Reformation Sermon 2001
1 John 5:12
"He who has the Son has life; he who
does not have the Son of God does not have life.Ē
Today is Reformation Sunday, though the actual day that marks the
beginning of the 16th Century Reformation of the Church is
October 31. It was on that
Halloween or Eve of All Saints Day in 1517 that Martin Luther nailed his
95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg Germany. Martin Luther was a religious young man in search of peace
with God. He was looking
for a life in which God would regard him with favor.
He was looking for the assurance that he would enjoy eternal
blessedness with God in heaven. False
teaching tormented his soul. He
was taught to look for peace with God in his own good works.
But he found no peace in what he did.
He found only more and more sin.
Looking for Godís grace, he found Godís anger against him.
The more he strove to save himself from hell the more convinced
he became that he was going to hell.
He was looking for his life in himself when in himself was only
sin and death from which he couldnít set himself free.
Martin Luther went through hell on earth before he found the peace he
was looking for. But he
found it. He found eternal
life. He found Jesus. Or, I should say, Jesus found him.
Luther was one of the greatest theologians the church has ever produced.
He was also a great musician and hymn writer.
Besides that, he was a leader of impeccable integrity and great
courage. He wouldnít cave
when standing firm was required. But
he never fought battles over mere words.
He fought battles over the truth.
He was truly a remarkable historical figure.
Even today the Germans honor his memory, though most of them
donít believe the doctrine he taught.
But it is Lutherís teaching that we celebrate today.
Men come and go, but Godís truth remains forever, and Luther
Ė more so than any other preacher since the time of St. Paul Ė
taught the pure and saving truth of Christ with crystal clarity.
He preached Christ. He
set before the people the simple truth that is in Christ.
St. John in our text states it so simply.
He who has the Son of God has life and he who does not have the
Son of God does not have life. On
the basis of these clear words of St. John, let us consider the
threefold discovery of the Reformation: Salvation by grace alone,
through faith alone, as taught in Scripture alone.
To say that we are saved by grace is to say that we are saved by
Jesus. Grace and Jesus go
together. St. Paul says
that we are ďjustified freely by [Godís] grace through the
redemption that is in Christ Jesus.Ē (Romans 3:24)
There is no forgiveness, there is no grace, and there is no love
from God except in Jesus. Any
notion of heaven or peace with God apart from Jesus is a false dream.
Jesus and grace go together and cannot be separated.
So we confess that we are saved by grace alone.
But we donít ever dream that we are saved by grace apart from
Jesus because it is only in Jesus that we have the undeserved love of
Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world.
I once knew a Muslim by the name of Mike Museitif who ran a store
a few blocks from our house in Racine, Wisconsin.
He was a friendly and talkative guy, and we used to talk
theology. As a Muslim, he
didnít believe that Jesus had died for his sins, but he did claim to
believe in Godís grace. I
asked him what he thought grace was.
He told me that grace was when God gave you ten times as much
credit for the good you do as he gave you blame for the bad you do.
He weighs your actions on the scale of justice and is generous in
giving you even more credit than you rightly deserve for the good you
do. Thatís grace to a
Luther grew up with a similar understanding of grace.
He learned that you do what you can.
He was taught that if you do the best you can do, God would take
care of the rest. But am I
really doing the best I can? I
must do more. I must try
harder. If I am to find
Godís grace and be sure that I have it, I must first do what I can. His life centered on doing what he could.
It was a very self-centered life.
Martin Luther did his good works so that he could get grace in
return. So everything he
did he did for himself. His
most religious works were his worst sins because they were offered for
his own benefit as he was trying to get Godís grace by doing the
things that would bring him Godís grace.
Then Luther discovered in the Bible that Christ alone brought him
Godís grace. In fact,
that this was how the Son of God wanted to be known. Jesus doesnít want us to see him as a new Moses, as if he
came into this world to teach a higher morality than the Ten
doesnít want us to see him as the shining example of how to overcome
this or that difficulty. The question of the popular bracelets, What Would Jesus Do?
is not the question Jesus wants us to ask.
No, Jesus wants to reveal to our hearts Godís grace.
He wants us to look to him, not as One who brings us more
problems and burdens and challenges, but as the One who has carried our
burden of sin away from us forever.
St. John states it quite clearly in the prologue to his Gospel,
ďThe law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through
Jesus Christ.Ē (St. John 1:17)
Whenever Jesus preached the law, it was always to prepare folks to
receive him, and that means, to receive Godís grace.
