THE WORD IS
It is said that the Church stands or falls with the doctrine of justification. This means that true saving faith cannot be born or sustained apart from the Scriptural Gospel of Christ. The Gospel, you see, is the good news that Christ has atoned for the sins of the whole world and everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness in His name. A person is not saved by his own works. Even those works that a person does as a result of faith are not meritorious. Salvation is solely by grace. And so is it good and comforting.
God's grace can easily fade away from view. It is true that many speak about grace, but they are often only repeating learned phrases without understanding the Biblical meaning of the word. When a troubled soul asks how he can receive forgiveness for his sins, different kinds of works are often prescribed as conditions for attaining forgiveness. But God justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5). This justification is not a change in a person's basic nature, nor does it mean that a person becomes better or sinless. It means rather that he is pardoned, his sins are forgiven. When Paul explains what it means when "God reckons righteousness apart from works", he quotes Psalm 32: "Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account" (Rom. 4:6,8). In this message a troubled soul finds peace of conscience.
Once at a meeting a speaker explained why he read the Bible. He mentioned various reasons. Finally he said: "The Bible is powerful; it can change a person's life." But he did not mention the reason why we should read the Bible. He said nothing about the fact that in the Bible we find Christ, who atoned for our sins. When he was silent on this matter and spoke instead about how the Bible changes a person's life, the hearers understood him to mean that grace could be earned by a improving one's life. They were encouraged to seek salvation in their own works. Grace was no longer grace.
The Bible, to wit, the Gospel, indeed has the power to change a person's life for the better. But a better life is the result of faith. First faith or trust in God's grace must be born; only after that can there be fruits of faith. First we must plant the tree; only then can we expect fruit.
Our old Adam, however, never becomes better. Our new man created by the Holy Spirit in Baptism through faith is always good. Through the power of the Gospel it is victorious over our old Adam. Our only comfort, however, is that we are saved by grace alone without our works, through faith in Christ, the Crucified. God does not justify us because we have been succesful in our lives. He justifies the ungodly. Let us trust in this grace.
Every sheep of Christ must make sure that he hears the voice of the Good Shepherd. Jesus leads His sheep to the green pastures of grace and feeds the hungry with the bread of eternal life.