How can God be just while justifying sinners? this is the question of the reformation. Remember the misery Martin Luther experienced as a monk trying to attain a righteousness greater than the scribes and pharisees.
Luther found his answer as he studied the book of Romans. The book of Romans is basically an extended sermon, in which the apostle Paul unpacks for his readers that phrase in the prophets, “The Just Shall Live By Faith
Today we’re looking at a second truth to fix our life on, namely, salvation by grace alone. Ephesians 2:1-4 is one of the most beautiful passages of scripture. It speaks of our complete hopelessness in our state without God - we were dead, we were completely lost following the ways of this world and the desires of our flesh, under the influence of Satan and under the wrath of God. And you have that great contradiction in verse 14: But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, made us alive together - and the entirety of our hope is summed up at the end of verse 5: by grace you have been saved. What a passage! What a promise! What more needs to be said? We can go home!
Yet the powerful truth the resounded out of the reformation was not merely “salvation by grace” but “salvation by grace alone”, and so all week I’ve been trying to understand, what difference does that little word make? and does that little word still matter? And if it does still matter, what does that mean for us?
While the reformation impacted the entirety of life and culture, the question that emerged and energized the movement was theological - how can man be right with God? This question through Europe into upheaval and re-formed Church and State, but the answers that emerged from the upheaval point us back to the firmest of foundations, the gospel of Jesus Christ. The reformation identified 5 core truths, called the five solas of the reformation, because they each contain the latin word meaning “alone”: sola gratia, by grace alone; sola fide, through faith alone; solus Christus, in Christ alone; sola scriptura, on the authority of scripture alone, soli Deo gloria, to the glory of God alone.
Ours is also a time of massive social, religious and political upheaval. So many people sense this, we know society is fracturing and we see it in ourselves as well. Yet the secular answers in our age seem powerless to stop the upheaval.
This fall, many churches are joining together to point us back to the only truths that provide a lasting and sure foundation. Over the next five weeks we are going to be returning to the 5 truths that the reformation rediscovered. 5 Truths to Hold you Firm in an age of upheaval.
Do you have a friend, a co-worker, maybe a spouse or a family member who is a bit of a train wreck? They make bad decisions that lead to worse decisions. They are always in a crisis, they call you up again at 3AM to pick them up from somewhere they shouldn’t be. You know who I am talking about? If you don’t, it might be you :).
It’s exhausting being a friend or a family member of a train wreck. The closer your relationship, the more exhausting it is. Because the truth is that we’re not created to observe human relationships like train wrecks, detached and uninvolved. We’re tied to these people that God has placed in our lives. We don’t just watch them crash, at times we feel that we’re crashing with them - that perhaps “train wreck” is not that adequate a picture, its more like a shipwreck and we are in the boat with them, and if they go down, we go down together.
In Acts 27, the apostle Paul actually has this experience of being tied to the ill-fated decisions of those he is travelling to Rome with. They literally ship wreck. And the big theme of this chapter is that God has providentially placed Paul on this ship with these men - 276 of them - to warn them of their danger and to proclaim the hope that he has in god to them. They do in fact go through the crash together, but through it all, they also reach the other side together. As we work through this chapter, we see precisely why Paul is on this boat, and may it encourage you as you at time question, when your friend or family member is crashing again, why am I here? What am I to do?
German Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer observed, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” In Acts chapter 26 we see truth passing through the first two stages with the apostle pressing hard to persuade his hearers into the third.
While there is only one formal trial described in this chapter, there are actually two men on trial here. In the first half of the chapter, Paul is on trial before Felix, the governor of Judea. In the second half of this chapter, it is Felix himself who is on trial, but not before Paul, before the supreme judge of the universe. As we look carefully at these two trials, we will see the difference in how the world accuses and the spirit convicts.
These past few years have seen the role of law enforcement spark controversy in various communities. While African American communities have always had what could be charitably described as an “uneasy” relationship with government authorities, the shooting death of Trayvon Martin was significant, for as I observed last week, while there have been many eras throughout world history that could be characterized as an “age of rage” the internet has brought the rage home to many of us, almost to an overwhelming degree. After Trayvon there was Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and the hashtag, #BlackLivesMatters became a movement, and a polarizing one at that. Those who defended the police as those who are trying to do an impossible job, employed the counter hashtag #bluelivesmatter, and lines were drawn in the sand.
This all corresponded with the rise of Donald Trump, who promised to restore law and order in American cities as part of his pledge to make America Great Again, and after his unlikely victory protests erupted in various american cities, sometimes erupting in violence as we saw last month in Charlottesville between the Alt-Right and Antifa, and sometimes it seems that anarchy rules on the streets. If America is a boiling pot, there are times when the waters spill over into Canada. The alt-right is here. Antifa is here. The anarchists are here. the government is here.
I don’t bring this up today to be sensational or to try to preach from the newspapers. But only to state that there are serious questions being asked today about the legitimacy of government to enforce laws and the manner in which our governments in particular enforce the law, and as Christians we not only live in this nation under the law, but we work with and go to school with and drink coffee in the shop with people who either distrust or defend, or sometimes detest the government and law enforcement, and we get in conversations, in which people may ask us, what do you think, and so often our answer as Christians is, I try not to get involved in all that.
It’s been said that we live in an age of outrage. Author Mark Manson writes:
Outrage is everywhere today, on the political left and right, with old people and young people, people of all races and economic backgrounds. We may live in the first period of human history where every demographic feels that they are somehow being violated and victimized. From the wealthy billionaires who have somehow convinced themselves that their 15% tax burden is simply oppressive. To the college kids who hijack stages and scream threats at people because their political views differ from their own.
Most people believe that people are becoming more polarized. According to the data, this is actually not true. People’s political beliefs are not that different than they were a few decades ago. What is changing, the data indicates, is how we deal with the viewpoints that make us uncomfortable.
It isn’t that our beliefs have changed, it’s that the way we feel about people we disagree with has changed. In short, people have become less tolerant of opposing opinions. And their reactions to those opinions has become more emotional and outrageous.
The era in which the New Testament was written has been referred to as one of these ages of outrage. Political tensions were extremely high in Palestine, and in its principle city, Jerusalem. And in Acts 21, the Apostle Paul returns to Jerusalem, led there by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, who has all along been preparing Paul that suffering and imprisonment will await him there. And in verse 17, Paul enters Jerusalem, steps into the tinderbox, and yes, is greeted by outrage. Not at first, and not by everyone, but by the end of this chapter, he is engulfed in it.
The personal journey of the apostle Paul begins in chapter 21 with Paul faced with a choice. You see, Paul knows precisely where the Spirit is leading him, yet all along the way strangers, friends, even his closest coworkers try to dissuade him from the path set before him. Even more difficult is that they seek to persuade him through so in very convincing, even spiritual means. And these first verses of chapter 21 are a bit foreign to us, a bit frightening to us, because they speak to a level of spiritual discernment, that quite frankly I don’t know how many of us would be well-prepared to sift through. What do you do when you believe the Spirit is telling you one thing, and everyone else - people you spiritually admire - is telling you something else?
Today, as we continue in the book of Acts, we see the passing of a baton, the baton from the apostles, the apostle Paul in particular, to a group of men set apart to lead the church at Ephesus. They meet and they say good bye at the beach of Miletus It’s one of the most moving stories in the Bible, perhaps it is for me because it was the passage my first youth pastor taught us on the night that he told us he was finishing up his ministry among us and would be transferring elsewhere. It’s a tale of departure. But within this sad tale of departure, the life of ministry is set before us in a compelling way, a calling way.