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Posted: November 1, 2012 8:47 p.m.

Keeping it real: really forgiven

Last week, I left you hanging. I spent 90 percent of my column showing you from God's word that regardless of what you might try to tell yourself - you don't deserve anything good. I know, that doesn't sound like a very nice thing to do. But the truth is - it's the truth. In fact, the wages of sin is death.

So, you don't know how glad I am that you came back for some more. I'm sorry I put you through that, but it's necessary. Just like I wouldn't want my doctor to lie to me if he had found cancer in me but didn't want to hurt my feelings by telling me - you wouldn't want your pastor not to be real with you about your problems.

So open up your Bibles to Romans 3:19-28 and recall just how badly God's word beat us up in the first two verses. "No one will be declared observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin."

Then he starts verse 20 with that beautiful "but." Completely to the contrary of what we deserved. "But now a righteousness from God, apart from law (not based on our keeping the law, a righteousness that doesn't depend on how good we've been, that righteousness) has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. (This righteousness is what God's word always has been and always will be about. It's not a bunch of rules for us to keep in order to get right with God - it's the story of how God has made us right with God.) This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (All of us are sinners. And hear what he just said - all of us are justified - declared not guilty). God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood."

Do you see what Jesus does to the reality of our sin? Do you see who Jesus is? He is not the one sent to show us how to live a good life. He is not the one who came to expand our minds. God presented him as a sacrifice - nothing less - the actual sacrifice that pays for our failures of the law. His perfect life and his innocent death atone us. They make us "at one" with God. Really.

As real as the law is at showing us what we deserve, God has changed what we deserve. He has given us life - righteousness, justification, atonement - heaven. Now that is real. The law is so lock-tight that no other way could work. Our salvation could only be by God's grace alone. It could only come to us through the gift of faith alone - not by what we do. Not by how many laws we keep or how much good we accomplish. Since the law keeps it real and shows us that none of our attempts could ever work, the truth, the thing that "keeps it real" for all eternity, the truth is that our salvation could only be by grace alone, through faith alone, through Scripture alone. Those are what are known as the three "Solas" ("Alone"s) of the Lutheran Reformation we celebrated on Sunday. By grace alone. Through faith alone. Through scripture alone.

So what am I really? I'm a Christian because, by God's grace, I know how much I need Jesus. That's what a Christian is, not based on what you do but what Jesus did. Too many people get that confused today.

So, with all the confusion on this out there in the religious landscape today, I can proudly say that I'm not just a Christian, but I'm also a Lutheran, by God's grace. You see, practicing that Lutheran virtue of holding firmly to the word, we can't help but "keep it real" that our righteousness comes only and always in Jesus, no matter what. We are justified freely by his grace. That's real.

Now last week, I started by talking about my wife's constructive criticism - but I don't want to leave you thinking that all she ever does is criticize me. Sometimes she doesn't say anything... Just kidding. But seriously, I do want to publicly thank God for the gift he's given me in a companion and helpmate and partner with whom I can keep it real and celebrate all the blessings that he lets me see here at this Lutheran church when God uses his word to "keep it real" for you.
You see, when we are willing to be real with God's word, we get to see God work. We get to see sinners understand how much they need a Savior and we get to see the joy of soul after soul touched by the abiding grace of Jesus. Then, keeping it real - all we can really say about ourselves is, "I am forgiven."

That's real. I'd like to invite all of you to join us at Abiding Grace for our Fall Festival next Sunday, Nov. 11, when we'll celebrate that status as forgiven children of God.

Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at


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