"Here I Stand, Justified!" - Romans 1:16-19 - A Preview for Reformation Day
Introduction - Explanation of Luther's 95 Theses and His Inevitable Trial
On October 31, 1517, the day before All Saints, in the city of Wittenberg on the Elbe River, in the Electorate of Saxony, the following occurred: A monk named Martin Luther, member of the Order of the Augustinian Eremites, appointed Doctor of Theology, Professor at the University of Wittenberg, District Vicar over the monasteries of his chapter in the Electorate of Saxony, and preacher at the City Church wrote two letters. One was to the Archbishop of Mainz; the other was to the Bishop of Brandenberg. In these two letters Luther protested against the charlatan and false conception of the indulgence as it was proclaimed in word and practice by the Dominican monk John Tetzel in behalf of an indulgence for the construction of the new St. Peter's church in Rome. To both letters he attached 95 theses in which, in a scholarly manner, he explained how dubious the notions being disseminated by Tetzel about the essence of indulgences were, and in accord with the "old custom of scholars," he extended an invitation to discuss them in academic disputation. Tradition has it that he nailed the Theses on the Wittenberg Castle Church door on the same day he sent the letters, which was another way of inviting academic debate.
**Indulgences: According to medieval Roman Catholic teachings, Christ, Mary, and the saints had lived without sin. They had also performed a great number of good works, which were stored up in heaven. Because the ordinary Christian ends this life with more sins than merits, a penalty must be paid, the church insisted: the sinner must endure untold suffering in purgatory before being admitted to heaven. Thus it was necessary for relatives and friends of the dead to have mass said, and to purchase indulgences in order to reduce the time spent in purgatory. The pope alone could authorize the sale of indulgences that transferred the merits of Christ and the saints to the credit of the living and the dead.
John Tetzel was a major indulgence salesman working in Germany, who even had a slogan "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs." Luther had been preaching against indulgences for about a year, but when Tetzel came to the Wittenberg, Luther felt more direct action was necessary, and so posted the 95 Theses.
The Theses caused a furor both in Germany and in Rome, and as both scholars and peasants came to support Luther, the power of the Pope and his Cardinals came to oppose him. Between 1517 and 1521 Luther wrote more and more books and materials which revealed that it was not indulgences he really opposed, but the entire Roman Catholic system of salvation by sacraments and merits, and ultimately he came to call the Pope himself Antichrist. Although various attempts were made to convince Luther to retract his books and his statements, he would not budge, and in January of 1521 he was excommunicated, and in April of that year was summoned to the Diet of Worms, supposedly to be given one last chance to repent.
When you read Luther's words during this period, the driving force behind his preaching and writing becomes clear: he was dedicated to the Word of God, and the Word of God alone as the ultimate source of authority for the Christian, a position which flew in the face of Catholic teaching that the Pope and decisions of Councils had final authority even over Scripture, since only the Pope could truly interpret Scripture.
Theme Statement: The Righteous Shall Live By Faith
1a. The Righteousness of God Comes to Those Who Believe the Truth
1c. "Not ashamed" - Paul has never been to Rome, and in 1:15 he has just said that he is eager to preach the gospel in Rome as he has in other places. Paul is not ashamed of this Gospel, Luther says, despite 1 Cor. 1:22-25:
22For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (NASB)
Paul is not ashamed despite the fact that the gospel goes against every rule of human survival and self-interest. Luther goes so far as to equate being ashamed to preach the gospel with unbelief:
He who does not truly believe is even today not merely ashamed of the Gospel, but he also contradicts it, at least in his heart and in his action. The reason for this is the following. He who finds pleasure and enjoyment in the things that are of the flesh and of the world cannot have a taste or pleasure for the things that are of the Spirit of God. Therefore he is not only ashamed to proclaim the Gospel to others, but he fights against it and does not want it to be spoken to him. He hates the light and loves the darkness. For this reason he does not suffer the salutary truth to be spoken to him. Moreover, to be ashamed of the Gospel is a fault of cowardice in pastors, but to contradict it and not to listen to it is a fault of stupidity in church members. This is obvious when the preacher is afraid of the power, influence, and number of his hearers and is silent concerning the essential truth and when the unresponsive hearer despises the lowliness and humble appearance of the Word.
2c. Luther on "power of God for salvation":
That is, it is a power unto salvation for all who believe, or it is the Word that has power to save all who believe in it. And this is given through God and from God. It is as if you should say: "This jewel has this power from God, that he who wears it cannot be wounded." Thus the Gospel has this ingredient from God, that he who believes in it is saved. In this way, therefore, the person who has the Gospel is powerful and wise before men, even though in the eyes of men he may be considered foolish and weak.
3c. "To each one who is believing"
Or: "to each one who has faith," not simply each one who "believed," at some time in the past, who said a "sinner's prayer" and has gone no further. This is an emphatic description of continuing faith. The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believed the gospel when he or she first heard it, and continues to believe despite all.
