Series: Reformation - Part Two
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
October 8, 2017
October 31st is the 500th anniversary of… the Reformation. Martin Luther nailing or hanging his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle church in Wittenberg, Germany.
Back in Luther’s day the door of the church was kind of community bulletin board. Luther’s 95 Theses are questions or propositions that Martin Luther wanted to have discussed - debated. They’re not written with antagonism or arrogance - but in humility asking to discuss and debate the issues raised.
The first two Theses contain Luther’s central idea that God intended believers to seek repentance and that by grace through faith alone - not our efforts - leads to salvation. The other 93 Theses deal mostly with criticizing the practice of indulgences and support the first two theses.
Luther’s Theses went viral. Within a few years they were reprinted and translated and circulated through-out Europe.
One huge reason for that viral response was that what Luther did was to take the issues that were circulating at the time and to organize them - to codified them at a moment in history that was ready for religious reformation. Which is one huge reason why October 31, 1517 is generally considered the start of the Reformation.
At the heart of the Reformation was a call to purify the church. To call the church back to her roots - the foundations of our faith. Without which we wouldn’t be here this morning.
Those roots - that foundation - has been summarized by five “solas” coming out of the Reformation - bullet point summaries of what we believe - of what the reformers were calling the church back to.
“Sola” means… “solo” - only. Meaning this alone is foundational to our faith.
This month - as were celebrating the Reformation - we’re looking at these five “solas’ as an opportunity for us to think through the foundations of what the church has historically believed - what we believe - and to be strengthened and challenged in our faith as we seek to follow Jesus today.
Last Sunday we looked at… “Sola Scriptura” - which means… “Only Scripture” or “Scripture alone” - “only the Bible.” Which was the reformers way of saying that the Bible contains everything anyone needs to know for salvation and godly living - faith and practice. That message is online if you’d like to go back and listen to it.
This morning we’re looking at “Sola Gratia” which means… “Only Grace” or “Grace Alone”. Which was the reformers way of saying that we’re saved only by the unprovoked and undeserved acceptance of God. Our righteous standing before God is imputed - attributed - to us only by God’s grace because of the work of Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior.
At the time the Romans Church was teaching that we can be saved by our works of penance- saying prayers or some form of self-denial or paying indulgences or by participating in some religious sacrament like communion or baptism or because of what some church official says about us or because of some inner goodness that makes us worthy to be saved.
“Sola Gratia” - We’re not saved by our works - what we do or who we are - but by God’s grace because of the work of Jesus on the cross.
“Sola Gratia”. We believe that we’re saved only by the unprovoked and undeserved acceptance of God.
To help us go deeper in understanding what that means for us today we are looking at Romans 6:14.
Would you read this with me: For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
There are four words here that are crucial for us to understand.
The first word is SIN.
Sin is any thought, word, or deed of ours that is out of sync with God - His character and will for us.
In Genesis, God creates… creation. Everything out of nothing. God creates Adam and Eve - humanity - us - in His image. Then Adam - who represents all of us - yet to be born - humans - Adam disobeys God - sins - so that we all fall out of relationship with God.
Meaning that each of us is born into sin and hopeless separation from God - forever. And everyone of us - by our own sin - has confirmed the choice Adam made.
We get this because we live this. As humans have a universal understanding that something is messed up with us.
Maybe sitting here on cushy teal colored chairs Sunday after Sunday - or rushing through the stuff of our lives - maybe we can get a little detached or distracted from the depth of what that means.
What are the horrors of sin? A little compromise? A little rejecting of God’s will for our lives? A little disobedience to God’s commands? God’s commands are really kind of like guidelines actually. Is a little sin really such a big deal?
“Total depravity” is a theological term. It describes us before God.
Each of us is totally corrupt in every part of our nature. There’s nothing within us that’s worthy of God’s approval. Every one of us displays our depravity as thoroughly and completely as we can. That is who we are individually and as a race since Adam fell.
We live in a country that condones the murder of children. That allows women and children to be enslaved. That champions moral depravity. That wages war for our own economic and political benefit. Where justice is by common consensus - meaning right can be wrong and wrong can be right.
Where violence and fear are becoming ways of life. Think Las Vegas. Where our society and culture are unraveling at the seams and the future is deeply concerning.
That chaos is global and it’s local and it’s personal. Every day in Merced we glimpse of our depravity in the places we do life. Poverty and heartbreak and disease and psychosis and pain and murder and abuse and addictions and broken homes - broken lives - people living in bondage - in darkness - knowing no hope.
