THE ONLY WAY TO BE RIGHT WITH GOD
God’s Invitation to Grace ❧ Part 20
Romans 3:21-31 ❧ Pastor, Dr. John Denney
The year 1924 found Adolf Hitler serving a five-year prison term for leading a political revolt. It was during this time of his imprisonment that he dictated his book Mein Kampf, which means, “My Struggle.” Consisting of 15 chapters and around 720 pages, Hitler carefully wove the words of his autobiographical manifesto explaining his dark political beliefs, crazed theories, and troubled feelings. Fueled by what can only be described as a dark and demonic passion, Hitler wove the tapestry of his terrifying plans to conquer Europe and then the world. When it was first published, many thought it to be interesting, but not life changing. In time, however, the work became the bible of National Socialism (Nazism) in Germany’s Third Reich. It is said that for every single word in Mein Kampf 125 people lost their lives. We should never underestimate the power of words. The words of a doctor, for instance, or a judge, or a parent, have tremendous power to shape and alter our lives.
This morning I want to talk to you about another book that stands in marked contrast as night is to day compared to Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Actually, it is a letter more than a book. And instead of destroying lives, leaving a wake of death, it has offered life, hope, peace, and guidance to more people than anyone could possibly imagine. The message of the letter essentially centers on the immeasurable significance of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ – an event that took place thirty years earlier in which the world hardly cared about and in a part of the world hardly anyone took notice of – the dusty rural Roman province of Judea.
The original destination of the letter was a small group of unknown believers in Rome. When the letter itself first arrived, very few were interested in it. At the time, its significance paled in comparison with the world class writings of the great philosophers, poets, and imperial decrees that were the talk of the town. But it wasn’t long before the message of the letter began to shine its bright rays of hope on the world like the rising of the morning sun. One author noted this letter has had a far larger impact on its readers than the volumes of all those Roman writers put together (The Message, Intro to Romans). By now, you’ve probably guessed, I’m talking about the sixth book in the NT, the book of Romans. Romans has been called the Apostle Paul’s Magnum Opus – his greatest work. We know, of course, the real Author behind Paul’s words is the Holy Spirit.
This morning we’re going to look at a portion Romans that many have considered to be the most important verses in all the Bible. Open with me to Romans 3:21-31. These eleven verses form the core essence of the Gospel. Paul is going to show us the only way we can be right with God, no matter who you are, is through personal faith in His Son Jesus Christ. As you hear these words, keep an ear out for some words Paul is going to repeat. They’re vital to understanding how we can be right with God. (Read Romans 3:21-31). Did you hear Paul repeat some key words? “Faith” is used nine times in this passage. “Righteousness” “Justified” “Justifier” “Justify” are all the same root word (δικαιόω), used eight times. There are other key words he uses as well that help us unpack the meaning of God’s salvation (v.24 grace, redemption, v.25 propitiation). These words really matter. They’re the difference between life and death. They’re all vital to help us understand the Gospel. Mark Twain – The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. The better we understand the words God uses to explain His Gospel, the better we’ll understand what it means to be right with God.
We’re going to look at What God’s Gospel Does. 1) It restores our self-worth. 2) It removes our self-righteousness, 3) It reveals God’s love, and 4) It begins and ends with faith.
- It restores our self-worth. But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested,
being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction (Romans 3:21-22). Circle words, “But now.” Paul is making a sharp turn from verse 20 to verse 21. It’s as though he is walking out of a dark prison into the freedom of the bright open sunlight. After spending almost three chapters building a case against all people showing their universal sinfulness and therefore their universal need for salvation (Romans 1:18-3:20), Paul now spells out the only way for us to be made right with God and it begins with the words, “But now.” But now, he says apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested. From the very beginning of Paul’s letter to the Romans Paul began threading the theme of God’s righteousness. For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…for in it is revealed a righteousness from God from faith to faith(1:16-17). When Paul points to God’s righteousness here, he’s not talking about an attribute or character of God, but rather a right standing before God. The only way we can be made right with God is to receive the gift of His righteousness through faith, that is the gift of His restored self-worth.
But it won’t make sense until we see our need for God’s righteousness. That’s why he begins in verse 18 of chapter one that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven. He exposes the sewage lines of sin flowing through our veins like the sewage lines beneath the city streets. You can’t get away from it. No matter who you are, whether pagan, self-righteous moralist, or religious zealot. He shows we’re all sinners by act, by choice, and by birth.
