Welcome to worship today at Christ Lutheran. And welcome if you’re listening on the radio!
We continue in our sermon series on Paul’s letter to the Romans. This amazing letter was written by Paul to the Christians at Rome as he prepared to travel there to meet them. In the first chapter, Paul gets right to the point and in verse 17 sums up the letter’s main point----
Romans 1:17 “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
Righteousness simply means to be in a right, good, strong relationship with God. And it is not something we can achieve through our own efforts, but it comes to us as a gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
Then in the next section of Romans, Paul goes on to lay out the situation. We need to get this righteousness from God because we can’t produce it ourselves. Paul quotes Psalm 14---
Romans 3:10-11 “As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.”
Last week Pastor John had the tough job of preaching about that bad news. Sin is real. We often look around us and see all kinds of sin and unrighteousness and we are tempted to judge others. But we need to look inside ourselves and recognize the fact that the same sin and unrighteousness is in each one of us.
But that’s not a pleasant thing to do. “There is no one righteous, not even one.” What do we do about that? Well, one popular response to bad news is just ignore it! Make like you didn’t hear it. It’ll go away!
Bob Baker is the father of our youth director David. And Bob is the director of a church camp, Luther Haven, in Idaho. He recently told me about a pastor who was upset that one day of the summer camp teaching mentioned our sin and the need for Christ’s cross and his forgiveness. He said that his kids didn’t need to hear about sin. They know about that. They only need to hear about Jesus’ love.
Now I can understand that Pastor’s desire to protect his kids. But do we really protect our kids by not telling them about the realities of life? I agree that they have already experienced the reality of sin in others and in themselves. But ignoring it doesn’t heal the hurt. You’ve got to identify the source of the problem if things are going to get better. And if we have a cure, don’t we owe it to our kids to share it with them? And the Gospel of Jesus is that cure--which we will get to shortly.
So we can be tempted to ignore our sin---Or on the other hand, there are Christians who wallow in the reality of sin and emphasize the bad news so much that it overwhelms any good news. They are like the Pharisees of Biblical times who try to live by an endless set of rules, which implies that we can save ourselves from sin if we only try hard enough.
But neither ignoring nor wallowing is a productive answer to sin and unrighteousness. And the Gospel of Jesus Christ, when it is taught as the Bible does, is unique in all the world in the saving, liberating, good news that it brings. So Paul has laid out the bad news, but then he gets to the good part------
Romans 3:21 “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.”
But now---Paul writes---things are going to be different! We don’t have to produce this righteousness ourselves. God has made this perfect righteousness and he offers it freely to us. Now that’s Good News!
And listen to what he tells us about this righteousness---
Romans 3:22 “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”
It’s a gift that comes to those who believe in Jesus, because what Jesus offers is unique in all the world, in all of history---a righteousness that doesn’t depend on us, but on Jesus.
I read about a Chinese man who became a Christian. He was asked why he chose Christianity when he was surrounded by millions of people who were followers of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shintoism.
The man said that he had gone through a very difficult time in his life. And when he approached the other religions he was told that if he learned certain teachings or ways of meditation or if he achieved certain religious goals that he could work his way out of the difficult time he was suffering.
But then the man heard of Christ’s love and that Christ died for him before the man could do anything to deserve it. The man said---“His sacrifice saved me. He did that for me—now I can share his love and help to save others.”
Romans 3:23 “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”
And it is a gift offered to all people because all of us need it! None of us can make ourselves right with God.
Romans 3:24 “ and (we) are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
“Justified freely” This is crucial because at times we can think of faith as a work. That if we only believe hard enough or have intense love for Jesus that we will deserve his grace.
Tim Keller is the author of the study on Romans that we are following on Wednesday nights. (Please come and be part of that if you aren’t already.) And Keller puts it this way---“Faith is simply the attitude of coming to God with empty hands.”
We bring nothing to the table. It all comes from God through Christ and his death on the cross and his rising to new life!
Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts it this way---“The man who has faith is the man who is no longer looking at himself, and no longer looking to himself. He no longer looks at anything he once was. He does not look at what he is now. He does not look at what he hopes to be…He looks entirely to the Lord Jesus Christ and his finished work, and he rests on that alone.”
