SERMON FOR JULY 19, 1998 FROM ROMANS 3:21-23

 

          This morning we come to a new section in Paulís letter to the Romans.  In the first major theological section which runs from 1:18 to 3:20, Paul answers the question:  ďWhy is the gospel necessary  Paul makes the case that the power of sin has so infected the human race that no one can stand righteous before God, be they Jew or Gentile.  Of the Gentiles, Paul says, ďFor the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,...Ē  In order to be in covenant with God, you must have righteousness--you must be right before God.  The Gentiles dismally fail.  Paul indicates the Jews who were trusting in the externals of possessing the law and circumcision to guarantee a covenant relationship with God also failed.  He says in 2:29, ď...a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.Ē    Apart from an internal change of heart which the law can never bring about, the Jews had/have no righteousness sufficient to meet Godís holy standard and therefore stand condemned before God along with the Gentiles.  This unrighteousness spells condemnation for both the Jew and Gentile before God.  His fierce wrath is due anyone who is unrighteous and Paul makes clear that ALL are unrighteous.

          The second section, which we begin this morning and which continues through 5:11 answers the question:  ďWhat is the heart of the gospel?Ē  When you strip the gospel down to its bare essentials, what is left?  That is what this next section is about and to the degree we have internalized the truth of this first section--to that degree we will appreciate and treasure (by Godís grace) the truth of this next section of Romans.

          Paul has just concluded that this tremendous blight on humanity, our unrighteousness before God, cannot be cured by trying to observe the law.  That is a dead end street.  He proceeds from that point to verse 21 where he says, ďBut now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  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,Ē  These are profound truths.  Most scholars believe that these verses and the three which follow are the very heart of the gospel.  Luther wrote that these verses are the very heart of the Bible!  These verses unfold, in a very compressed form, the beauty, the glory, the heart of the gospel. 

          Iím convinced that if most Christians (myself at the top of the list) really had a Holy Spirit-inspired appreciation for the glory of these truths, we would have much more evangelism and there would be more new converts than we could count in the church.  One of the big reasons we donít share the message is because we donít appreciate it. No one has to order or train a new mother to share the news about the ďbeautyĒ of their baby. No one has to twist the arm of the football player to share the news that his team has just won the state championship.  The reason such outward compulsion is not necessary is because that is such good news to them.  For many of us, we donít share the gospel because, when it gets right down to it, we are not all that excited about the good news.  We donít wonder at the glory of it.  We donít marvel at the magnificence of it

          Well, this text and the one to follow IS the main content of the gospel and it IS glorious, it IS magnificent.  The main message of this text and much of the next chapter is this: The Gospel of Jesus Christ solves humanityís most unsolvable problem, our unrighteousness before a holy God.  First, letís look briefly at what unrighteousness is.  Unrighteousness is the failure to conform to Godís standard.  Now, his standard is revealed most accurately and comprehensively in the law--the Old Testament.  Because we know the law is simply an expression of Godís own character, we can conclude that unrighteousness is our failure to conform to Godís character or, our failure to be like God, morally and ethically.  We could never be like God essentially, but we are called to be like him morally and ethically-- ďBe ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect  This is the call of God to His people in the Old and New Testaments.

          That is Godís standard and He requires compliance to that standard from every person on earth.  Genesis tells us that before the Fall Adam and Eve met this standard.  They were created in Godís image and likeness.  They were like God and as evidence of this, God gave them a God shaped job to do--rule the earth and make it subject to them.  Thatís what God had done with the angels in heaven.  And in the creation, He commands Adam and Eve to do it on earth.  First John 3:2 tells us that all believers, true followers of Jesus Christ will, at the conclusion of their salvation process in heaven fully meet this standard.  ďWhen he [Jesus] appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.Ē  It is no mystery that God has created people whom He calls to be like him, who will conform to his righteous character and in that way glorify Him.

          The problem, which Paul details in Romans 1-3:20 is that no one meets that standard.  We sin--boy do we sin.  We fail to see how much we sin because we donít have a biblical understanding of sin.  Most people tend to think of sin as ďany action which breaks a commandment  That is a horribly incomplete view of sin.  A definition of sin found in a Protestant catechism is biblical when it says, ďSin is any attitude, desire or action which breaks a commandment, comes from a heart of unbelief or is not done to glorify God  Sin not only includes our actions,--what we DO, but also our desires or attitudes.  Its not just what we do, but may include what we think, want and feel.  The most basic sin is violating Godís commandments and we all do this habitually. 

