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Advertising is a good thing by itself – it’s simply a way for us to find out about products and services in the marketplace. But today in America each of us is bombarded with at least 3,000 advertising messages each and every day. Many of those messages entice us to buy certain products not by telling us the features and price – but by telling us what it will do to our prestige if we buy it.
If we buy Brut Aftershave we’ll have beautiful women hanging off of us. If we use L’Oreal it will boost our self esteem because "we’re worth it." If we buy a Lexus we’ll – well, we’ll be broke! So we think if we buy the rights products or belong to the right groups then we are better people. Such was the thinking among the Jews of Paul’s day. Being Jewish could kind of make you a super-Christian. It made you a little brighter, a little better, a little more godly, perhaps.
Well, Paul skewers that notion pretty well here in Chapter 3 or Romans – and introduces some key basic concepts to understanding what righteousness is, and how we get it. There is some foundational stuff in here to understanding salvation, the law, and how to be good.
Paul in chapter 2 has just talked about how inward realities, not outward rituals, like circumcision, is what counts. So he anticipates a question from the Jews in his audience.
3:1 What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? 2 Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.
This is literally true – and the Jewish nation took this job very seriously. We owe a great debt to the Jews for keeping God’s Word. Before the days of the printing press – books had to be copied by hand. So the Jews created a whole class of people, known as Scribes, who copied the scrolls of the Old Testament.
They didn’t just sit down and look over at one sentence, then transcribe it to a new scroll – they copied each letter by letter – with someone else checking their work constantly. So careful were they that if they made a mistake they didn’t take out an eraser and fix the mistake – they started over – completely – and not just with that chapter but the entire book. So if you made a mistake with the last letter of the scroll of Isaiah, for instance, you threw the entire thing away and started over.
That might seem extreme, but it’s why the Old Testament, and later the New came down to us with such accuracy. Just to give you an indication – when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the late 1940’s, archeologists brought out a copy of the scroll of Isaiah – a copy that was 600 years older than the oldest copy in existence. They compared the newer version and found no significant changes in the text – not ONE!
But just having the Word doesn’t do much for you if you don’t believe what it says.
Jesus said in John 5:39-40 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
That’s what happened – they became professional scholars of the Word, but none of it went deep into their heart – don’t make that mistake. Don’t let learning about God crowd out God Himself. Look what it did to the Jews:
3 What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? 4 Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written:
"So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge."
Just because the holder of the word lacks faith, doesn’t mean faith in God is nullified or God’s faith means nothing. In fact, it proves God right – our salvation is not dependent on man at all or man’s faith or lack of it.
Paul quotes from a very important Psalm to make his point – let’s turn there, it’s Psalm 51. The background is that David has just been caught in a sin by Nathan the prophet. The key verse here is verse 4: "Against You and You only have I sinned." Once God has convicted us of sin, there is no dealing and no denying: God is holy and we aren’t! So then Paul brings up the next logical question:
5 But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) 6 Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? 7 Someone might argue, "If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?" 8 Why not say-as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say-"Let us do evil that good may result"? Their condemnation is deserved.
So the argument is: if by me doing wrong God’s love and grace show more, then how can God judge me if the fruit of my unrighteousness is God’s righteousness? Such foolish logic. Sometimes we try to box God in with our silly thinking – you know, could God make a rock so big that He couldn’t lift it, and that sort of thing. It’s ridiculous. The point is, you can’t escape judgment through any kind of logical arguing with God. If you have sinned you will be judged – period.
9 What shall we conclude then? Are we any better?
So those of us who don’t test God in this way – or in this case, the Jews – are they better? No.
Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. 10 As it is written:
"There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." 13 "Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit." "The poison of vipers is on their lips." 14 "Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness." 15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 ruin and misery mark their ways, 17 and the way of peace they do not know." 18 "There is no fear of God before their eyes."
Wow – what a condemnation. There is a significant verse tucked away here – verse 11 – "There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God." Now many people might say "but what about all the religions of the world, don’t they seek God?" The answer is – no.
Religion is really about self – peace of mind, or rising to a higher life form, or getting 70 virgins when you die a martyr. It’s about earning something for yourself by acting a certain way, but it’s not about seeking God.
In fact, if we were to truly seek God what we would find is our own inadequacies and inability to reach Him. That’s why Christianity is so different – its not man reaching up to God but God reaching down to man and creating a way for us to reach Him by His own power and strength. Then it’s not about us anymore – but the glory goes to Him. Paul strengthens that argument next:
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
Anytime you try to use obedience to the law as a way to justify yourself you are missing the point – that the law came to make us aware of our inability to follow it. By seeing God’s righteous standard we become "conscious" of the fact that we have blown it. And if you think you haven’t or that your good works outweigh the bad and that God ought to take that into account – just check out what Jesus said in Matthew 5 about what it really means to follow the law.
