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.