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Summary: How do you know when you’ve done enough? How good do you have to be? What standard do we measure ourselves against?

Are Good Works Good Enough?

Rev. Brian Bill

August 10-11, 2019

Last month in Virginia I had the opportunity to run a 10K race with our daughter Lydia on a hot and humid day. While I’ve labored through the Bix course twice I had never run an official 10K. Pip also participated, though he was pushed in the stroller by Lydia.

I did OK for the first mile or two but began to struggle as the sun rose higher in the sky. It was so hot my fingernails were sweating. Whenever I slowed down, Lydia would let off the gas and encourage me to keep going.

When we finished, I found out I had won my age division! When they called out my name I went up to the award stand and received my medal [hold up]. After taking a few bows I strutted back through the crowd. I thought to myself, “I’m pretty good and getting better with age.”

The question we’re addressing this weekend is, “Are good works good enough?” As we saw in the video, many people believe good people will go to heaven. I had a conversation just this week with someone who insisted being good is good enough.

According to a Pew Research Center study, roughly seven-in-ten (72%) Americans believe in heaven as a place “where people who have led good lives are eternally rewarded.” Another recent poll discovered for every American who believes they are so bad they are going to Hell, there are 120 others who believe they’re good enough to go to Heaven.

There are some problems with that view: How do you know when you’ve done enough? How good do you have to be? What standard do we measure ourselves against?

Grab your Bibles and turn to Romans 3:9-20. We will see good works are not good enough because we must deal with our depravity if we ever hope to be delivered. The gospel will only be good news when we first understand the bad news. Mercy only makes sense when we commiserate about our misery. Grace is amazing only to those who are annihilated by guilt.

Let’s put this text in context by summarizing the sections that precede it.

• The whole world is under God’s wrath (1:1-18)

• Gentiles are guilty (1:18-32)

• Moralists are guilty (2:1-16)

• Jews are guilty (2:17-29)

• No excuses will be accepted (3:1-8)

Let’s read this together.

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” 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. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

The Apostle Paul is fond of using diatribes in Romans, where he asks and answers questions. In our culture, we might refer to them as FAQ’s, or Frequently Asked Questions. This section begins with two simple questions, which are quickly answered. Then, utilizing a string of Scripture expertly woven together, we’ll see how sinful we really are. Interestingly, Paul does not begin with an introduction, but with his conclusion.

The Conclusion (3:9)

In verse 9 Paul restates the basic charge he made in the opening chapters: “What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin.” When it comes to sin, no one has a pass. Whether Jewish or Gentile, moral or immoral, religious or irreligious, including anyone who cheers for the Vikings or the Bears…all people (including Packer fans) are under sin. No group is guiltier than another and no individual is exempt. We’ve all blown it and we’re all busted. I’m a sinner…and so are you. I like what that famous theologian Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Paul is making the “charge” which is a legal term used to describe someone who was indicted for a certain offense. The phrase “under sin” is a military term meaning, “under the authority of someone.” The idea is similar to Galatians 3:10: “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse…” We are first introduced to the controlling nature of sin when it is personified as a master in Genesis 4:7: “Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” Jesus adds in John 8:34: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” Paul uses the word “sin” approximately 48 times in Romans, not in the plural to denote sinful acts, but in the singular to refer to the human condition. We sin because we are sinners.

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