Romans 3: 28-30; 5:1-11
May 14, 2023
I was visiting with one of our members last week. It was one of the warmer days and I was embracing the sunshine to the point of distraction … so much so, that I absent-mindedly forgot to roll down the cuffs of my sleeves before I went into the house.
About fifteen minutes into the visit, the person noticed the tattooed words on my right arm. It was the first time she noticed them in all the visits I’ve made to her home … because, well, usually, my sleeves are down.
“What’s that say?” she asked.
So, I told her it was the Greek phrase, “liberated by grace.”
The tattoo serves as reminder of the grace I and everyone receives and the tattoo also provides an opportunity to enter into a discussion on the theology of grace.
A couple of weeks after I was inked, I was leading a discussion in my Sports Communications course.
As I was walking through the groupings of desks, one of the university students spotted the tattoo … asked the same question I heard last week … and suddenly a discussion on systemic racism in professional sports became a discussion on the concept of grace for all.
Based on some of the questions during that talk, grace seems a foreign and radical concept.
This morning, we hear Paul tell the congregations in Rome that we are justified by grace through faith.
This is a foundation of our Lutheran theology …. it is the concept that freed Martin Luther from the anxiety and fear that he was falling short of God’s expectations.
The verses from chapter 3 that begin this morning’s reading actually conclude the concept presented last week … when we heard that salvation through faith was for Jews … then for gentiles. This morning, we hear that it is for all faithful people.
Luther focused on Romans 3:28 when he argued against the use of indulgences to speed a person’s entrance into the Kingdom, as well as to finance work on a basilica in Rome.
Paul wrote: “For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.”
This means that no matter what we do … no matter how much we do … or how much we give of ourselves or give in other ways … we have already received the full measure of grace.
There is nothing more we can do.
God had already acted before people turned in faith toward God.
Paul’s letters to congregations throughout the area stretching from Rome to Jerusalem are each about relationships … relationships between members and about their relationship with God.
If you recall, last week we heard that Paul … like us … was always in the process of learning … of trying to understand his call … and how to live into it.
He was continually seeking answers to the questions he faced.
In this portion of Paul’s letter, he is trying to answer the question: “How does one have a relationship with God?”
Paul recognizes that the invitation to such a relationship is open to all … even to those who he calls “ungodly.” He came to the conclusion that God deals kindly and justly with all creation … the ungodly included.
Scholar Kristofer Phan Coffman says, “Paul’s world … like ours … is filled with people who do not love, care or respect the people around them and do not love, care or respect their relationship with God.”
…love … care … respect.
Those are the earmarks of a right relationship with God and with one another.
Those are the responses of a heart freed by grace.
Christ died on the cross for the ungodly … for the weak … for the Jew and the Gentile … for all people. This, according to Paul, is the length God is willing to go in order to make the relationship right.
Embracing the Gospel through faith … knowing that we have been justified … gives us the peace and the love that are a part of being in a right relationship.
The Spirit leads us into acts that share this love and peace so that we are made right through Jesus Christ.
This is an intimate relationship that comes about through the Spirit working in and through us … calling us into community … all this done by God through Jesus out of love and intended to call out “an answering love” in us. (N.T. Wright)
Love … care and respect
Faith … in and through this relationship … shapes our lives and life in community.
Faith can make us fearless … confident to engage the world. It can empower us to see the points of pain and move to ease it. It can call us to stand against oppression and abuse.
And through the past act of the cross… the treasury of God’s grace … hope … reconciliation … salvation … has been extended to all.
Christ’s death gives us the opportunity to be in a state of righteousness … to stand in grace … and work for a just society.
Our response to this love gives us hope and it gives hope to others.
Paul writes that being justified is not the end of our story, it is just the beginning. It’s the beginning of new life.
Being justified is the beginning of a different way of living … to respond by viewing the world differently … this love calls us to embrace a different approach to the world.
It means that through faith we are transformed … that we continue to grow … and that we become agents of transformation.
Being justified means we are liberated … freed … from sin. It means that rather than allowing the world’s demands and beliefs shape our lives …. demands and beliefs that put us in conflict with God … rather than facing fear and anxiety as Luther did … we are free of them.
It means that we are at peace with God.
If we are not at peace – then living into the Kingdom is impossible – we cannot bless the poor if we feel we do not have enough, we cannot love our enemy if we are focused on how to dominate them, we cannot love our neighbour if we continue to judge them.
Through faith, God’s love has been poured into open hearts … and through this gift we are called to decide what we are and what we are not.
… to pour it out or keep it for ourselves.
I’d like to close with a quote from Luther’s lecture on the passage we have heard today:
“We must also note that love dwells nowhere but in the heart, indeed in the innermost centre of the heart, and for this reason there is that difference between sons and bond servants, because the sons serve Him happily, willingly and freely, but not in fear of punishment or desire for glory, but only to fulfill the will of God.”
The reminder of this transformative unconditional love … a love that frees … that liberates … is a love etched on our hearts and forever carried within us.