we look to the moment. That we stand in the heritage of on the 31st of October in that year, 1517, a young monk by the name of Martin Luther nailed 95 statements to the door of the Wittenberg Chapel in He wasn't wanting to start a revolution. He simply wanted a discussion about where the church was an error. But what Martin Luther did, being convinced by the Word of God, He had no choice but to break with the church and to preach a gospel of salvation by faith alone. And that's what started what is known as the Protestant Reformation. Protestant, by the way, comes from the word protester, being protesters against the theology of the church at that time, as we know today, the Church of Rome. Protestantism was never political. It was always Always theological. Luther was actually studying to be a lawyer. His father was from a humble farming family, and through hard work had risen to not only manage, but own his own smelting factories in Eastern Germany. And it was while returning to university after visiting his family that Luther was knocked off his horse in a thunderstorm. And in sheer fear and terror, he did the only thing that he could think of doing, and he cried out to the saint of his father, the saint who would protect the patron saint of minors. Saint Anne. And he said, help me Saint Anne, and I will become a monk. Luther survived and, true to his word, resigned from the university and entered the orders of the Augustinians. Hence why, whenever you see him dressed, he has the flat cap of a scholar and the Geneva gown. That, that gown that proves teaching and lecturing. And so, he worked hard, and he grew deeper in the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ. But he was still in the church, as it was known back then. But there was one thing that he simply couldn't get over, and that was his sin. You have no idea, you read his own accounts, his own letters, and his sin troubled him so much that he couldn't even sleep. A man tormented by his own sin, and how it could be dealt with. No amount of confession in the confession box could do it. In fact, at one point his abbot got so frustrated with him that he sent him off to Rome to climb the holy steps and repeat the rosary in each one, simply hoping that it would get it out of Luther's system. Luther did it, and it did nothing. Luther agonized. over the thought of how could a just God simply forgive sins. He couldn't be instructed, he couldn't be comforted, because he was so tormented. And then, one day, while reading Romans chapter 3, in verses 21 and onwards, but particularly verses 22 to 25, his eyes opened to the truth. Let me read those verses. The significant verses to you. 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. For there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and 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. This was to show God's righteousness. Because in his divine forbearance, he had passed over former sins. Luther was completely captivated by this truth that the forgiveness of sins was not based on piety, merit, or good works. It was a free gift of God, by Fide. by faith alone. And Luther described the moment much like John Bunyan would write later in that story of Pilgrim going to the cross and having the burden taken off him and rolling away. It was a weight being lifted from him as he realized that he could do nothing with his own sin, absolutely nothing. It was only through Jesus Christ that he could know that he was right with God. As Paul tells us in verse 21, But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the law and the prophets bear to it. Paul here in this passage confirms for us that after having looked at the human condition over the many chapters that have gone before, there's actually hope. Because in chapters 1 and 2, in the first half of chapter 3, he's told us what Martin Luther learned. That we are sinful by nature. And there is nothing we can do with our own sin. Absolutely nothing. No amount of good works. No amount of trying hard to simply live a good life. No amount of charity, nothing, absolutely nothing can do anything with our sin. If you think that it does, well then, you're following a different gospel. But what happens in verse 21? After being told of the human condition from the beginning of this passage, we now break, and Paul breaks into the good news of the gospel that what of what God has done for us. He has a way of salvation that is fully open. We no longer need to fear the grave. We no longer need to fear the punishment of sins because the gospel way is open. Up until 1517, the church had lost its way on this matter. It had focused on what man who had said was there, or what a man who was And apparently the head of the church could do for you and what personal responsibility it was for our own dealing with sin through confession, penance, the rosary, and other things that would be by done by habit and that would absolve us of our sins. What the church up until 1517 never did was pointed people to the true gospel to Jesus Christ. And this is why Martin Luther's theological discovery was so radical for the church. It challenged its ministry of the gospel to the core, and the church of 1517 was found