If you’re like me, walking through the first three chapters of Romans was like trying to survive three rounds with Mohamed Ali! Paul has thoroughly worked us over showing us both our lost condition and our need for a Savior. God offers us what we long for but cannot attain for ourselves – a restored sense of self-worth. There are billions of people today searching, struggling, experimenting to find a sense of self-worth, value in their lives. Some are more honest than others, but behind all of our masks of confidence and self-assurance are insecure hearts and nagging consciousness of deep self-doubt.
So, Paul tells us three things how God’s gift of righteousness restores our self-worth.
- It is given apart from the Law. But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been
manifested… it is not from the law. You don’t dig deep into your bag of good works and say, “Here God, here’s my good works. Here’s all the wonderful things I’ve done.” no, our self worth doesn’t come from a list of do’s and don’ts. There are three kinds of law in the Old Testament: moral law, civil law and ceremonial law. All three of these are talked about in the first five books of the Bible. Paul says, none of these will get you to heaven. The righteousness that God wants to give you he is apart from the law.
- It was known by the law and the prophets. being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets…
Second Paul says this righteousness is not new. In fact, Abraham the greatest patriarch of the Jews knew about it and experienced it. And so did David and Moses and others in the Old Testament. in the book of Genesis 15:6 It says that Abraham believed, and God counted him righteous. Why? Because he believed. Paul’s going to spend the entire next chapter illustrating what he is explaining here. And Paul’s point is simply that this righteousness from God was no secret from the law or the prophets.
- It doesn’t come from within us. the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all
those who believe… Notice what Paul says the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ. This righteousness is not something you can create through positive thinking. This is a righteousness that comes from God, not from within us.
So this righteousness that God gives us is apart from the law, meaning you cannot work for it, you cannot earn it. And second it is not new. It was known in law and the prophets Paul says. And finally, it’s not something we can do within ourselves. It comes from God. So Paul is saying that when you trust Jesus Christ you have worth! You have significance! You have value! You have perfect unconditional acceptance from the one who made you — a place where you can say in your heart I’ve found a home where I truly belong.
- It removes our self-righteousness. for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as
a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; (Romans 3:23-24). One of the greatest deceptions we buy into as believers is that we begin to think that God has chosen us, forgiven us, blessed us because we are so good! If you think that you need to hear what Paul says Here, being justified is a gift by his grace. We need to understand the word justification as it applies to us as believers. You see the truth is a lot of cults out there today are successful at bringing in people who think they’re Christians because they’ve learned that Christians are pretty shallow when it comes to their understanding of significant theological truths. And one of those truths is justification.
- What is God’s justification? So what does justification mean? Does it mean “Just as if I had
never sinned.” No. Justification is not God declaring me innocent, but righteous. There’s a big difference. Justification is the sovereign act of God where he declares me righteous, the believing sinner, while I’m still in a sinning state.God says that when you believe in my son Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins you are justified and declared righteous. You may not feel like it. You may not always live like it. Others may not believe it – but what is important is that God says you are!
Justification is not the same as a pardon either. A pardoned criminal is still a criminal. A record of his crimes will go with him for the rest of his life. Not so with justification – God forgets our past, present, and future record of sins. He never treats us as sinners once we accept Him because justification means that we are on an eternally right standing with Him. You never have to be afraid of God rejecting you – ever!
- It is God’s grace. A second point about justification Is that we’re made right with God that is
justified as a gift by His grace. The word gift literally means without cause, for no reason. It is undeserved. It is the same word that Jesus used in John 15: 25 When He said of himself and His disciples, the world will hate Him without cause.
God declares you righteous without cause. In other words he doesn’t look down from heaven and says oh because she is so good, I’m going to accept her. Or since he’s going to believe in Me, I’m going to choose him. Or since she is so smart, I’m going to choose her. No! God declares us righteous even though we do not have anything to offer Him but our failure, our brokenness, our pain, our inadequacy. God looked at you and He looked at me and he said, “Even though you have nothing of value to offer me, I choose to love you, to accept you unconditionally.” And then the Bible says that God raises us up to the level of His own Son positionally (Col. 3:1).
One of my favorite passages that illustrates this so beautifully is found in Deuteronomy 7. The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). Why did God choose to justify you and declare your righteous? Because!
There is one more important word we need to look at briefly in verse 24 redemption. It means that when Jesus died on the cross, He paid the ultimate price for our freedom. Paul’s readers understood this term well. Millions of people were slaves in Paul’s day. Slaves were callously bought and sold. Their owners could do with them whatever they wanted to, even kill them. To buy them from the market they would pay a “ransom” redeeming them.
