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Romans (Series 1)

The Just Shall Live By Faith

Romans  3:9-31

If there is a great tragedy to our century, it is this: we are now convinced that sin is an obsolete concept. Just go to your psychiatrist and have him rid you of the guilt. In today’s lesson we will see three great teachings of the faith:

·         that we are all sinners,

·         that there is a way back to God, and that this way is not from our own merit -- but through faith in His.

·         that this is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament Law and Prophets.

The Condemnation of Sin

(Rom 3:9-18 NIV) What shall we conclude then? Are we any better ? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. {10} As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; {11} there is no one who understands, 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."

Paul begins with a conclusion: it doesn’t make any difference, we are all “under sin.” This is the usual translation (NIV, NASV and KJV); some (RSV and Barclay) have “under the power of sin. The phrasing is the same as that given in Matthew 8 by the centurion:

(Mat 8:9 NIV) For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."

The word “under” is the same one used here in Romans. It implies not so much physically under as under authority, under power of. The concept is an old one, and needs some explanation today. One might say that we are under the power of gravity -- we cannot escape it. One way to look at it is to turn to the Old Testament, to the sin of Adam. Take it however else you like, it answers all the arguments of the century:

·         “It’s my heredity.” His was perfect.

·         “It’s the way I was raised.” He was created.

·         “It’s my environment.” The Garden of Eden.

·         “The rules are too complex.” All one of them.

·         “The punishment wasn’t stern enough.” The death penalty

No matter what; we are sinners. The wisest of Old Testament writers put it this way: (Eccl 7:20 NIV) There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.

Paul now begins a “string of pearls” argument. We need to picture him striding up and down, the transcriber furiously copying, as Paul alludes to several passages in the Old Testament. It is a familiar style of speaking to a rabbi (and not unknown to preachers today). He argues that if you want proof that men are sinners, you need to look at only three things:

What men desire. Men may act righteously -- out of fear. You may look good -- but a look into your heart reveals your imperfection. This is one of the reasons that God is revealed, not discovered. The heart of man does not naturally seek out God -- so God instead reveals Himself to us, that we may then seek Him more.

What men say. The throat is an open grave -- one that is never quite filled. If you think not, take a drive on a crowded freeway with the windows open.

What men do. If you think not, open the local paper. Read on.

The fate of such men is clear, says Paul. It is destruction and misery; worse, it means that they have no peace. Have you ever noticed that those whose lives are consumed with getting instead of giving, cursing instead of blessing, live in constant trouble (for which they blame anyone but themselves?)

Justification by Faith

(Rom 3:19-26 NIV) 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 his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. {21} But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. {22} This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, {23} for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, {24} and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. {25} God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished-- {26} he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

We come now to a well known passage. Romans 3:23 is often quoted from the pulpit (without 3:24, and it makes no sense without it). The question, as Paul sees it, is simply this: how can we possibly “get right” with God?

·         Obviously we can’t do it by the law. (Gal 3:10 NIV) All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law."

·  And it’s worse yet outside the law -- because then we are without a guide save our consciences.

But the law does point to the way of salvation. Peter explained it this way, in his first sermon:

(Acts 3:22-24 NIV) For Moses said, 'The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. {23} Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people.' {24} "Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days.

How, then, is this to be accomplished?

Justification

I once had the dubious privilege of standing by a fellow Christian accused of a very serious crime. One morning we went to the courthouse to await one of his court sessions. Before his session, the judge disposed of a number of drunk driving cases. In each case, he reviewed the records of the individual, and, if the man had fulfilled the conditions of his rehabilitation program, he would allow him to leave. His last words to the defendant were, “You may now say that you have never been arrested.”

At first I was offended. What do you mean, “You’ve never been arrested.” Of course you were! What are you doing in court if you weren’t arrested? Naturally, I saw the value of such a pronouncement. Most employers are not very willing to hire someone who has been arrested for a serious crime. (Even if he’s acquitted, would you hire O. J. Simpson?) Later, however, I saw the righteousness of this. If the man is rehabilitated, why should he continue to be penalized by a callous society? I also saw in it a picture of what God does for us: He wipes out the record of our sin. As the Psalmist said it, (Psa 32:2 NIV) Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.

Note the last words: it is not sufficient for God to say that they don’t count. We must take His mercy with a spirit of no deceit. In other words, we take this mercy by faith. If there is no deceit in our spirit, this faith will issue forth in action; the actions alone do not justify us.[1]

Atonement.

Paul now introduces a great concept from the Old Testament: Atonement. In reading the Old Testament, we must remember that much of the writing there was given to show us a picture of what was (and is!) to come. Atonement is such a picture:

·         The Ark of the Covenant - the “Testimony” of God - was covered with a covering called the Atonement Cover. The picture is highly suggestive: the holiness of God (the Ark) is kept from killing us[2] by this cover.

·         Atonement is almost always associated with the shedding of blood. The major exception is this: if a man was too poor to bring the blood offerings, he could bring grain.[3]

·         And atonement didn’t work -- not with the blood of animals. Here’s how the Lord looked at it:

(Psa 50:7-15 NIV) "Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, and I will testify against you: I am God, your God. {8} I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices or your burnt offerings, which are ever before me. {9} I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, {10} for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. {11} I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine. {12} If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. {13} Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? {14} Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, {15} and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me."

 

The solution to this was the perfect sacrifice, once and for all, of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Pet 3:18 NIV) For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit,

Why?

The question always comes up: why did God do it this way? The answer (verses 25-26) is this: to demonstrate His justice (or righteousness, depending upon your translation). There are two ways to look at this section:

·         You can take it as granted that Christ had to suffer. If that is so, then we see two things:

·         God’s righteousness, in that suffering is a penalty for sin, and

·         My sinfulness, in that I could not pay the penalty -- only the perfect man could do that.

·         You can also see it as the answer to the “divine dilemma” mentioned earlier. God is holy and just; we should be condemned. God is merciful; we should be let off. Christ is our sacrifice, thus showing God’s righteousness and satisfying it. Christ is our sacrifice, thus showing God’s mercy.

Boasting

This, then, has a natural corollary. We didn’t do the work; we can’t take the credit. Paul’s argument is characteristic of a rabbi of that time:

·         Since you accomplish this by faith in someone else, you have nothing to boast of (if you think you’re righteous, you’re not). This, at least, is true for the person outside the law.

·         But God is one. He isn’t a different God for the Jew and the Gentile. Therefore, all who are saved are saved by faith.

·         Therefore, none of us have anything to brag about.

This is, of course, a radical idea to the Jew of the time. It seems as if Paul has voided the Old Testament Law. He has not. He has confirmed it, in its greatest sense. You can see the argument:

·         You void a law by taking away its authority.

·         But faith confirms the authority of the law, therefore the law is not voided.

·         How can this be? The law is not voided, it is completed.

(Mat 5:17-18 NIV) "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. {18} I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

The Savior has come; the Law is accomplished. It is fulfilled in Him. So we see these three great teachings today:

·         that we are all sinners,

·         that there is a way back to God, and that this way is not from our own merit -- but through faith in His.

·         that this is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament Law and Prophets.


[1] James 2:20-24

[2] 2 Samuel 6:6-7

[3] Leviticus 5:11

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