wanting. Because it was not adhering to scripture. But what lit Martin Luther's fire was a man called Johann Tetzel and his abuse of the forgiveness of sins. Pope Leo X was building St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and you can go there today and still see it in all its beauty and all its glory. But his problem was he had quite literally bankrupt. And so he needed more money. And the wealthiest people around in those days were the Germans. So off he goes to the German banks and asks for a loan, quite a hefty loan. But they didn't trust him. They said, how are you going to pay this back? And so he had to prove to them a method by which... the money could be paid back. And so he decided that in his name he would put it to a piece of paper. That piece of paper would be called an indulgence. And people around the Holy Roman Empire would buy these indulgences that would grant them absolution of sin, past, present, and future. All you needed was a golden ticket. All you needed was this certificate, with the name of the Pope on it, and you would be free from your sin forever. You'd think, surely not. And the people bought it? Yes, they did. Here's Johann Tetzel. I'm sure this isn't accurate. He was a rotund man, because he earned a lot of money. Because he even had a jingle that said, As soon as the coin in the coffers ring, the soul from purgatory springs. He knew what he was doing. He knew the game he was playing. And he knew that the money was being raised to simply build a basilica in Rome. And this enraged Luther, because as he had again turned to Romans 3 and to verse 25, he read whom God put forward, speaking of Christ, as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance, he passed over former sins. Not a name on a piece of paper. Not an indulgence that you paid money for that somehow granted you absolution of sin, past, present, and future. It's only God who has the right and the power to forgive sins. He is the one who passes over former sins because of Jesus Christ. And here, Paul is confirming that when our sins are forgiven, they are truly forgiven. There's no certificate involved. We rest in faith alone. Tetzel was selling a piece of paper, but Paul communicated the goodness of the gospel in his demonstration of his righteousness toward us so that we could be made right before him. And this was possible because Jesus had taken the punishment that our sins deserve. Therefore, God could pass over our former sins because of Jesus. And this was great news then, as Martin Luther proclaimed it from the pulpits, and it continues to be great news now. This is why when Luther writes the hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, he says in verse 2, Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing? We're not the right man on our side, the man of God's own choosing. Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is he! Lord, sabboweth his name from age to age the same. And he must win the battle. I would love us to sing this, but I don't think too many would know it. But go home and listen to it. If you have a CD, a record, a tape that has old hymns on it, you're going to find it on it. It's a hymn of the Reformation. It's a hymn Martin Luther wrote, and it's a hymn of truth. You ask, who is the one who can save us? Well, it's Christ Jesus. It's he, Lord Sabaoth, his name. Luther, as Paul did, frames the gospel in the image of a battle. He is accurate in doing so because, because that's what the battle is. We're torn. We're torn between two sides. There's the way of righteousness that comes from the Lord, and then there's the evil schemes of the devil, and there's only one who must, and there's only one who will win the battle for our souls, and it is the Lord. Sabawath. Sabawath means Lord of Hosts. Because of this conviction of the forgiveness of sins, the world has changed. The fire of the Reformation spread so that we today can continue to know this truth, that it is only through Christ that our sins can be forgiven. We see it plainly in Scripture today, but for generations it was kept from the people and twisted to suit the power of men. Much was given for this truth, both on Calvary's cross and in the flames of persecution that followed the Reformation. But as Paul says in chapter 1, For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith, for faith, as it is written, The righteous shall live by faith. And so Paul's heart sings the gospel in verses 21 to 26. But he returns now to what we've been familiar with and how Paul structures his, uh, his letter. To the Romans, and so knowing this freedom in the gospel, that only comes from God. He asks a question in verse 27, then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded by what kind of law? By a law of works. No, but by the law of faith. And so now we have the song of the gospel ringing through the generations. And these closing verses of chapter three provide us with three responses to the truth of the gospel. Here they are. First of all, humiliation in verses 27 and 28. Then integration in verses 29 to 30. And finally in verse 31, affirmation. And so we're going to begin with humiliation. In Paul's questioning, he leaves no room for our self righteousness. It