Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, Iowa on November 26, 2017
Let us begin this morning by reciting our November memory verse together. Romans 3:10-12, “as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
As always, we have a lot of ground to cover. So let us jump right into our verses for today. Please stand for the reading of God’s Word.
The Greatest Paragraph in the Bible
As I stated last week, our text today, Romans 3:21-26 is perhaps the greatest paragraph in the entire Bible. Martin Luther said that this passage was “the chief point, and the very central place of the Epistle, and of the whole Bible.” Pastor Keith Krell, writing for Bible.org referred to this passage as the guts of the gospel. John piper calls this the “best passage ever.”
Why is this? Because this passage testifies to the apex of God’s glory and the only source of our joy. Let me say that again, Romans 3:21-16 is the apex of God’s glory and the only source of our joy. And that is not an overstatement for the purpose of capturing attention. It is 100% true.
In Luke 10, Jesus sends out seventy two disciples to expand the Kingdom of God. Then in verse 17 it says, “The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.20Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
The seventy two were rejoicing because they had authority. Their joy was coming from having people under them. Jesus had to rebuke them, “Do not rejoice in this.” This was bad. This was wrong. Rejoicing because of how God chooses to use you is a misplaced joy. It is idol worship. Jesus resets their fallen minds and says, your joy comes, not from how you serve, but that you are saved. Joy flows from Calvary. Period! So let us take a look at what happened at Calvary according to God.
All Have Sinned and Fall Short of God’s Glory
First, let us remind ourselves that the Apostle Paul from Romans 1:18-3:20 has been giving us the bad news of the human condition. Our memory verse is a great summation of this teaching, that there is no one righteous, that there is no one good. This understanding of the fallen human state, and God’s wrath that is directed towards all humanity because of our sin is fundamentally crucial. And because it is fundamentally crucial, the Apostle Paul is a broken record, saying it over and over and over again. In today’s text he says it once again in a different way. Verse 23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
What does this mean? The word sinned in Greek is hamartanō (hä-mär-tä'-nō) which means to miss the mark. Just think of shooting an arrow at a target. To sin is to not hit the bull’s eye. So what is the bulls eye? It is the glory of God.
This is why God created man, to glorify Him. God says in Isaiah 43:7, “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” We are created for one preeminent purpose, to glorify God. However, as verse 23 says, we fall short. The arrow of our lives that we shoot at the target of glorifying God falls short. It doesn’t get there. We don’t have the capacity, the strength, the ability to hit the bullseye of God’s glory.
As we say it say in Romans 1:22-23 – “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” So instead of glorifying God, we glorify creation, mostly we glorify ourselves. We miss the mark, by exchanging the bulls eye of God’s glory, for the bulls eye of our own glory.
And as Paul had said repeatedly, this is a universal problem. All have sinned. Not some of have sinned, but all. This is an epidemic that began with Adam and flows to all men. All humanity is guilty before God.
However, in verse 24 and 25 everything changes. In fact, verse 24 seems to blow up everything that Paul was just talking about? Verse 24 and 25 says, “and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. ” And this morning we are going to look at those four components that turn the world upside down 1) Justified, 2) By His Grace as a Gift, 3) Through the redemption that is in Christ, 4) to be received by faith.
Let us being by understanding what it means to be justified. The Greek word for justified is dikaioō(dē-kī-o'-ō). This is the first time this word is used in the book of Romans. This word is also fundemental in understanding the truth of the gospel. Dikaioo, or justified, means to “declare righteous.” This topic of righteousness makes sense because Paul has been talking a lot about righteousness in the first three chapters, specifically our unrighteousness and the righteousness of God in Christ.
So what does Paul mean when he says we are declared righteous? To declare something is to make known an official position. One of our primary documents in the United States is the Declaration of Independence. Our founding fathers declared their formal position in relation to the King of England as it relates to the freedom of the States.
So in verse 24, who is doing the declaring? Who has the authority to take a sinner and declare him to be righteous? It is God. Only God is the one who can make such a declaration. As we have seen Romans 1-3, God is the judge of all humanity. We are all accountable to Him. We are under Him and we are under His Word. And as it relates to our sinfulness, we stand in the Courtroom of God, and it is God and God alone who can declare someone to be righteous.
