Summary: None of us can earn God’s favour,because none of us is righteous, but he gives us righteousness, unearned and unmerited as a gift through the death and resurrectin of Jesus Christ.
Can I just say how much I love baptisms. It’s great to be able to share the joy of parents and family and friends as they welcome a new person into the world and especially as we welcome that new person into the life of God’s Church. And it’s perhaps fitting that today we’re looking at a passage that explains the basis on which we can indeed welcome a little child like Claudia into God’s family and say with confidence that God has called her into his Church, that he’s brought her out of darkness into his marvellous light. For those who are visitors today we’ve been going through the letter to the Romans over the past few weeks and today we come to 3:9-21.
What we’ve discovered so far in the first few chapters of Romans is that the great need, the great longing of people throughout history has been to know that they’re right with God. There’s an awareness in all of us, if we’re honest with ourselves, of how far we fall short of God’s standards. And it doesn’t matter where we come from. As we’ve discovered over the last couple of weeks, those who are outside the people of God, who don’t have the written law to guide them, show that they have a form of God’s law written on their hearts every time they experience guilt or a bad conscience for doing something they seem to know innately is wrong. And yet they’re unable to consistently do the right thing. And we spoke last week of how even those who do have the written law of God to guide them, Jews and Christians alike, are unable to keep that law.
Of course, Paul says, the Jews do have an advantage as the custodians of the very words of God. Yet even that doesn’t help them. As he says here in v9 "Are we any better off? No, not at all; for we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin."
Now this isn’t a new discovery of Paul’s. He hasn’t just worked this out. He’s actually learnt it by reading his Old Testament. So he brings out a whole series of quotations from the Old Testament, especially the Psalms: Ps 14; Ps 53; Eccles 7; Ps 5, Ps 140; Ps 10; Is 59; Ps 36. It’s an amazing list of comments about the evil we find in human nature. Now I don’t think he quotes all these passages just to get us depressed about human nature. We’re certainly not meant to read them as though every human being does all these sorts of things. I have a feeling that that’s how some people have read them in the past. As saying that there’s nothing of any worth in human nature. That the fall has totally destroyed anything good. I don’t believe that that’s Paul’s or God’s intention here at all. We’ll see in a moment what he wants us to understand from all these quotes. But I think it’s important before we go further that we be reminded of the fact that every human being on this earth is a person made in the image of God. So every one of us has a value that can’t be calculated and mustn’t be underestimated. And it certainly shouldn’t be downplayed through an overemphasis on our failure to live like creatures made in God’s image.
But having said that, we also mustn’t try to deny that failure. We mustn’t think that because we’re made in God’s image everything’s just fine. You see, our culture has a strong propensity for excusing or explaining away sinfulness in people. There’s an interesting movie around, called ’15 Minutes’. It’s about a pair of communist bloc criminals who come to America looking for an accomplice who’s run off with their loot. They discover that he’s spent the money, so in their rage they kill him and then go into hiding. As they’re laying low, they pass the time watching daytime television. And of course what they see is talk shows like Oprah and Roseanne and Jerry Springer. They watch as a parade of wrongdoers confess their infidelities to their spouses and then explain it away by the way they’ve been treated or brought up; by passing on the blame to someone else. And in the end the spouse accepts their explanation and everything’s OK again. Then they see a murderer get off because he pleads insanity. And not only that, but he’s paid millions for his story and the movie rights. So these 2 guys decide if that’s how America sees evil, they might as well go on a crime spree, killing anyone who gets in their way, knowing that when they get caught they’ll just have to plead insanity and they’ll get off.