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TEXT: Romans 3:21-31
SUBJECT: Romans #6: But Now!
On the night of July 1, 1975, John Smith committed a double murder. The crime was so brutal that the newspapers did not give the details-not even the scandal sheets did-because no one could find the words to describe what he did and how he did it.
The next day, Smith was arrested and charged with murder in the first degree. His trial was a long one, with prosecutors piling up the evidence against him, and his attorneys answering them with things like, 'It wasn't him; it was someone who looked like him; He didn't mean to do it and 'He promises to never do it again'. When the case went to the jury, it didn't take long to reach a decision: 'Guilty on all counts'.
Over the next two or three years, the lawyers for Smith contested the verdict, and every court upheld it. All this time, he claimed he was innocent, but when his appeals ran out, he came clean: 'I did it'.
A date was set for his execution, and when the sun rose that morning, a guard woke him up with the words, 'It's time'. Smith got up and marched slowly to the room where he would die, with a guard on his left side, the warden on his right, and a chaplain behind him reciting the Lord's Prayer.
When they reached the gas chamber, John was seated on the chair and his hands and feet were strapped down. A belt was tightened around his waist, and when he was asked if he had any last words, he shook his head, no.
The door was shut and bolted; the warden looked at his watch and gave the signal. As the technician reached for the lever to drop the tablet, the phone rang. The governor was on the line, and he has granted the prisoner a full pardon.
Everyone is shocked at the call, and no one more than John Smith who is now a free man.
I made up this story, of course, but not out of thin air. It is just what Paul wrote in the first three chapters of Romans. In chapter 1, he prosecutes the Gentiles and finds them guilty of every known crime and worthy of eternal death. Then he turns to his own people, the Jews, and proves they're as guilty as the others and equally under God's wrath, because-
There is none righteous, no not one.
The human race has been tried in the court of Heaven and found guilty on all counts. The sentence is death, and it's about to be carried out.
Then the phone rings.
This is the mood Paul creates with the dramatic words of v.21-
With no time to spare, God has acted; He has done something to exonerate sinners and to do it in a way that maintains His justice and sets the world right.
What did He do? Paul tells us in vv.21-26, and then he applies it in vv.27-31.
What God has done is reveal His righteousness, or, to be more exact-
The righteousness of God is being revealed.
Up to now, He's been (mostly) revealing His wrath (1:18), but now God is showing another side of His character. The previous age had been one of Judgment, think of the Flood, the Tower of Babel, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the annihilation of the Canaanites, and Israel's many defeats ending in exile, and for the most part, a loss of national identity. The Old Testament ends with a thud; it's last word is-
God had been merciful to His people, patient, longsuffering, forgiving, but His goodness had done them no good. What was true of Israel was doubly so of the Gentiles. God had made Himself known to them, but they turned Him into bull or a snake or a monkey, and He let them become the animals they wanted to be.
That was then-Paul says-but now is now. Now God is revealing His Righteousness, which, here, has a double meaning.
The pronouncement is on an ongoing thing. Every time the Gospel is preached, the Righteousness of God is being revealed. And, not one side of it only, but both sides. In a hurry to justify sinners, some preachers make God look soft of sin. He isn't! Others, rushing to God's defense, leave sinners hopeless, as though He can never accept them till they 'do better'. When the Gospel is faithfully preached, however, two wonderful things occur at the same time: God is justified and sinners are justified.
THE WRONG WAY
How do sinners obtain a right standing with God? Paul says it is-
Apart from the Law.
The Jews thought that possessing the Law put them in good standing with God. It didn't. The Jews were not justified because they had the Law, and we're not justified because we have the Bible. Even if we do our best to live up to it, because our best is not good enough! Human righteousness won't satisfy God!
The Bible says our sins are dirty, filthy, and disgusting things, and not just our sins, for Isaiah 64:6 adds-
All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.
Stained, stinking, gross.
No one ever got right with God by having the Law or trying to keep it. The Jews didn't back in the day, and neither do we-
By the deeds of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the Law is the knowledge of sin.
If the Law of God can't make us right with Him, how stupid it is to think man-made rules will do it! They won't; no rules can make us right, because they were never designed to!
THE LAW AND PROPHETS
If the Law was not given to make us right with God, why was it given at all? Much can be said here, but Paul says only one thing-
Being witnessed by the Law and prophets.
