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Jan 05, 2020

A Gift Unlike Anything Else

Passage: Romans 3:20-26

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Romans

Keywords: faith, sin, redemption, righteousness, gift, justified

Summary:

Gifts, small or large, have a way of changing us. But the larger they are, the more their potential to change us. So when we talk about a gift unlike any other, we're talking about God and His incomparable gift of righteousness. When was the last time you were awed by God's greatest gift?

Detail:

A Gift Unlike Anything Else!

Romans 3:21-26

January 5, 2020

Get Acquainted Question:  Tell someone about one of the best gifts you ever received.

OPENING:

Begin with the first half of a video found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38yMUYoX38w

0:14-4:58

I chose this testimony because it perfectly illustrates what God in His grace and mercy has done with every one of us.  You may not have been a white supremacist, a racist, a thief, an attempted murderer, a drug addict or a drug dealer.  Some of us were.  And some of us weren’t. 

But ALL of us have been SO far from God that there was NO hope whatsoever of ever getting back to God… unless God did some truly amazing, truly miraculous, truly just, sacrificial, loving and compassionate. 

Welcome back to our series in the book of Romans. We’re in a passage today that some of the best biblical scholars of all time have labeled the most important passage of the entire Bible. 

  • Leon Morris (The Epistle to the Romans[Eerdmans], 173) calls verses 21-26, “possibly the most important single paragraph ever written.”
  • Alva McClain (Romans: The Gospel of God’sGrace [BMH Books], p. 101) says that if he could only have six verses out of the entire Bible, it would be Romans 3:21-26.
  • Martin Lloyd-Jones (p. 31) says, “It is no exaggeration to say of this section that it is one of the greatest and most important sections in the whole of Scripture.”

Yet it is also a paragraph filled with words and phrases with which we are not very familiar.  If you’ve been in church for a few years, you may be familiar with the words but most of us are hard pressed to actually provide a coherent, usable definition for them. 

            So let’s start there.  As we read this paragraph slowly for the first time today, I want you to take note of as many words as you can for which you would have a hard time providing a clear definition.  Here we go! 

I’m going to back us up to one verse in the previous paragraph just to give us context.  [BTW, paragraphs, chapters and verses are not divinely inspired divisions in the Bible.  They were added years ago or more recently by editors who decided to tell us where they thought certain sentences or paragraphs or chapters should start and end.  So I’m not violating God’s word by choosing to start with vs. 20 instead of 21.]

Romans 3:20-26

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. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

            So let’s get a list of difficult words before we do anything else…and notice the number of times a word is used:

  • Works of the law/law/Law (4—vs.20, 20, 21, 21)
  • Sin/sinned (3—vs. 20,23, 25)
  • Righteousness (4—vs. 21, 22, 25, 26)
  • Prophets (1—vs. 21)
  • Faith (3—vs. 22, 25, 26)
  • Justified/just/justifier (3—vs. 24, 28, 28)
  • Grace (1—vs. 24)
  • Redemption (1—vs. 24)
  • Propitiation (1—vs. 25)
  • Forbearance (1—vs. 25)

That’s quite a list!  Don’t worry, I don’t intend to just be a dictionary of divine words today.  That never moved anyone’s heart.  So let’s PRAY!  (Stop and pray.)

            The last time we were in Romans 3 was when Jesse preached are sermon entitled "Are You Good Enough?” Answer of Romans: NO! Last fall we listened to message after message in the first three chapters of Romans that told us 7 ways to Sunday about our sin, our lost-ness, our judgment and condemnation under God, our depravity, etc.  Let’s just read the poetic section from 3:10-18 where Paul is quoting a bunch of different passages in the Psalms (14:1-3; 53:1-3; 5L; 140:3; 10:7; 36:1), Ecclesiastes (7:20) and Isaiah (59:7,8).  He’s doing so to make the point of just how “depraved” we all are.  The way he’s going to do it is by pointing to different parts of our bodies that we use for a whole host of sins.  Romans 3:10-18

10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;  [That’s pretty inclusive!]
11     no one understands;
  [Our minds are corrupted.]
    no one seeks for God. 
[Our wills and hearts are corrupted.]
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”

[The path every one of us takes in life leads us away from God. 

If you put all our best efforts together, they together would have no spiritual value or merit, let alone separately. 

