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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Obviously and Clearly Guilty – Romans 3:1-20

On the day that I write this, I heard on the news about a trial in our region of a person accused of murder. The accused has professed innocence and absence from the scene of the crime. However, witnesses place the person there and DNA from the victim’s blood was found on the clothing of the accused. That is pretty damning.

I have often pondered what it must feel like to be facing a trial in a courtroom, seeing an aggressive prosecuting attorney bring forward evidence after evidence to accuse you, all the while with a judge and jury looking on. There must be a terrible sense of pending doom.

But that is our condition, the condition of all mankind, before a perfect and omniscient God and judge. We stand there fully guilty in our unrighteousness.

In this final passage we look at this week, Paul wraps up his prosecutorial case against mankind, and all are obviously guilty …

3:1 – What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? 2 Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God.

3 What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? 4 Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar. As it is written:

“So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.”

5 But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) 6 Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? 7 Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” 8 Why not say—as some slanderously claim that we say—“Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is just!

No One Is Righteous

9 What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. 10 As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

13 “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.”   “The poison of vipers is on their lips.” 14  “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 ruin and misery mark their ways, 17 and the way of peace they do not know.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
[most of these quotes are from passages in the Psalms]

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

Boom! The gavel drops. All are guilty! Everyone fails to live up to God’s law. And we see in the final verse the purpose of the law: it was not to provide a pathway for people to become just in God’s sight, but rather it was to make a person aware of their sinful condition.

Theologically speaking, we are talking about the doctrine of original sin. The problem started with the original sin of the original parents. The curse and debt has been passed down, we were born bad. We weren’t born good, sinned one day and then became bad. We were never good, or righteous. We didn’t become sinners when we first sinned. We proved we were sinners when we first sinned.

Last Sunday I shared a story with a visual … of a dirty shirt. While biking this past summer, I chose to not sufficiently heed or believe a sign that warned of the danger of a wooden-plank bridge, the warning saying that it was dangerously slippery when wet. Pfff! How slippery could it be?  Well … sorta like ice, and out went the wheels one day and I looked like a baserunner sliding into second base on a bicycle. The shirt picked up the dirt and greasy filth from the bridge surface, and NOTHING can clean it — no washing or scrubbing — it is filthy!

Think of the shirt as representative of the human condition. The first father ignored God’s warning and got the stain, and that stain and curse has passed down to be inherited by everyone from that point forward. There is no new shirt, everyone inherits a stained shirt.

But, one human — due to the virgin birth — did not inherit the dirty shirt stain, and after a perfect life took voluntarily upon himself the stain of everyone else’s shirts. He washes out the stain, and then he gives you back something even better — his perfectly clean shirt for you to wear before God. If you receive that shirt, that righteousness, you stand not in your own goodness (whatever that is worth, which is nothing), but you stand in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

This first of the four weeks of this series has been heavy on describing the problem that creates the need for the gospel, whereas following sermons and writings will be heavy on the solutions. But getting a jump on that, let me ask, “What shirt are you wearing?  Have you denied your shirt is dirty?  Have you futilely tried to clean your own? … Or have you come to God and asked him to give you the clean shirt of the righteousness of Jesus Christ?”

The Crossroads of the Cross Words (Romans 3:20-26)

I was recently in Dallas, Texas and several times drove through what is one of the most amazing and confusing connections of roadways anywhere in America. There is an area to the southwest of downtown Dallas that has always been called “The Mixmaster.”  At this point Interstate Highways 30 and 35E join, along with a collection of other state roads and city street exits. It was a mess when I lived there in the late 70s and early 80s, and it has only gotten worse with the growing population of the past three decades. The Mixmaster received national notoriety and dubious distinction by being named as one of the top ten ‘Worst Commuting Bottlenecks’ in the nation by the American Automobile Association.mixmaster

You might feel a little bit like this when you read today’s passage and see the crossroads of a whole host of “cross words” in a stretch of but seven verses! It seems like there is a lot of theology and big terms coming together in a very small space! In fact, 13 of the 68 cross words on the final word search puzzle are used in this passage, and many others are inferred or illustrated by the material discussed. Books have been written on this paragraph, and future words and teachings in our series are a part of this reading.

I reference you back to the very first of this series of devotionals – “No Excuses for Mankind’s Situation” – where the reading was from Romans chapter one. Here Paul stated his theme – the righteousness (perfection) of God in Jesus Christ. This is the problem we have, due to sin:  To be right with God, we need to be perfect, but we aren’t … so we need to get perfect somehow, but we can’t! And so verse 20 today (from chapter 3) states that the Law could not make anyone perfect – it could only make a person aware of their destitute situation. However, there is a big BUT coming next (sorry if that phrase weirded you out a little bit!).

In verse 21, there is a righteousness out there that has been made known, being testified about in the Old Testament Scriptures, and is now revealed in Jesus Christ. This perfect standing may be given to all who believe through faith (this process is “imputation” and will be the cross word for this coming Sunday!).  It does not matter if you are Jew or Gentile, all have sinned, and all who trust are in the same way graciously justified (the word for the following Sunday!) – which means to be declared righteous – because the debt has been paid by Christ’s blood through his redemption (our word for this week!) that was an atoning sacrifice (the word for Good Friday!) for all the sins of all time. Wow – that’s a mixmaster of theology!

The final verse basically says that God did this because He could! Again, as we’ve seen before, God is both the one giving the payment and the one receiving the payment. That is amazing grace!

So, where is there any room for you or me to be at all angry with God – annoyed with him that he is maybe not seeming to do quite enough for us? Hey – when is enough, enough?  Not only has he given us salvation to be of benefit now, but there are all sorts of eternal inheritance benefits that accrue to us as well … and these will be detailed in the next several readings. Wow!

Romans 3:20-26

20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

Righteousness Through Faith

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.

Cross Words to add to the puzzle:

Jesus – the puzzle had to have the name of the one who made it all possible!

Righteousness – a condition of perfection. This is the answer to the question: “What is the one thing you need to be saved?”

Nails – the human instrument hold Christ to the cross, though it was love and obedience that actually held him in place.

puzzle day 13