Message from Sunday, October 25th, 2020
"We Are Saved by Believing the Gospel"
Romans 3: 19 - 28
The Gospel can be difficult to accept. We’ve heard the word “gospel” used many, many times in sermons and in church for years. We sing songs about the gospel. In the worship service we have gospel readings. So the word “gospel” certainly isn’t unfamiliar to us. My guess, however, is we may not have a real clear understanding of the gospel.
In confirmation class I try to make it as clear as I can. I tell the children that gospel means “good news.” So if someone were to ask them what the word “gospel” means, they would be able to say “good news.” But over the years, some of them forget the meaning of gospel. And I’m sure some of us have forgotten as well. So it never hurts to review.
Now, I said the word “gospel” in its basic form means “good news.” But the question arises, good news about what? The answer to this question is the good news about our salvation from eternal death. Jesus became like one of us to die on the cross and rise from the dead for our eternal salvation. Whoever believes in this good news will be saved. All of us were born in this world cut off from God because of our sin. But God remedied this problem. He sent His Son Jesus to take care of the problem of sin. God placed all of our sins on Jesus, who took them to the cross for our salvation. Now we have eternal life with God Almighty to look forward to. That is good news.
The only thing that God demands from us regarding the Gospel or good news is that we believe it. He wants us to believe what He has done for us so that we will live, live with Him forever. The reason God wants this for us is because He loves us. He wants His creation to dwell with Him forever.
Now, is there anything really hard to understand about the Gospel? I think I’ve put it in relatively simple terms for us. Believe me, it doesn’t take rocket science to figure it out or understand it. One doesn’t have to have a doctorate degree to grasp it. And God intended it that way. The Gospel is intended for all people, and the only thing people need for the Gospel is faith. That means the Gospel isn’t beyond the grasp of the dumbest person in the world or the least educated person in the world. Faith is all they need.
But as simple as God has made it for a person to receive the Gospel, people have complicated the Gospel. For some, there just has to be more to it than just believing it. That’s too easy. There is something a person has to do in order to earn God’s salvation.
This is what happened in the church. Over the years, the church, in many ways, turned the Gospel into the law. It placed requirements on people. People had to do things in order to receive God’s grace. This was what the church began to teach. One of the things the church also taught the people was that if they bought a piece of paper called an indulgence, they would receive God’s forgiveness. That piece of paper could also forgive the sins of a relative or someone else the buyer designated. This teaching took Jesus Christ out of the equation. It turned the Gospel upside down. But the people didn’t know any better. They believed what the leadership of the church told them.
It was this teaching that in many ways caused the Reformation in the early 1500s. For years, there had been talk about the need for reform within the church. But those who dared to speak out against the church often times found their life cut short by the church. The church was known for killing its critics. But in the early 1500s, things went differently.
Martin Luther became a staunch critic of the church’s sale of indulgences, or the pieces of paper that could forgive sins. He wanted the church to return to the Gospel. Forgiveness of sins depended on God alone and not on the purchase of a piece of paper. But the church didn’t see things that way, and so it tried to get rid of Martin Luther.
It wasn’t God’s will, however. Some of the secular authorities were on the side of Luther and protected him. As a result, the Reformation was allowed to run its course. And the Catholic church had to come to terms with this fact.
The church was successful in excommunicating Martin Luther. In other words, the church had Martin Luther removed from the church, but that didn’t put an end to the Reformation. The Reformation marched on. It produced some of the different denominations we have today, including Lutheran. By the way, Martin Luther had no intention of starting his own church. He simply hoped to reform the Catholic church. It was Luther’s followers that decided to call themselves Lutheran.
Martin Luther strove to make the Gospel central in the church once again. As I said, the church had turned the Gospel into the law, in a sense. Good works also became a requirement to enter God’s kingdom. But Martin Luther was intent on restoring the purity of the Gospel. And he did just that. He made it clear that we are saved by believing in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. This is really what the Reformation was all about.
It’s hard to believe that the church lost its way through the years. But it did. And so God raised up reformers to restore the Gospel in its purity. The same had happened to the Israelites throughout their history. They would deviate from God’s way, along with the religious establishment, and God would then send prophets to put them back on the right course. The same more or less happened with the church. That’s why God raised up reformers—to put the church back on the right path.
The Reformation was a testimony to the power of God’s word. Martin Luther read the Bible and came across our text. God’s word moved him to stand against the church and start a movement that changed the world. The Reformation strongly advocated a return to God’s word and made the Bible its authority. During Luther’s time the supreme authority in the church was the pope. Because the pope was a man meant that he wasn’t infallible. His decisions weren’t always in accord with God’s word. Plus, a new pope might change what his predecessor had decreed. But the Bible never changes. God’s word is always the same. For that reason, Martin Luther and others insisted that the Bible had to be the supreme authority in the church.
So we thank God that He raised up reformers who sought to remove the law from the Gospel. Salvation is completely God’s work for the benefit of mankind. God sent His Son for our salvation. If we believe in Him, we too will be saved. Our works play no role whatsoever in God’s plan of salvation for us.
But as I said at the beginning of the message this is hard for many to accept. They reason that there has to be more to it than that. Believing in Jesus’ death and resurrection for forgiveness is too easy. But our text makes it clear that we are justified before the Lord because of the Gospel, not because of the law. There is no need to add the law to God’s saving grace in Jesus.
In our day, the religion is works righteousness. “If I’m a good person and do good things instead of bad, I will go to heaven” This is what the vast majority of people believe. They have put their faith in themselves instead of in Jesus. They have completely disregarded what Jesus has done. They believe He doesn’t figure in their salvation. The problem is they have put their trust in their own reason and not in God’s word.
This is why we need to continue to preach the Gospel in its purity more than ever. The world needs to hear the truth about salvation. In some ways, we need to keep the Reformation alive.
I pray that God would continue to use us to preach and teach the Gospel in its purity. And may God keep us strong in our faith so that we don’t succumb to the temptation that our eternal salvation depends on our goodness. Our salvation depends only on God.