Hope for Our Deepest Need - Romans 1:16–17
Today we are remembering the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation was a rediscovering of God’s truth for salvation. It coincided with the Renaissance, a period from the 14th-17th centuries, during which there was a renewal of interest in and attention to ancient works of literature, music, art, and science. The Renaissance was a rebirth that involved looking back to the earliest sources. Among those sources were the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Bible, and as those manuscripts were read and studied, along with the writings of the early leaders of the church, the message of God’s power to save sinners became clear. They saw that salvation is through Christ alone, by faith in him alone, through God’s grace alone, as is revealed in Scripture alone, and the glory and credit for that salvation belongs to God alone.
This good news about Jesus, what the Bible calls the “gospel” had been misrepresented in poor Bible translations and buried in man-centered traditions and rituals created by people. As a result, there was much corruption in the Roman Catholic Church, and Martin Luther was among those who were troubled by it.
This passage of Scripture, Romans 1:16-17, was foremost among the Scriptures that God used as He opened the eyes of Martin Luther to see the reality that God justifies sinners, or makes sinners right with him, not by our works in effort to achieve a righteousness of our own, but by declaring us to receive God’s own righteousness, which we could never earn or deserve, because it belongs only to God.
Martin Luther nailed a list of 95 statements or theses to the door of a prominent church in Germany with the desire to reform the Church as a whole. He wanted the church and the believers to realign their lives with God’s truth. He wanted the church to be corrected, but the leaders would not have it. So, Luther and all those like him were labeled protesters. They were called “protestants.” And the Protestant Reformation was underway. We benefit even today from God’s work back then. We are forever reminded that God’s Word must be understood and explained clearly to the church in every generation and that gospel of grace must always remain clear and at the forefront.
All people naturally stray from the truth. We forget the gospel. And so, we still need reformation today. Even King David needed it. In Psalm 86, he wrote,  Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.
In other words, reform me, change me, transform me, align me with Your truth, O God. The heart every person – the core of who you are – is naturally divided, scattered in fragments, so to speak, as a result of sin. Think of how we set our hearts on a multitude of things in this world to give us meaning, purpose, wholeness, or happiness. But only a heart set fully on God can have those things. And in the gospel we learn that God has a way of gathering together the pieces of the human heart and uniting them to create a whole heart that loves and rests in Him. Our desire should be for God to make us whole persons in this way. Your desire should be that God would unite your heart to trust only in Him. That is your greatest need and my greatest need.
But how does God unite the divided heart and meet our deepest need in this life? Well, the Protestant Reformation, above all else, dealt with this question. Here in Romans 1, the apostle Paul states the theme of his letter to the Romans, and the book of Romans deals with this question. It boils down to this: Salvation is by faith alone. You may have heard that and even believed it, yet you have two categories in your mind. In one category is how you are saved from sin. By faith in Christ. In the other category are the deep needs and longings you feel and how you try to meet them. The salvation from God that is by faith alone – the gospel – speaks to those deep needs.
Paul shows us two things here about the gospel.
1. Only the gospel can define our greatest need. The gospel defines it as salvation that comes only by the power of God.
2. And only the gospel can meet our greatest need.The gospel meets that need through the righteousness of God that we receive by faith.
Only the gospel can define our greatest need.
Now, you can’t meet a need until you identify it. The gospel does this for us. Notice verse 16, Paul says,  I am not ashamed of the gospel.”Normally, people don’t say they are unashamed of something unless someone is accusing them of being ashamed. The backstory of these verses is that Paul had gone around preaching about Jesus,
but he had not yet come to Rome. It may have appeared to some as if he was afraid
to take on his opponents there. Perhaps their arguments or their intellect was too powerful. Or maybe he was afraid of the government there that would persecute him.
It was other circumstances that had prevented him coming there, but now it was time.
He’s not ashamed of the gospel. Why? Look again at verse 16: for it (the gospel) is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. The good news that God saves sinners through Jesus Christ is the power of God for the salvation for all people. He adds, “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” In short, this means everyone everywhere. All people have the same core problem. They need saving. Sin separates us from God. But the gospel is the power of God to deal once and for all with our sin.
What is it about sin that is so offensive to God? Why does it separate us from him? Many people seem nice enough even if they aren’t Christians? How can God be so angry with these people, as the Scriptures state. Sin is rooted in a desire to be autonomous or self-governed. Sin rejects God as Lord and King. It puts the self above all else and it rejects true worship of the one true God, the only one who deserves worship. Sin worships created things over the Creator. And all manner of evil is borne out of this core problem.
In the first of the 10 commandments in the Old Testament, God states, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Martin Luther interprets the commandment by saying: “What does it mean to have a god? A god is that to which we look for all good and where we resort for help in every time of need; to have a god is simply to trust and believe in one with our whole heart…whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God.”
