Reformation Sermon from 25th Oct 2020

Romans 3:19-28 (ESV) 

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.  20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 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.  26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

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.  28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we may not try to seek your approval by what we do, but to trust that through Jesus Christ, we have your approval and have been made right with you. Amen.

When I was preparing to become a pastor, I, and my supervising pastor, visited an elderly man who was dying in hospital.

I remember seeing him lying there looking frail and old. He had been in hospital for a couple of months already. He looked lonely and depressed.

We tried to strike up a conversation with him, firstly talking about simple subjects such as the weather, about his family, and how he’s going.

I can’t remember exactly how we got onto the subject, but my supervising pastor started speaking about the confidence we have when approaching death because we have faith in Christ. At this the man’s eyes welled up with tears and said, ‘I don’t know if I’m good enough!’ And then he cried.

I don’t know if I’m good enough.

Many years later I was training people how to deal with conflict in their life. Some of this training involved doing some ‘role-plays’ so they could practice what they learnt using a made-up scenario.

I remember seeing a young man really struggling to get into the role plays. In fact, he stopped doing it and went off to sit alone. I asked him what was going on for him, and he replied saying he can normally talk to real people easily, but just couldn’t get into his role in a ‘make-believe’ situation.

As I continued to talk to him, he opened up to me a little about himself. From what he was saying I had a sense he was afraid of something, so I took a risk and asked him, ‘Are you afraid you’re not good enough?’ His eyes filled up with tears. He looked down, and nodded.

I don’t know if I’m good enough.

Do you ever feel you’re not good enough?

Do you avoid trying new things or new experiences because you don’t think you’ll be any good at them?

Do you beat yourself up for doing the wrong thing or letting people down, and punish yourself because you’ve just shown others that you’re no good?

Then, if you think you’re not good enough, how does this affect your relationship with God who demands your perfection?

Will this mean, when you lay on your death bed, will you worry whether you’ve worshipped him enough, prayed to him enough, praised him enough, kept his commands enough, or made enough disciples for him?

Will you wonder if you’ve been good enough?

But this isn’t the only thing we worry about.

We don’t just ask ourselves this question, but we also make judgments on each other based on this question.

We already know everyone around us isn’t good enough. This means we don’t trust people will do things well enough, so we resolve to do it all ourselves (and get grumpy as a result). We criticise, put down, and punish those around us because we reckon they’re not good enough. We’re tempted to not forgive them because they’re not good enough for us, and we’re going to hold them accountable for not being good enough!

This means it could be that you not only think you’re not good enough, but everyone around you isn’t good enough either!

But what would you say to those in tears because they’re afraid they’re not good enough?

What comfort would you give a dying man who’s scared he won’t get to heaven because he doesn’t think he’s good enough?

What comfort would you give a young man who’s struggling with his self-confidence and is terrified of letting people down because he doesn’t think he’s good enough?

What comfort would you give your sister or mother or brother or father who’s hurt you or betrayed you, and who didn’t treat you well enough?

Unfortunately, the normal human responses to this human problem often fall short. We’re either tempted to encourage people to try harder (which only burdens them and their conscience further) or we’re tempted to minimise any of God’s laws or our own expectations by arguing them away (which still doesn’t free the conscience).

God’s answer to this problem is different.

I can’t remember what we said to comfort the dying man, but I do remember what I said to this troubled young man. The reality is, I didn’t say much at all and chose to let God speak to him instead.

I asked him to look at today’s text written by St Paul to the Romans, particularly verse 23. He read it out loud: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.

I asked him to read it again by personalising it where the text said ‘all’. He read it again using his own pronoun. “I have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.

I told him it’s not just whether he didn’t know if he was good enough or not, but God tells him without a doubt he’s not good enough!

Similarly, you’re not good enough. I’m not good enough. This is a Scriptural truth we all want to avoid, but we can’t. All people aren’t good enough, and we never can be!

This isn’t a truth we like, because we either have self-inflated opinions of ourselves or we’re burdened by our inadequacies, and God’s Law only serves to prick our conscience further, but this is the truth according to God.

I then asked this young man to read the next verse in the same personalised way, and he said: “I am justified by God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus!”

You see, yours and my salvation and our relationship with God is not about being ‘good enough’. Our salvation and righteousness (or the only way we can ever be ‘good enough’) is only through faith in Jesus Christ.

Through faith in Jesus Christ alone, you and I have been put into a right relationship with God and given Christ’s righteousness! It’s not what we do, but what God does through his Son, which he gives us as a free and undeserving gift when we believe this promise!

Do you realise how much freedom and peace this offers?

When we ask ourselves ‘I don’t know if I’m good enough’ or when we declare that those around us aren’t ‘good enough’, we’re all judging ourselves and those around us on keeping the law – either God’s Law or our own little self-imposed laws. We’re judging ourselves, and each other, on the fact we’re not doing enough good works.

This means we’re judging ourselves and each other based on works and not on faith. Yet we know, as good little Lutherans (because we believe God’s Word will always have the last say), we’re not saved by works but we’re saved by faith!

To be justified by faith alone breaks all those inadequate human comforts as well as all those impossible human demands. Your morality, intellect, abilities, intentions, goodness, or compassion mean nothing in regards to your forgiveness, righteousness, or salvation!

This means it’s not about you being good enough! It never has been and never will be! You’re only justified and made good enough through faith in Jesus Christ!

To be justified by faith alone then leads to divine comfort where you and I are able to say:

“I know I’m not good enough. I haven’t been a good husband, a good wife, a good father, a good mother, a good sibling, a good child, or even a good pastor. The expectations placed on me by myself, by others, or even by God will always reveal to me my shortcomings. I know I’m not good enough. But so what! You see, I also know and trust God’s Son Jesus Christ. He alone is perfect. He alone fulfilled the whole law. He alone paid the full price for my sinful failings so that I don’t have to. He alone is my forgiveness, my salvation, and my life. He alone is good enough. So, where I fail, he succeeds. He did all this for you and me which has nothing to do with you or me being ‘good enough’!”

You see, the good news is, he swapped places with you. Any painful punishment you deserve because you’re not good enough, he received. Any guilt you should carry, he carried to the cross. The death you deserve, he willingly took on. Because he took your sin into himself on the cross, he became the guilty One. In other words, even though he is good enough, he willingly became the One not good enough – for me and for you!

It’s through baptism where Jesus gives you his perfection, his innocence, and his life. He’s grafted you into his own body, which now sits in glory at the right-hand side of God.

It’s also as you receive his holy body and blood at the Lord’s Supper where Jesus gives you himself as an assurance of God’s forgiveness and for the strengthening of your fragile faith.

So, whether you’re aware of it or not, you and I have well and truly fallen short of God’s glory, and there’s nothing you and I can do about it! But God’s forgiveness, righteousness, glory and life is given to us as a free and undeserving gift through faith in Jesus Christ.

Through faith in Christ, we realise God now looks upon us with his favour; not because of anything we’ve ever done or ever will do, but because of what Christ has done for us, and because Christ covers us with his perfection.

Then, any good things we do have absolutely no bearing on us ‘being good enough’. Any good things we do are as a direct result of the nature of Christ, who now lives in us through faith.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, there’s no doubt – you and I aren’t good enough, and there’s nothing we can do about it, but we’re saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Only he is good enough, and he chose to be obedient to death on the cross for you and me so that we may be forgiven and be free of the condemnation of the Law. He did this so that…

…the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus – the One who is good enough. Amen.