Sanctification. Christian faith and love. These are the broad topics we’re going to learn about over the next 3 months. The Trinity Season is all about the Christian’s growth in the Christian faith and life. That’s why we use the color green. Each one of us is supposed to grow just like the grass and flowers and trees outside.
The last few weeks we focused on how you came to Christ. He offered Himself up for you and has called out to you with His Word. He calls you to follow Him. Now He calls us to learn more in depth about following Him. Today we learn about the new righteousness.
What does it mean to be righteous? If you went down this afternoon to the Point to ask random people that question, how would they respond? Some might blow you off. Some might be clueless. Some might honestly say they don’t know. Some might tell you a righteous person is someone who does lots of good, who has the perfect image, who everyone likes, who gets along with everyone and does everything well, and who gives generously to many local charities. Perhaps it would be somebody everybody knows about and could agree on.
But Jesus says: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of The Scribes & Pharisees, you aren’t getting into the kingdom of heaven.” But how can you be more righteous than those guys? You give your offerings and support charities, but you can’t give as much as Pittsburgh’s two great philanthropists who died a few months ago. I don’t know anybody that is liked by everybody or somebody who can’t have a hole poked in his reputation. I doubt you do either. After all, there’s always that 1 person who gets under your skin, that 1 person you just can’t bring yourself to like.
What does that mean? It means our righteousness can’t exceed that of The Scribes & Pharisees. But you know that already. We heard The Ten Commandments today, and we sang Luther’s Catechism hymn on them 2 weeks ago. Dr. Luther teaches us to examine ourselves, to see what sins we have done so we may confess them, hear they are forgiven, and work to no longer do those sins. How should we examine ourselves? with The Ten Commandments.
What will we find when we do that? I find – and this will certainly by YOUR experience too –I’ve put on pedestals higher than God all sorts of things: money, sports, personal desires. I find it easy to use God’s Name when I shouldn’t and hard to pray to Him or praise and thank Him without prompting. I find it easy to tune out the Scripture readings or the sermon or to fly through them without much comprehension and I’m glad when it’s all over.
I find it easy for kids to disobey me, which means it was easy for me to disobey my parents, and to just be annoyed when they do, and I find it hard to respect the authorities too. I find it easy to want to see somebody get hurt but never give a second thought to helping somebody who is hurt – and anger is too easy. I find it easy to be impure and indecent and hard to love and honor my spouse as much as I should. I might not take things from others, but I never help them improve what they have – how would I do that anyway? I find it easy to gossip and lie, and so hard to defend people or take anything with the best construction. I find it easy to be greedy, to desire things I don’t need, to ogle after things and misuse things and hard to help anyone in any way or do the right thing.
What does this mean? It means my righteousness isn’t any better than that of The Scribes & Pharisees. They at least were making a conscious effort all the time to avoid that stuff – or so they want us to think. If we’re honest with each other, each of us better be in our own minds “Chief of Sinners,” and that goes for all the people the world thinks are super-righteous too!
So what’s the answer? Christ! He’s the only one Who’s righteousness exceeds that of The Scribes & Pharisees. How can this be? Is it because He’s the holy God? Yes, but there’s more. It’s because He kept The Law 100% for you – because He paid the price for all our sins and corruption with His Death. All the punishment we deserve He took into Himself. Through it all He suffered without a complaint, 100% willing to do it. God accepted His Self-Sacrifice. He declares Him righteous, holy, in His sight. If you belong to Him, you are too.
So how do you belong to Jesus? Baptism, that’s how! Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? The minister poured some water over you saying God’s Triune Name. That’s it! You belong to Jesus. You are baptized into His Death. What does that mean? Your old Adam died when you were baptized; it was drowned to death in the water of the font and you were united to Jesus. He bore your sin and was punished for it, so if you are united to Him through that water your sinfulness has to go.
Why? Because your sins are forgiven! Jesus died and rose and therefore He declares you forgiven. You are righteous. You have the righteousness He won for you on The Cross. He declares you innocent, not guilty, of all your sins. If you are truly sorry for your sins and believe He died for you, you are righteous. How righteous? More righteous than those who claim to be righteous but do not confess their sins to God that they might be forgiven.
So when are you righteous? You are righteous when your sins are forgiven! That’s what righteousness is. It’s believing your sins are forgiven, for Jesus’ sake. There’s nothing you need to do to be righteous. Simply believe. The Spirit Himself has called you to faith. That means He did the work. You are righteous, and God did all the work! You are saved, and He is 100% your Savior.
You are righteous and holy in His sight. That leads us to this topic of sanctification we’ll be learning about during these green months. What’s that word mean? It means “being made holy.” We have to admit right away we’ll never be free from sin in this life. The old man is a good swimmer, Luther says, and though he’s drowned he’s still coming after us.
God wants us to be sanctified. He wants us to be without sin. We believe we are forgiven. His Spirit comes along with that gift. And He gives us another gift. Since we’re forgiven, He wants us to not sin. The new righteousness doesn’t just declare to us that we are forgiven. It also declares to us that we are to do, and can do, what is good in God’s sight. We can keep His commands.
We’ll learn more about these things this summer. Today we remember this: Your sanctification began when you were baptized. That’s when God gave you the new righteousness that exceeds that of The Scribes & Pharisees and all the world around us. He gave you Jesus and The Blood He shed for you on The Cross. The Lord of all power and might, The Author and Giver of all good things, grafted into your heart the fear and love of His Name. Now He is increasing in you true religion, nourishing you with all goodness, and with His great mercy keeping you close to Him, in the true Faith with all His gifts.