might seem a bit odd here that Paul begins this verse, how he does, by speaking against self glorying, especially since he has just spoken in great deal about all that God in Christ has done for sinners apart from their work. You would think that we could, could sing this wonderfully from the rooftops. But Paul warns us because he knows the human heart, and he knows that it has much pride in it. So, being led by the Holy Spirit to deal with this issue, he concludes the question by asking where boasting is. And Paul responds by saying that it is excluded. It's, it's not to be found. Quite literally, he is saying that it is shut out and completely eliminated once for all time. And he now introduces to what, uh, he introduces us to what our only hope is, and it is the law of faith. The law of faith is simply believing in Christ as saviour. As John Murray rightly says, faith is self renouncing, whereas we are self congratulatory. Let's see if we can get that up there. In other words, faith looks away from oneself. Work looks to oneself. And to make sure that we understand this, Paul impresses on us in verse 28 that our justification can only come by faith. This is what opened Martin Luther's mind, heart, and eyes, this truth. As good and worthy our actions may be, actions cannot suffice, nor actions plus faith. If this was the case, then that would no longer be faith, as the gospel calls for, which is comprehensive confidence in Christ and complete rejection of sufficiency in ourselves. Paul describes the stance that is called for. In Philippians, uh, nine, uh, three, verse nine, by saying, And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. We have to recognize that when we live in faith, there's nothing to boast about of ourselves. We can't make our faith, it is a gift, a pure gift from God, so that faith is self renouncing, as we point people not to ourselves, not to any kind of works that we do, but to Christ. The second truth of the gospel is that it brings about integration in verses 29 and 30. Because Paul has spoken of the impartiality of God when it comes to dealing with sin. So now he speaks of the inclusiveness of the gospel. And he begins by challenging the culture of his day. In the first century, racial segregation was everywhere between unsaved Jews and Gentiles. This was because many Jews considered the Gentiles dogs, being the type of people whose minds were always intent upon idolatry, as one famous rabbi wrote. And many Gentiles despised the Jews. And sadly, when these individuals were converted, the sin of racial segregation did not die speedily, but came into the church. And so Paul deals with this in several places in his letters. And the most famous, perhaps, is in Galatians chapter 3 and verse, uh, 28, where he says there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Paul's saying the gospel is inclusive. No one is too bad, nor is anyone too pious not to have the opportunity to know it and to respond to it. So the gospel is what united people, and it continues to unite God's people as we come together under the name of Jesus Christ. There is no room for human ego or superiority. There will be those stronger in the faith and those weaker, but we are one in Christ and there is no room for groups. that would then cause divisions. The church is a body of many parts. Each one is resilient, or sorry, is reliant on the other. That's why hymn 205 is so striking. Because in song we sing of the schisms that have rent the church apart. That was never meant to be. No church was ever meant to be torn apart. Because churches exist to proclaim the gospel. For God's people to grow. So that the world that so needs the truth of the gospel may see, and hear, and come in faith. How precious is unity to you? Unity doesn't mean that we always have to agree all of the time. I want to make that very clear. We can disagree. I like certain hymns that you don't. I perhaps like a translation of the Bible that you don't. That's okay. I'm not going to fall out with you over it. Some of you like your tea in your cup before your milk. I don't understand why, but I prefer my milk first. That's how ridiculous it can become. From quite literally the sublime speaking of theology to the ridiculous. And yes, we can disagree, but we have to learn how to disagree well. Because what Scripture calls for, what God's Word calls for, is unity. This little man, represented in plastic this evening, fought for the unity of the Church. He tried to reform the Church of Rome, and he found he couldn't. But even in years after the Reformation, he maintained that unity was what the Church had to be. For the sake of this gospel that is so precious to us. If you are a believer here tonight, and you are assured of your salvation, and you fight for that truth of the gospel, the second thing you must fight for is the unity of the church. I don't say that to make life easy. I say it because it comes from God alone. What did Jesus pray in his great high priestly prayer? Father, I pray that they may be One, just as you and I are one, we have been given the heavenly divine example that we are to replicate here on earth, one with the other. Fight first for the gospel, fight second for the