And this is how we should understand this word, justified, as a judicial declaration by God himself. He is declaring us, not guilty. This is a massive reality. God is stating that a sinner is justified. Past tense. God is making a claim on sinners before Judgment Day. He is making a declaration about your innocence in regards to a future date. Dougals Moo in his commentary on Romans states, “the act of justification is therefore properly “eschatological” as the ultimate verdict regarding a person’s standing with God is brought back into our present reality.” God locks himself in.
How is this possible? How can wretched sinners be declared righteous? How can we be justified right now, knowing that we will continue to fall short in our daily lives? The answer is God's Grace as a Gift.
By Grace as Gift
Verse 24 says, “and are justified by his grace as a gift.” This is where words matter so much. The key word is the word “by”. The Word “by” points us to the foundation, the rock, the basis of our being not guilty before God. Verse 24 tells us that our justification is entirely dependently upon His grace.
To begin, who is “his”? It is not us. It is not the Church. It is God and God alone. Our justification is based upon God's Grace. God's declaration is dependent on God's grace.
Next, lets us look at the word Grace. The word grace in Greek is charis. This word is very interesting. Often times it is translated to favor or kindness. The root word for charis is chario, which is where we get the word cheerful. Chario is many times translated to the word joy. So this idea of charis is a kindness towards us that produces a joy.
And this word, charis, grace becomes central to Pauline theology as he goes from town to town sharing the gospel and writing 13 letters that become part of our Bible. It is a gospel built upon grace. We will see Paul unpack this word over and over and over and over again throughout the book of Romans as well as all of his writings. Justification is built upon the grace of God.
So how do we received this grace from God? First it is something that can only be received. Verse 24 says that it is a gift. The Greek word of gift is dorea, which does not only mean a gift, but means a free gift, one that is not received by merit or entitlement. Which is an important point that Paul makes as it relates to the Jews, this grace of God is not one they receive because they are entitled to it because they are biologically related to Abraham. Nor is it one that they received because they kept the law of Moses, i.e. merit. This gift of God's grace is one that God gives based solely upon God's loving kindness.
There is absolutely nothing that can be done to ensure reception of this grace of God. God is sovereign in the dispensation of His grace. If we claimed that we could do something to force God's hand to give us this grace, it would not longer be a free gift, it would be a wage instead. Not to mention, God would not longer be sovereign, for he would be a submissive to man. We could in a way, force ourselves into his family, and he would have nothing to say about it.
This idea of a free gift, is one that, strangely enough is in complete contrast to the folklore of Santa Clause that will be so prevalent over the next month. With Santa Clause, gifts are dependent on whether you are naughty or nice, not so with God. As we saw over the last two months, everyone on the planet is naughty, yet God still gives gifts. And and His gift is 100% free, in fact, if you tree to purchase the gift of God's grace through good works, you will never receive it, and will remain under God's wrath.
And this is why, I stand in direct opposition to the Catholic Church. This doctrine of free grace, as is found explicitly in our text today, is rejected by the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church believes that this free gift of God's grace is one that you earn. First you earn it by being baptized. Then you earn it by being a Catholic. Then you earn it by taking communion. Then you earn it by not committing too many sins. Then you earn it by making confessions and saying “Hail Mary full of grace.” Which is lie, she is not full of grace. Christ is the only one full of grace. Then you earn it by not committing a mortal sin, and so on and so forth. Does that sound like the free gift of God's grace that Paul is describing? No, it sounds like prison. In fact, Paul calls that type of gospel a false gospel. And he says if anyone preaches that kind of Gospel, they are anethema, which means devoted to destruction, or damned to Hell. Why such strong language? Because this unbiblical teaching makes a person think they are saved, when in fact they are still bound to Hell with a false hope.
And to be fair, it is not only the Catholic Church, it is all religions, other than the one true religion. All false religions focus on doing something, or being something, to be justified before God, but God tells us bluntly, there is nothing we can do, but receive this beautiful gift of God's grace. Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
This free grace, may not cost us anything, but it did cost God something. Look at verse 24 again, “and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” The grace did not come out of nowhere it came out of the person of Jesus Christ. In John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus is the charis of God, the grace of God, the favor of God, the kindness of God that produces in us joy.
It is through Christ that our names are written in the book of life that Jesus spoke of in Luke 10. In fact, in the book or Revelation the full title of that book is revealed, it is not just the book of life, it is “book of life of the Lamb who was slain.”
