RIGHTEOUSNESS, ROAD CONSTRUCTION, AND REDEMPTION (Romans 3:21-25a, 27-28)
It’s summertime now, and that means that the road construction season is in full swing. During the road construction season, I find myself spending a lot of time looking for something that isn’t there. What I mean is that I spend a lot of time looking for short cuts, looking for ways to avoid the construction, and often times, those short cuts just aren’t there. Way up ahead, I see the brake lights turning on, I see the orange barrels, the yellow flashing lights, and so I quickly get out my map. “Maybe there’s a quicker way,” I say to myself. But often, the shortcuts that I take are dead ends. Often, I end up back where I started.
I believe that this is how it is when people are looking for a way to get to heaven, looking for a way to be right with God. The Bible calls that “righteousness.” “Righteousness” means that you are right with God, that you are going to heaven for sure – that’s righteousness. Many people are looking for righteousness in their lives. But they’re running into all kinds of road construction – all kinds of barriers and dead ends. “How do I find righteousness?” people wonder. “How do I get to heaven? How do I make myself right with God?”
There are different roads that people try to follow. This morning, we will call them “law-roads.” A “law-road” is a road that appeals to our natural law, our natural sense of right and wrong: “Maybe if I turn onto the ‘be a good person’ road,” you say. And so you go down the “be a good person” road for awhile. It starts out smooth and wide, but pretty soon the barrels start appearing, the yellow flashing lights. And then you end up at a dead end, and you wonder why. This “be a good person” road seemed like the logical road to heaven. But it doesn’t get you there – there’s no righteousness on this law road.
And so you turn off the road, and you find another road. You see a law-road marked “be a good family person,” and you think to yourself, maybe that’s the road to heaven. Remember, it’s a law road - it appeals to your natural sense of law, your natural sense of right and wrong. You travel on this road for awhile, spending a lot of time on family things, which is good. But there’s no turn-off to get to heaven. You keep driving and driving, and then you see the barrels again, and that’s when you realize that this isn’t the road to heaven either. It isn’t the road to righteousness.
Then you see the “work hard at your job” road. That seems like the way to go. It’s a law road – it appeals to your natural law. You travel down this road - you work hard at your job, which is good. The traffic is running very fast. It feels very comfortable. It seems like you’ve finally found the right road. But once again, there’s no turnoff to get to heaven, and then the flashing lights appear again, and you know that this isn’t it.
Where exactly is the road to righteousness? Where exactly is the road to heaven? How do you get there? So many dead ends! Finally, you stop and ask for directions – you know by now that most people don’t have a clue – most people are aimlessly driving down one of those roads you had been on before. But then you meet God, and you ask God, “Which road is the road to righteousness? Which road is the road to heaven? I’m lost!” And God says to you, “It’s a road you’ve never been on before. It’s a new road, a road that’s not manmade, a road that I built:” “But now, a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.”
There’s one key phrase in that passage – do you see it – a righteousness from God, APART FROM LAW. There’s another kind of road that does lead to heaven, and that road is different from all those other law roads – the “be a good person” approach, the “be a family man” approach, the “be a career man” approach – apart from all those other roads, there’s a new road that’s different from all the rest. A new way which has been made known through the law and prophets, in other words, through the Bible.
“What is that road?” you ask. And God says to you, “This righteousness comes from God, through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” It’s the “faith in Jesus Christ” road. That’s the road to righteousness. That’s the road to heaven.
What exactly does that mean – faith in Jesus Christ? Faith is two things. Faith is, first of all, giving up. In other words, you give up trying to earn your way to heaven by being a good person, a good family man, a good worker. Those are all good things to do, and we do them. But you give up trying to earn your way to heaven by doing those things. Faith is, first of all, giving up. Faith is, second of all, completely trusting in Christ to earn your way to heaven for you. That’s faith. And it has to be that way.
“But why?” you ask God. “Why don’t those other roads work?” God answers you in verse 23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” No matter how hard you try be a perfect person, you still fall short of what God wants you to be. You can never be the perfect family man, the perfect worker. All have sinned, and fall short. When I see that passage I think of the bridge that collapsed in Oklahoma this past week. The bridge was hit by a barge, the interstate collapsed into the water, and people drove into the river and to their death.