We’re all spiritually bankrupt

And while we may do some things that you could say were morally or ethically upright or positive, if the God-honest truth was known about WHY we did those things…our motives...most of those “good deeds” would be corrupted…like mold growing on a nice brick of Cougar Gold Cheddar Cheese.  Not one single human being (apart from Christ) on our best day is able to stand before God and say, “I’m truly a good person in what I say, what I think, what I do, what I don’t do and who I am.”  NOT ONE of us! From God’s vantage point of perfection and absolute holiness, we’re all spiritually infested with disease, rotting souls and putrid character.] 

You don’t think so?  Keep reading.
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
  [What do open graves smell like?  Look like?  Well, that’s what our words look, smell and sound like to the Holy God—the stench and sound of death.]
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
 

[Which of us here can say, “I’ve never in my entire life lied…not even a little white lie.  Never shaded the truth to what I wanted it to be.  Absolutely 100% of what I’ve spoken from childhood through adulthood has been true”?  If you think you can, you’re lying to yourself first of all!]
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”

[Which of us hasn’t killed or infected or wounded others with a word?  If you think you haven’t, you have a very selective memory about growing up…or marriage…or parenting…or working, etc.]
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”

[Which of us never got bitter or angry or vengeful or ticked off or hurt by someone else to never at least think of cursing or swearing at someone?]
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;

[Ever wanted to hit someone…or did?  Which of us has never wanted to see someone who has hurt us hurt?  Which of us never wished ill on someone who brought ill to us?  Many of us in this room have actually shed the blood of other people intentionally…or wished we could.]
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”

[Which of us have always, always been the peacemaker… never brought conflict to some relationship(s) in life?  Which of us have never messed up a friendship or family relationship, never caused conflict at work or school?]
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

[Well, if the others didn’t get you, this one will.  Which of us has lived in righteous awe, reverence and fear of God our entire lives?  Because to do so is never to sin…and there is a verse coming up that’s going to either make sure you know you’ve sinned OR make sure you call God a liar!]

            What’s Paul’s point here?  Is he just trying to beat all of us into oblivion with the baseball bat of God’s righteous judgment?  What’s the point of making sure we realize at least a portion of our lives is really messed up by sin? 

ILL:  Let me put it this way.  If you ask just about anyone today who doesn’t know Jesus Christ as their Savior the following two questions, what are they going to answer?

Q #1.  “Is man/woman/humankind basically good or basically sinful/ evil?” what will they answer?  [Basically good!]

Q #2.  “If you were standing before God and He were to ask you, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” what would you answer?” what will most people say?  [“I’ve lived a pretty awful life”??? “I’ve done some really horrible and hurtful things”??? NO!  They’re going to say, “Well, I’ve tried to be a good person and I think I’ve done more good than harm.”]

            Sin has so messed with our perception of ourselves, of our actions, of our thoughts, of our failings, shortcomings and deficiencies that we all prefer to think of ourselves as better than we are…even when we’re harming ourselves out of self-hatred    This is Paul’s point in verse 20 when he says, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” 

Nobody is going to be able to stand before God and point to the law of God both written in this book/Bible and written on our consciences and honestly say, “I did it ALL well!  I didn’t sin once!  I lived perfectly according to the law of conscience and the law of this Book!  I never once violated You, God, or this law that flows from your naturenever once!” 

            Maybe now is a good time to come up with at least one or two definitions for a couple of our “tough words”? 

  • “Works of the law” = adherence to every law of God—every command, every dietary rule, every sexual prohibition, religious worship requirement, every ceremonial law, every law of the sacrificial system, every command to love, not to lie or take a single thing that isn’t yours, or speak a sinful word…everything God commanded to His people in this book AND everything written on our consciences.
  • “Justified” = simply, “to declare someone righteous or just”. The verb used all through this passage for “justified” is the same root used for “righteous” (dikaioo).  It’s in what we call the “passive voice” which means it’s an action that is done to us, not something we do ourselves.  God declares us righteous in the act of justification.  It’s not the same as making us actually righteous.  

Consider Proverbs 17:15, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord.” Justifying is something that a judge does. The opposite of justify is condemn. When you condemn someone you declare their guilt and assign them their punishment. You don’t make them guilty.  Their actions did that, supposedly. And when you justify someone you declare their innocence and assign them their freedom, something hopefully their actions warranted. 

Paul is saying that the Law of God is never going to declare a single sinner “righteous.”  It’s never going to “justify” a single human being.  It can’t.  It can only condemn us of our sins.  It is through the law that we are made aware of just what rotten sinners we are.  Because God’s law is simply the expression of His holy nature lived out in human experience.  He gave it to show us our need, not to make us feel good about ourselves! 

STORY: Let me tell you about a man who tried to ignore and change the law of God about the value of a human life in American…and succeeded…for a while.

