A Righteousness from God

Romans 3:21-26

From Romans 1 through 3, Paul has moved us step by step into the realization that no human being – not Jew, not Gentile, not you, not me – is exempt from the absolutely devastating effects of sin.
• The worldly man, in his rejection of God – worshiping the creation rather than the Creator, casting aside God’s holiness for every kind of immorality and perversion – stands under the wrath of God.
• The man who judges others – thinking himself superior and above them, while guilty of the same sins – hearing the law, but not obeying the law – stands under the same wrath of God.
• The Jew – who prides himself on being the possessor of the Law and the symbol of the covenant – who thinks himself exempt from condemnation because of his pedigree – stands under even more severe condemnation because he has been faithless to his heritage.

Listen to Paul’s continuing refrain:
• The wrath of God is being revealed (1:18)
• God gave them over (1:24,26,28)
• Those who do such things deserve death (1:32)
• For at whatever point you judge the other you are condemning yourself (2:1)
• Because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath (2:5)
• All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one (3:12)
• There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (3:23)
• The wages of sin is death (6:23)

Illustration – Preserving the body of Mao Tse-tung

Sin does to life what shears do to a flower, it separates it from the source of its life. Once the flower is cut you can stick it back in the ground immersed in fertilizer, put it in a vase surrounded with water, tape it back on to the stem. But the flower is dead. It may stay colorful and attractive for a few days, but the leaves will wilt and the petals will drop, it’s life is gone.

The soul separated from God is dead and no amount of religious ritual, good works, law keeping, comparative morality, symbolism or pedigree will bring it to life. It is so much formaldehyde trying to keep the body from decaying and rotting.

What we need is not to disguise death, but to be raised from death.

Remember the theme of Paul’s letter to the Romans – 1:16-17 “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
It is the gospel that is the power of God for salvation. That gospel reveals a righteousness from God – not a self-righteousness – but a righteousness that is by faith from beginning to end, first to last. It has no room for our self-justifying rationalization. It makes us wholly and absolutely dependant on God to save us.

What he began in 1:17, he locks on to in 3:21 – But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law has been made known...

Remember! This is nothing that Paul invented – nothing that was of recent origin. This is God’s original intention – …to which the Law and the Prophets testify.
• Righteousness from God – our accounts are overdrawn, our personal assets in righteousness are bankrupt. Sin has captured, enslaved and slain us. What hope would we have?
• Righteousness from God – his grace, our faith. Is this righteousness real or is it some kind of illusion with smoke and mirrors? A word, but no substance?
• We are called holy, not because we are holy, but because we belong to a holy God. We are righteous, not because we are personally righteous, but because the God who calls us is righteous.
• Simply more good works, more law-keeping, more religious ritual, even a better family tree isn’t going to accomplish what we need most. We need something more – that is, someone more.

When the gospel was first taken to China, a new word symbol was created to communicate this righteousness – the symbol for “lamb” was super-imposed over the symbol for “me.” It was no longer two distinct symbols but one, that communicated a new identity – no longer me, but me as covered by the Lamb of God.

Listen once again to how Paul communicates this very powerful concept of atonement – Romans 3:22-25 “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.”

“… the redemption that came by Christ Jesus,” “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement.” His blood is imposed over our sin. It is no longer us, but something new.

Did God just give up? His plan for the law, a miserable failure? Did sin short circuit God’s original intention?
• The Bible tells us that God had planned long before the creation of the world for a redeemer, a savior. He knew that sin would strip us of our freedom, our happiness, our very lives.
• The Law – it was never intended to make us righteous – it could not. But it did do what God intended for it to do – it made us painfully, acutely aware of our own sin and mortality. Instead of declaring us “righteous” it brands us as “unrighteous.”
• If sin and law drives us to our knees in despair, then you can be sure that God has accomplished what he intended – Rom. 3:5 “our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly.”
• He wants us to know, without question that he is the one who rescues us from sin. The one and only one who can save us.

That is the very point Paul turns to in 3:25: … he did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.
God’s holiness demands justice and justice demands payment for sin. But we cannot pay – remember? – we are bankrupt. Not in a million lifetimes could we pay off the debt of sin we have accumulated.
God’s justice demands that it be paid.
God’s own relentless love for us causes him to make that payment himself.
God dealt with sin in the past with forbearance – not ignoring them, not dismissing them – but dealing with them by looking forward to the time when they would be perfectly atoned.
3:26 …he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. God deals with sin in the present, in the past and in the future by washing it in the blood of Jesus who is the perfect atonement.
Justice is served – sin is dealt with. God’s love paid the price at the cross.

Paul brings us once again to the mirror – looking at ourselves. Have we any reason to boast or claim superiority because God paid our debt? None at all. We claim nothing at the throne of God’s mercy. We are saved because God extended his hand of grace to us.

You see, Paul’s indictment that we are all sinners and all lost is quickly followed by the victorious declaration “… and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (3:24). Sin is dealt with at the cross forever – nor more sacrifice, no more law.

It may be free, but it is not without cost. This righteousness that God bestows on us is real, not imaginary, not just switching terms – it is real. It is real because it is the very righteousness of Jesus himself, whose own righteousness was bestowed on us when he took our place on the cross and suffered the punishment we deserved. It is as real as the cross which purchased it, as real as the empty tomb that declared it.

The bad news is swallowed up by the good news – and that good news is that the only righteous one who ever lived was made sin for me, the most undeserving one who ever lived. And I, the sinner, am made righteous and pure, my sins washed away in the cleansing blood of Jesus.

Illustration – “Neither would I”

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