Certainly, we have all fears, longings, disappointments that reveal a deep sense of need. To what do you cling in your time of need? How do you deal with the abiding neediness? Do you cling to order in your life, or do you cling to control? Do you labor to earn money and recognition? Does that help to fill the void inside? Do you let loose and spend money or pursue thrills? Does that make you feel better? Do you run to your comforts or pleasures? Do you throw yourself into your responsibilities and roles, such as father, mother, grandma, grandpa, executive, teacher, student, director, manager, artist, athlete, coach? The list goes on.
Where do you find your sense of identity? What makes you who you are? What if that which makes you who you are was taken away from you, such that you would no longer be who you are? Could you live? Would life be worth living for you? The gospel tells us that all people need salvation that can only come from God, so you might think that people would come to God to receive it. But we don’t, instinctively. We look for other things – like those I just listed – to save us. Many of those are good things, but it’s not good to put your hope in those things. Putting hope in those things – holding so tightly to them that you begin to worship them – that is evidence of your divided heart. You give a fragment of your heart to your work, a fragment to your family. You give a fragment to your dreams, a fragment to your reputation, one to your addiction, one to your habitual sin, one to your many comforts in life. And before you know it, you’ve crafted an identity for yourself, and God is lost in the mix.
Do you remember “Where’s Waldo?” Beginning in the 1980s, there were these massive illustrations with great detail put together in childrens’ book, but, ironically, adults loved them too. Hidden in every picture was a tall, thin man, with a red and white striped shirt, a little red/white cap, brown hair, glasses, and a big smile. His name was Waldo. Actually, this began in Great Britain, and there his name is Wally. The fun was in finding Waldo in the picture. And the trick was that the artist always put multiple things in the picture that looked similar to Waldo. These were meant to distract you and make Waldo harder to find. That was the game. Is God like Waldo for you? Is he in the picture, but he’s actually very small and hard to spot? Oh, you wouldn’t dare not have him in the picture! Because you’re a good person! But he’s rather insignificant and he doesn’t have the weight and visibility of other things.
Your deepest need and my deepest need is not to get that thing we want so bad in life. It’s not to hold on to that thing that feels like it’s slipping away or elusive. Our deepest need is that we would have peace God who made us – that he would not hold our sins against us and pour out on us the full extent of his wrath against sin, which we deserve. The gospel defines this need for us – and then, amazingly, the gospel meets that need.
Look at verse  For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith,
Our problem is a righteousness problem. Our worship is all messed up. Our loves are all out of order. God demands sinlessness; we don’t have it. Interestingly, at the time of the Reformation, church leaders had constructed elaborate systems for how people could acquire sinlessness. For instance, at that time they used a Latin translation of the Bible called the Vulgate. Some weeks back, we looked at Matthew 4:17, where Jesus says, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” But in the Latin Vulgate, it was translated to read, “Do penance, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” “Penance” and “repentance” are two drastically different things. “Penance” is things you do to be forgiven. It is self-inflicted punishment. “Repentance” is a condition of the heart in which you radically change your direction, turning from sin and to Christ with faith only in him. Point being, you can “do penance” without a repentant heart, but you can’t repent without a deep sorrow over your sin.
The Reformation was a response to the system of penance (among other things), and the Reformers preached, as they saw in the Scriptures, and as we preached today, that the righteousness we need comes from God and can only be received by faith. That is why Paul says, “from faith for faith.” In other words, by faith, start to finish. Faith all the way. Faith plus nothing else. Faith from beginning to end. Faith alone. Look at the rest of verse 17, “as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” Paul quotes the Old Testament, the book of Habakkuk, to show that faith was always the only way to God. Old Testament, New Testament – peace with God only ever came one way: through reliance only on God to make peace and never through, as one Bible scholar states it, “human abilities, activities, or assurances.”
What struck Martin Luther about this verse was that God declares us righteous. Previously, he had always worked so hard to have a sense that God was pleased with him. But he could never do enough. He saw the darkness of his own heart; he saw his sin. He saw the dividedness of his heart. But couldn’t do enough to get rid of it all. So, when he saw that by faith in Christ alone God declares sinners righteous, it was like a bright torch lit in a dark dungeon, that a prisoner would see carried by someone sent to save him. For Luther, this truth was worth being expelled from his church and threatened with death because preaching the true gospel undermined the people in power and put a stop to their manipulation. Luther had to go into hiding. But he understood that this great truth is everything because peace with God is everything. We must know that no matter what happens in this life, God is for us and not against us. We must know that peace comes through trust – through faith – in the saving work of Jesus.
We are saved by faith, and we live by faith. Our hope in only in God. Our worship goes only to God. To live by faith is to depend on God alone and find our identity only in who He says we are because of Christ.
When God declares you righteous by faith, he says you have value; he says you have worth. And he is your hope in this life and the life to come; not other people or accomplishments or comforts or earthly security. Remember Luther’s interpretation of the first commandment: “whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God.” The gospel tells you that your fragmented heart looks for hope and life among other gods. And the gospel tells you that by his power, God will gather the fragmented pieces and unite them to worship and trust only in him. As we sing together now, would you admit to God what other things you’ve been trusting in?Would you admit what you so desperately cling to, such that it has become your god?Would you acknowledge the truth and boldly trust in Christ alone?