Bernard Nathanson was formerly an atheistic Jew, a medical doctor in New York State, who was personally responsible for running NY’s only abortion clinic prior to Roe v. Wade (1973).  Listen to what he said in his own words some 15 years later:  “I organized and ran the Center for Reproductive & Sexual Health, another amusing euphemism for an abortion clinic. It was not just an abortion clinic. It was the abortion clinic…” in NY that enabled a clergy group to funnel through it “60,000 young women in the space of 19 months that I ran it….” [Found at https://www.bmj.com/rapid-response/2011/11/03/how-abortion-movement-started-deceit-and-lies-dr-nathanson on 1.3.2020]     

He personally oversaw the destruction of some 700,000 innocent children in the womb in a handful of years.  He helped found NARAL, the National Abortion Rights Action League, and helped develop Planned Parenthood’s messaging about abortions that is still being used today.  He fought hard to get the Supreme Court to hand down the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in America and hence the over 60 million abortions and easily over 100 million fellow Americans who have participated in abortions in some way. 

But a few years later, the first time he saw an ultrasound of an abortion, he completely changed his mind.  He stopped doing abortions.  He became avidly, vocally and publically pro-life.  He helped found The National Right to Life Committee, converted to Roman Catholicism and spent the rest of his life trying to undo what he had set in motion. 

Before his death, he admitted to outright lying about the number of women he had claimed were killed by illegal abortions annually (10K vs. under 500) in order to make abortion on demand legal in the U.S.  He admitted publically to fabricating polls which he said indicated that 85% of the public favored unrestricted abortion, when we knew the actual percentage was only 5%.  And he admitted wrestling with the guilt of what he had done and the truth of a God who “justified” him…declared him as righteous as Jesus Christ…because of Jesus’ death on the cross for him. 

But this passage says GOD DID JUST THAT!  He declared Dr. Nathanson…and you…and me RIGHTEOUS!  But that presents us with a moral dilemma

So how can God… who is actually just and justice himself… BE just if he simply declares, us, the guilty righteous?  Didn’t we just read from Proverbs that that kind of thing is “an abomination to the Lord.” 

This is where today’s paragraph has THE best news the world has ever seen.  It’s not just good news for us as sinners.  It’s actually good news for us about God!  It is telling us HOW God is able to declare every one of us who are actually unrighteous and wants a restored relationship with Him to be righteous. This is truly a massive turning point in Paul’s treatise to the Roman Christians. 

APP:  And it could be a massive turning point for those of us in or outside the church who are still consciously or subconsciously struggling day after day to win God’s approval through our cleaned-up behavior or more sacrificial service rather than simply resting in God’s approval through Jesus’ work for us. 

Romans 3  

 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 

By the term “Law and the Prophets,” Paul is referring to the entire Old Testament from the Books of the Law in the Pentateuch all the way through the last prophet, Malachi…and everything in between.  

            But what “righteousness of God” is this that Paul is talking about? 

Allow me to propose that righteousness = the right/holy living out of the right/holy nature of God.  So the “righteousness of God” must be God living out in actuality the rightness…holiness …moral perfection…of his perfect nature. The problem is, a just judge can’t let the guilty go free and punish the innocent if he knows what the truth is.  So how is God to satisfy His irrepressible need for genuine justice in the cosmos expressed in the Law and the Prophets while at the same time rescuing guilty sinners like us?  Those two demands of God’s just and at the same time loving nature seem to be irreconcilable.   

            So how does Paul continue to describe God’s righteousness?

22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. 

Paul isn’t telling us quite yet HOW God satisfied His moral justice while saving us moral reprobates.  He’s just bringing up the means by which we get to be declared righteous:  it’s “through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” 

Q:  Who’s the faith in?  Jesus.  Faith is only worthwhile if its object is trustworthy.  It’s only as good as the object it’s trusting.

Ever put faith in someone who later turned out not to be faith-ful?  Sure, we all have.  For some of you it was a friend, for others a business partner, sadly for some it was a spouse.  Our faith in someone is only as good as their character.  And I know of no one with better character in human history than Jesus Christ. 

ILL:  Real faith…biblical faith… requires much more than mental assent to certain facts or reality.  James says that even the demons “believe” in the existence of God… and they tremble about it.  But real faith acts upon its belief.  It orders its life around the object of its faith…even if just for a second.

  • Faith in a chair vs. faith in a music stand to hold me.

We enter into faith-agreements every day, all day.