We experience the reality of that our homes and in our hearts and with what each of us personally struggles with. Often that comes with a sense of alienation - from God - from others - from who we were designed to be. Maybe a deep down knowing that “this is not the way it should be.”
That’s our sin - that always damages our relationship with God - separates us from Him. Our sin that always effects others. Our sin is always self-destructive. There is nothing within us that is worthy of God’s approval.
We all fall miserably short of living according to the character and will of God - over and over and over again.
Harsh. But reality. We’re together?
“Dominion” translates a Greek verb that’s related to the word for “lord” or “master”. Meaning someone or something that has unquestioned authority - complete ownership - total influence and power over someone or something. Think: the relationship of a master to a slave.
We get this because we cannot escape our sin. No matter how hard we try. Whatever resolutions we make. Whatever effort we put in to changing our lives. We’re sinners and we’re good at it.
The dominion of sin is a self-evident incontrovertible fact of our lives. Just try to imagine life without sin.
Some sins seem so much a part of us - our language or thoughts or what we expose ourselves to - how we view ourselves or others - some sins are so familiar that we don’t even realize we’re sinning. We’re so captivated - bound - by our sin.
Sin deludes us into thinking that we’re in control. That we can play at sin - giving in to our little indulgences - and still remain in control of our lives. So sin entices us. Sin becomes attractive - familiar. The more we sin the more we long for more sin. Still thinking we’re in control. So sin always binds us in ways we aren’t even aware of.
That’s slavery. When we sin - even little sins - when we choose to live in what is separate from God - contrary to His character and will - we place ourselves under the control of sin - whatever it wills for us to do.
We’re slaves - under the dominion - of sin. Powerless to get out from under its mastery of our lives.
Paul’s third word is LAW.
God’s law is like a fence - a boundary - a line. On one side of the fence is living in holiness and righteousness according to God’s character. Living in faithful obedience to the will of God.
On the other side of the fence is living disobedient to the will of God - sin. What is unholy and morally messed up.
God’s law is not like our laws. Our laws are based on our morality which tends to be fluid. A line drawn in the sand that tends to move depending on which way the winds of morality are blowing.
God’s law is based on Who God is - His holiness - His moral purity. Which never changes. God’s will for us never changes.
Point being: God’s law - where God draws the fence line - it never moves. It is always true - always right - always just - always holy - always honest in showing us how to live obedient to the will of God. And consequently when we fail at living according to God’s will God’s law shows us when we’re on the wrong side of the fence. Sin.
Recently Karen and I had to get new phones. There is a slight difference between my new phone and my first computer back in 1982 - a used Radio Shack TRS 80. DOS only and no memory - not even for the operating system. It is astounding what my new phone is capable of.
When we’re able to travel pretty much where we want - when we want - to purchase or to experience or to do pretty much whatever we want. Whether that’s in our own personal bubble world car - self-driving or not - going to the mall or browsing the net - and having drones drop stuff off at our house. We live in a culture of overindulgence - immediate gratification - and an economic system that enables it.
We live in the lie that whatever we believe is true. Whatever works for you is okay. Righteousness and evil are just shades of our own perception of the world. The shifting fence line of our own morality.
In many ways we are more blessed than any civilization in history - than any peoples on the planet today. And we are in great danger from all of that. Because in all of that who needs God. We are god.
With all of what we think of ourselves as humanity we struggle with the self-delusion that we can deal with our shortcomings and the issues of our humanity without God.
Even in the church - with all we know about God - because we live in the culture we live in we can loose touch with Who God is and who we are before Him.
Which is why we need the law. The brutal honesty of God’s law. Because we’re not God. We are humanity - sinners under the dominion of sin.
The purpose of the law is clarity where we fall short of God - His holiness and moral purity - obedience to His will. To clarify the arrogance and futility of our own efforts of trying to deal with our depravity. To bring us to desperation for God.
Which brings us to Paul’s fourth word: GRACE.
The Reformation proclaimed that the solution to our depravity - our hopeless position of sin and separation from God - the solution is not within us - or religious acts sanctioned by the church - but in God. Sola Gratia. Only by grace.
The depth of our sin - our depravity - requires the response that only God can give. What comes from the greatness of God’s love - the depth of God’s heart. Otherwise we’re eternally toast.