That’s how it is with all those other roads to heaven. You think everything is alright. But then you turn the corner, and it’s too late – the bridge to heaven is gone, and you drive into the water. Just as that bridge in Oklahoma was destroyed by that barge, so also the bridge to heaven has been destroyed by sin. It’s gone. And so you have people trying to earn their way to heaven all their lives. At the end of their lives they die, they turn the corner, and they see that the bridge is out, it isn’t there, and they plunge into hell. All those different roads that seem good are dead ends.
Except one road, and that road is the “faith in Jesus Christ” road. There is a new road that God has built, a new bridge between himself and you. Look at how God built that bridge: You “are justified freely through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” The word “redemption” contains the idea of someone buying your freedom. Imagine being thrown in jail because you have piled up hundreds of speeding tickets and parking tickets. You’ll probably be in jail for a long long time, because of all the fines you can’t afford to pay. But then someone shows up and pays all of your fines for you, out of his own pocketbook. You’re released from jail – that’s redemption.
That’s what Jesus does for you. In the eyes of God, you have all kinds of fines piled up against you. Every time you sin, you have to spend an eternity in hell – that’s the fine. You’ve sinned millions of times – there’s no way you can pay off the fine. But Jesus Christ comes into the picture, and he pays the fine for you – he sets you free.
But how, you ask. How does Jesus do that? Look at the next verse – “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood.” Jesus shed his blood on the cross, and that was a sacrifice of atonement. Atonement means that God no longer plans to fine you, to punish you for your sins. Now, you and God are at peace, because Jesus paid that fine for you. He did that by dying on the cross, shedding his blood, and that sacrifice was enough to pay off that huge debt of sin you owe to God. Atonement means that nothing stands between you and God, that there is no broken bridge. The sin is gone, and that bridge has been mended by the blood of Jesus Christ.
So how does a person get to heaven? What is the road to righteousness? The road to righteousness is depending on Jesus and his sacrifice, instead of yourself, and your own goodness. The Bible calls that faith.
Imagine being lost in Gary, Indiana, at night. The road construction detours forced you off the highway, and you have become confused, and now, you are so lost, you’ll never find your way home unless someone helps you. Then someone walks up to your car, a total stranger, and he tells you that he will show you the way. “Move over,” he says, “let me drive. “Trust me,” he says, “and I’ll show you the way.” Would you do that? Probably not – you’d probably drive away as fast as possible, which would be the smart move.
But that’s how it is when it comes to finding the road to heaven. Because of your sins, you are completely lost in this world, so lost that you could never find the road to heaven by yourself. But then Jesus Christ comes up to you, and says to you, “Let me show you the way. Move over, and let me drive. Trust me, and I’ll take you to heaven.” Will you let him? If you do, that’s faith.
Jesus gets into the driver’s seat, and starts driving in a direction that you’ve never been before. You drive by all the roads that you’ve tried before, the “be a good person” road, the “be a family man” road, the “be a good worker at your job” road.
“What about those roads,” you say to Jesus. And Jesus says to you, “Those are all good roads. I want you to drive on those roads. But don’t think that those roads will lead you to heaven. If you want to get to heaven, this is the way…”
And then you look up, and you see a very scary sight – you see the driver of your car, Jesus Christ, hanging on a cross, suffering. You actually see all of your sins being placed on top of Jesus, which causes him to suffer even more. You can hardly stand to look, but you do. And then, farther down the road, you see that this same Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. You see that your sins are no longer on top of him, but are now completely gone. And then, you see that you’ve reached your final destination, you’ve reached heaven. You’ve made it to righteousness. You realize that this is how you are saved, this is the road to righteousness – trusting in Jesus, and his sacrifice for your sins.
Our reading ends: “Where then is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” Faith in Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection, that’s the road to heaven. That’s why we don’t boast about our own good works – those good works don’t get us to heaven – only faith in Jesus Christ does.
Here’s what some of our newer members have said, when they realized that this was the way to heaven:
“I felt an incredible sense of relief.”
“I feel like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”
“Now I know where I’m going in life, and what happens when I pass on to the next life.”
“I finally get it.”
As you see all those construction barrels this summer, all those flashing lights, all those dead ends, remember this: the road to heaven stands wide open before you. It has been constructed by Jesus Christ himself. There are no dead ends on that road. Jesus Christ has taken all of our sins away – all the obstacles our gone. May God bless you as you walk that road, the only road that leads to heaven. Amen.