But how can God keep his own righteousness ---his prefect record of being just and always doing right---and still make us sinners righteous as if we had no sin? Keller asks, “How can a just God justify justifying you and me?”
If God forgave us simply by ignoring our sin, he would destroy his own character. So God did not set his justice aside, he took the just penalty of sin on himself! On the cross, God’s wrath against sin and his love for sinners are clearly revealed.
Romans 3:25 ”God presented him (Christ) as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished”
God is a God of both holy anger against sin and sacrificial love for those who sin.
A permissive parent may think they are acting out of love. But if they set no limits and give no guidance, they are destructive to their children. Our God is not a permissive parent who tells his children anything goes. That only leads to damaged children.
But neither is he a wrathful God without grace. A God of judgment alone will produce driven people who can’t live up to his standards and who just want to get away from him. God knows that fear doesn’t produce a loving relationship.
And so we see---
Romans 3:26 “ he (God) did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
Our Lord is the one who is righteous and who makes us righteous.
Previously in his life, Paul lived as if he made himself righteous. In Philippians he wrote that in human terms he had all the credentials---
Philippians 3:5-6 “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.”
But he came to realize that all of that didn’t get him anywhere because he was still riddled with sin.
Later in Romans Paul writes---
Romans 7:19 “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”
So after laying out the bad news, and giving us the good news, he wants us to be clear on where the credit lies.
Romans 3:27-28 “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”
Why is Paul so concerned about boasting? Well, as a former boaster-in-chief, he knows that it got him nowhere. Same is true for us. Keller points out some of the problems in the world caused by boasting---when we trust in human accomplishments.
Consider our human divisions. Pride in race, wealth, social status or success lead to arrogance, pride and snobbery. To build ourselves up we tear others down.
Consider our denial of reality. If our confidence for life comes from our social status, our race or ethnic background, we have to blind ourselves to the faults of our people which leads to racism and hostility toward those different than us. If our confidence comes from our moral achievements, we have to blind ourselves to our own sin and self-centeredness. If our confidence comes from our material success or position, we will do anything to protect our stuff, even at risk of our integrity.
Consider our anxiety. If we boast in our achievements, anytime any of that is threatened, our basic security is threatened and we live in fear and anxiety.
But the Gospel of Jesus that Paul describes says---“For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”
This is a whole new way of looking at life! True life comes not from what we do, but from what God does. It’s amazing! The Lord accepts you and me, not because of anything we have done, or will do, but because Jesus paid for all our failures!
Consider a new freedom from human divisions. Because there is no room for boasting, the worth of all, ALL, people comes not from their dollars, or social rank, or record of sins, but from the fact that there are created in the image of God and that Christ died for them on the cross. Then there is no valid reason for human divisions.
Consider a new freedom from denying reality. You don’t have to try to hide your flaws, your failures or your sin from God. He knows it all and he still loves you!
Consider a new freedom from anxiety. If your confidence for living comes from God, then there is no reason to fear hardship or the future or death. If you know that God is for you, then you place your worst fears in his hands and leave them there. That’s not easy---it takes discipline, but you can come to trust that if God would go to such lengths to save you, that he would die on the cross, then he will provide for you and for your future. There is no need to fear.
And that is freely offered to all people---
Romans 3:29-30 “Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith."
And then Paul concludes this section. He wants to clear up any misunderstanding. He has written that following God’s law cannot save us from our sin. Following the law doesn’t give us reason to boast. It doesn’t give us confidence or self-worth. But----
Romans 3:31 “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.”
So, do we get rid of God’s laws for living? NOT AT ALL! But we understand their purpose in a new way. A Christian who is saved by Christ’s blood and not by following God’s law should love the law more than someone who is trying to be saved by the law. We grow to see God’s law as a blessing that shows us how life works best.
We don’t have to try to water down God’s law so we can keep it. And we don’t have to be crushed by it because we know we can’t keep it. We can do our best to follow God’s commands out of love for our God who gives it to us, not as a burden, but as a blessing.
That’s Good News! And we can thank the Lord that through his Holy Spirit he inspired Paul to write this letter to the Romans and to us to teach us the Good News of Jesus.
JESUS---He truly is the HOPE OF THE NATIONS and of you and me!