Equal Opportunity Sinners – Romans 3:21-31

You’ll be glad to know that I have not spent a lot of time standing trial before a judge. I’ve had to testify a few times, and that is creepy enough. But there is really only once that I chose to go before a judge to plead about an accusation against me — about a speeding ticket.

It happened in Virginia on an occasion when I was at a Free Church pastors event in the Culpepper area. I had made some sort of wrong turn and found myself on an isolated road that went through what is known in that area as The Wilderness. It is a dense tangle of trees and brush, most famous because of a horrifically brutal Civil War battle fought in that region.

I was driving along trying to figure out where I was. There was nothing but thick forests on either side for miles, but suddenly I went around a turn and into an open area with schools on both sides of the road … and a policeman pointing a speed gun at me. There was no warning that I could see. I was amazed at how quickly it all transpired. After getting my paperwork, I went back to see if there were any signs along the roadway, and there was just one that was overgrown by trees and brush and hardly visible at all.

The judge was unimpressed with my story. I told him the circumstances and that I was not in any hurry or seeking to speed beyond any reasonable standard, never expecting a school zone to suddenly appear. He basically told me that he understood I had no intent to break the law and how I would be unfamiliar with the road, but the fact was that I had done so. Guilty!

Probably most people who go before a judge for small items like traffic violations do so with the hope that there will be some measure of leniency, and often there is. Your history, like a driving record, is considered. And perhaps if your overall goodness far exceeds the accused failure, the judge might let you go. At least you hope so.

And that is how most folks naturally think about what it will be like at the end of their lives when they stand before God. They know they are not perfect, and their hope is that He will agree that they have been clearly more virtuous and moral than the relatively scant accumulation of wrongdoing.

But that is not good enough. Perfection is needed. As we wrote previously, the need is to possess this stuff called “righteousness.” And the problem is that we don’t have it; and worse yet, we can’t get it or earn it on our own. It has to come from somewhere, someone, else.

The Jewish people in Paul’s time believed the same folly that frankly a majority of people essentially believe today: that by keeping the Law (the Jewish belief) or by living a very good and largely moral life (Gentile belief), one can expect to be OK with God in the end.

But the Scriptures teach that we all — Jews, Gentiles, whoever — are equal opportunity sinners; we have all failed and are in need of righteousness. That is the bad news. But the good news (the gospel) is that there is a righteousness that is out there. It was anticipated in the Old Testament Scriptures; it was revealed in Jesus Christ; it is preached as the gospel by Paul and the New Testament writers; and it is available through faith to those who will believe in this truth and trust in Jesus Christ.

3:21 – But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.

It is all about gaining righteousness through faith. We call this “declared righteous,” which is essentially what justification is.  We also speak of it in terms of “imputed righteousness.”  This is a great topic … the BEST topic. And that is what we are going to speak about all of this week.

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About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed multiple hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and have been a sportswriter for various publications and online venues. My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with the Antietam Battlefield Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

2 thoughts on “Equal Opportunity Sinners – Romans 3:21-31

  1. “The judge was unimpressed with my story. I told him the circumstances and that I was not in any hurry or seeking to speed beyond any reasonable standard, never expecting a school zone to suddenly appear. He basically told me that he understood I had no intent to break the law and how I would be unfamiliar with the road, but the fact was that I had done so. Guilty!”

    However our view of God is naturally going to make us want to emulate him.

    “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” (2 Thess. 3:5 NIV)

    The judge would have told you that he did not hold your speeding against you because you were “ignorant” and the fine was already paid.
    Ezek. 45:20
    Acts 3:17
    Eph. 4:18
    1 Tim. 1:13
    Heb. 9:7
    1 Pet. 1:14

    That would have been a great thing. Sacrifices were acceptable in the Old Testament for sins commited in ignorance.

    I am not sure if you will be able to “connect” with the above scriptures the way I did.

    Just out of curiousity I wanted to see if my Bible program could print out that list of scriptures authomatically. And with a manual tweak, it did so. Now you don’t have to look them up. Here are all the scriptures that use the word “ignorance” in the NIV.

    “You are to do the same on the seventh day of the month for anyone who sins unintentionally or through ignorance; so you are to make atonement for the temple.” (Ezekiel 45:20 NIV)

    “”Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.” (Acts 3:17 NIV)

    “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30 NIV)

    “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” (Ephesians 4:18 NIV)

    “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.” (1 Timothy 1:13 NIV)

    “But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.” (Hebrews 9:7 NIV)

    “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.” (1 Peter 1:14 NIV)

    The judge you came across is a good example of the “lawyers” critiqued by Jesus. People who put hard burdens on people and don’t lift a finger to help those they burden.

    Pushing this analogy too far and saying that God is like the unjust judge that you encountered … it is horrible, horrible for evangelism.

