Title: The Righteousness of God
Text: Romans 3.21-26
Introduction: I want to talk to you this morning about the Gospel. My concern in simply preaching and recording this message is that the lost person cannot possibly grasp the simplicity of this good news. 2 Cor. 2.14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Without an intervention by the Spirit of God, the Gospel is foolishness (folly, child’s play). I cannot intellectually persuade someone to come to Christ. Sure, there is an intellectual part to it, but without the Spirit of God interceding on the part of the individual – it remains a foolish concept. It is a message that is spiritually discerned.
Within the context of this passage, Paul has been declaring to both the Jews and the Gentiles that their works of the law, whether out of knowledge or intuition, will never bring about righteousness. Oh, it might bring about a sense of righteousness. You know, kind of what you feel when you do good things: go to church, read your bible, you give money or gifts, etc. But, those things, those works of the law, as it were, will never make you righteous in God’s eyes.
That’s probably why this message is hard for the regular person. The regular person says to himself: I’m not that bad. I’m pretty good. I’m better than him/her/most people. And their measure of righteousness is based upon someone else or something else. And here’s the thing: you and I will always be able to find people we’re better than.
You and I will always find other people whom we consider bad. And that’s the problem. We’re trained from early on to measure ourselves by others. The problem with using others is that they, whoever they may be, no matter how good or bad they may seem, those people we measure ourselves by are inherently sinners, too.
That’s the whole message of Romans 1.18-3.20. Paul wants to preach the gospel because it reveals the righteousness of God and the sinfulness of man and how the two can only be reconciled by the work of God.
And this work is only effective with the intercession of God’s Holy Spirit. So, let’s pray for that now.
Transition: We pick up our text in Romans 3.21 where Paul makes a declaration about the Righteousness of God. If we go back to Romans 1.15-18 he says he wants to preach the Gospel because it has the power to save everyone. For in this Gospel is the Righteousness of God revealed. Now, in 3.21, he reaches the heart of the matter.
I. The Righteousness of God Declared: Declaration (21-22a)
exp.: let’s read that: rd 3.21-22a; Boom! That’s the Gospel! According to Thomas Schreiner: Most scholars rightly acknowledge this paragraph as the heart of the epistle. C.E.B. Cranfield says this section is the centre and heart of the main division to which it belongs. Cranfield, in his commentary on Romans, gives one of the most beautiful statements on the Righteousness of God manifested to us that I think I’ve ever read. Now, that’s a bold statement I know: Really, the most beautiful? Yes, and to quote him here is difficult. There are two problems with reading it to you. 1st, Cranfield is smarter than most human beings. When he writes a sentence, most people have to read it a few times, parse it and dissect it to get his meaning. 2ndly, he was British. So Cranfield didn’t talk Amurican. He spoke the Queen’s English. He died a couple of years ago a few months shy of his 100th Birthday.
Listen to Cranfield: the crucifixion, together with the resurrection and exaltation of the one who was crucified attests the fact that what we have to do with in the gift of righteousness, which, whereas forgiveness on cheaper terms would have meant God’s abandonment of his faithful love for man and the annihilation of man’s real dignity as his morally accountable creature, is altogether worthy of the righteous, loving, faithful God, who does not insult or mock his creature man by pretending that his sin does not matter, but rather himself bears the full cost of forgiving it righteously– lovingly.
I know that is a mouth full, but Cranfield has concisely – really in one sentence defined for us just how far God’s righteous act has gone.
- God’s Love: he could have at any moment along the way destroyed all of humanity and he would have been justified. But, God’s love for us is so great that he would not abandon us in our helpless state. …the fact that what we have to do with in the gift of righteousness… who does not insult or mock his creature man by pretending that his sin does not matter. When we measure ourselves by others, we declare that sin does not matter. But sin matters to God. But God’s love for us declares to us that sin does matter…that his righteousness is important to him.