Consider how he dealt with the Samaritan woman at the well as an
example. She had been
married five times and was living with a man who wasnít her husband.
This Jesus pointed out to her.
Why? So that he could offer her forgiveness of her sin and eternal
life. He called it living
water that would quench her thirst forever Ė and he was that living
water. Jesus shows us our
sin only because he wants to cover that sin with his grace.
But there is no grace apart from Christ.
When we confess that we are saved by grace alone we are
confessing that we are saved by Jesus alone.
He who has the Son has life.
Only the Son of God has eternal life to give.
He who has the Son has life. He who does not have the Son of God does not have life.
Well, then, how do you have him?
You believe in him. This
is what Jesus said. He
said, ďFor God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son
that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting
life.Ē (John 3:16) It
should be perfectly obvious that you cannot have what hasnít been
given to you. So first God
must give his Son to you. Jesus
must come into this world to do what grace requires of him.
He must live the life that you were obligated to live.
He must die the death that your sins required you to die.
He must pay the payment that you owe to God.
He must rise from the dead having destroyed death.
He must be given to this world.
Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter must all be true historical
facts. This is Christ given
to you and to me.
But that is not all. You
are I werenít there at the manger or the cross or the open tomb.
We are here. And it
is here that Jesus must be given to us.
The gospel presents Jesus to us.
Our baptism joins Jesus to us.
The absolution is Jesusí own words to us.
The Holy Supper gives to us the same Lord Jesus, who was laid in
the manger, nailed to the cross, and who rose from the grave on Easter
Sunday. Faith feeds on this
Jesus. Faith receives him.
Faith doesnít go out looking here and there and everywhere for
Jesus. Faith simply
receives the Jesus who comes to us in the gospel and in the sacraments.
Wherever the gospel is proclaimed and the sacraments are
administered, there is Jesus in all his life giving grace and there it
is that faith is born.
This is what the Bible says,
How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?
And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?
And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? . . . So then
faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans
There is no such thing as a generic faith that all religious people have
and you can just change the details and it all amounts to the same
thing. No! There is only one saving faith and that is faith in the
God-man Jesus who suffered for our sins and was raised to life for our
justification. The only
true faith is the Christian faith.
We are saved by faith alone because faith is the only way to
receive Jesus and salvation is found only in Jesus.
We are saved by faith alone because our works donít contribute
anything to our salvation. If
our eternal destiny depended on what we do, we would all go to hell.
If our eternal destiny depends on Godís grace then it must be
by faith alone because faith doesnít do anything; it merely receives
what Jesus has done.
We go to church to get saved. Not because going to church is a good work on our part
because our good works wonít help save us.
No, we go to church to get saved because church is wherever the
gospel and sacraments of Christ are given out and that is where Christ
the Son of God is with all his grace and saving power.
It could be here in this building, in the home, out in the park,
or wherever, but it must be somewhere.
Faith doesnít grow on trees and it doesnít come from our
examining our own religious consciousness.
It comes from hearing the true word of God.
And this is why we must be taught the Scriptures alone.
I have a good friend who used to be a pastor not far from here.
Whenever anyone questions him for his staunch and stubborn
insistence in following everything in the Bible, he has a pat answer
that pretty much silences every objection.
He says, ďYou know, Iím not very smart.
The reason I follow the Bible is because I just donít know any
better.Ē What an answer!
We just donít know any better.
And thatís the only answer.
What else do we know but what God has chosen to tell us through
the men he himself called? Didnít
God send the prophets who gave us the Old Testament?
Didnít God send the apostles who gave us the New Testament?
So then, when we follow the teaching of the Bible and the Bible
alone, how can we go wrong? We
canít. We donít need a
pope or a holy tradition, or continuous revelations from God.
We need only the faithful teaching of the Bible.
The reason Lutherís Small Catechism has survived for over 470 years as
the most widely used Catechism in the history of the Christian Church is
because it states simply the biblical teaching of the true Christian
faith. We donít accept
this little book because we love Martin Luther.
We accept it because it teaches the Bible faithfully.
Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, and Scripture alone.
We have eternal life in Jesus Christ the Son of God.
This life is given to us freely by Godís grace for Christís
sake. We receive this life through faith in the gospel that we
hear. We can be protected
from all false gospels and false faiths by adhering to the teaching of
the Scripture alone because that is Godís pure word.
This is the teaching of the Reformation. May God keep us grounded in this saving truth so that the
life he has given us in Christ will remain ours forever.
Rolf D. Preus
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