And as we look back to Romans 3 we see the same thing in verse 25, “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood.” This was, and is, the free gift of God, the death of His only begotten Son. And it is only through Christ that we have any hope to be justified before God.
Take a moment and let this sink in. We are all sinners. God has handed us over to our own passions and lust, and we are destroying ourselves, our families, our communities, and the world through our sin. Not only that, we will some day die, for the wages of sin is death, and apart from a miracle, we will be sent to Hell to whereby we will be eternally tormented because of our rebellion against a Holy God.
But God, because of who he is, sends his Son as a free gift to us, to be the righteousness that we lack, and then kills him upon a cross so that we can be redeemed. And this act of God is based solely upon God's sovereign grace. He doesn't have to do any of this, yet it is His will. Why? Because our God is an awesome God! And in this act of God's display of grace at Calvary we see the immeasurable greatness of his glory.
And all of this can be yours through faith. Verse 25, “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” The way in which we receive this free gift of the grace of Jesus Christ is through faith. What does faith mean? The Greek word for faith is pistis. Pistis means to believe, to trust. I always like the definition that God gives in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
To have faith in the blood of Jesus is more than just intellectual knowledge. Faith in Christ is a matter of the heart. It is a deep soulful acceptance and trust in Christ and Christ alone to save you from God's wrath. If your faith is in God, but not in Jesus, then you know enough to damn yourself to Hell. James says in James 2:19, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!”
To believe in Christ means to place all of you5 trust in Him and him alone to justify you before His Father. John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” And if that does not produce joy in you, than nothing will.
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade on November 19, 2017.
Let us begin this morning by reciting our November memory verse. Romans 3:10-12, “as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
This week, my wife asked me, how many verses was I going to preach on in Romans this week. She had been writing it out and studying it, and she recognized the dilemma that I run into every single week; where to draw the line. There is no doubt that each week I leave out more than I actually teach on. And because this is true, I would encourage each of you, not to be fully dependent upon me in the preaching of a specific text; for a sermon is usually the tip of the Scriptural iceberg, and beneath the surface there is so much more substance or treasure to behold.
One easy way to explore the iceberg is to read all of the cross-references that are associated with the weekly text. If you have a study Bible, the cross references are the little letters that you find within verses that refer you to a footnote that lists another bible verse. Another option is to use an Web based App such as Bible Hub where you can click on the individual verse and see some of the associated cross references. Another option is to do a word study. Pick a few primary words in the text and read other verses that use the same word. One way you can do this is using a concordance. Or once again a web based app, such as the Bible Hub. Another way is to read a commentary such as Matthew Henry or John Gills, both which are free online and are found on almost all Bible Websites. Of course, the best approach would be all three, but my point is,
So with that said, how far will we go today? Not far. Today we will be examining Romans 3:19-22a, and next week, God willing, we will examine, perhaps, the greatest paragraphs in the entire Bible. But today, I thought it would be wise unpack a very important word and concept, the law. So let us stand for the reading of God’s Word, then we will pray, and then we will unpack our text for this morning.
Romans 3:19-22a – “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”
In our text for this morning we see the word “law” mentioned six times. Not only doe the Word law play a prominent role in our text, but it also plays a prominent role in the book of Romans, in the New Testament, and the entire Cannon of Scripture. Understanding the law is fundamental in understanding your existence and your eternity.
Many of you may be surprised to know that the word law is used 224 times in the New Testament. In the book of Romans alone it is used 53 times. The word grace, on the other hand, is only used 118 times in the New Testament and only 18 times in the book of Romans. Having said that, few Christians have a good grasp on what the law is, and why they should care. In fact, many Christians get upset if a Church teaches with a law focus, for the see themselves purely under grace and the law is no longer relevant to their life. Well, if that is the case, the Apostle Paul must not have gotten the memo. For the word law saturates his writings.
In our text this morning, what does the Apostle Paul mean when he says, the law? I have to admit that this is, at times, a very confusing question, especially in our text for today. For I believe Paul uses the word “law” in three somewhat different ways. However through each of those ways we see the purpose of the law and today we will examine three purposes of the law as they are laid out in Romans 3:19-22.