Grace is what? God’s undeserved favor towards us. God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. God’s grace changes everything.
God - sends Jesus to the cross to die for us. Because God - who is grace - demonstrates His graciousness - by doing what we could never earn or measure up to or do for ourselves - no matter how many righteous and holy things we could do.
Jesus dies in place of us dying - and paying the penalty for our own sin. Jesus dies for us - not because we’re some super righteous or holy people. Jesus dies for us even while we were in rebellion against God - us living in the stench of our own sin - not even seeking God. God dies in our place to establish the means by which our sins are forgiven and our relationship with Him can be restored.
Quote: J.I. Packer - theologian - author - brother in Christ: “Nobody can produce new evidence of your depravity that will make God change His mind. For God justified you with (so to speak) with His eyes open. He knew the worst about you at the time when He accepted you for Jesus’ sake; and the verdict which He passed then was, and is, final.”
God’s grace changes everything.
Consider the case of the parents who’s daughter is brutally abused and raped by a criminal.
Most of us would struggle to come up with a crime that would be more evil - more hideous - than that. The wounding. The scarring. The ongoing shattering of lives. How people survive that and keep going is unimaginable.
At some point the rapist - in true repentance and humility - the rapist begs for forgiveness. And, in an extraordinary act of Christian grace the daughter and parents forgive the rapist. Which - to some extent - might be understandable. But - also understandable - is that the parents and daughter have no desire for an intimate friendship with the forgiven criminal. Everyone goes their own ways.
God’s will is for us to experience a deep loving intimate relationship with Himself - even for us to experience the unending love within the inner life of the Triune God.
The law tells us that we fall short. That we’re enslaved to sin. That we’re condemned.
Our self-delusion tells us that we need to do better next time. Maybe deep down we may grab the idea that we need some kind of divine assistance. Some messenger or an insight to show us the way so that by following along we can pull it off. Maybe someone to save us by helping us save ourselves. A Jesus who sets us right with God so we can try harder at being good.
But the Gospel is not about us. The Gospel is an announcement that comes to us and we have no clue about what it means. If God did not by grace explain what God acting with grace has done by His grace, what Jesus has done for us would sound like pure foolishness.
God’s grace defies our ability and our reason. God’s grace has no basis in what we think or how we process things. It’s not lodged someplace in our mind, will, or emotions. It’s not dependent on our abilities or our intrinsic worth. God’s grace is about what God has chosen to do for us before creation was creation.
Quote - C.H. Spurgeon - pastor - brother in Christ: “While other professing Christians are congratulating themselves, I have to lie humbly at the foot of Christ’s Cross, and marvel that I am saved at all!”
God’s grace changes everything because it is only because of God’s grace that we are saved. Period.
Paul writes: For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
Let’s be clear.
God’s law does not enable us to get right with God - guiding our efforts at restoring ourselves to being morally pure and holy. That’s still the self-delusion of what we can do for ourselves. That’s still slavery to sin. I just need to do more religious things for God.
God’s law shows us that we’re on the wrong side of the fence - the wrong side of God’s character and will. Sin. Under the law we’re still under the dominion of sin.
God’s law warns us - the penalty for sin is death - eternal separation from God.
Bottom line: The purpose of the law is clarity where we fall short of God - His holiness and moral purity - obedience to His will. To clarify the futility of our own efforts of trying to deal with our depravity. To bring us to desperation for God - for God’s grace.
Under grace - God’s undeserved favor toward us - under grace we are freed from the dominion of sin and made right with God by God’s gracious work on our behalf.
Processing all that...
How can we process all that? What God - by His grace - what God has done for us is off the scale. The human mind just doesn’t go there. Why should God be so gracious to us? But He is.
#1 - Because of God’s grace we have a real choice of our eternal destination.
A or B?
Looking at the visuals that’s pretty much a no-brainer. Yes?
Every one of us is on a trajectory through life to one or the other of those destinations.
“B” is eternal death or eternal life. Eternal death is forever without God - forever torment - punishment - forever in an extremely nasty - don’t ever go there - place.
When they close the casket lid and throw 6 feet of dirt on top of us and things tend to get a little dark... Haven’t actually experienced that first hand. But, its not hard to imagine
At death - the outcome - our trajectory - up or down - has already been decided by the choice we’ve made in life to trust Jesus as our Savior. If we haven’t trusted Jesus as our Savior - what we earn by our sin - what we get paid for our sin - is eternal death. But, if we’ve trusted Jesus as our Savior we know we have eternal life with God.