Paul is saying Jesus Christ came and paid the full price for us from the slave market of sin and set us free never to be bought and sold again. We eternally belong to God now. 1 Pt. 1:18 for you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you… Too often we allow the failure of our past to control the success of our future. If you can get a solid grip of faith on this, you will discover a life of incredible freedom and peace. One man said to his friend: “Say, you look depressed. What are you thinking about? “My future,” was the quick answer. “What makes it look so hopeless?” “My past.” Being redeemed means you are no longer under the power of the past. You are now free from it and free to choose to resist.
- It reveals God’s love. whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was
to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:25-26). Circle the word propitiation. This is one of the most important concepts you need to understand. It is a word used only twice in the NT, but it is really seen all through the OT. It is the Hebrew word Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement. It literally means to satisfy God’s holiness. When you break man’s laws you pay man’s penalty. When you break God’s laws you pay God’s penalty. God’s penalty is death.
The dictionary defines it as appeasing someone’s anger. Some people think that God was angry with sinners and just waiting to throw lightening on those who broke his law. Then the Son comes along and says, “Now Dad, please don’t be angry. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I will go and die for all those people to make you happy again.” Nothing could be further from the truth. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all three involved in working our salvation. Jesus’ death did not suddenly turn God’s wrath into love. God is both a God a perfect wrath and perfect love. He does not change. But when Jesus died, it satisfied His perfect judgment against sin, which death was the price. Because God is holy, sin had to be punished. He cannot break His own law. If He did, He would not be God.
Let me give you an illustration of propitiation. Leviticus 16 explains the Day of Atonement. It was a Jewish Holy day that was a symbol of what was to happen thousands of years later when Jesus Christ came to earth to die for an atonement. In Leviticus 16 we have the story that one day a year Israel was commanded to go out and get two goats. The High Priest was to take these two goats as a symbol of how God dealt with Israel’s sin. One of the goats was to be sacrificed as an offering. It represented someone giving their life for the sins of the whole nation. The other goat the High Priest would place his hands on and pronounce all of the sins of the entire nation of Israel for the previous year. Laying his hands on the goat symbolically transferred the sins of the nation of Israel to the goat. Following this, they would take that goat out to the wilderness and let him go to represent that all of the sins were being forgotten and going out into the wilderness. Psalm 103:12 …as far as the east is from the west, so far he has removed our transgressions from us (Ps. 103:12). That goat was called the scape goat. The scape goat was the goat that symbolically took all of the sins onto himself and then was thrust out into the wilderness and that was to be a symbolic thing that God was forgiving it all and putting it all on one person. That doesn’t mean a whole lot until you look at John 1. John 1:29 This is what John the Baptist said the very first time he saw Jesus Christ. He saw Him walking at him from a far enough distance and turns around and says to the entire crowd listening to him, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward Him and he said, `Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.'” Who is the scapegoat? Jesus is our scapegoat. All of the sacrifices of the Old Testament prefigured Jesus, the Messiah, to take the blame of the entire world on His shoulders. This is what atonement is all about. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). God took all of the sin of the world and put it on Jesus Christ. Why? Because He loved us. Jesus sacrifice on the cross covers all our sin past, present, and future.
- It begins & ends with faith. Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No,
but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law (Romans 3:27-31). The final thing God’s Gospel does, Paul says, is remove any room whatsoever to boast. Every four years we enjoying watching the different Olympic games. Without fail new records are set and new competitions are introduced. If you are in good enough to go the Olympics, you’re impressive. I have often wondered what it would be like to see the Olympiads of 1896, or when the Olympics started in Athens Greece compared to the Olympiads of today. I know this much, there would be no comparison, no competition. Getting begins and ends with faith in Christ. There is no room for boasting.
If heaven had anything to do with our ability to get there, the requirements to get there would be so competitive that, one, I would never make it, and two, Heaven wouldn’t be Heaven because it would be filled with a bunch of boasting and arrogant people. God’s grace keeps this from happening. Its entrance is limited strictly to those who have been justified by placing their faith in Jesus Christ.
Years ago we visited the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem. In order to enter you have to bow down in order to pass through the low entrance. The low entrance brings everyone who enters down to the same level. Only those who by humble faith in Christ can honestly look forward to heaven. Heaven will be filled with people who speak the language of gratitude, not boasting.