Purpose #1: To Be the Highest and Final Authority
The first purpose of the law is that it is the highest and final authority over man. Let’s begin by looking at how Paul uses the word law in verse 19. Paul says, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.”
When Paul uses the word law in verse 19 he is most likely referring to the entire Old Testament. The reason I say this is because of context. If you recall, Paul, in Romans 3:2 mentions the phrase “Oracles of God”. When Paul says the oracles of God he is thinking of all of the written Word of God. At the time of Paul, this would have include the entire Old Testament Cannon of Scripture.
Likewise, as we saw last week, in verse 10-18, Paul begins his thought with “As it is written” and then quotes from at least six different Old Testament passages to overwhelmingly prove that everyone is unrighteous before God. These passages were taken from two places in the Old Testament, the Psalms and the book of Isaiah. Therefore the law that is most likely on the mind of Paul in verse 19 is the entire Cannon of Scripture as found in what we call the Old Testament.
And this law, the Old Testament, the oracles of God, has the power to shut the mouths of man. Look at verse 19, “so that every mouth may be stopped.” What is meant by every mouth? I believe that every mouth are those who are under the law. Who are those who are under the law?
It definitely would include the Jews, for we see that they were given the Oracles of God, but I would also argue that it is more than just the Jew, but would also include all humanity. The reason I say this is once again the context. First, it says every mouth. Second it says, the whole world, which obviously means more than just the Jews. Third, the quotations from the Psalms and Isaiah in verse 10-18 have a global declaration, not just a Jewish one. And fifth, back in Romans 2:14-15 Paul says this about the Gentiles, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.”
What Paul is saying is that even though the Gentiles do not have the written law, God has given them a conscience. This conscience is God's law. This is what we call the moral law and covers things like murder, stealing, lying, marriage. These are things that cross cultural. All people have an innate sense of what is right and what is good to some degree. This is humanity behaving under the moral law of God. Therefore I would argue that everyone is under the law of God, both Jews and Gentiles.
So what does it mean to be under the law? The word under is simply the Greek word “en.” So if you read under the law, it simply reads “en-to-nomos”. Nomos is Greek for law. And “en” designates a position in relation to. So to be under the law is to describe a positional hierarchy. God’s Word is above us, and we are beneath it. This is the proper relationship that man is to have with God's word.
And this is why mouths are shut, because God’s Word is a higher authority and the determinative declaration of all things. God’s Word is the ultimate standard. The debate is over. There is nothing left for man to say. We are to place ourselves under the Scriptures.
500 years ago, in 1517, Martin Luther sparked what is called the Protestant Reformation by nailing his 95 thesis to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany. And this was the beginning of the true Church of Christ separating itself from the false Church of Roman Catholicism. Many people might say that the issue for Martin Luther was the sale of indulgences by the Roman Catholic Church for the purpose of increasing money for the Catholic Coffers in exchange for the salvation of soles from purgatory, and in a sense, you would be right. That was one of many complaints that Luther had against the Church. However, the fundamental issue that was at stake was the relationship of the Word of God with man.
The Protestant Reformation was ultimately about what has higher authority, the word of Man, or the Word of God. Catholicism then, and Catholicism now, claims that man has the highest authority and God’s word bends to the Pope and to the Cardinals. True born again Christians call this blasphemy and rightly declare that the final and highest authority in this universe is the Word of God. We are to be under the law, not over the law, or even side by side to the law. Our rightful position as it relates to God’s Holy Word is to shut our mouths and submit. As Paul says in Romans 9:20, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?”
Likewise, it says in Revelation 22:18-19, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” Those statements should make us tremble. This book is no trite thing, we are called not to question God, but to joyfully submit to what he says in his words, and may God have mercy on you, if you do not. The purpose of God’s law is to be the highest and final authority in our life.
Purpose #2: To Display Our Sin Nature
The second purpose of the law, as it is laid out in our text today is that the law displays to us our sin nature. Look at verse 20, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
Now, in my opinion, this is where Paul’s use of the word law is nuanced, or tweaked. At this moment, he is thinking slightly differently about the law then what he was thinking about in verse 19. Paul uses the phrase, “by the works of the law.” What does this mean, “By the works of the law”?
I believe this meaning coincides with our normal understanding of the word law. On my desk at work I have six volumes of the Iowa Code. In those volumes there are 916 code sections. Within each code sections there are numerous restrictions as to how an Iowan has to live within this State. The Iowa Code books is the guide to how to live in Iowa.