unity of the church. The third thing is affirmation. This truth that the gospel brings in verse 31. Paul now answers a very logical question that will come from what he has just taught on the doctrine of justification. How do Christians now approach the moral law of God when we are depending on Christ's work alone. Does it mean that the law counts for nothing? And Paul is emphatic in his reply, because look at it there. It says, on the contrary. It's the exact opposite. And this may surprise us, but Paul argues that we will be better upholders of the law, because we will live it, or we will be living it, as God always intended it to be lived. In other words, God's best rule for his people. Now Paul is not saying that we are saved by the law, because the law never did and the law never can save. The law here is best understood as the Old Testament, its narrative and its precepts and overall testimony to God's present at that time, and promised redemption on the fallen world through the covenant that he made with Abraham, sealed always. Of course, Paul is not overthrowing the Old Testament. He depends on it for much that he affirms in his letters. And particularly in Romans, but it is true that he is rejecting understandings of the Old Testament that might reduce it to a set of ethical or religious behaviors that if it is believed they're followed well, will result in righteous standing before God. But Paul, like Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah and Micah, as well as the Lord Jesus Christ himself, rejects an approach to the Old Testament that amounts to lip service rather than a change of heart via repentance and trust in God. Paul can now say with confidence that we uphold the law in the sense that God intended his deeds and words to be understood and applied over the centuries. During which his saving revelation unfolded, leading up to the fulfillment in the Christ Paul serves. This is a great passage about the gospel and its goodness to us. It was the 16th century Reformation that recovered it to our hearts and minds so that we can continue to know its truth. But I wonder if it is your truth tonight. There are four things to consider. First of all, there is to be no boasting in self. but only in the Saviour. We can claim no goodness of ourselves, so don't even try. We can't impress. We shouldn't try to impress. We are to be for Christ and for Him alone, and point people to Him and not to ourselves. Secondly, there is to be no discrimination, but there is to be an assimilation of God's people. We're not, we are not to say who's out and who's in. It doesn't matter who they are, where they come from. The gospel goes far and wide throughout this world, and so as it does, we welcome. And we assimilate people not into our culture, but into the truth of the gospel. So that together we might be one, just as Christ prayed. Thirdly, there is to be an evangelical keeping of the commandments of God for His glory and our good. They'll never save us. They never will. But we are called to live them because they are God's rule and, uh, for us, by which we are to live. Of how we are to live individually in worship of him, but how we are to live as a community of his people. And when you read them in the light of that, then they become so, so glorious to live and uphold. Because they are God's standard and not the standard of the world. And finally, I want to say to anyone here tonight who may not be sure of Christ as your saviour. Do not let your self importance or your self righteousness Keep you out of the kingdom of God. You can't get there yourself. Doesn't matter how young, doesn't matter how old. You can't do it on your own. Don't even try. Rather, see yourself in truth as God sees you. Namely, as a lost, hell deserving sinner. And then go to Christ by faith alone. Quickly. To be saved by... Martin Luther knew something very well. Because he knew that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But he also knew that, uh, and are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is Christ Jesus. Do you agonize over your sin as Martin Luther did? Because if you do, you need to go to Christ, because he will deal with it once and for all, because he died once and for all. Will you live the way that we've always been intended to live? In the goodness of God, living his way by his standard. Will you believe these words of Romans 3? That God has a gift for you. That gift is sola fide, by faith alone in Jesus Christ. For he is the only one who can save us and get us ready for eternity in heaven. May you know this gift of grace tonight as you seek him. Let's pray. Our Father God, thank you for this word. Thank you that it excites us, and that it should excite us, because it's transformative. It has changed the course of history and we are so grateful because we stand in its truth tonight. So may we know it deep within us from young to old as we look at history, as we look how it was opened up to us, but as we look beyond that to Jesus Christ, the only one who can save, the only one who can forgive, the only one who is our rock and our So hear us as we pray and as we respond in Jesus name. Amen.

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