Summary: This message is from my expository series through the book of Romans.
“The Divine Conjunction”
October 19, 2008
Ah, the joys of a 13-year-old daughter! She had me at “hello”, on that cold February morning when she awakened her mom 22 days earlier than the doctor said she was supposed to, announcing that she was ready to make her debut in the world. I tell people that she just couldn’t wait to meet her dad. She’s had me wrapped around her little finger pretty much ever since. Now, she’s developed a little way of getting around just about anything; here’s how it works. I’ll call attention to something she has failed to do, like clean up her room, or clear the dinner table, or what-have-you, and she’ll respond by looking deep into my eyes and saying, “but I love you!” As if that makes up for it! Of course, sometimes it works…I’ll refer you to the “wrapped around her little finger” comment I made earlier…
“But”…a little word with great power. I decided to look up its meaning on Dictionary.com, and I was surprised that that little word had so many different shades of meaning:
• “on the contrary”
• “without the circumstance that”
• “otherwise than”
• “that not”
• As an exclamatory expression – “but I love you!”
• One little word…so many meanings!
The meaning for the Christian, though, is literally life-changing, this little word “but”, the “divine conjunction”, leading us from the darkness and death of sin to a life lived in the freedom God intends!
Last week, we talked about the fact that the predominant theological issue of Paul’s day, among pious Jews, was the question of God’s righteousness. What did that mean? That God’s righteousness was tied to His faithfulness was not at issue, but many Jews believed that they themselves were the first object of His faithfulness, and that nothing in Heaven or earth would cause God to allow a single Jew to face eternal judgment. Paul takes a different position, though; God’s faithfulness is first to His own character and nature. Today, Paul expands upon that theme of “the righteousness of God”. Further, the words “just” and “justify” are here as well, and the interesting thing is that in the Greek, all of those words come from the same root. This is a theme that we’ll explore for some time. So you know, we’re going to be “camping out” in this passage for several weeks; there is much to unpack!
Leon Morris calls today’s passage “possibly the most important single paragraph ever written”. Luther called it “the chief point, and the very central place of the Epistle, and of the whole Bible.” Paul here is picking up the theme that he began, before a two-chapter parenthesis on the sinfulness of man. Note the parallel between 1:17 and 3:21:
“For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (1:17)
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it…” (3:21)
“But now…” – Paul begins here to offer us the hope that we need. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel, the dawn after a long night, the bright sunshine after the perfect storm. We’ve turned a corner in the argument. Paul has talked about the unrighteousness of men, and about the self-righteousness of some; now, he talks about the real righteousness that of God, seen in His character and His actions in taking the initiative to save us from sin. Note first that
I. God’s righteousness does not come through His law
This righteousness of God is seen totally apart from anything you or I can do to keep God’s law or follow rules of good, clean, moral living. Those things have categorically nothing to do with it. There are no qualifications, no laws or rules, no measuring up to specs, no self-improvement schemes. In the early church, there were people known as Judaizers; these folks tried to make Gentiles become Jews prior to becoming full-fledged Christians. And so they tried to add circumcision and Sabbath-keeping and all sorts of Jewish rules and regulations to the equation. They added do-it-yourself baggage, and that’s why Paul wrote the book of Galatians, to say that there are no good works we can add on our own to merit our salvation, to achieve the righteousness of God by our effort. “Wait a minute: you mean I can find the righteousness of God without doing one single thing to clean up my act in any way, shape, or form? Is that what you mean to tell me?” Let me be clear: that is precisely what I mean to tell you! 2nd,