ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda (the church reformed, always reforming)! The church is always in the growing and being shaped by the word of God. Never is it standing still. As if it has reached its destination. Tonight we celebrate the reformation. And we look at a verses from the word of God which the Spirit used to bring the church back from her waywardness to submit again to the word.
In the providence of our Father we arrive tonight at article 23 on the day that the we celebrate the reformation. And tonight, I want to look particular at the text at the heart of it all. Romans 3:21 and following.
Martin Lloyd-Jones, one of the great preachers of the last century, said that these are the greatest verses in the entire Bible on the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is quite a strong statement. When writing his massive work on romans Lloyd-Jones began putting his messages into print not with chapter one and verse one, but with these very verses. He believed that this paragraph is that important to the message of the entire book of Romans. I agree.
The first section of romans is Romans 1:18-3:20. There, Paul presented his case for the condemnation of the entire sinful human race. The apostle argued a devastating case, indicting mankind. To this point, everything in this letter to the believers in Rome has been preparation for this extraordinary truth of justification.
And then the first two words of verse 21 are "But now," which signals a dramatic pivot in the flow of this letter. Martin Lloyd Jones has said, "Praise God for the buts in the Bible." "But now" turns the corner from the condemnation of the entire human race to the justification of all believers in Jesus Christ by the grace of God.
Appropriated by faith.
Christ for us.
Gods Righteousness not ours
But now a 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.
In order to understand where we are at today it is important that up to this point Paul has pointed pout that all people are in the same boat. And that boat is at the bottom of the ocean. All of us are drowned in our own sin and misery. Separated from God, without hope in this world! There is not one good soul. Not one righteous soul. As he makes clear, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks God.”
We are not basically good. We are basically dead. Luther used two concepts to explain this condition. He used the Latin term for “root” to explain that we are at root sinful beings. Although we have free will, we use it to sin. Luther also used the Latin term “incurvitas” to explain that our sin makes us curve in on ourselves. We become preoccupied with ourselves at the expense of loving God and neighbor. And this is what the obedience to the law does. It always asks, “Am I good enough to be saved.”
This was Luther dilemma. He never felt like he was living up. He had always read that the righteousness of god was his justice, whereby he punishes and rewards righteousness. But the more he tried to live in obediace to the law, the more he found the knowledge of sin. His experience echoed Paul's when he writes, “For by the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” We are lawless. Unrighteous. Ungodly.
BUT! BUT! There is hope and that word gives it to us! BUT NOW! Yes, now, says Paul. I the time we are living in God has revealed to us the righteousness of God! “The righteous of God has been manifested apart from the law…” It is apart from any works of the Law that we could ever hope to perform or achieve. This righteousness cannot be achieved by our keeping the Ten Commandments. A right standing before God is entirely totally and absolutely apart from the keeping of the requirements that God has revealed in His written word. Do you believe this? We bring absolutely nothing to the table. This should free you. As Paul says it is for freedom that Christ has set you free! We make no contribution to our own salvation, other than our sin. As the old hymn says, “In my hands, no price I bring, simply to Your cross I cling.” Once we get this deep deep in our bones, there is nothing left but thanksgiving. Joyful absolute thanksgiving. Praise. It is not I, but Christ in me!
Justification is apart from the Law. But that is not to say it is unexpected or that the word of God did not talk about it. No he says, “the law and the prophets bear witness to it” because form the beginning the law and the prophets have testified to it. Just look at genesis 15:6 where Abraham simply believed at it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” or Psalm 32 which we sang, “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit, there is no deceit!” Or read Isaiah 53. In verse 11 it says, “"As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities.”
Verse 22 goes on, “The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe!” All who believe. “Even for me?” Yes, for you. “But,” you say, “you do not know what I have done!” I do not care what you have done, it is not about what you have done or have not done. Stop focusing so much on yourself. It is about what he has done! It is about what God has done in Christ. And this is yours through faith. Do you believe?
God justifies the ungodly ONLY. He does not justify those who come to him clothed in their own good works. He saves those who have been stripped of all hope. Whether you live a moral life or an immoral one, whether you have heard the gospel or never heard the gospel, whether you grew up in church or have never darkened the doors of the of church, whether you are religious or are irreligious, no matter who you are, you have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. You desperately need the righteousness of God in order to be right with God.
Only faith uniting you to the work and person Jesus Christ will give to us the righteousness of God.
What is saving faith? It is entrusting your life to Jesus Christ and his work completely. It is an utter self abasement. A humbling of oneself. A giving up trying, and simply resting. It unites you with him. So that you die in him to sin, and are raised with him in newness of life. It is more than the mere head knowledge about God, Jesus Christ, and salvation. It is more than the emotional feelings of conviction of sin and affections for Christ. A half trust will not get you there. There must be the reliance of your entire soul upon Jesus Christ.
There are some people who try to straddle the fence. They want to have faith in Christ and their baptism. Or faith in Christ and their church membership. Or faith and works. Or….. It is not until you burn all these other bridges behind you that you truly rely upon Jesus Christ to save you. You must turn away from all else and embrace Jesus Christ exclusively.