    Our God has made provision for those in ignorance through Jesus Christ. The best result is for us to come to know about the provision now and know now about God’s love.

    God wants to use to remove ignorance in the world. He wants us to walk in love. It is hard though to tell people about how loving God is when we then turn around and compare to the judge that you just described. Is the judge you described your hero or your friend? If you don’t like the judge can you really truly enthustically invite people to a picnic the judge is hosting? “Come be friends with the judge so he won’t give you a ticket or throw you in jail when it comes time for you to come before him.”

    A problem is that people don’t believe that God is like that. And in truth he isn’t.

    God expects us to love Jesus. And why? Because Jesus reflects the love and character of the Father.

    I believe in the Trinity. Jesus and the Father are not “good cop, bad cop.” Jesus spoke exactly what the Father wanted him to say.

    I hope I got my comments here right down the middle of the plate so you can somehow get the bat on the ball and be in the game.

    God isn’t so much trying to strike us out, he is actually lobbing us pitches and he wants us to hit home runs. It isn’t so much an oppositional game with God, but rather you could liken it to a “home run derby” where God wants us and all humans to excel.

    However, why are we (Christians) playing ball so to speak? Why didn’t God make us like angels? Why did he make us subject to sin?

    The answer is that we have an audience. “Even angels long to look into these things.” (1 Pet. 1:12 NIV) “we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,” (Heb. 12:1 NIV)

    God’s “intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,” (Eph. 3:10 NIV)

    Jesus you could say “struck out Satan” when he triumphed over him through the cross.
    Jesus “made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Col. 2:15 NIV)

    Or maybe you could say that Jesus took Satan’s most devastating pitches and crushed them out of the park. Or maybe you could say that the bases were loaded and the game was tied at the end of the ninth inning and Satan through his best fastball right at Jesus head, and Jesus didn’t move. He voluntarily took pitch to the head, died and came back to life and went to first base driving in the game winning run.

    Maybe we never see eye to eye on all aspects of theology, but if we still manage to walk in love towards each other … that’s a good thing.

    I can repost scriptures that I posted on other days that show that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, or that he is the savior of “all men” – you could say for sins committed in ignorance.

    However we’ll just deal with these topics a little at a time. Maybe as some more learned theologians come to teach about the love of God you see how it will extend (in the judgment) beyond those who heard the gospel in this life.

    I realize this is deeply held difference between us, but that you have still deep kindness and love despite our different way of thinking on this theological point.

    My passion on this topic is a bit like your passion for baseball.

    There are several roadblocks to evangelism, that deeply bug me and this is one of them. It is ironically funny that what some see as the reason to evangelize, I see as a major obstacle to evangelism. To me evangelizing to Christianity almost necessitates that I first explain that God isn’t like the judge you came across. I’m sorry, if I start explaining how Christians portray God … it almost seems mean. (Take that comment as a typical British understatement.) The judge you came across was unjust and gave you only a little fine. You understand where I am going here … I don’t have to spell it out.

    Please God, May your name be honored.

  2. Hey years before Paul wrote Romans Jesus had some stuff to say about the judgment. Look how he talks about “The good” and “the bad” — “This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous.”

    All of Jesus’ parables of the judgment were written before Paul started writing about imputed righteous and all that.

    I just posted the following blog comment (on another forum) although it may take a day or longer for it to pass moderation on that blog site which has higher readership than this one. Since it is the same topic, I’ll repost it here. That way maybe … well if a tree falls in the forest…


    I am astonished that the church today has gotten into such a theological tangle. We talk about the judgment of God and we automatically go to Romans Chapter 2 and repeat it and repeat it.

    We love the “Good cop, bad cop” routine because it is an effective technique. God the Father is the bad cop and Jesus is the good cop.

    However aren’t they one and the same? (Same in character anyways?) Why do we never talk about Jesus doing the judging? I’d be surprised if any of the Christians reading this blog have been exposed to the following scripture or thought about it as it pertains to the judgment.

    21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.
    22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son,
    23 that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.
    24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.
    25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.
    26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.
    27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.
    28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice
    29 and come out– those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.
    30 By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. (Jn. 5:21-30 NIV)

    In evangelical theology “there is no one who is good” and we use it to again destroy the natural meaning of what Jesus teaches. We ignore verse 29 because we put a Romans chapter 2 filter over “those who have done good will rise to live.” And the result is that we see no one. Time and again every scripture gets filtered against Romans chapter 2 and then we think Jesus (sorry you people always “God” in the context of the judgment) – we think Jesus (again sorry you say “God”) you believe God will send all to hell.

    “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.
    48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away.
    49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous
    50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 13:47-50 NIV) But the Romans 2 filter says only those who know about Jesus have imputed righteousness. Every passage that talks about the judgment gets the Romans 2 guilty stamp. Sigh…

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