- The Act of God’s Love: God declares his love through his action of sending his son, to live in the flesh – a perfect and sinless, unblemished life. And yet, it was the Lord’s will to crush him (Isaiah 53.10). When we comprehend the Lord’s Act of crushing his son, we then clearly perceive the weight of our sin and the great punishment our sin deserves. Why doesn’t God just forgive? Why does the penalty of death have to be carried out? Cranfield tells us it is because God’s Righteousness matters to Him, our sin is a big deal and he wants us to know it. If he simply declared us righteous without any punishment imposed, then sin wouldn’t really mean anything. But it does…
exp.: rd v 21: the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it. To be righteous before God required perfect attention to the law, which no man could ever do…that is, until Jesus did it. And because it did, things have changed: But now…
app.: Now, the righteousness of God, something truly inconceivable before, has been manifested (which is more than just revealed). It is brought to us and made available to us. But how? How did God love us through this act? And, another question: why? Why would God do all of this?
t.s.: This comes out in Paul’s explanation as presented in v22bf;
II. The Righteousness of God Explained: Explanation (22b-23)
exp.: rd 22b-23; I read these verses and another question comes to mind: what? What does he mean when he says no distinction? We know from many other passages, including our chapters 1, 2 and 3 to this point that God makes no distinction of persons. He shows no partiality or favoritism to anyone.
ill.: You and I are not that way. We try to be. We try to show each child of ours equal and fair partiality. But it doesn’t work. Sure, we love each child as much as we possibly can, but some children require more attention, more instruction, more discipline. You do this at work, with your neighbors, your students, at church. I’m thinking of how much I love you all. Do you believe me if I say there is none I favor more than you? Would you consider yourself my favorite church member? Would you consider someone else? I hope not. Henry, consider your class? Jason, Joshua, your classes? Do you have a favorite? Duffey, a favorite youth? Wait, before you answer: is there a person in your class or group you don’t get so excited about? Maybe the problem isn’t favoritism, but rather the negative way you feel about someone. That’s partiality.
But with God, there is no partiality, no favoritism, and no distinction. Everyone is classified the same. All are the same, on the same level, measured by the same standard. Consider what he says: all have sinned and fall short. Note:
- One Action, Two Results: All have sinned and fall short. At first glance you might consider these two separate actions. Everyone has sinned and, everyone has fallen short of God’s glory. But, I think they’re one and the same action. You might consider it one action with two results. The results are that we are sinners and that we’ve have fallen short of the Glory of God. You might consider fallen short that separation between God and man.
Well, by the one action of the man Adam, we all became sinners. (That is a simple statement with huge ramification.) We also find that by the one action of the man Jesus, we can all become righteous.
- All are made righteous: rd v 24; Do you see the word righteous and the word justified? They are the same root word; one is a noun (righteous) and the other is a verb (justify). Righteous is what God is and he makes us like him when he justifies us. And Paul answers our question of how when he says (v24) we are justified, we are made righteous by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
ill.: My kids are at an age where if they want something, they can buy it themselves. That makes it hard to buy Christmas gifts. If they can’t afford it, then I probably can’t either!
app.: Here is a gift you could never afford, but it is freely given to you. By God’s Amazing Grace, you and I, through our faith in Christ and his atoning sacrifice, can be justified, cleansed and forgiven. We are justified by the redemption that comes through Christ Jesus.
t.s.: but still, how? How are we justified, how are we made righteous? And that’s Paul’s third point…
III. The Righteousness of God Demonstrated: Demonstration (24-26)
exp.: How? Rd v 25a; God demonstrates his righteousness in one action with a dual purpose: God put forth His Son. Cranfield says this one action is three events wrapped up into one. His death – the shedding of his blood, the stopping of his heart, the ceasing of his breathing; His resurrection – that fact that his dead body was ‘quickened’ by the Spirit of God and brought back to life and third; his ascension – which I think relates to his glorification. These three movements of the same event are the one action I’m talking about.
But here is where, at least for me, things get tricky. The translation in western thought has the idea of ‘display’. And I believe the NASB says public display. To be sure, every translation from the King James on presents this action of God with the idea of public display. And yes, Christ was made a spectacle. He was very publicly humiliated and killed. To add to our confusion, much of scholarship over recent years has leaned heavily toward this meaning, which is why I think all of translations lean this way. But the earliest of scholars (Augustine, Origen, Chrysystom) they understood this word differently than a public display. Instead, they understood this word to mean purpose or plan.
This word appears two other times in the NT and both times it deals with idea of purpose or plan. One of those times is here in Romans and we saw it in 1.13: 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. The other time is also used by Paul in Ephesians 1.9: 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time…
Paul is saying that Christ’s atoning sacrifice isn’t something God used as a display, but rather it was his plan. He purposed in his heart, according to the counsel of his will, to put Christ to death as a payment for our sins. You could translate v 25 this way: 25 whom God purposed as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.
Paul isn’t saying that Christ was hung on a tree to show us how mad God was. And I think we look at it that way. It sounds that way in English. But, Paul is saying that Christ was hung on the Cross of Calvary because it was God’s plan and purpose from before time even began to satisfy the payment of sins through his death.
