A Righteousness from God
Opening Text : Rom.1:16-
Text : Rom.3 :21-
The word "gospel" is well-
We should instantly realise that this is an important question. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome, has a great deal to say about this gospel. Right at the very outset he described himself as having been set apart for the gospel and just a few verses later declared that he wasn’t ashamed of it either which was simply another way of saying that he was really proud of the gospel and he wasn’t going to keep quiet about it!
What was it about the gospel that so enthused Paul that he should dedicate his entire life to its service and promotion? What is it about the gospel that continues to stir countless thousands of believers around the world since then to consider everything else by comparison as something rotten, something to be got rid of as soon as possible?
Well this evening we will try to consider at least part of the answer to these questions by considering what Paul in Rom.3:21-
"But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus"
There are five things to I which I want to draw your attention as we think about these words:
It is God’s gospel and it reveals God’s righteousness
The benefits of the gospel are to be received by faith
The gospel is for all kinds of people
The gospel is a free gift – it is all of grace
The gospel focuses centrally upon our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ
Why do we need the gospel anyway?
Paul begins his letter to the Romans with his greetings and then quickly moves on to explain his purpose in writing. He hadn’t yet preached the gospel in Rome – though he still hoped to be able to do so – it was a message of which he was so proud because it dealt with the biggest problem imaginable that confronts us as human beings, namely God himself and in particular his wrath!
In the beginning God had made man in his image. This was so that men and women might have a genuine relationship with their Creator and reflect his magnificent qualities as they did so. However Adam and Eve did not value this and turned away from him – and the rest of us have simply followed in their footsteps ever since. In turning from God we’ve not made things better for ourselves but infinitely worse as all the various horrors of sin manifest themselves in inter-
The worst result of our turning from God and becoming both ungodly and unrighteous is that God is angry about it and from heaven has revealed his wrath against us. Left to our own devices all would be lost for us as we can do nothing to overcome our ungodliness. If we are to escape the wrath of God we stand in need of a righteousness that is way beyond our fallen capabilities. Were we to turn over a new leaf every day it still wouldn’t be enough, it wouldn’t even begin to deal with the flaw at the very heart of our being and that flaw is called sin.
Did you know that the reason why you commit sin is because you are by nature a sinner? You don’t become a sinner by committing sins but you sin because sin is the natural outworking of your sinful nature. And so we need a radical solution – merely treating the symptoms will never make the disease go away.
Now if sin were merely a sickness of some kind we might perhaps be tempted to think that it was no big deal. After all God surely wouldn’t hold us morally responsible simply for being ill, would he? But we can’t airbrush our sin problem away like this. The bottom line is that we don’t really care much about God, his laws or his honour and God does hold us accountable for that.
Now, in case anyone would want to argue that surely things aren’t as bleak as that Paul went on for the next two and a half chapters to show that every type of person was in just the same boat. It doesn’t matter whether you are a religious person or nonreligious, it doesn’t matter what colour your skin is, what your gender is or what your status in society is – the bottom line is the same for all of us, we are sinners who will have one day to give an account to God for the way in which we have used the life he gave us.
Paul summed up those two and a half chapters by saying that "the whole world (will) be held accountable to God" and then added that "by works of the law no human being will be justified in (God’s) sight." (Rom.3:19+20)
This teaching was not something that Paul made up. Centuries earlier King David had reflected on the question: "Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?" and the answer he came up with was "He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully." (Cf. Ps.24) But who is able to do that? Isaiah the prophet would later describe even the very best of our actions as being like a polluted garment, as filthy rags – do you think God will be pleased with that?
If we are to please God and pass his judgment then we must possess the nature and the qualities he requires. This can be summed up as "righteousness" and it is the very thing we do not have! Oh yes, we might be better than some people we know and not as bad as others but measured against God’s plumb-
Against the darkest of skies the stars shine the brightest! And that is just what the gospel does! It comes and offers us the solution to our predicament.
A big problem needs a big solution and that is exactly what we find in the gospel because as Paul had already written in the opening lines of this letter it is God’s gospel. If it originates with him we can be sure that it will be up to the task.
