Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on October 1, 2017
Open your Bibles to Romans 1:16-17. Today marks the first Sunday of November, therefore we have a new memory verse. Instead of grabbing a verse that is separate and distinct, I have decided instead to piggy back last month’s verse, by attaching verse 17. So our memory verse for the month of October is Romans 1:16-17, which also happens to be the focus of my sermon today. So let us read it together.
Paul then lays the foundation as to why that he is not ashamed despite the shaming, “for it is the power of God for salvation.” And we saw that this has two aspects to it. First, the gospel produces spiritual life. When Paul proclaims the gospel, dead people come to life. When Paul proclaims the gospel people are rescued from the wrath of God. The gospel saves sinners.
However, the second aspect, and potentially the main intent to Paul’s words, is that the gospel sustains life. Meaning, that when Paul is being shamed by the world, he sets his eyes, not on the shame, but upon the promises that are contained within the gospel for him. Paul, like Jesus endures his daily cross because he knew that his final destination is to be with God in glory where there is an abundance of joy and pleasures forevermore. So the gospel creates life life and sustains life.
One thing that we have yet to unpack is, “What is the gospel?” When Paul says gospel, what is running through his mind. Remember, last week I told you that verses 16 and 17 are the thesis statement for this entire letter of Paul. And verses 16 and 17 are a window into how the Apostle Paul understood the power of the gospel. And as I pondered verse 17 this week, I thought to myself, that the Church has fallen so far from understanding the gospel as God intended. So let us attempt to fix that today.
As we begin, I would be remiss if I did not mention Martin Luther when preaching on Romans 1:17. Romans 1:17 is known as the reformation text. In fact, today may be the perfect time to speak briefly about this great reformer. Martin Luther is one of the reasons that we worship here and not at the Catholic Church, St. Matthias. For God used Martin Luther to ignite the protestant reformation.
This year marks the 500 year anniversary of when 33 year old Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. It is believed he did so on October 31, 1517. Upon doing so, this document was mass produced and widely distributed throughout Germany and in no time, the Protestant Reformation exploded upon the world.
Before I get back to verse 17, let me say a few things about the Protestant Reformation. First, reformation means to re-form. Re-from back to what? Re-form back to the truth of God's Word, the Bible. The Protestant reformation is ultimately about who has authority, man or God. Man’s words or God’s words. Luther and others were trying to get the church to humble themselves under the Bible.
Second, everyone needs to know that the protestant reformation did not begin with Luther. In a sense, it began in the Garden of Eden. Since the Fall of man, there has always been an attack on God’s Word, and God has repeatedly used men to reform his people back to the truth of His Word. God did it with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul. Each of these men were reformers, for their has always been a war on God’s Word.
Likewise, God has regularly and consistently done it over the last 2000 years with pastors and theologians of the Church. Every generation of the Church has had in it reformers; whether it was Augustine, John Wycliff, John Hus, John Calvin, John Knox, William Tyndlae, or Huldrych Zwingli. Every generation of the Church has had someone cry out, let us return to God’s Word. In fact, every Pastors is to be a reformer, each us, because of our flesh, tender to wander from God's truth, and it is the Pastor's job to tend and feed the sheep. To bring them back under God's truth, His unchanging Word.
The Depravity of Man
And with that, let us do so this morning, and return to God’s Word. Prior to Martin Luther’s being born again he said that he hated Romans 1:17. Why? Because of his wrong understanding of God’s grace, and the right understanding of his sin. Let’s start with Luther’s correct understanding of his sin.
As Martin Luther examined his life he saw one thing, his utter wretchedness. This was interesting because Martin Luther was a very religious person. He was a Catholic monk that took his position extremely seriously. He said this of himself, "If anyone could have earned heaven by the life of a monk, it was I." Luther would pray, fast, deprive himself of sleep, when he did sleep he would do so without a blanket, and he even beat himself so as to pay for his own sins.
The problem was that, no matter how religious he was, Luther still saw sin in his life. Day after day after day as he looked into the mirror of his soul he saw a rebellious sinner staring right back at him. And Luther’s view of his own wretched self was no different than the Apostle Paul’s view of his own wretchedness. In Romans 7:23 Paul says this about his flesh, “but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Then in In Philippians 3:9 Paul declares that he does not have a righteousness of his own. Paul as he looked at his life, he saw that he was void of righteousness, just like Luther.
And not only is this true for Luther and the Apostle Paul, it is true for all men. Paul declares in Romans 3:10, ““None is righteous, no, not one;” Psalm 143:2 says, “Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.” Ecclesiastes 7:20 says, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” In fact, this is the theme of the Bible, humanity's lack of righteousness. Adam's unrighteousness, Abraham's unrighteousness, David's unrighteousness, Israel's unrighteousness, the disciples unrighteousness, the church's unrighteousness.