Likewise, God's Word, all 66 books, the law, tells us how we are to live in accordance to God's will. In Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, the word law is mentioned 25 times. Verse 1 says, “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD! “ Verse 34 says, “Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.” Verse 136, “My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.”
What are some examples of those laws? Well, we can start with the ten commandments. You shall have no other God's before me. You shall not serve idols. You shall not take the Lord's name in vain. Remember the Sabbath. Honor your father and mother. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness. You shall not covet.
Then from their you could look at the words of Jesus in Matthew 5, don't get angry with your brother. Don't insult your brother. Don't call your brother a fool. Don't lust in your heart for another man's wife. Turn the other cheek. Love you enemies. Give to the needy without boasting.
Now, all of these laws in both the Old Testament and the New Testament can be summed up with just two laws according to Jesus in Matthew 22:37, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38This is the great and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
So there you have it, pretty simple. Just do those two things, and everything will fall into place. Easier said that done. The problem is that we can't just do it. We cannot keep the law. We have no capacity to keep the law. We don't love God with all our hearts. We don't love each other as we love ourselves. We covet. We steal. We lust. We dishonor our parents. As it says in verse 20, through the law no one will be justified. We have no ability to live up to God's standard. We cannot work our way to heaven.
So, if that is true, that you cannot work you way to heave, what is the point of the law? The law is not a ladder that we climb up. It is a mirror that we look into. By looking at the mirror of God's law, what we see staring back at us is a wretched sinner. This is the purpose of the law. To show you that you are not good. To show you that you are a sinner. To show you that your heart is desperately sick.
The law of God is like a physician having you go through numerous tests to determine if you are sick or not. After going through the diagnostics of God's Word, the final conclusion for every man is sinner. And this is important to understand, committing a sin does not make us a sinner. Instead, we are sinners, therefore we sin. Sinning is a symptom of being a sinner. And that is the purpose of the law, to show us that we are by nature sinners.
Purpose #3: To Bear Witness to Jesus Christ
Which leads us to the third purpose of the law. The law bear's witness to Jesus Christ. Verse 21, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—“
What does Paul mean when he says “the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law”? He is referring to Jesus of Nazareth. Look at verse 22, “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” Jesus is the righteousness of God manifested. How so? By fulfilling the law. Jesus perfectly lived out the law of God.
Jesus says in Matthew 5:17, “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. 18For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”
The coming of Jesus was not the end of the the law, it was the fulfillment of the law. Jesus is the only human being that has ever existed who has fulfilled the law. He did not break the ten commandments, he did not lust in his heart, he loved the Lord his God with all his heart, and his neighbor as himself. Our inability to uphold the law, points us to the one and only person who did uphold the law, Jesus.
However, there is more. Paul says that the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it. What is “it”? “It” is the righteousness of God that we already said is Christ. Second, what are the Law and the Prophets? This is just another way to say the Old Testament. Paul is saying that the Old Testament is like a witness testifying to the jury of humanity. Genesis to Malachi pointing forwards to the coming of Jesus. When you read the Old Testament you should see Christ.
Jesus himself says this in two places during his earthly ministry. In John 5:39 Jesus says to the Jews, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,” And then again on the road to Emmaus Jesus said in Luke 24:27, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”
This is exactly what the Apostles did as they went out and proclaimed Christ as the Messiah. The began with God's Word and showed the world everywhere in Scripture that pointed to Jesus.
Here are a few examples: Jesus is the seed of Eve that would crush the head of the snake. Jesus is the Ark that carries us through God's wrath. Jesus is the blessing of Abraham to all nations. Jesus is the true Israel. Jesus is the prophet greater than Moses. Jesus the Passover Lamb. Jesus is the water from the rock, the manna from heaven. Jesus is the perfect judge. Jesus is the perfect King. Jesus is the great high priest. Jesus is the temple. Jesus is the root of Jesse. Jesus is the branch of David. Jesus is the child that is born who will be called wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, and prince of peace. Jesus is suffering servant. Jesus is the anointed one of God, the only begotten Son. Jesus is all an all. And all of Scripture bears witness to this.
So let us not, avoid the law, but embrace it, for in it are wonderful blessings of God.