Reformation Day Sermon
ďThis is Most Certainly TrueĒ
October 31, 2004
we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.Ē
Four hundred and eighty seven
year ago, on October 31, 1517, a thirty-three year old theological
professor by the name of Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses to the door of
the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany.
He wanted to start a public debate about the practice of selling
were letters from church officials that supposedly set loved ones free
from purgatory. What
started out as a debate about the true nature of repentance became the
most important religious event since the time of the apostles. Today we call it the Reformation.
The Reformation of the Church
that God brought about by His servant, Martin Luther, was a true
reformation that set forth the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but
the truth. May God lead us
in our day to make the same confession of the same truth.
When I was a senior in high
school, Johnny Cash sang a song on the radio with the refrain, ďAnd
the lonely voice of youth cries, ĎWhat is truth?íĒ
In the song Cash said that the truth was the truth regardless of
who said it. Thatís true.
The youth of that era are now middle aged.
Yesterdayís argument about who speaks the truth has given way
to the claim that there is no such thing as truth.
It is fashionable to insist that nobody has the final truth.
There is your truth, my truth, his truth and her truth, but there
really isnít anything that we can call the truth.
This is the spirit of
agnosticism. The word agnostic comes from the Greek word for ignorant.
An agnostic says he doesnít know.
He doesnít know if there is a God.
If there is a God the agnostic doesnít know what He says.
Many nominal Christians today are, for all practical purposes,
agnostic. They believe in a god but they do not know what he says.
They insist that we cannot know.
When they hear clear teaching of Christian truth they become
uncomfortable or impatient. They
are persuaded that no one can be sure that his doctrine is Godís
doctrine. In fact, the very
word ďdoctrineĒ is held in contempt.
How far removed this is from the
spirit of the Reformation! At
the conclusion of the explanation of the three articles of the Creed we
Lutherans are taught to confess, ďThis is most certainly true.Ē
Can we make that confession today?
we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.Ē (2
Corinthians 13:8) The
Apostle Paul wrote these words near the end of his second epistle to the
Corinthians. The Corinthian
congregation was beset by all sorts of false doctrine.
Some denied the resurrection.
Some were living in open sin.
They turned the Lordís Supper into a drunken spectacle.
They were pulled away from the truth by both false teaching and
false living. St. Paul
opened his heart to those weak and erring Christians, alternately
chiding them and encouraging them.
Everything he said and did was always for the sake of the truth.
We can do nothing against the truth because the truth is from
God. Since the truth comes
from God it matters. Itís
a matter of life and death.
Luther was a man trapped by lies. The
most vicious lies are not the lies people tell about us.
They are the lies that people tell about God. In Lutherís struggles we see the struggle not only of one
man born and raised in the Middle Ages, but we see the battle of truth
against lies. The truth to
which God led Martin Luther can be summed up in the three pillars of the
Reformation: grace alone, faith alone, and Scripture alone.
When God speaks, He speaks the
truth. This truth is not so
far above us that we cannot know it.
In fact, we know God as God when God speaks to us His truth.
This is how we meet God. God
talks to us. It was only
when Luther learned to recognize the voice of God that he was led into
the light of the truth and set free from the prison of lies.
Lutherís heart had been captured by pious-sounding lies
promoted by highly respected religious authorities.
He was taught that the way to eternal life was by doing the best
that you can do with the help of Godís grace.
If you faithfully partake of the sacraments with an honest and
sincere intent, God will give you His grace.
If you cooperate with Godís grace by doing those things that
Holy Mother Church teaches you to do you will grow in grace.
Grace was a gift that God poured into you to enable you to secure
more grace. But you could
not know that you had received enough grace to be in a state of grace. That is, you couldnít be sure of your salvation.
Have you been sufficiently sincere?
Have you really done the best that you can do?
Is there some sin that keeps you from fully giving yourself to
God? Luther did not know.
He could not know. He
was taught not to presume that he was fully justified before God.
But he was also forbidden to despair.
You should do the best that you can do and trust in Godís
mercy. But the best that he
could do was so filled with sin that he was led to despair.
He regarded God as his enemy because he could not trust that God
would actually receive him as a dear child.
How could he know that God would not rather punish him for his
sins? The doctrine of grace
that he learned gave him no assurance of salvation.
It was a doctrine of doubt.
Since his salvation depended on himself, he could not know he was
saved. He sincerely believed that he was damned.
Luther learned a different
doctrine from the Bible. He
learned that the grace by which he was saved was not something that God
poured in his soul that enabled him to do good.
The grace that saved him was Godís goodwill toward sinners.
