Changing Times, Changeless God: Faith Not Works
Pastor Russell Scoggins
Sermon Date: 9/22/2019
Bible Reference: Romans 3:10-12; 19-31
10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
I want to tell you the story of a man I know. This man had a family. He had a wife and kids. The extended relatives of this man and his family were sincere and regular churchgoers. However, this man was not, therefore, his family did not regularly attend church either. He was a nominal Christian—a Christian by name but not by his way of living. This man had his struggles. He was not a good father. He did not treat his wife very well. His kids watched this all. They were raised in this environment. They did not see him model the life of a Christian. They saw how poorly he treated their mother. That will forever be their mental picture of him.
Eventually, as unhealthy marriages tend to do, there was a falling out. This man and his wife got a divorce. He left his family and kids behind. His family has moved on. His wife works. His kids are grown—they have jobs and lives of their own. This man, off on his own, eventually met another woman. This woman he met was a strong Christian. Such a strong Christian, that a Christian faith and life was a prerequisite for a serious relationship. So, this man got serious about church. He is still serious about church. He and this woman he met got married, and they are still in church to this day. This man now has a strong Christian faith. He did a complete turnaround—a complete 180.
As you might guess, this man’s past actions bother him. He knows he’s a forgiven child of God, but he can't help but feel bad about how he wounded his first family. On a few occasions, he has tried to reach out to his kids to apologize. He’s tried to tell them that he was sorry, and that he is truly repentant of his actions. He’s tried to tell them how God changed his life. He’s tried to tell them the importance of knowing God. So now let me ask you—feel free to answer yes or no: do you think this man’s kids were receptive to his apology and his witness to God’s grace? No. They weren’t. The fact that several of you gave me the right answer tells me that as heartbreaking as a scenario like that is, you understand it on some level. Even if it’s in a small way, you can put yourself in the shoes of his kids, and you can understand why they would be reluctant to forgive him—why they would be reluctant to accept his apology.
Why is that? Why can we understand his kids reluctance to forgive him? Might it be this?: As humans, we have a tendency to make forgiveness more complicated than God makes it. We know that in theory, it’s pretty simple. We know that because we have been instructed in God’s Word. We know it because we speak about sin and grace every Sunday in this part of the service. We even know that forgiveness is simple because of how we lay out our services. Just this morning, we all gathered, and towards the start of our service, we used words from Romans 6 to remind us that we are sinful and we deserve death. After that, we went to the Lord and confessed our sins. Then, I turned around and—once again using Romans 6—reminded you that we are forgiven—I’m forgiven & you’re forgiven. I announced the grace of God to you.
But now…. What if, as we confessed our sins to God and received his forgiveness, what if THAT person had been sitting next to you? THAT person is different for each of us. For some of us, THAT person is like the man I mentioned in opening. Maybe THAT person is someone who wounded you. Maybe it’s someone who hurt you. Maybe it’s someone who hurt a loved one. Maybe it’s someone who betrayed you. Maybe it’s someone who played a role in some kind of tragic accident. How would you feel if that person you struggle to forgive was sitting next to you this morning? How would you feel if, as I was announcing God’s forgiveness to all of us, I caught THAT person’s gaze and said, “You are forgiven for every sin?” So often, when it comes to the simplicity of forgiveness in our own lives, we embrace it… but we are hesitant to embrace the simplicity of forgiveness for those who have wounded us most deeply. Side note: just because you forgive someone doesn’t mean the trust has been rebuilt—but that’s another topic. Today we’re talking about the simplicity of forgiveness.
So, let’s see what Romans 3 has to say about the simplicity of salvation and forgiveness. Just to bring us up to speed, let’s remember where we were last week. Last week, we considered how Paul spent a chapter and a half leveling the playing field. All of us are sinners. If you’re a sinner who outright rejects God, you deserve eternal wrath and punishment. If you’re a sinner who thinks that your upright and moral life makes you better than others, you deserve God’s eternal wrath and punishment. That section from Paul was meant to be humbling. It reminds me of the classic younger brother/older brother scenario from the parable of the prodigal son. When we stand before God’s law, each of us has to admit that we go through periods of living like both the younger brother and the older brother. Sometimes, like that younger brother, we run from God and his commands. We do what we feel like doing and we pay little attention to what God says. At other times, we live like the older brother. We convince ourselves that our good and moral life makes us better than others… and if all the sinners out there are going to get a piece of God’s forgiveness, then they’re going to need to prove themselves like I’ve been doing all my life! Last week Paul leveled the playing field.
Paul’s words didn’t seem very hopeful. As you’re going through that chapter and a half you can't help but start wondering, “Well then who can possibly be saved?” Then, right as you’re starting to feel crummy, Paul brings back the beautiful truth that dominates the first several chapters of Romans. He says, “hold on, there’s a third type of sinner—the sinner who has had a circumcision of the heart. The sinner who has faith in God and relies on his grace.”
