The Right Question

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For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.Romans 3:28
Combine 500 years, a nail, a hammer, and 95 thoughts, and you have the springboard to the recapturing of the Gospel (John 3:16). This promise is for the whole world (John 1:29), that is, that Christ died for sinners (Romans 5:8); this is not your doing (Ephesians 2:8-9), and the faith that is gifted to you declares you righteous (Romans 3:28).

Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works. People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight. (Romans 3:21-26 and Romans 4:5) Augsburg Confession Article IV
As a baptized child of God, you are now free! Free from the tyranny of the evil one. Death now has no sting for you, because you have already died (Romans 6:5-11). And because of this, you are now a slave, a slave to the righteousness of God (Romans 6:16).

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. Isaiah 64:6
What the Reformation recaptured, what it was all about, was what Jesus has done for you. Over the last year, you’ve heard this phrase hundreds of times: “It’s all about Jesus.” It’s not about you, and it can’t be about you. You do not, and cannot, add to the work of Christ, and thanks be to God for that. Now, since you are a slave to Christ’s righteousness, how do you respond?

The Old Adam in you is always looking to justify himself. He does this by getting you to ask the wrong questions. These questions are designed for you to set up your own house of rules that you can keep, so you can look to your actions and your works to justify yourself. These questions are:

What am I allowed to do?

What am I not allowed to do?

On the surface, these questions seem harmless. God absolutely has expectations for holy living. There are things we are to do and things we aren’t to do, but that doesn’t get to the heart of the questions. Read them again (emphasis added):

What am >>I<< allowed to do?

What am >>I<< not allowed to do?

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good.Psalm 14:1-3
When these questions are asked, they immediately start from the standpoint of “me”. In the same way that children love rules because they set up a fence and a boundary around what they do, when you ask the question this way, you have set up your own fence, your own boundary that is your own. And when you have set up your own boundaries, you have set up rules that you feel you can accomplish; rules that you can keep. Do you see how these questions change our understanding of justification? They begin to remove our utter reliance on Jesus for everything and point us back to ourselves. They remove us from understanding how completely depraved we are, and how there is not a dot, not a tittle in us that can be counted righteous outside of Christ and His work for us.

The question must be then be asked: What is the right question? It is simple:

What is God’s will?

That is it. It’s that simple. All you do is remove yourself—the poor, miserable sinner—from the question and insert the only thing that matters: God. When you shape your mind around what God’s will is in the world, instead of what you are allowed or not allowed to do or what society and the world want you to do, then and only then do you find true freedom in the Christian life. And that true freedom will constantly drive you back to the altar, to receive His true Body and His true Blood; it will drive you to His Word, and it will drive you to love your neighbor.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this 500th anniversary of the Reformation, let’s truly make it all about Jesus—all of it—and none of it about us.

God’s blessings to you as you continue to teach and learn the faith, once for all, delivered to the saints. (Jude 1:3)

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Quotations from the Lutheran Confessions are from Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, second edition, copyright © 2006 Concordia Publishing House. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Joe Willmann

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Joe Willmann is the Senior Instructional Designer for Concordia Publishing House in St. Louis, MO. A former teacher and administrator, Joe has a passion for education and learning theory. He earned his Bachelor's Degree from Ball State University and his Master's Degree from Concordia University - Ann Arbor. He lives with his wife, Nicole, his daughter Ava, and his son Carter. You can read his latest posts here.

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