          This can be proved by citing just one commandment.  ďYou shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.Ē  Is there anyone here who could say with confidence that they love God totally and comprehensively for any length of time?  This is the Great Commandment--the essence of the law but I donít personally know anyone who doesnít break it on a continuous basis.  Beyond that, we sin NOT only when we break a commandment, but when we do or think or feel anything without proper faith.  Romans 14:23 says, ď...everything that does not come from faith is sin.Ē   Would anyone here today claim to have Christ-approved, biblical, mountain moving faith--faith as a mustard seed for any duration of time?  You never worry, get uptight or slightly anxious--you have the peace of Christ at all times.  Everything we do which does not spring from this kind of faith is sin.  What does that say about much of our lives?  Finally, sin occurs when we break a commandment, when we operate in unbelief, but also when we fail to glorify God in our actions, desires or attitudes. 

          Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:31, ďSo whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.Ē    Everything we do must be motivated for Godís glory.  We are called to be totally God-centered people.  That must mean that whatever we do without Godís glory as our motivation is tainted with sin.  To do, think, desire or feel anything without being motivated for the glory of  glory is to sin.  Do you hear how HIGH this requirement is?  Do you feel the crushing weight of this standard?  The degree that we understand this standard and see our complete inadequacy to meet it is the degree to which we will prize the gospel.  If we do not prize the gospel and Christís saving work, some if not all the problem is because you have not come into contact with how full of sin we are.  Do you see the inextricable problem this presents for a person who, on the one hand is chocked full of sin and on the other is expected to possess the righteousness of God?  To be like Him?   Paul brings the tremendous breadth of this problem out when he says in verse 23, ďfor there is no difference, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God  No one meets the standard.  ALL fail to glorify God and fulfill their purpose in life because they sin.  Even those who are Christians, who have begun the process of perfection to be completed in heaven fail miserably.  How much more unbelievers.  Part of the glory of the gospel is that it solves humanityís most unsolvable problem, our unrighteousness--our total failure to manifest the righteousness of God. 

          Its into that dismal context--that seemingly hopeless black hole of sin and depravity that Paul triumphantly announces, ďBut now, a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.Ē  Where humanity is powerless to meet Godís righteous standard for salvation, God reveals the gospel, the power of God for salvation.

       Our first point is this:  The gospel contains a righteousness apart from the law, the very righteousness of God.  Weíve already said that unrighteousness is the failure to conform to Godís character--the failure to be like and live like God morally and ethically.  So how is the gospel able to provide the righteousness of God?  The answer is in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Letís think about this.  Was there in the life of Christ any action, desire or attitude which broke a commandment, came from a heart of unbelief or was not motivated by the glory of God?  Jesus Christ came to earth and perfectly conformed to the law of God.  Just to appreciate this point, letís go back to our definition of sin and compare it with the life of Christ.

       He always kept the commandments perfectly--he loved God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength perfectly every moment in his actions, desires and thoughts.  Second, Jesus Christ always acted out of faith.  He said in John 5:19, ďI tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself;Ē  Everything Jesus did from the miracles on down were done in child like dependency upon the Father.  He lived his life totally in faith and he went to the cross in faith, believing that his Father would raise Him from the dead and exalt him to His right hand.  He lived, died, and rose again in faith.  There was not one sliver of doubt or self-reliance in his entire life.  If every anyone had a right to be self reliant it was the incarnate God, but he lived his life totally in dependence upon the Father.  He said in John 5:30, ďI can do nothing of myself.Ē  He perfectly trusted in His Father to work through the Holy Spirit. 

       Finally, everything he did, desired or thought was motivated for the glory of the Father.  There was no thought of receiving glory for himself.  He said in John 5:41, ďI do not accept praise from men  In John 8:50 he said, ďI am not seeking glory for myself.Ē  Even though He was/is fully God, he sought only the glory of the Father and he ALWAYS lived with the motive to bring glory to the Father.   When Jesus told his disciples of his crucifixion he said, ďNow my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name!"  Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again."   The earthly life of Jesus was totally consecrated to the glory of the Father.  He fulfilled the requirements of the law perfectly.  He perfectly conformed to the character of God.  He fully and without peer manifested the righteousness of God in his life. 

          But in his death, he also showed forth the righteousness of God.  In His life he satisfied the requirements of the law, but the law has another aspect that must be satisfied beyond its righteous requirements.  The righteous penalty of the law must also be fully satisfied.  The full penalty of breaking the law is death and not only death, but to completely satisfy the wrath of God.  In order for the penalty of the law to be satisfied, the wrath of God which comes upon unrighteousness must be fully satisfied.  Just as no one (save Christ) has ever fulfilled the law and satisfied the righteousness of God, no one has ever satisfied the righteousness of God by totally paying the penalty of the law.  No one in hell has been, or will ever be able to say--even as it relates to just their own single penalty for sin-- ďIt is finished--I have paid my penalty.  I have completed my sentence  Those in hell will suffer endlessly because the penalty for sin is infinite-- it is committed against an infinitely holy God.