Every person who has ever existed on this planet is unrighteous. There is no righteous person who has ever existed. We are all sinners. We are all broken. As Jesus says so clearly to the rich young ruler in Luke 18: 19, “And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”
The Requirement of God
So what is the big deal? So what if we are sinners? So what if we aren’t perfect little angels? I will tell you what the big deal is. The big deal is God. God is the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth. God has all authority in the Universe. This includes you. God has authority over you, for God made you. And God requires from you perfect righteousness.
Jesus says this himself in Matthew 5:48, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Perfection is the standard. It is a “must.” And perfection has always been the standard of God. Deuteronomy 18:13, “You shall be blameless before the LORD your God,”
Why is this the perfect righteousness a requirement of God? Why is being blameless the bar we must achieve? We can answer this two ways. First, it is God's requirement because he chose it to be the requirement. This life we live is a life that was designed and created by God. He is the one who makes the rules. And if His rule is that we must be perfectly righteous, then who are we to question God. As it says in Isaiah 45:9, “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’? I have to be honest, this one really bothers me. God has way more patience than I do. So often our churches are full of people who question God's Word, as if they know better how Churches should function, how marriages should function, or how salvation functions. We must repent of this pride and reform back to submitting to God's Word.
Second, we are required to be perfectly righteous because God is perfectly righteous, and only those who are without sin can dwell with God forever. We saw this in our text above, Matthew 5:48. We are to be perfect becaue our Father is perfect. Likewise, Psalm 5:4, “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you.” What is evil? Evil is any form of unrighteousness. Psalm 101:7, “No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes.” No one, means no one.
This is what caused Martin Luther, before his conversion, to declare his hatred of God. He viewed God as a monster. That God made a rule that man cannot achieve. Luther said, “This word is too high and too hard that anyone should fulfill it,” And Martin Luther was right, not in his hatred of God, but the standard of righteousness. No one can work their way to heaven.
The Righteousness of Christ
But all of this changed one day when God finally opened up Luther's eyes through the verse of Romans 1:17, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” So what did Luther see? He saw the splendor of the gospel.
So let us take a closer look at verse 17. At the beginning of verse 17 it says, “for in it.” What is “it”? “It” is the gospel mentioned in verse 16. The gospel that has the power for salvation for all who believe. So verse 17 says in effect, “For in [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed.” What does that mean?
What is the gospel? The gospel is the good news of the Son of God becoming a man and living amongst us, dieing on the cross, and then being resurrected. So, verse 17 could read “For in [the coming of Christ] the righteousness of God is revealed.”
How is the coming of Christ a revealing of the righteousness of God? What do we know about Jesus? He was conceived by the Holy spirit. Born of a virgin. Fully man and fully God. Lived in Nazareth for until he was 30 and his trade was a carpenter. Launched a three year ministry that ended in his crucifixion. And we know that not once in those 33 years, those 12,000 days of his life did he ever sin even one time.
Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” 1 Peter 2:22, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.” 1 John 3:5, “in him there is no sin.”
Jesus Christ was perfectly righteous. He was blameless before God. He is the righteousness of God revealed. Christ lived the life Luther could not live; the life that Paul could not live; the life that we cannot. Jesus is the one and only righteous person who has, or will, ever exist. And this is exactly how Peter identified Jesus on the day of Pentecost when he rebuked the Jews in Jerusalem. Acts 3:14, “But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you,” Jesus is truly the one and only Righteous one.
God himself declares this in Matthew 17:5, “He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” Why is God pleased with his son, because he perfectly does the will of his father.
The Righteous Live by Faith
But the question still remains, how does the righteousness of Christ help Luther, Paul, and us? The answer is the imputation of righteousness through faith. Look at 16 and 17 again, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
God, knowing that we do not have a righteousness of our own, sends his Son to be the righteousness that we need. Christ then offers to us his righteousness, and we receive his righteousness through believing, or trusting in the righteousness of Christ. Faith is the conduit to receive the righteousness of Christ. Later on in Romans 4, Paul unpacks this life changing truth. Romans 4:5 says, “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”
By believing in who Jesus is and what he did, the alien righteousness of Christ, the righteousness that is outside of us, is imputed, or counted, or given to us, so that we can meet the righteous requirement of God and be saved.
2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” By faith we become who we are not.
And for Luther, Paul, and for us who God has opened our eyes, this truth is good news. It is our only hope. Listen to what Luther said regarding that moment he realized that the righteousness of Christ could be his through faith, “When I discovered that, I was born again of the Holy Ghost. And the doors of paradise swung open, and I walked through.”
And this is the verse that ignited the protestant reformation, and led to millions upon millions upon millions of people walking into Paradise. That faith of Paul in the righteousness of Christ led to the faith of Luther in the righteousness of Christ. Which led to the faith of many more in the righteousness of Christ. And this is why it says in verse 17, “from faith for faith.”
And now we who believe in Christ, have an obligation. We are to live our life, not by the works of the flesh, but by faith in Jesus Christ. The righteous live by faith. The apostle Paul perhaps says it best in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”