  • Driving—faith that unknown drivers around me will obey the “laws” of safe driving.
  • Faith that my wife will still love me when I come home from work all day.
  • Faith that God isn’t lying to me about Jesus or about what I must do to enjoy Him today and forever.

22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. We get to enter into the right outworking of God’s nature towards us only as we put active, life-trusting faith in Jesus Christ. 

Paul continues: For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 

He’s simply restating what he has taken the last three chapters to prove. God doesn’t play favorites.  We’re all sinners who have completely “missed the mark” of the glorious nature of God that we should be mirroring. 

ILL:  Got any track and field athletes/former athletes here today?

How many of us ever did the long jump?  What was your best distance? 

  • WA State high school girls: 19’ set in 1985 by Angie Tasker.
  • WA State high school boys: 23’5” in 2005 by Bernard Rush.
  • World Record for men: 29’4.25” in 1991 by American Mike Powell
  • World Record for women: 24’8” in 1988 by Slovakian Galina Chistyakova of the USSR..

Imagine we all lined up against them…on the south rim of the Grand Canyon…and all took a running leap trying to get to the north rim, who’s going to win?  NOBODY!  We will “all fall short” of the glory of the Grand Canyon.  How much more do we all fall short of the glory of the moral greatness of God who not only made the Grand Canyon but is as morally superior to any of us as the distance across the Grand Canyon is to our best jump on our best day?

            The problem is not that we think to little of ourselves apart from Christ.  It is that we think too highly of ourselves apart from Christ. We use the wrong measuring stick.  We measure our moral and spiritual acceptability in 1/16th of an inch when God measures in light years. 

For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and [we could paraphrase, ‘all who care to be right with God”] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 

            Notice that there are four things God does for us in this little phrase.  He’s the prime-mover in salvation, not us.  We’re the prime-responders…or prime-rejecters. 

#1.  God justifies:  A couple of things to notice here.

  1. We are justified—we talked earlier about this being in the “passive voice” in the original Greek. All that means is that it is an action God does to and for us.  We either receive it…let Him do it to us…or reject it and walk away from Him. 

ILL:  It’s like the act of bathing a baby.  The parent is the one bathing the child…but the child is “taking a bath.”  However, left to itself, the baby would drown in 5 inches of water, water meant to wash it clean.  But it is so helpless that it needs an adult to even bathe it. 

  1. It is a declarative act—we are declared righteous. We already talked about that so this is just review.  John Piper puts it this way. [Found at https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/gods-free-gift-of-righteousness on 1.4.2020]

“God’s act of justification is not inside us, but outside of us. It is not in us, but for us. It is not a change of our nature or state, but a change of our standing before him. It is not the same as sanctification, which is done in us, and does change our character. Sanctification is the work of the Spirit of God gradually changing us into the image of his Son. Justification is the act of God, once for all declaring us just and righteous in his sight.”

#2.  Being justified…by His grace: 

The word “grace” is one of the most important words in the letters of Paul. He uses it 95 times. What does he mean here that God’s act of justifying is “by his grace”?

“BY” is a word that shows meansHOW something gets done. 

  • Many of us came to church today by means of a car. Some of you came by means of walking or taking the bus.
  • How about what you know in life? Some of what we know came by means of modeling by parents or other family members.  Part of our knowledge came by means of   Some may have come by means of mistakes or street living or mentoring by some wiser person. 

Paul is telling us that a right relationship with God comes by means of grace.  So just what is “grace”?

Maybe the easiest way to see it is to look a few verses later in Romans 4:4, which we will come back to again and again on this matter of grace.  If we were to translate Romans 4:4 in a super-literal way so that we can see how the very same word “grace” is used here in Romans 4:4, it would read something like, “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited [or counted] according to grace, but according to debt.”

In other words, if you work for somebody, you don’t get grace, you get wages. If you relate to somebody as an employee, what you create is not grace, but debt. They owe you wages. This is why it’s an abomination to try to work for God for right, healthy, enjoyable relationship with Him. God cannot be put in anyone’s debt. As Romans 11:35 says, “Who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” The answer to this rhetorical question is, “No one!” And the reason given is that “from him and through him and too him are all things” (Romans 11:36).

So if we are going to get something by grace, we can’t work for it. Grace and works are two mutually exclusive terms and actionsGrace is the good that you get from someone when he owes you nothing. Mercy is the lack of punishment you get when you deserve judgment.  But grace is the positive good, the blessings and benefits we get from God when He owes us nothing

So what Paul means when he says that we are “justified by his grace” is that we can’t work for justification. The phrase “by his grace” means you can’t work for it.

