The theme for this year’s Higher Things Youth gathering attended by many of our high school youth was Coram Deo. Coram Deo is Latin for “standing before God.” Of all the questions that challenge youth of any age, Coram Deo suggests the question, “What is your standing before God?” It’s an important question because all of us must stand Coram Deo, before God, not only now, but on Judgment Day as well. Inspired by the Holy Spirit of the Almighty God, St. Paul writes (Romans 3:19 ) “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.”
There are any number of ways that people try to stand Coram Deo, before God. Some try to stand Coram Deo by their own supposed goodness. “I’m a good person”, they claim. But Scripture declares, good isn’t good enough for “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Some claim that by their lives, as they become better and better, day by day, they’re climbing ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ to godliness. Some don’t concern them with such a ‘foolish’ concept as Coram Deo. After all, “God didn’t make man, man made the gods” as the op ed piece from the LA Times boldly states. (Monday, July 18,2011).
Luther was acutely aware of the fact that he was a sinner who had no righteous standing before God. Before the Reformation, Luther sincerely believed that a person had to earn the righteousness of God through his own efforts. But the more Luther tried to be righteous before God, the more he became aware of his sinful condition. In fact, the closer Luther looked at himself, the more flaws he saw - the more he became aware of his unrighteous standing before God. All Luther was discovering, however, was the truth of Romans 3:20 , “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in God’s sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
Luther turned to Holy Scripture, and what he found there through the Holy Spirit sparked the Reformation. God used Luther’s struggles with the righteousness of God to open his eyes to the truth Paul wrote to the Romans (3:21-22) “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it - the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”
Luther rediscovered the central teaching of Holy Scripture - what we Lutherans call the key to understanding all of Holy Scripture - that we stand Coram Deo, before God as righteous people, not through what we do, but through what God has already done for us in Christ Jesus. In other words, the righteousness that God demands of us is declared ours as a free gift through faith in Jesus Christ. “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”
That righteousness that comes from God was made ours in a very special way - through the incarnation of God’s Son. The incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ gave Luther great joy for in it he found God’s great love for sinners, a love that would send His Son (who gave Himself willingly) into the world born of flesh and blood, to redeem flesh and blood. Paul points directly to the incarnation when he writes: “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins. It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:22-26 )
Luther was a great preacher of the cross, where Christ made propitiation for us. Propitiation speaks of Christ’s righteousness that covers the sinner - and it was there on the cross that Jesus, the righteousness of God revealed to all mankind, reconciled God and man through His blood. Every believer in Christ stands before God, Coram Deo, a righteous person because each of us is covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, which washes away our sins.
Just as the incarnation brought great joy to Luther, the cross brought him great peace. It was through the cross that God gave him the assurance of salvation - the assurance that he stood before God, Coram Deo, a righteous person, declared so, his sins forgiven and washed away in the flood of Christ’s blood.
The benefits of the cross, the righteousness of Christ, is delivered to us in Holy Baptism and that, in part, is why Luther also found great peace in his Baptism. What Jesus did on the cross - the life He gave and the blood He shed is given to us in Baptism, where we die to sin and live with Christ Jesus in newness of life.
“We have, therefore, no greater jewel in body and soul. For by Baptism we are made holy and are saved [1 Corinthians 6:11 ]. No other kind of life, no work upon earth, can do this.” Luther’s Large Catechism Coram Deo - what is your standing before our righteous God? - Under the Law, your standing is guilty. - Under the Gospel, your standing is righteous.
Righteousness gifted. Righteousness declared. And if that’s true, “then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” (Romans 3:27-28 )
That’s the heart and soul of the Reformation and that was the heart and soul of all that was taught at Higher Things this year - the central teaching of Scripture - the Gospel - that the believer stands before God, Coram Deo, a righteous person, not by anything we do, but through the forgiveness of sins, purchased for us through the meritorious life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and given to us freely through faith in the incarnate Son of God.