Did you notice how our text began? It began with two small words: "But now..." – in times past the gospel was only known as some promised blessing that was yet to come or through the dim imagery of the types and shadows of OT law and OT religious ritual. The law and the prophets had spoken about the gospel that was to come for God had planned this all along. No, Paul was not dreaming up any new-
"But now..." if we would understand to what Paul is referring we must go back in our mind’s eye to what had taken place in the land of Israel not many years before. There we will see the recent incarnation of the Lord Jesus, there we will discover his ministry of preaching and healing, there too we will contemplate his rejection, his suffering and his death at the hands of wicked men, there wonderfully we will learn of his subsequent glorious resurrection from the dead and his ascension to the place of honour at his Father’s right hand in heaven.
By means of this gospel God has provided everything that we stand in need of.
Do we need a righteousness because as sinful rebels we have none of our own? Then know that in this gospel he offers us the righteousness which he has prepared and provided – he offers us the very righteousness of God – and that is a righteousness that fully matches up to his standards and meet all his requirements for he has designed it to do just that!
Martin Luther struggled with the idea that the righteousness of God could belong to the gospel and so be good news. The reason was that for some time Luther misunderstood what Paul was talking about. When Luther heard the words "the righteousness of God" his mind turned immediately to think about God’s justice and impartiality as a righteous judge and Luther knowing his condition as a sinner feared the judgment of such a God.
Now God is a just and a righteous God but that was not the truth that Paul was making known as he wrote about the gospel of God and the day would come when Luther did come to understand.
The righteousness of God that was revealed in the gospel had nothing to do with men’s law-
It is God’s gospel and it offers us God’s righteousness for us to wear as a cloak or as a new suit of clothes. I wonder if you remember the parable Jesus told about a wedding feast that had been prepared and to which the guests had been invited. The story is found in Mt.22. The first people to be invited to that feast came up with a variety of lame excuses and so others were invited in their place. One who accepted the invitation was subsequently thrown out because he wasn’t wearing the appropriate wedding garment. We should think of God’s righteousness that is offered to us in the gospel as something like that wedding garment – with it we’ll be safe and secure, without it and we’re in big trouble!
It is one thing to know that we have a need and another to know that there is a solution to that need. But unless we also know the terms by which we may receive what we need we’ll be no better off and we’ll still be left alone with our problems.
Firstly we need not only to understand what the gospel is saying to us but we must also agree that what it says to us is true. Only then will we be concerned to receive what is held out to us and receive it we must if we are to be saved and enjoy friendship with God. So how do the benefits spoken of in the gospel become our own?
The natural bent of the fallen human heart is to imagine that we have to work our own way to heaven and we flatter ourselves by imagining that all we need is to hear what we must do for we love to think that we have it in us to do just that if only we set our minds to it. The gospel of the righteousness of God is not brought to us that way however.
The gospel is to be received by faith – we are not to put our trust in our own ability to work our way to heaven but we are to put our trust in what God has planned for us and accomplished on our behalf.
Paul put it clearly in v.22:
"the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe."
This principle of faith is repeatedly taught in the Bible. Way back in the Book of Genesis we are told that Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. If you looked at the context of that you’ll see that it is all to do with God making a promise and giving it to Abraham who responds by believing God a. to be telling the truth and b. capable of keeping his promise. Later in the NT the Book of Hebrews contains it Hall of Fame chapter 11 which celebrates the faith which was exercised by a host of different men and women in the OT. That chapter ends with the statement that none of these fully received what was promised to them because God was preparing something even better still, but this something which would be delayed until the NT era arrived with its "but now..." and the author of that letter went on to point his readers to "Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith." (Heb.12:2).
How simple it is but how difficult proud men and women find it to be! We want to be able to play some little part in our own salvation and we’ll only be happy when we can see some contribution and say "I did that". But God will have none of it! Not only are we incapable of doing the least spiritual good imaginable if we were then we would not honour God but puff ourselves up further pointing out to whoever would listen "I did it my way!"
And my friends it is the same for everyone – if any will come and benefit then he or she must come and receive by faith or he/she will never receive anything at all.