God - by His grace - gives us that choice.
#2 - Because of God’s grace we have a real choice of how we can live now.
God’s grace is not just about the destination - some kind of fire insurance - a “Get Out Hell Free” card. God - by His grace - opens up to us the reality of the intimate and deepening relationship with Him that He desires to have with each of us every day of our lives.
This is... Alexander Solzhenitsyn. A man - who from first hand experience - introduced the world to the horrors - the dehumanizing - soviet prison camps of Siberia. The depravity of man on display.
Just before a photographer took a picture of Alexander Solzhenitsyn - a photograph that appeared in the 50th Anniversary of Life Magazine - the photographer asked Solzhenitsyn what he liked about America. Solzhenitsyn pressed his hand against his breast - sighed deeply - lifted his head towards the heaven - and answered: “Because you can be free.” (2)
Sometimes - with all that goes on in this country - the issues and crud that we’re constantly bombarded with - we forget what an amazing and unique place the U.S. really is. What it means to live free.
Sin tells us we can’t be free. You will always be bound to the crud of your past. You are stench in the nostrils of God. Always trapped. Always condemned. Which is a lie.
God - by His grace - God loves us - saves us - to live free from all that in relationship with Him now and forever.
How do we respond to God’s grace?
First: We need too choose to accept God’s offer of salvation.
To acknowledge our hopeless depravity. To agree with God that we sin. That God’s condemnation - destination Hell - is just.
To choose to turn from our sin and to throw ourselves before God in utter dependence on God. To welcome what He has graciously done for us through Jesus’ work on the cross.
Second: We need to choose to live by God’s grace.
Just a little farther down in Romans chapter 6 - Paul writes in verse 19: “For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.”
“impurity” - in Greek is a word that means ceremonially unclean. Serving ham at a synagogue pot luck. It’s so outrageously far away from what’s holy and clean before God - so full of sin - that its impure. Impure - ungodly - unholy - completely separate from God.
“lawlessness” - in Greek has the idea of living without respect for authority. Meaning living in sin apart from God and any respect for God’s law. Life is all about me. Who needs God.
“present” in Greek is a word which means to… present. To place ourselves under the unquestioned authority - the dominion - of someone or something to with as the please.
Our “members” are our hands, feet, tongues, ears - our body parts - and even deeper - the core of who we are.
Putting that together - “presenting our members” is physically bringing everything that we are - bringing ourselves each day of our lives - offering ourselves to someone or something - to do - to live out - whatever that person or thing wills for us.
Are we hearing a choice in that?
“sanctification” is the process of God changing us - transforming us - enabling us to live life in deepening intimacy with Him - to live life the way life is designed to be lived.
Meaning when we daily - moment by moment - well... nanosecond by nanosecond - when we choose to present our members - ourselves - as slaves of righteousness - to walk through life totally dependent on God - God by His grace - enables us to life with Him the way God wills for us to live the life that God by His grace offers to us.
We begin to live in the extreme of the freedom God graciously offers us. Life free of the delusions and guilt and burdens of sin. Life in growing - deepening - intimacy with God.
This is… Bob Dylan. 55 years and counting since he first signed with Columbia. Last year he received the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Back in 1979 - Bob Dylan released his Christian album - “Slow Train Coming.” One of the songs on that album is really the bottom line of what Paul is getting at.
You may be an ambassador to England or France,
You might like to gamble, you might like to dance,
You might be the heavyweight champion of the world,
You might be a socialite with a long string of pearls.
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
You may be a preacher preaching spiritual pride,
Might be a city councilman taking bribes on the side,
You may be working in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair,
You may be somebody’s mistress, you may be somebody’s heir.
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk,
Might like to drink whisky, might like to drink milk,
You might be sleeping on the floor, or sleeping in a king-size bed,
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody. Yes, indeed.
You’re gonna have to serve somebody.
It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord.
But, you’re gonna have to serve somebody. (3)
How do we respond to God’s grace?
We gotta make a choice:
Law or grace?
The dominion of sin and death or the dominion of God and life?
1. see Worship And The Reality Of God by John Jefferson Davis, Intervarsity Press, 2010, page 151
2. Harry Benson, Their Own Choice, Life Magazine, Fall 1986
3. Bob Dylan, Gotta Serve Somebody, from Slow Train Coming, 08.20.1079
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.