October 30, 2022
Pastor Gunnar Ledermann
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.
I am not enough. I failed. I will not meet expectations. These statements come after statements like, “I need a different church or religion.” “My parents are too strict.” “I will never get rid of these extra pounds.” “My orientation is awkward and not fulfilling.” “My debt-to-income ratio is growing.” “I lost my job.” “My reputation still has not recovered after that night or that post.” “I do not have the skills, time or energy to get that degree or family that the people around me have.” We all feel the weight of accountability to expectations beyond what we can meet.
Failure does not only affect you and me. Jeremiah also understood failure. He lived 2,600 years ago in Judah, the Southern Kingdom of divided Israel. Roughly one hundred years before Jeremiah, the Northern Kingdom of Israel failed to trust God and was defeated by the nation of Assyria. At the time of Jeremiah, war between Assyria and Egypt had left Assyria in sharp decline. To the East of Judah, Assyria was also pushed back by the Babylonians who became the dominant power. Jeremiah was called by God to be a prophet and deliver God’s message to the people, which was, “Failure.” We read in our Old Testament reading from Jeremiah 31, 31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. God had made Israel a free, independent people, gave them a homeland and for centuries prevented their defeat by foreign powers. His only ask was their faithfulness to him like a wife to her husband, but they failed. Jeremiah delivered the news that their failure meant the dominant power of Babylon would defeat Judah and the kingdom would fall. Yet, God promised a new covenant, a new promise, that Jeremiah was able to share with the people, 34 … “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” This promise to forgive sin, which is the failure of people accountable to God, remains true today.
The fear of failure surrounds us and is in each of us. To combat this fear, many people constantly work to be better in many aspects of their life, others work to be the best in a specific area. To combat this fear, the concept of an accountability partner has become popular. To combat this fear, some have embraced failure with cynicism and apathy. To combat this fear, some escape through alcohol, drugs, various forms of entertainment and fantasy worlds. These fears all come from the truth revealed in our New Testament reading from Romans 3, 19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. The whole world is accountable to God’s law, his standard of a good life. God wrote his law down in Scripture sharing it publicly with the world and in every human heart calling it a conscience, which is why no one has an excuse for not knowing what God expects. And his law was not given so that with enough hard work we could keep it and get approval from the great accountability partner in the sky. It was given to expose our failure. The fear of failure fills every human heart because failure means you miss out on something good. Failure means no reward. Failure means punishment.
Today we celebrate the Lutheran Reformation. We celebrate today because a man named Martin Luther who lived 500 years ago, who shared our fear of our accountability to God for failing to keep his law and who searched for an end to fear of God discovered the answer. He rediscovered the end of fear by reading his Bible. The Bible reveals that the end of fear is righteousness. Righteousness is being right or good. When you are accountable to someone and you do what is right and good, then you do not have to be afraid. If you want to lose five pounds in one month and ask someone to hold you accountable, and at the end of the month you have lost five pounds, you are excited to tell that person because you did the right and good thing. The end of your fear of accountability to God is having righteousness, not righteousness you earn for yourself by doing good things and keeping God’s law because again you are sinful and the law was given to expose sin, not to provide a path to an achievable goal.
The righteousness you needed was a gift. By reading the Bible, Martin Luther saw for himself that God gives us his own righteousness as a gift. He read this in the New Testament book of Romans. To summarize his rediscovery of this good news, he used five points: Scripture Alone, Christ Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone and Glory to God Alone. These appear in our New Testament reading from Romans 3, 21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. The Law and the Prophets are the Scriptures, the Old Testament, that pointed to the righteousness God would give us. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. Faith connects us to Christ. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God’s grace, which is his love for us when we were failures, when we did not know, recognize or love God, saved us. God’s glory is his work to save us and his gracious gift of forgiveness, his new covenant as he said through Jeremiah, 34 … “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” These five points will stand firm forever and they are true for you because of what has been done by God for you as we read in Romans 3, 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Your fear of failure and punishment from God has been removed through Jesus. Jesus sacrificed himself dying and experiencing hell on the cross to save you. His sacrifice is one of atonement because it took God’s anger and disappointment way. You are now ‘at one’ and atoned for meaning you are at peace with God. God did this because he loves you so much. So, God is just because he took your sin and the punishment for it seriously shedding the blood of his own Son in your place in public on a hill for many to witness and the world to hear about. He is the one who justifies you, with the statement, “You are righteous, not guilty, good, worthy, enough, expectations met, acceptable.”
Fear ends with God’s Word. Each day you are presented with new reasons to fear you are not good enough. Each day you will hear a new strategy to be better. You are surrounded on the outside and have your thoughts on the inside sometimes accusing you of sin and sometimes defending how well you are doing. These lead to fear or turn you away from God’s gift of righteousness. Do not listen to them. Instead, in our Gospel reading from John 8, Jesus tells you what to hold to every moment, 31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Freedom from fear of God’s punishment and freedom from constantly working to reach an impossible goal are found in Jesus’ teaching, the truth. This is the truth Jesus spoke, 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. The only opinion of yourself that you need to listen to is God’s. God says you are free from fear because you are free from sin and punishment, free from death and hell. Those who tell you otherwise are not God, not from God, do not speak the truth, do not love you and do not determine your eternal destination. Those in your life who are honest about your sin and remind you of God’s grace, speak the truth, love you and want you to be thankful for your eternal home in heaven.
We all feel the weight of accountability to expectations beyond what we can meet. Many are afraid and working tirelessly. Turn their eyes to Jesus. Give them the answer their soul needs to hear. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Rest your own soul on the gift of righteousness. Fear of your accountability to God ends through faith in Jesus Christ. Through Jesus you have righteousness, forgiveness and love. Amen.