For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
After last weeks hints, you might’ve guessed that I would have given up on hinting. I’m incredibly bad a giving hints for you to guess the answer. But indeed, I am not. Here’s my riddle for the day:
What does your newly mown lawn, a beautiful, white, picket fence, and the confession of the Biblical truth the Reformation stood on – justification, by grace, through faith, for the sake of Christ Jesus – all have in common? Their need for constant maintenance and upkeep.
You see, the problem with mowing your lawn is that the grass continues to grow – it doesn’t stay mowed. The problem with a beautiful, white, picket fence is that it doesn’t stay beautiful, white, or a fence if it isn’t consistently painted and fixed. And the problem with the confession that we are justified by grace, through faith, for the sake of Christ Jesus, is that it doesn’t stay a confession unless it is constantly confessed by the Church and the individual Christian. If it isn’t confessed often, it won’t be heard often and therefore faith which lives by hearing won’t cling to it as tightly as it ought. If faith doesn’t cling to this truth above all other truths in Scripture (because this confession is the center and glue of Scripture), dangerous things start to happen with faith. Weeds start to grow up and choke it. The fence meant to protect the Christian’s conscience and life from the wolves starts to have holes in it. The armor of God that is the defense against the devil begins to no longer be the armor of God, but the armor of my strength, merit, or works and thus becomes very weak.
Confessing with mouth and heart “justification by grace, though faith, for the sake of Christ Jesus” does many important things – one of which is that it knocks us down when we start to rely on our strength, merit, or works. If we start to climb that ladder to heaven (“I’m doing pretty good. Better than I used to do. Better than that guy.”), our Lord wants to knock that ladder out of our hands before we get too high and realize it can’t go all the way up and we begin to fall to our harm or even to our death.
You cannot continue to confess this center of Scripture without confessing that before God, you stand guilty and accountable to Him. 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.
The mouth stops. The excuses stop. I can rest in knowing that I don’t have to lie to God or to myself. I’m a sinner. If I’m justified by God, then I can stop justifying my sins to God – “they deserved it, but I deserve this, it seemed right, it felt good, I didn’t know it was wrong, they were worse than I was, I was tired, I didn’t feel like praying, but the sermon was boring, but Your Word is boring, but I don’t have very much money, everyone was talking about them, everyone else was doing it, everyone else was believing it, it was only a little lie, it was only a little thought, it would only a word, it was only a little deed, it was only once a long time ago, but I have plenty of reasons to doubt that You love me.”
One of the most enlightening points that comes out of the verse, If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, is that we can deceive ourselves. We can lie to others and lie to ourselves, but the Christian confession is that ultimately, we cannot lie to or deceive God. We are accountable to God.
Hearing this and believing this is necessary for maintaining the beauty of the white, picket fence. You want to rely on your strength, merit or works. You cannot be justified by your strength, merit, or works. God’s strength, merit, and works in Christ Jesus declare you righteous before God. God is at peace with you. So, He calls and helps you live at peace with Him and His commands and promises.
God put forward Christ as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. The word propitiation has two nuances to it: what is owed and how the relationship is restored. If I take a baseball bat to your car, two things are damaged: your car and our relationship. Even if I have your car fixed, you can still be mad at me. Christ’s blood pays the debt we owe. Your sins are forgiven. Christ’s blood appeases God’s wrath toward you. God is not angry at you.
Your faith and conscience are in need of hearing this wonderful truth often. The grass doesn’t stay cut and the conscience doesn’t stay calmed and assured if it doesn’t hear often that sin is forgiven. The Church that doesn’t make this a part of her confession and liturgy weekly falls into a dangerous ditch of either pride or despair.
The blood that is that propitiation is the same blood that covered you in your baptism, is the same blood the is fountain for every sermon, is the same blood that we sing about – “I know it was the blood for me” – and is the same blood that you drink for your freedom.
Beloved, dwell on this truth! It caused the world’s salvation! It caused the Reformation! If the Son sets you free…– not nature – not some higher power – not some inner spark – If the Son sets you free (the bloodied, beaten, dead and buried Son of God) – If the Son sets you free (the risen, absolving, peace-bestowing Son of God) – (the in-your-midst, teaching you, feeding you, giving-you-rest Son of God). If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. You are no longer a slave, but a son who will dwell, will stand, will remain in the house of the Lord forever.
Hear it, confess it, believe it, pray it, maintain it and stand with others who do the same.