Are You Protesting?

There are silly protests—and profoundly important ones. Do you think of yourself as a protester? Why is this church a Protestant church? Protesting involves setting yourself over against some other position—likely an entrenched position. Paul does that in Romans 1:16-19. In a real sense Luther, though he had no intention of starting a movement, much less another church, when he nailed his 95 Theses to the chapel door, Luther was following Paul. Although it was not until 1530 that the term Protestant came to describe what Luther started, Luther was protesting 500 years ago this week.

Do not be ashamed of the gospel. Where are you tempted to be ashamed of the gospel? Paul is explaining his eagerness to come to Rome and speak about the good news. He packs his reasons one inside the other. Paul’s culture considered the gospel foolishness and offensive. So does ours. Where do you face challenges regarding the good news? Paul understood that the issue at Rome affected the heart of the gospel. Can you be right with God by your works or not? Although initially Luther was only protesting abuses of the indulgence system, he came to see that the approach into which the Medieval church had fallen undercut the heart of the gospel. The studying and preaching Luther had been doing in Psalms and Romans was shaping his thinking.

Rejoice in the good news! The form of Paul’s statement may be negative, but he is making a forceful positive affirmation of how he does value the gospel. Paul glories in the gospel, Romans 5:2,3,11; Galatians 6:14. What you rejoice in is the message, the good news. Luther was deeply troubled by uncertainty. He had been taught that if you tried your best, God would accept that as what you were striving for. But he could never be sure that he had done his best—until he came to realize that the gospel was not about what you do, but what Christ does for you. Paul wants you, with him, to glory in it, to take hold of it. Grace alone is a reflection of the good news!

Experience the power of God to salvation. In this good news the power of God touches your life. God saves through the message of the gospel. The power of God raised Christ. He has the power to bring you from sin and death to righteousness and life. Luther discovered this power when his own efforts led to frustration. God’s power is his omnipotence. Salvation is not God making heaven achievable, but is God actually redeeming his people. His power comes to bear on you in your sin and ruin.

Salvation in all its richness is the goal. What does “salvation” mean? It includes deliverance from eternal punishment in hell. But it is broader. Salvation includes breaking the enslaving power of sin, Romans 6, and the renewal and restoration of all things, Romans 8.

This power comes to those who believe. What connects you to the power of God in Christ Jesus is not what you do (whether indulgences or suburban good neighborism), or your ancestry, but faith. Here there is a distinction, and even a priority, Jew first, then Gentile. It is not only a priority of time. By faith you become a true child of Abraham. The good news is not just about you, though it does involve you. Faith alone is part of the summary of what Luther and Calvin rediscovered.

God’s righteousness is revealed to you. God brings his righteousness to bear on you in your situation. In the Old Testament God’s salvation and righteousness are revealed together, Psalm 98:1,2; Isaiah 46:13; 51:5,8. So here, to show God’s salvation, is to show righteousness. God’s righteousness is revealed. This is more than “disclosed.” God’s righteousness is actively brought to bear on man’s sinful situation–John Murray. The gospel is the power of God to salvation because the righteousness of God is active in the setting of human sin and ruin. “It is a ‘God-righteousness’. Because it is such, God is its author; it is a righteousness that must elicit the divine approval; it is a righteousness that meets all the demands of his justice and therefore avails before God. . . . This is the glory of the gospel; as it is God’s power operative unto salvation so is it God’s righteousness supervening upon our sin and ruin.” (John Murray, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, NICNT, Vol. 1, p. 31). This righteousness is not an abstract principle. It is the righteousness of the God-man, the Lord Jesus Christ. Though Paul does not use Christ’s name in verses 16 and 17, he has already summarized his gospel in verses 2-4—and it focuses on Christ. Christ alone became a byword of the Reformation.

Live by faith from first to last. The just lives by faith. The quote is from Habakkuk 2:4, see also Galatians 3:11. The unity of the Old and New Testaments is such that Paul must quote from the older covenant in support of this basic principle. Scripture alone was not a concept invented by Luther. Paul appeals to Scripture as he writes to the church at Rome. The individualistic, feeling-oriented attitude today may be just as much a challenge to Scripture alone as was and is the tradition of the church. And if Scripture is the final authority, your thinking, your belief needs constantly to be evaluated by Scripture. The church that is reformed needs to be continually reforming. Faith is resting on Christ, receiving him alone. This text brought Luther to the reformation. By faith you live. God brings you to a knowledge of your sins and of the Savior, and enables you to cast yourself completely on him. Faith is the cry, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” The righteousness of God is “from faith for faith.” It is faith first to last. It is a righteousness that comes to all believers. Faith is not just faith in faith. It is faith in a person. It is trust in Christ.

Why is Paul so concerned that the Romans understand and get the gospel right? No only because that is the way for your salvation, important though that is, but so that the glory might go to God alone, to whom it belongs. Any system of religion that falls short of that is worth protesting. Do not be ashamed to call yourself a Protestant, but focus, not on what the protest was against, but positively, on the Lord to whom the Reformation drives you.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.

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