The point isn’t law – something that we obey – it’s a rightness from God Himself that we receive.
21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
This is one of the most important verses in the Bible. It states very clearly that man’s attempts to justify himself by external obedience to law is an utter failure. It also states that everyone – every single human (except, of course, Jesus) have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.
The word "sin" there means to "miss the mark." The "mark" is the character of God as outlined in the law – when we try to be perfect we miss that mark, sometimes by a mile. The "glory of God" means His character, the truth of who He is. God said in Ezekiel 18 "The soul who sins shall die." Unless we can be like God in all ways, we are not able to stand in His presence. If we were to leave off with verse 23 how retched and without hope we’d be. But verse 24 says we are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.
Basically, Jesus gave His life to redeem us from our destination – separation from God. But God doesn’t exact a price from us for that redemption – it is free.
25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.
That fancy word "atonement" or "propitiation" in the King James – means literally "to place in front of." Jesus placed Himself between us and the Father – so that when the Father looks at you, He sees you through Jesus blood – thereby seeing you sinless.
Now that doesn’t mean that we’re hiding something from God – because that blood actually cleanses us from sin and the guilt of the sin. So why did God do this?
He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished- 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.
Justice means the right thing is being done. God created man to have fellowship with Him. Man blew it by choosing to disobey and break that fellowship in the Garden of Eden. That nature has been passed down to us all when we are conceived. God had to create an alternate plan to restore fellowship. In the Old Testament that came from the sacrifice of an animal that looked forward to the sacrifice of God’s Lamb, Jesus.
Because of Jesus God can still be just – He hasn’t lowered His principals, if you will, to say "well, you’re not perfect but you’re darned nice so come on in!" God is still pure – but Jesus allows God to justify those who have faith in Jesus because He became the sacrifice once for all. That’s absolutely incredible and is cause for rejoicing – we’re cleansed and pure so we can once again have fellowship with God – wow! It makes you feel special, doesn’t it? So what happens – do we become prideful of what we have?
27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
So our rightness with God doesn’t come by what we’ve done or will do – it comes from faith. So then the Jews, who were supposed to be God’s ambassadors to the world – might think they have some kind of ownership of this new relationship with God. Not so.
29 Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
Conclusions – 3 things
Your lack of faith doesn’t hinder God’s plans
That’s both a warning and a comfort. Even if the Jews were unfaithful to the charge of bringing God’s truth to the world, God’s truth still went to the world. If we choose to disobey God and not do what the Spirit prompts us to do, God will find another way to accomplish His will, and we’ll lose out on the blessing.
However – It’s important to note that God has many ways of accomplishing His will. He can take our disobedience, work with us, bring us around, and even though it seems much too late to do what He wanted, God can still make our failure into His success.
I’m jumping ahead of myself, but: Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
We serve a big God, and He can take our lack of faith, teach us, change us, then still use us to further His will. It’s hard to miss God’s will if you love Him and if your life is yielded to His touch.
We get to God by going around the law
That sounds wrong, doesn’t it? Verse 21 says a righteousness apart from the law has been made known. Does that mean we don’t obey the law? No. But we don’t get righteousness from that source. The purpose of the law is to show us we have sinned – not so that we can try better next time, but so that we realize we can’t do better anytime.
The way the Greek is constructed in verse 21 suggests that Paul is referring to something that comes from the same source but an independent working. So being a law abiding citizen really won’t get you much in God’s kingdom – being a Christ abiding citizen does because Christ fulfilled the law once and for all, then offered what He did independently for you – and that leads us to point 3.
Your goodness comes from God’s goodness
We all want to be good people. Some religions teach that by being good, really really good, you can get to heaven, or Nirvana or somewhere good. What we need to recognize is that everything good in us and everything good done through us comes from God’s righteousness "through faith in Jesus Christ" as it says in verse 22.
Stop trying to be good – instead, work on having an ongoing, vibrant, active relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s a pretty radical statement – and I certainly don’t mean to go out and purposefully sin to prove that you’re not trying to be "good." (Paul addresses that in chapter 6). I mean stop trying to invent rightness inside of you, instead seek the Lord, worship, read His Word, pray, let His Spirit have access to your life – and you’ll be amazed what will happen.