            And to make sure that we really understand just how much it’s from God and not from us, Paul adds the phrase “as a gift.”  While grace means you can’t work for it, the phrase “as a gift” means you can’t pay for it.  Grace means there is no way I can obligate God by anything I do to “owe me” salvation—an eternal love relationship with me.  “As a gift” means there is no way I can acquire salvation based upon something I could give God in exchange for it. 

ILL:  Some people grow up in rich families and inherit a lot of money.  They didn’t work for it, they just got it as a kind and generous act of their parents.  Rich people, regardless of whether they got rich by working hard and making lots of money or by doing nothing and inheriting lots of money, can tend to think that riches/money is how you go about acquiring life.  While money can buy you various experiences and lots of things you may like to experience, it can’t buy the most important things in life.

  • Money can’t buy health or longevity. It may help, but it can’t guarantee you won’t suffer a debilitating disease.  Just look at some of the richest people who died in the last decade—apple founder Steve Jobs (56), theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking (ALS--76), Robin Williams (Parkinson’s, 63, suicide). 
  • Money can’t buy the most important intangibles in life like peace or love or joy or

#3. Being justified…as a gift”:  The word used here is used several other places outside Romans in a way that makes the meaning clear. For example, in Revelation 22:17b, “Let him who desires take the water of life without price.” “Without price” translates the same word that in verse 24 is translated, “as a gift.”

So the point is that we are declared righteous in such a way that we cannot pay for it. You cannot purchase your justification. It is free. You can’t buy or barter or rent it by a single action on your part. God’s act of justification is a 100% gift.

            Oh, it’s a gift that will change you like many gifts do.  In fact, the greater the gift, the greater your life will be changed by it, right? 

  • If someone gives you a wind-up toy, that toy may entertain you for a little bit. It may make you smile or laugh.  It may take a few moments of your life from you.
  • But if someone gives you a house?! If it’s a gift, it doesn’t come with “string attached.” But that’s not the same as saying it won’t change your life. That’s going to take exponentially more time, more of your money to maintain, more energy.  It’s going to provide some wonderful blessings.  But don’t think it won’t impact who you are and what you become.  Just ask any homeowner!

The bigger the gift, the greater the impact upon us. And salvation is THE biggest gift you and I will ever be offered, ever accept OR ever reject 

            So “gift” means we can’t purchase it while “grace” means we can’t work for it

Finally, how can God declare us sinners to be righteous? If we can’t pay for it, and we can’t work for it, then what’s the basis of it? How can God still be just and end up justifying a bunch of ungodly people like us?

For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and [‘all who want to be right with God’] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 

#4. “Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

We’re going to have to stop with this phrase today and pick up the rest of this amazing gift story next week.  But before we leave this, we get to nail down one more word/concept that seems a bit difficult to define:  REDEMPTION.

            Let me just suggest that we substitute another word that does have every day meaning in our culture and forms the root of the biblical word “redemption.”  That word is RANSOME

Redemption literally means “deliverance at a cost” or “release by payment” of a price [Piper’s The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, 40–45].

Embedded in the word “redemption” in the original language (apolutroseos) is the little word lutron, “ransom.” In other words, the idea of redemption is deliverance or release by payment of a ransom. In redemption, someone’s release or deliverance is accomplished at the cost of a ransom payment.

What’s the ransom? What’s the payment for your life? The word “ransom” (lutron) is used only in Mark 10:45 (and its parallel Gospel passages), “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” The answer is that the life of the Son of Man IS the ransom paid for you and for me. The redemption is “in Christ Jesus” because Jesus is the ransom.

APP:  Don’t ever think you don’t matter to God.  God in human flesh considered each of us worth more to Him than his own life.  And He willingly laid down His life for us so that we could be ransomed from the slave-market of sin that had us all.

He gave his life so that there could be release and deliverance for each of us.

“Release from what?” you may ask.  Just think of any and every evil and every result of evil in your life…every one!  From the guilt and condemnation and power of God-belittling sin, from shame and fear, from whatever sin has had the worst effect on your life.  From the very power of Satan and all the demons of hell to the eternal separation from God in hell we all deserve.     

He paid the price for our release from sin and guilt and condemnation. This is how God now, as a gift and by his grace, justifies the ungodly. Everything is owing to the death of Christ (we will see the blood in verse 25 next week). This is why you can’t pay for it and you can’t work for it. It’s all of Christ. The basis of your ransom from evil and its horrible effects is JESUS CHRIST and Him alone! 

Never forget the power of “redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

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COMMUNION: 

  • Nothing But the Blood
  • All Glory Be to Christ