The Law and prophets were signs, and like other signs, they didn't point to themselves, but to something else. What they pointed to-Paul says-is
JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH
The righteousness of God which is through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
The righteous people are those who believe in Christ. There is much to criticize in our lives, but still, we're righteous because Christ is righteous and we're in Him. If everyone died outside of the ark, everyone inside of the ark lived. Christ is the Ark, and we get inside by renouncing ourselves and putting our trust in Him.
This is the only Righteousness God ever wanted, and the only one He will accept.
This righteousness is offered to everyone; it is for-
All who believe.
Jews can have it and so can the Gentiles. All can have it, but no one can have it apart from faith in Christ. Why not? Because-
All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
Nobody is born righteous and nobody's got the wisdom or the willpower to make himself righteous. Not the pious Jews, not the virtuous pagans, no one.
We obtain a right standing with God because of His grace. We're not right with Him because of what we are, but because of what He is! We didn't reach up to Him; He reached down to us. We're right with God only because He is gracious. And not because we're good.
We are justified freely, Paul adds, and that means without charge.to us.
But, if it costs us nothing to be right with God, it cost Him plenty-
Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
To 'redeem' means 'to buy out of slavery', and often at a very high price. What price did God pay to redeem us? V. 27 says it was-
All the sufferings we read about in the Gospels, from sweating great drops of blood in the Garden, to the spear in His side, to the scourging and the beating and the collapsing under the cross, to the crown of thorns, and the spikes driven through innocent hands and feet were all.for us.
Who can forget the hymn, O Sacred Head-
What Thou, my Lord hast suffered
was all for sinners' gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression,
but Thine the deadly pain.
Like debtors and fools in Israel, we sold ourselves into slavery, a bondage we could never buy ourselves out of, but then God did, and at what a price!
The death of Christ is for us, but not only for us. It is also for God, and this is what vv.25-26 are getting at. The blood of Christ is a propitiation.
This means it satisfies the justice of God. If God forgave us apart from the death of His Son, He would open Himself up to the charges of laxity and lying. He is soft on sin, and all those warnings in the past were empty words.
God won't have this: The cross not only justifies us; it justifies Him. If the wages of sin is death, Someone has got to pay for the sins of the world, and only two can do that, the men who commit the sins or the Man who bears them in His own body on the cross!
Jesus is qualified to bear the sins of the world because (a) He has no sins of His own to bear; in other words, He had a right to live; and because (2) He is God and is big enough to shoulder the weight of all our sins.
Christ's death in our place-
Demonstrates His righteousness.
In two ways: It shows He was right to justify Abraham, Moses, David, and the others who sinned and died on the other side of the cross. How come God let them get away with all the wrongs they did? He didn't! Because Christ carried their sins to the cross.
More to the point, it proves He is just in justifying sinners who believe in Christ today. Suppose my unsaved neighbor hears me cussing at my wife, and then, when we both die and stand before God in judgment. I get in and he doesn't. But wait-he objects-I heard that man cussing at his wife, why did you give him a pass?
The Lord could say, 'He went to hell too, in me on the cross'. This is why, in the great words of Martin Luther, the Christian is-
Simul iustus et peccator.
'Righteous, and at the same time, a sinner'.
If all this is true-if we're right with God because of what Christ did for us and not what we do for God, all-
Boasting is excluded.
The Jews cannot say they won God's favor or kept it or contributed to it by keeping the Law, because, they didn't keep the Law, and besides, the Law doesn't make a man right with God, never did and never will.
If the Jews don't believe him, they ought to re-read the Law itself. It teaches God made the whole world (Genesis 1-2); it also teaches that God wants to save the whole world (Genesis 12), and if He does, it cannot be by the Law because it was given to only to Israel and not to the whole world. One or the other has to give in: either God doesn't want to save the world, or He's wants to, by faith in Christ not by works of the Law.
Since this is what the Law itself promises, the Gospel confirms the Law.
If the Law did not justify Israel, it will not justify us. But God can and will justify us when we trust Jesus Christ as our Savior.
Remember, therefore, that if we're right with God, it is He who has made us so. Consequently, there is no room for thinking too much of ourselves, or too little of others, the poor people who don't live up to our standards. Every believer is right with God, including the believer who doesn't read his Bible every day, the believer who forgets to pray at the dinner table, and the believer who differs with us on secondary doctrines and practices.
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