It was not Godís willingness to help sinners to do better. It was God forgiving us our sins. We do not see Godís grace by looking within our hearts for
evidence of holy feelings or holy desires.
We see Godís grace only by looking outside of us to Christ.
The doctrine of grace alone is that God rescues guilty sinners
from their sins and forgives them not because of anything the sinners
ever do but solely because of what Jesus Christ has done for them.
Grace is what Christ does for us.
He fulfills the law for us.
He does what God demands of us.
He suffers Godís punishment for all our sins.
He, true God and true man, quenches Godís anger against us by
bearing it for us. We are forgiven of all our sins and justified by God because
of what Christ has done for us, not because of how we live.
We should not look to ourselves and to our lives for assurance of
our salvation. We should
look only to Christ. We are
forgiven of all our sins and inherit heaven by grace alone.
This grace is received through
faith alone. Faith is
trust. Faith believes the gospel promise that tells us that God is
gracious to us and forgives us and delivers us and brings us to heaven
all for Christís sake and for Christís sake alone.
Here the first pillar of the Reformation leads us to the second.
Since we are justified and saved by grace alone it must also be
through faith alone. Why?
Because, as St. Paul explains in Roman 11:6, ďAnd if by grace,
then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But
if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer
work.Ē Grace saves.
Works donít save. Works
donít receive grace. Faith
does. Luther had been
taught that the faith that justifies us is a faith that is formed by
love. But our love has
nothing to do with it. Godís
grace has everything to do with it.
Until this truth is confessed our faith will have no foundation. To trust in our works is idolatry. To trust in Christís works is faith.
Since faith trusts in grace
alone, that is, in Christ alone, faith must know where Christ is.
He is not locked up in heaven far away from us.
He is present wherever His gospel is proclaimed and wherever His
sacraments are administered. Faith
doesnít go out searching for the Savior.
Faith receives the Savior who comes in Holy Baptism.
Faith receives the Savior who comes in the gospel.
Faith receives the Savior who comes in the Lordís Supper.
We are forgiven and saved through faith alone because faith alone
receives grace. Faith alone
receives Christís merits and righteousness.
We are forgiven of all our sins, rescued from death and hell, and
guaranteed eternal innocence with God in heaven by grace alone through
This is most certainly true. Why? God said
so. He said so in the
Grace alone and faith alone are
grounded in the Scriptures alone. The
Bible is the only source of divine teaching.
Luther discovered grace alone and faith alone by reading the
Bible. The reason we can trust the words of the Bible is because God
is the Author of the Bible. The
principle of Scripture alone does not mean that we donít need creeds
and confessions. In fact,
the very opposite is the case. We
are commanded to confess what God teaches us.
When God speaks His words of grace to which faith clings, we
confess that faith with our mouths.
We confess together. Thatís
what it means to confess. It
means to speak the same truth with one voice.
We confess, ďThis is most certainly true.Ē
This is not one manís private interpretation of the Scriptures.
We donít believe what we believe on the authority of Luther or
any other man. We believe
what we believe and we confess what we confess on the authority of God
Himself, because our doctrine is from the Word of God, the Holy
Scriptures. That makes it
If anyone could show that
Lutherís Small Catechism taught anything the Bible does not teach, we
would have to discard Lutherís Small Catechism.
If anyone could show that the Augsburg Confession or any other
confession of our church taught anything the Bible does not teach, we
would have to discard those confessions of faith.
We hold to the creeds and confessions of the church because they
are drawn from the Holy Scriptures, which are Godís inerrant and
infallible words. The
Scriptures judge the voice of the church. The church submits to the teaching of the Holy Scriptures
because the Bible is the very voice of God who saves us by His grace
alone, through faith alone.
The doctrine set forth in the
Lutheran Confessions is the doctrine of the Holy Scriptures.
This is why we can put our confidence in its truth, teach it to
our children, and confess it to the world.
We are not unsure of our teaching.
It is Godís teaching. It
will never change. God
cannot change. His truth cannot change.
We are sinners who have not loved God with our whole hearts.
We need Godís grace that forgives us all our sins for
Christís sake. Our good
works cannot save us. This
is most certainly true. Only
the precious means of grace Ė the gospel and sacraments of Christ Ė
can bring us to faith and sustain us in this true Christian faith.
This is most certainly true.
We need the Holy Scriptures as the only source of divine truth
and final judge of all Christian teaching.
Human traditions, philosophies, and systems are subject to error. Godís word cannot err.
We need Godís truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the
truth. This is most
Rev. Rolf D. Preus