And that’s what he is going to speak about more in chapter 3. I’ll reread 10-12 & 19-20, “10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. 19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” It’s another “level the playing field” type statement from Paul.
I mentioned a couple weeks ago that one of the beneficial things that comes from doing a sermon series on a book of the Bible is that we can get a feel for the flow of the book. This is a good opportunity to speak about that just briefly. Paul often writes in a circular manner. It’s especially apparent in his longer letters in the New Testament. Today, when we write, we tend to go from point A to point B. And Paul is going from point A to point B—but just not in the way we do. Paul goes in circles as he goes from point A to point B. In chapter 1:16-17, Paul states a truth, he says that righteousness and salvation comes from God. Then he speaks about sin for a chapter and a half. Then at the end of chapter 2 he again mentions that truth in different words: salvation comes from outside of you—it’s not based on your actions. Now here we are in the opening of chapter 3 and Paul again speaks about sin. He speaks about how no one can be on good terms with God on the basis of their works and actions. “Everyone is equal. Everyone is sinful. No one is on good terms with God. If you live as though the law is your means to salvation, then you will be judged on the basis of God’s full and perfect law.” Now in verses 21-31, Paul is going to finally elaborate on this gospel truth that he has been teasing us with. So see, Paul does go from point A to point B, but he goes about it in a circular way. When you go through a book in a sermon series, or when you sit down and read several chapters of a book of the Bible at home, you start to get a feel for the flow of the author.
Paul states it again: “There is no one who is righteous. Everyone has turned away. Everyone has done evil. And you can't earn your salvation by trusting in the law.” That’s not to say the law is useless… he says through the law we become conscious of sin. That’s a new thread that Paul is introducing. He’s going to circle back to it in Chapter 6 & 7… so we’ll save that for later in the series. Today we’ll stick with Paul’s main point in chapter 3.
“21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.” Paul is saying, “Don’t throw the law out… just put it on the shelf for a minute so that we can get a few things straight. God’s law has a correct use in our lives, but when we’re talking about the matter of you being on good terms with God, the law has no place in the discussion. Righteousness—being right with God—comes from God’s actions, not yours.
“22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Let’s take verse 23 first. No matter how hard you try to be a good person, it’s not good enough in God’s eyes. That’s a humbling statement. It suggests that in God’s eyes, each of us are just as sinful. Each of us are just as deserving of God’s wrath and punishment. The following is a fairly known picture, but it’s good to bring it out every now and then for the purpose of explaining this concept. Imagine you and the rest of humanity are standing at the edge of a canyon. You can see the other side. Standing on the other side of the canyon is God. Let’s say the canyon is 100 feet wide. The fact is, no matter how hard you try, you will not be able to jump to the other side of the canyon. Mike Powell has the world record for the long jump and he can jump 30 feet. It’s still not good enough. Each of us can give it our best shot to reach God, but the fact is, every single person on this earth is going to go splat at the bottom—sorry, a little graphic (I know). It doesn't matter if you’re the world record long jumper Mike Powell, you’re going to miss and go splat at the bottom. If you’re a criminal who has a record, you’re going to go splat at the bottom. If you’re somebody whose life is squeaky clean… doesn’t matter, you’re going to go splat at the bottom. It would be absolutely ridiculous to get to the bottom of the canyon, go splat then look around and say, “yeah, alright, at least I made it further than that guy over there.” That’s foolish. You’re still dead. None of us get to boast. Ultimately, none of us do better than another in God’s eyes. None of us succeeded—we all of us fell short of the glory of God. All of us fall short of God’s favor.
And that’s where verses 22 & 24 come in. Christ is the bridge over the canyon. God lays out the path to him, namely Christ, and then he calls us to himself. “Righteousness is given through faith in Christ. All are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came from Christ Jesus.” We’re going to talk about this more on Reformation Sunday when we look at Romans 10, but I want to mention it briefly here since Paul does. You want to talk about motivation to tell others about Jesus, part of that motivation is found right here. Verse 24 says, “ALL are justified freely by his grace.” Did you catch that? All are justified. On the cross, Jesus paid for the sin of everyone—not just those who believe in him. This is what scholars call objective justification, meaning, the sin of every single person you pass on the street has been paid for. That’s why you can be certain that YOUR sins have been paid for—because Jesus paid for ALL sin, not just the sin of a few select individuals. But… the benefit of Christ’s work on the cross must come to each individual personally through faith. This is what scholars call subjective justification. “Righteousness is given through faith in Christ.” Even though the sins of every individual have been forgiven, the benefit of that forgiveness only comes to us through faith.
Forgiveness and salvation are just that simple. God didn’t make you earn it—that would have been an impossible task. God doesn’t make anyone else earn it. It’s a gift that comes to us through faith. It’s a gift that comes to all through faith: your family, your friends, your enemies—each and every individual. Embrace it. Cherish it. Live it. Share it. Amen? Amen.