Sermon from October 29th, 2017. For Full Audio visit our sermons page.
What is it that we need to in order to be spared from God’s wrath? Righteousness. We can’t have it on our own, so God gives it to us. He gives us His own righteousness so that we will be saved.
How that happens is worked out through the rest of this great letter and I want to take us to one specific place. Last week I told you that verses 16-17 are the theme of Romans, probably the most important letter ever written. Verses 16-17 are the theme, but that doesn’t mean they are the most elaborate. Like any good piece of communication, much of what happens early on introduces and sets the stage for what will be more thoroughly explained in the body of the letter. That’s what verse 17 is doing. There is another place where Paul takes the time to draw this out with more detail and explain just how the Gospel works…how God gives His righteousness to unrighteous sinners through faith in Jesus.
We see this in chapter 3:
Rom. 3:20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
Paul is going to tell us how sinners are justified. We’ve used that word a little bit here and there, but I haven’t defined it for you. It comes from a Latin word from the Roman judicial system. Justified means to be given right standing. Or another way of saying it is to say that being justified is to be made righteous. This idea is much clearer in Greek because there is only one word for justified and righteous. We have two words in English, so it’s more natural to assume they are two related, but slightly different ideas. That’s not the case. They are the same thing. So, when Paul says here in Romans 3:20 that no human will be justified in God’s sight by doing good works of the law, he is literally saying no human with be made righteous through the law.
Verse 21 is where you see the parallels. Rom. 3:21 But now the righteousness of God (same phrase from 1:17) has been manifested (very much like the word revealed from the other verse) apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
So, justification by faith in Jesus Christ is the revealing, the manifestation of the righteousness of God
Now, see this get fleshed out in these verses. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (just like before, we are all unrighteous and under God’s wrath) 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation (propitiation means a substitutionary sacrifice) 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. 26 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.
There it is at the end, God shows His righteousness not by remaining angry at sinners and leaving us under wrath, but by giving us what we could otherwise never have—righteousness—He steps in to make us righteous so that we might be saved and endure in salvation.
He does that by crediting or imputing the righteousness of Jesus onto us. We are made righteousness by God, as a gift, when He sent Jesus to die in our place, so that where we should have death, instead we have life. Our unrighteousness is wiped away and perfect righteousness is draped over us like a fine robe.
That is incredibly heady stuff. I’ve taken the time to explain it to us this way because I want to glorify God for what He did 500 years ago and what He’s still revealing to people, but I really do believe this can be understood by anyone, including children. I do bad things and therefore I have a bad heart. In order to live with God I need to have a good heart. To make my heart good, God sent His Son to take away my bad heart and He has given me the gift of His good heart. Now, I want to live like I have a good heart. That’s probably overly simplified and you could probably poke holes in it, but I want to ask what we do with this. It’s heady, it’s theological…what are we supposed to do?
I skipped 4 words. I want to finish with them now. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” What does the righteousness of God being revealed from faith for faith mean? I think it means that God gives the Gospel and the work of the Gospel when it takes root in the lives of people, not only comes by faith, but it builds up faith. That’s what I think from faith for faith means. The Gospel comes by faith and builds more faith. The Gospel makes Christians and it holds Christians. The world can be a big, scary, unstable, unsure place, but if you have been given God’s righteousness you are being saved in it and you will be saved out of it. That’s faith building more faith.
We are supposed to look at the Gospel every day. Look at it and behold it and let it strengthen and renew us. Let’s go back to some of the examples I used earlier. How does the imputed righteousness of God onto you affect your marriage? It has everything to do with your marriage. I’ve been married for a little less than 10 years, but I know enough to know that if it were up to me and my righteousness, our marriage might be in trouble. Instead, I know because my wife has the righteousness of God and I have the righteousness of God that even when it’s tough, it will be ok.
What about when the doctor brings bad news? You don’t live in the flesh, you live by faith? And whatever happens, God has promised that you will live and that’s not up to you, He gives you what you need, so you know it will always be there. What about when you lose your job?
How do we apply this? Look to the Gospel daily. You have life by someone else’s grace, not your own merit. Every time you try to be enough, you forfeit the chance to trust God and receive his righteousness. But even that is not the end of the story, because in this life there is always a second chance. That does not mean there are not consequences for our actions, but it is never too late to turn from self-righteousness and embrace Jesus’s righteousness given to you by faith. For centuries that beautiful truth was obscured, praise God for His favor in using the men and women of the Reformation to recover it and plainly lay it before us. May we never lose it again.