The Gospel is for all types of people
I wonder what kind of person you think you are. You may consider yourself to be outgoing, the life and soul of the party type or, on the other have you may be shy and reserved and never ever prepared to say boo to a goose. You may be full of self-
Well, I’ve news for you – this gospel of God is just right for you! It truly is a one-
If you’re typically proud you must let go of all the pride in you that says you have to do something for your own salvation and trust in what God has done on your behalf.
If you’re typically a depressive or negative type of character who thinks this is fine for everyone else but not for you – you too must give up on your inverted pride that tells you you’re too bad for God and you too must simply trust him.
None of us needs God to come alongside and help us but we all need him to draw near and save us from A to Z.
You may have been religious all your life but if you would be saved then you must trust God and receive what he offers.
You may never have been religious at all – this may be your very first time in a religious meeting – you too must trust God and receive what he offers you.
The only people who will inhabit heaven will be those who have put their faith and trust in God and received the righteousness of God into their own lives through faith in Jesus Christ. If you would be a citizen of heaven then there will be no exception made for you – you come this way or you do not come at all.
But do you see how wonderful this all is? The alternative is awful – what chance would I have of running a four minute mile if that was given as the criterion of being saved? When I was young and fit I couldn’t do that – no chance now! And any exploit would be beyond us how ever hard we might try! If you don’t want to be shut out of heaven then rejoice that God has done what needs to be done for all those who will receive his grace.
Yes, it really is! And it’s not the kind of "free gift" that we’re sometimes caught out by through the post or on the internet. You don’t get a free trial period after which your credit card starts to pick up the tabs.
God’s righteousness leading to God’s salvation is free, free, free!
Oh, that doesn’t mean it’s cheap – a tremendous price has been paid but it is a price that another has paid on our behalf and he won’t come looking for repayment afterwards.
Don’t get me wrong. There is a price to pay if we decide to become Christians and to follow Jesus Christ and we should think seriously about whether or not we are ready to meet it. You could never pay for this salvation – so praise God it’s free – but you may find in following Christ that your friends don’t like it, that your family doesn’t like it or that your employer doesn’t like it and it’s not easy in such circumstances.
In some countries it is exceedingly dangerous today even to think about becoming a Christian let alone finding a Bible and becoming a true follower. In North Korea to receive this free gift of God could mean loss of everything that this world holds dear – but the North Korean believer can never turn round and say to God "I bought my salvation". The reason is clear and has already been clearly expressed in the pages of the NT. When Jesus original followers were beaten by the religious leaders of their day because of their loyalty to Jesus Christ they considered it amazing that God had esteemed them worthy to suffer for the Name!
The righteousness that you need is there, it has been fully prepared and you can have it today as you trust and receive what God freely offers you – will you humbly take it?
It centres on Jesus Christ
I fear our time has long gone but I must go on to speak of this.
The righteousness that God has prepared and provided for us he has done so through the life and ministry of his Son our Saviour Jesus Christ. God’s righteousness becomes ours as we put our faith in Jesus Christ – indeed he is our righteousness.
Are you are believer? Do you realise at the judgment when God calls you to stand before he will see all the worthiness, all the beauty, all the righteousness of Jesus written down to your account! What a glorious exchange – your sin lifted and placed on Jesus’ shoulders and his righteousness credited to you!
How is it possible?
Jesus Christ came into the world sinners and the only way he could do so was by fully satisfying the righteous claims of Almighty God. God could not wink at sin and pretend it wasn’t there. He couldn’t just put it to one side and simply ignore it. For the sinner to be forgiven the sin, that awful offence of godlessness and unrighteousness which called forth the wrath of God, had to be judged condemned and expunged. And so Jesus went all the way to Calvary to do just that. Without the sacrificial substitutionary death of Jesus Christ there would be no forgiveness of sins and no-
But ah my friends he did come and he did die and his sacrifice was accepted and he was raised from the dead and he is offered to us as the Saviour we need. Everything passes by him. With him we are not merely forgiven our sins – that would mean the work was only half done – with him we are attributed the status of being right with God.
Rejoice Christian in so great a salvation and if you are not a Christian behold the righteousness of God is offered to you in Jesus Christ call out to him today for today is the day of salvation.
And to God be the glory.