Summary: Everyone wants to be righteous, but what does that even mean? How do we gain that status? Check out this debate as presented by our Family Minister Scott Jewell.
Read Romans 4 and pray
We’re continuing our series about Christianese- those code words often only recognized by those who have been in the faith for some time. By brushing up on these words, it’s our hope to better use or describe the terminology so that the world might come to know Christ. Today’s word is righteousness. We live in a world that recognizes it is good to be righteous, but it seems that what that means has changed over the years.
The Bible defines righteous as having no guilt or sin. When God sees a righteous person, He sees perfection. But look at what the world has done with this word over the past several decades: (each decade has a slide)
Slide 3- “Righteous in the 60s: extremely fine” (picture of nice 60s style car)
Slide 4- “Righteous in the 70s: groovy” (picture of disco ball)
Slide 5- “Righteous in the 80s: radical” (picture of surfing)
Slide 6- “Righteous in the 90s: really great” (picture of juicy hamburger)
Slide 7- “Righteous in the 2000s: admirable” (picture of good deed being done)
As I was reading through the text for this morning’s message, I began to picture a debate taking place in the Roman church. Everyone may have agreed that to be righteous meant to have no guilt or sin, but there was a division forming over how one obtained a state of righteousness. You see, Rome was a church split between Greeks and Jews. Because the Jews knew they were God’s chosen people, they still viewed themselves as better than the Gentiles around them. They were the people who were given the Ten Commandments, called out of Egypt by God Himself. In their minds, the Gentiles could never achieve this same level of righteousness. Paul steps in to set the record straight that righteousness is equally available to all. Now, if you’ll indulge me this morning: if Paul had been in Rome instead of writing a letter, I imagine him engaging in the debate to stand for the eternal truth once and for all. Maybe the debate would have gone something like this:
(Slide with title of The Great Righteousness Debate and a debater on each side facing each other. I set up a stand on either side of the pulpit- on my left side had a printed Israel flag that I revealed as I introduced Alexander, on my right side a printed Christian flag for Paul. After introducing the participants, I proceeded to move between the two stands portraying each of the men presenting their argument.)
Ladies and gentlemen- welcome to the city of Rome for the Great Righteousness Debate!
Over here to my left will be Alexander- a leader among the Jewish Christians, a metalworker, he joins us all the way from Ephesus. He is best known for failing to quiet the rioting followers of Artemis and being handed over to Satan for having shipwrecked his faith. But don’t let that fool you, Paul revealed that Alexander did him a great deal of harm.
Over here to my right is Paul- former Pharisee turned Christian. Along with his fellow travelers, he has planted churches throughout the Roman Empire. Paul is also credited as the author of about 2/3 of the New Testament as we know it today. Alexander, please begin the debate.
Alexander: As a Jewish believer in our Lord Jesus Christ, I have found that our good works and adherence to the Law are what earns a person righteousness. Why, one needs to look no further than the great patriarch Abraham to see that this is true. You may recall that not only did Father Abraham have many sons (by the way, I am one of them and so are you, so let’s all praise the Lord), he was also obedient to God. Moses wrote all about it in the book of Genesis, towards the end of chapter 11 through the beginning of chapter 25. Let me give you Exhibit A. (display map of Abraham’s journeys) As you can see from the map there, Abraham was willing to become homeless and follow God. Can you imagine packing all your things, saying goodbye to your parents, and heading out with no idea of where you were going? That’s exactly what Abraham did, traveling from Haran, Canaan, Bethel, Negev, Egypt, back to Bethel, Canaan. Anybody who is willing to do all that walking simply because God said go has earned his righteousness, don’t you think?
Paul: That’s just it, Alexander. You can’t earn righteousness. If that were the case, then Abraham could boast about all the good things he did, but nowhere do we see him bragging on himself. Let me put it to you this way, if righteousness was something we can earn, then we can work to receive it. Now, when someone has a job and goes to work and fulfills their end of the bargain, what do they expect in return? Their earnings or wages. But righteousness is not a wage to be earned. If we work to receive righteousness, we have placed an obligation on God that He owes no one. King David even agrees with me. (review Romans 4:7-8)