And faith is that embrace. Paul will make this point over and over and over again. He is a repetitive pastor when it come to this point. He really wants the church in Rome to get it. The emphasis he will make is on faith alone, not faith and, but faith alone.
In verse 25, the apostle writes, "to be received by faith." At the end of verse 26, he states that the one who is justified is "the one who has faith in Jesus." In verse 27, he insists justification is received "by a law of faith." In verse 28, he affirms, "A man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law." In verse 30, he reinforces, "God will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith." In verse 31, he reiterates, "Do we then overthrow the Law by this faith? By no means!" The point is so well made that it cannot be misunderstood.
Verse 22b-24, “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. All have sinned. There is no distinction we are all in the same boat, remember? And everyone in the boat has the same opportunity to be justified by his grace as a gift. Amazing! Justified by his grace as a gift! Declared righteous, by his complete underserved favor. It is a gift. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever (not distinction) believes (has faith) in Him (our righteousness) shall not perish (be judged justly under the wrath of a perfect holy God) but have eternal life (The result of righteousness. (John 3:16).
It is all through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. To redeem someone means to buy someone at a price. It is the language of slavery. That is what Jesus did on the Cross, he bought forever those who belonged to him. He redeemed them from slavery. His blood is the price that had to be paid for you and to receive this gift. It was the blood of his own Son. The live is in the blood! His Blood is our live! that, as verse 25 says, “God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”
Propitiation is the “the act of gaining or regaining the favor or goodwill of someone or something.” In this case: GOD. This answers one of the greatest questions in all of the gospel. How can a sinner again be accepted into Gods favor? It is a divine dilemma. We read in verse 23, “All men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” And in the very next verse we read, “And are justified!” This is wrong. this cannot be! Look at Proverbs 17, “Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent— the Lord detests them both.” God cannot let the guilty go unpunished! Will not the judge of all the earth do right? He cannot let the wicked go unpunished because he cannot deny his own nature!
Just imagine you go home, and your entire family is killed. And you see the murderer with blood on his hands just leaving. In a rage you go after him, and you tie him up, and you go to the police. Who charge him, and take him to court? You Go to the court case and the judge says, “I am a kind and generous judge, I am just going to forgive him.” What will your response be!? You will be furious! This is wrong! A judge must judge according to the law! You are going to do whatever you can, call the media, write in the newspapers, appeal your decision. This judge is vile and corrupt judge who distorts justice. Society cannot stand under such justice. Now if this is what we expect of our earthly judges, will not the judge of all the earth do right?!
How can God be just and justifier of the wicked. It is central part of the gospel. No pastor must ever say, “God could have been just with you, but instead he was loving.” As if his love is not just! His love is perfect and therefore it is perfect in justice. He is JUST and the justifier of those who believe in him!
How? Justice must be paid. Appeased. It requires a man a perfect sacrifice. It requires more then a man to bear that justice.
It pleased the Father to crush his own son in our place. The holy son of God was forsaken and crushed under the judge. Take a dam a hundred thousand miles high and hundred thousand miles high and break it! That would be nothing in comparison with the weight of our sin that was placed upon Him. That came crushing on him, and not a drop of that wrath against sin came to touch us. It pleased the Father to crush him is what Isaiah 53 says! So that he can be just and justify the sinner.
We read in verse 25b, “This was to show Gods righteousness because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the 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.”
Jesus Christ did it all. Our good works are like filthy rags. His righteousness is perfect. And this humbles us and removes all boasting except in God.
Jesus talked a lot about repentance from sin, but he spoke just as much about repentance from reliance on good works. Repentance is giving up trying to justify yourselves and turning toward Jesus.
I will not trust another thing. Right now, if I die I will go to heaven. Not because of going to the lords supper. Or because I am a preacher, or because I read my bible. But because of him. And if he is not good enough, I cannot turn anywhere else. he and he alone is all I cling. Salvation Is wholly from God! He revives the dead. He can change me. Totally! And I will eternally praise him for it. In Christ I may walk in newness of life.
He died so that so that I could come here and celebrate my own funeral, and my own death, and celebrate that it is not longer I that Life but Christ who lives in me. Or in the words of the catechism: I am not my own but belong with body and soul to my faithful savior Jesus Christ. he has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood.
Therefore…life I now live I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me!
What gift of grace is Jesus my Redeemer
There is no more for Heaven now to give
He is my joy, my righteousness and freedom
My steadfast love, my deep and boundless peace
To this I hold, my hope is only Jesus
For my life is wholly bound to His
Oh, how strange and divine, I can sing, "all is mine"
Yet not I but through Christ in me
The night is dark but I am not forsaken
For by my side the Savior He will stay
I labor on in weakness and rejoicing
For in my need His power is displayed
To this I hold, my Shepherd will defend me
Through the deepest valley He will lead
Oh, the night has been won and I shall overcome
Yet not I but through Christ in me