          But Jesus Christ took all of the wrath of God.  He drank the cup of Godís wrath to the dregs and said, ďIt is finished  He took it all.  He paid the entire penalty for the law.  He satisfied that righteousness by paying for the penalty of sin.  In His life he fully satisfied the  righteous requirements of the law and in his death he fully satisfied the righteous penalty of the law.  Where the best humanity can do in response to the requirement of the law is habitually sin, Christ lived a life of holiness.  Where the best that humanity can do to pay the penalty for sin is suffer endlessly in hell, Christ took all of Godís holy wrath upon himself on the cross, finished it off and proved the sufficiency of his payment by rising from the dead.  What a glorious, beautiful, magnificent Savior God has provided!!  Glory to God!

          And the glory, the magnificence of the gospel is seen in this:  The beautiful righteousness of Christís life wherein he perfectly conformed to the law and the glorious righteousness of his death wherein he perfectly satisfied the penalty of the law...can be ours.  Our second point very briefly is this:  The righteousness of God in the gospel comes as a gift to those who excursive faith in Jesus Christ.   Paul says, ďThis righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.Ē  Clearly, the important word there is ďfaith.Ē  What is this faith that opens the door for the transfer of Christís righteousness to us who have no righteousness of our own?  This is so important.  This righteousness of Christ in his life and death which is so radically different from our unrighteousness is appropriated by faith, not works.  The entire gospel is predicated on the fact that we cannot DO anything to be righteous.  Its not about what WE do, but about what Christ has done on our behalf.  We receive the righteousness of Christís life and death by simply receiving it through faith.

          Robert Haldane, the great puritan scholar said faith ďperceives and acknowledges the excellency and suitability of Godís righteousness, and cordially embraces it.Ē  Faith seriously looks at our own miserable unrighteousness and rejects it as sufficient for a holy God and then, upon seeing the righteousness of Christ offered by God, eagerly, ravenously snatches it up as the pearl of great price, as the treasure buried in a field, as its only hope for standing before God.  Faith looks at the sin-filled life of the sinner with all of the blackness and then looks at the righteous life of Christ. 

          It says, ďI could never offer my sin soaked existence to a holy God, but Christís righteousness will allow me to stand before him--Oh God, if youíre offering, Iím taking it!  I receive Christ.  I receive His perfect fulfillment of the law in exchange for my daily rebellion against the law.  I receive Christís perfect faith and reject as utterly useless my life filled with doubt and self-reliance.  I receive Christís perfect motivation for the glory of God and reject as futile my self-oriented life and motives.  And I receive Christís righteous payment of the penalty of my sin.  I shun my hopeless ability to pay for my sin--I would burn forever.  I receive His death--his righteous payment for my sins on the cross.  I receive his satisfaction of the holy wrath of God.  I take it as mine because it has been graciously offered to me--not because I have done anything to deserve it, but because God in his grace offers it to me.Ē 

          The voice of faith says, ďOh God, as a believer I will seek to obey you because youíve given me a new heart, but I will never offer that obedience to you for my salvation.  Even my most sincere obedience as a believer is tainted with sin and self.  I offer that to you in response to what you have done, but I will never trust in that to save me.  I rest my entire hope of salvation on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ which you offer to substitute for my sin and rebellion.Ē  The voice of faith says with the hymnist, ďMy hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesusí name.  On Christ the solid rock I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.Ē 

          This is the glory of the gospel.  Have you ever received this unspeakable gift?  Have you looked at your life of sin and blackness and come to the realization that you are in no way qualified to stand before a holy, righteous God who requires the righteousness of God?  Have you truly seen yourself as a hopeless sinner before a holy God?  If you have not, today allow the faith God has given you to reject once and for all your attempts to meet Godís holy standard and embrace the cross, embrace the righteousness of Christ offered to you.  Repent of your sin and turn to Christ as your only hope.

          If you are a believer, do you walk in the freedom this gospel provides?  Are you constantly worrying about whether you are good enough to get into heaven, or do you dismiss those legalistic thoughts and joyfully, eagerly embrace the cross as your only hope for righteousness and praise God daily for his glorious grace in the gospel?  May God give us the grace to live our lives in the joy of Christís forgiveness and Christís righteousness which has been given to all have placed their trust in Him.

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