Let the pure doctrine of Your Holy Word shine as the sun for us. Amen.
Text: Romans 4:1-8
What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something of which to boast, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.”
“Man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” That is the most important article in our doctrine of faith and it is always necessary to maintain it in the battle against sin, death, and the devil. Let the glorious Bible passage we heard strengthen our faith and rejoice our heart! – “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” In his commentary on Romans Besser1 writes: “Abraham grasped the promise of grace in Christ with sincere faith, and God’s judgment of him said: ‘Because he believes, he is righteous before Me.’ God gives pure grace, and when I receive pure grace, I am justified. Abraham excelled in this: that he neither looked back to works, by which he might have earned the great reward he sought, nor ahead to works by which he might complete the offered grace, but simply ‘he believed in Him who justifies sinners.’ Then he was so emptied of all his own, so that, completely without trust in his strength, God could deal with him according to the riches of His grace and account his faith to him as righteousness. Note it rightly! Although this faith of Abraham by which he presented himself to God in the right way is a spiritual matter, worked by the Holy Spirit and pleasing to God, still it is not perfect, because Abraham is still in the flesh. Certainly he gave God the glory, rejoiced in Him, and entrusted himself to Him, yet not to the degree worthy of God’s majesty. His faith therefore was not his righteousness (speaking of its essence), but his faith was accounted to him as perfect righteousness, because God was pleased in him for Christ’s sake.
“‘Christian righteousness touches on these two parts,’ Luther says: ‘first on faith, which gives God His proper honor; next on this, that God accounts to us such faith as righteousness. For because faith is weak and imperfect (note well: even the strongest faith like Abraham’s is given to weakness), the second part is necessary, namely that God reckons to us such faith as righteousness and does not reckon to us other sins, but forgives them and takes them away, as though the least of them were not done. And He does this not for our sake or for any of our worthiness, merit, or work, but for Christ’s sake, in whom we believe. Therefore a Christian is both righteous and a sinner,2 loves God and worships Him, yet also is angry with Him and murmurs against Him… Yet you say, how is it possible that I am righteous and yet a sinner? Well, you feel and acknowledge sin in you and that is a good sign. So you should not doubt, but rather thank God. Run to Christ; He is the true Physician, as His name says. He can and He will heal the broken heart and save poor sinners. And throughout your life beware of following the judgment of your own reason, which says that God quarrels with poor sinners. Mortify and sacrifice your reason that says this to you, but believe and call on Him, so that you become holy and righteous. Then you praise God and confess that He is the true God, righteous and merciful. And what sins you may still have are not accounted to you, but are forgiven for Christ’s sake. His perfect righteousness is yours, and your sins are His.'”
O God, imprint this blessed doctrine indelibly on our soul, and let us be found among those blessed people whose transgressions are forgiven, and in whose spirit there is no guile. Amen.
As silver tried by fire is pure
From all adulteration,
So through God’s Word shall men endure
Each trial and temptation.
Its light beams brighter through the cross,
And, purified from human dross,
It shines through every nation.
Defend Thy truth, O God, and stay
This evil generation;
And from the error of its way
Keep Thine own congregation.
The wicked everywhere abound
And would Thy little flock confound;
But Thou art our Salvation.
Luther: O Lord, look down, from heaven behold L 497:5-6 ELH 440:5-6 tr. The Lutheran Hymnal;
tune: Ach, Gott vom Himmel