2b. 1:17 - Context for Luther -
All the while I was absorbed with the passionate desire to get better acquainted with the author of Romans. Not that I did not succeed, as I had resolved, in penetrating more deeply into the subject in my investigation, but I stumbled over the words (chapter 1:17) concerning the "righteousness of God revealed in the Gospel." For the concept "God's righteousness" was repulsive to me, as I was accustomed to interpret it according to scholastic philosophy, namely, as the "formal or active" righteousness, in which God proves Himself righteous in that He punishes the sinner as an unrighteous person.
Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that He was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, "As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with His righteousness and wrath!" Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted. At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, "In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, 'The righteous one shall live by faith.'" There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, "The righteous one shall live by faith." Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me. Thereupon I ran through the Scripture from memory. I also found in other terms an analogy, as the work of God, that is, what God does in us, the power of God, with which He makes us strong, the wisdom of God, with which he makes us wise, the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God. And I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word "righteousness of God." Thus that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise.
3b. 1:17 - Exposition
1c. "the righteousness of God in it is being revealed"
Again, not "has been revealed," but "is being revealed," every time the gospel is preached. Luther nails the essence when he says that God's righteousness, God' justice, can cause nothing but fear unless we recognize that the revelation is what Romans 5:1 calls "being justified/declared righteous by faith;" God's righteousness is revealed in the gospel as that which leads to salvation for those who believe in the gospel.
2c. "from faith to faith"
NIV has "by faith from first to last" indicating that we receive God's righteousness by faith at every stage of our Christian life. Now that may be true, but the expression is lit. "out of faith into faith," or "by faith for faith." That is, in the gospel, the revelation of God's righteousness is understood not only by having faith, but that revelation is intended to lead to further faith, and faithfulness.
3c. "The righteous one out of faith shall live."
Habakkuk 2:4 "Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith. (NASB)
The contrast in Hab. is with the proud one, the one who attempts to live according to his own resources and ignore God. The righteous is the one whose whole life is dependent on and dedicated to faith in God.
2a. The Wrath of God Comes Upon Those Who Suppress the Truth
1b. 1:18 - Context for Us - Contrast with Luther's time:
1c. Luther's "tower experience," his "conversion" took place after years of wrestling with a dreadful terror of God's presence because he had such an acute awareness of his own sinfulness and unworthiness. He was delivered from this fear through his intense study of God's word, and his determination to discover what exactly Paul meant by "God's righteousness." He rejoiced over God's righteousness only after being convicted that God's wrath rested upon him, and that he was delivered from that wrath only by faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not many of us today, I don't think, take time to reflect on God's wrath toward those who oppose him, and that, literally, except for God's grace, we too would be under His wrath.
2c. Also, Luther's stand against Rome pitted the authority of God's Word against the arrogant authority of men who set their own standards even above God's word. Luther was willing to submit to any authority who could demonstrate that he was in error regarding God's Word. Rome refused to deal on those terms; the Pope and his cardinals simply asserted their authority by virtue of their position. Luther reflected a mindset of his day that refused to accept authority without reason. For Luther reason came from the Word of God.
If too much authority was the problem in Luther's day, the problem in our day is that we have trouble submitting to any authority at all except our own desires. Not only in the world, but in the evangelical church we recoil against the whole idea of authority based on absolute truth. We say we believe the Bible is the Word of God, but when it conflicts with our personal agendas and desires we find some way to rationalize it, to turn its powerful spotlight away from our light onto some other person, some other place, some other time.
2b. Read Rom. 1:18-19 again:
"Suppress the truth" is lit. "hold down the truth." Now the "truth" in this passage is not talking specifically about the gospel, but about "what can be known about God." God has made certain things clear to all men through creation, through His acts of power in history, sometimes through "personal appearances." It is upon those who suppress that knowledge, that truth, that the wrath of God is being revealed in the gospel.
Now if God's wrath falls on those who suppress His truth in creation, which is not salvation truth, how do you suppose God reacts to those who know the truth of the Gospel, the truth of God's revealed Word, and yet suppress parts of it in their own lives?
Luther stood firm in the face of the strongest opposition from the Roman Catholic church and the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. His commitment to the Word of God led to his understanding that he was righteous before God by faith in Jesus Christ. Once he understood that, and he no longer feared God's condemnation, he certainly could fear no other man.
***Luther's Closing Statement at Trial
At this I give my answer.
Since then your Serene Majesty and your lordships require a simple answer, I will give you one without horns and without teeth, in these words. Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures, or by evident reason, (for I put my faith neither in Pope nor Councils alone, since it is established that they have erred again and again and contradicted one another), I am bound by the scriptural evidence adduced by me, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot, I will not recant anything, for it is neither safe nor right to act against one's conscience. Here I stand! I can [do] no other!
God help me. Amen.