I've been teaching a study on the book of Romans and I wanted to share some thoughts regarding the heart of the gospel.
Believers, though still sinners, are amazingly declared righteous by God; a justification secured and maintained by His grace through faith in Christ alone, apart from any merit or works of our own. This imputation of righteousness is the very ground upon which we securely stand as redeemed of God and from which we, with new right-willed hearts born of the Holy Spirit, are inclined away from sin and towards true obedience of His commands, though imperfectly in this life. This justification by faith apart from works was under attack not only in the Apostle Paul's day but in Augustine's day as well. It was the central issue of the Reformation. And today, it is by and large ignored in the Church as many substitute the "by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone" for some variation of Christ plus "moral-works" or Christ plus "inward experiential-works." As in Hebrews 4:10, For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his, we who rest from our merit-base works find much benefit of comfort in this wholesome doctrine of justification by faith.
Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works... -Romans 4:4-6
I think the Devil can abide many things in God's Church, but certainly not believers apprehending that for which they were apprehended, as Paul sets forth.
The necessity for believers to be taught and to learn what the gospel of God's salvation is and means cannot be over stated. As Luther wrote, we need to have it daily hammered into us. All of Scripture points to and reveals this good news of God's redemption of sinners in Christ Jesus. Therefore, mining the riches of the gospel - that faith once delivered, proclaimed through God's word in His Church, and as expressed in the Creeds and various Reformed confessions - is central to knowing and following Christ.
BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen. (Collect 2nd Sunday of Advent, 1928 BCP)
This good news of the Divine transaction of the cross in which Christ takes the penalty of our disobedience upon Himself and imputes to us the merit of His perfect obedience cuts against the grain of our self-regard. As Paul writes:
To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. -Romans 3:26-27
It is counter-intuitive to our fallen ego-centric nature. Man instinctively looks to his deeds and his intentions for self-justification and evidence of self-merit. That is why I especially appreciate Thomas Cranmer's focus on Christ's merit and not on ours, as found in various places in the 1928 Book Of Common Prayer:
- For the precious death and merits of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord...
- by the merits and death of thy Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in his blood...
- not weighing our merits...
- We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy...
- by the merits of his most precious death and passion..
This is so adequately summed up in The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion - Article XI. Of the Justification of Man.
We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.
For my part - hearing, reading, marking, learning, and digesting the gospel proclaimed in Scripture is part and parcel with embracing and ever holding fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.