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Sunday, April 1, 2007

What Makes a Lutheran Stand Up?

Welcome one and all to the most exciting show on the front of a newsletter this side of New Los Angeles Avenue! Welcome to, "What Makes a Lutheran?" Now, before we start this article, the answer to the question of "What Makes a Lutheran Stand Up?" is not, "When the Pastor says, 'Please rise.'" Not in this article, at least. This month we are going to take a look at the doctrine of justification. This big theological word is the most important doctrine in the church. Period. The Lutheran reformers in the 16th Century said it was the doctrine by which the church stands or falls. In other words, if we get this one wrong, the church is going to be in trouble! So, it is important that we take a look at it here.

Once in college I had a friend's parents ask me what the difference between my denomination and their denomination was. I replied, in all of my college wisdom (read arrogance), "Well we clearly have a differing view on the doctrines of justification and sanctification." I proceeded to wax philosophical on the finite intricacies of the two positions. They politely smiled and ended the conversation. I've learned to explain what I mean before using big words!

Justification is the core teaching of the Lutheran Church. It is a courtroom term. When a person is on trial and they stand before a judge to receive a verdict, he/she knows he/she is going to hear one of two declarations: "guilty" or "not guilty." When the verdict is "not guilty" then we would say that the person has been declared just by the judge, or, he/she has been justified.

As Christians, we believe we are on trial before God. God has laws that he has set out for us to obey, and we have disobeyed them, we have sinned. What is worse, we are born sinners, we are born guilty in the eyes of God. For these reasons, in God's courtroom, we deserve a guilty verdict. However, we believe that God has declared us to be just! Why? Because Jesus stood up in our place and took the guilty verdict upon himself. He suffered and died on the cross in our place, taking our punishment. Since Jesus took our guilty verdict, we have been declared "not guilty!" The prophet Isaiah put it this way, "He was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5)

Because of what Christ has done for us, we can stand up in the presence of God and receive the "not guilty" verdict. We have been justified by Christ. All other teachings in our church flow out of this understanding of the Gospel. If any doctrine or teaching would arise that would cause this teaching to be compromised, we would be vary wary of it. Without the declaration from God that we are just in his sight because of the work of Christ, we have no place to stand on the day of judgment. This doctrine ought to knock us out of our seat, bring us to our feet, and cause us to cry out in joy for the gift of salvation. We have been declared just by God!

Pastor Bob

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