Yes, the wrath of God was on display as Jesus hung on the cross. And, Jesus hanging on the cross suffering an excruciating death displays the idea that sin matters to God. That is all true. But what I believe Paul is communicating to us is that God isn’t whimsical. God didn’t just explode his wrath upon Christ. God planned it all out and structured every step in the process so that we would comprehend just how much sin matters and what God’s Righteousness means to him.
There is so much more here and so I’d like to move to some closure for today and come back to this place next week and unpack this idea of Demonstration.
Chuck Swindloll, in his book, Improving your Serve, tells the story of a young man he calls Aaron. Aaron isn’t his real name, but just one that Swindoll uses.
Late one spring Aaron was praying about having a significant Ministry the following summer. He asked God for position open up on some church staff or Christian organization. But nothing happened. Summer arrived, and still nothing. Days turn into weeks and Aaron finally faced the reality–he needed any job he could find. He checked the want ads and the only thing that seem to be a possibility was driving a bus on the south side of Chicago.– Nothing to brag about, but it would help with tuition in the fall. After learning the route, he was on his own –a rookie driver in a dangerous section of the city. It wasn’t long before Aaron realized just how dangerous his job really was.
A small gang of tough kids spotted the young driver, and begin to take advantage of him. For several mornings in a row they got on, walked right past him without paying, ignored his warnings, and rode until they decided to get off… All the while making smart remarks to him and others on the bus. Finally, he decided it had gone on long enough.
The next morning, after the gang got on as usual, Aaron saw a police man on the corner, so he pulled over and reported the offense. The officer told them to pay or get off. The bus turned another corner to the gang assaulted the young driver.
When he came to, blood was all over his shirt, two teeth were missing, both eyes were swollen, his money was gone, and the bus was empty. After returning to the terminal and being given the weekend off, our friend went to his little apartment, sank onto his bed and stared at the ceiling in disbelief. Resentful thoughts swarmed his mind. Confusion, anger, and disillusionment added fuel to the fire of his physical pain. He spent a fitful night wrestling with the Lord.
How can this be? Where is God in all of this? I genuinely want to serve him. I prayed for ministry. I was willing to serve him anywhere, doing anything, and this is the thanks I get! On Monday morning Aaron decided to press charges. With the help of the officer who had encountered the gang and several others were willing to testify as witnesses against the thugs, most of them were rounded up and taken to the local County Jail. Within a few days there was a hearing before the judge.
In walked Aaron and his attorney plus the angry gang members who glared across the room in his direction. Suddenly he was ceased with a whole new series of thoughts. Not bitter ones, but compassionate ones! His heart went out to the guys who had attacked him. Under the Spirit’s control he no longer hated them– He pitied them. They needed help, not more hate. What could he do or say?
Suddenly, after there was a plea of guilty, Aaron (to the surprise of his attorney and everybody else in the courtroom) stood to his feet and requested permission to speak. “Your honor, I would like you to total up all the days of punishment against these men– all the time sentenced against them – and I request that you allow me to go to jail in their place.”
The judge didn’t know whether to spit or wind his watch. Both attorneys were stunned. As Aaron looked over at the gang members (whose mouth and eyes look like saucers) he smiled and said quietly, “It’s because I forgive you.”
The dumb-founded judge, when he reached a level of composure, said rather firmly: “Young man, you are out of order. This sort of thing is never been done before!” To which the young man replied with genius insight: oh yes it has, your honor… Yes, it has. It happened over 19 centuries ago when a man from Galilee paid the penalty that all mankind deserved. And then, for the next three or four minutes, without interruption, he explained how Jesus Christ died on our behalf, demonstrating God’s love and forgiveness.
Aaron was not granted his request, but the young man visited the gang members in jail, led most of them to faith in Christ, and began a significant Ministry to many others in Southside Chicago.
Application: Just like the young gang members in the court room, you and I will all stand before our judge and be read a guilty verdict. We’ll stand before God and give an account for our lives. The difference in this story is where God has allowed a substitution to be made – and that substitution is only found in Christ. And what’s truly interesting in this action is that it was his plan since before time began to make a way for us to be with him.
In a moment we’ll have a time of silent reflection. Here’s what I want you to think about:
- The seriousness of sin in God’s eyes.
- The magnitude of God’s love – how great it is.
- The incredible cost of God’s Grace – Amazing Grace given so freely to us.
After we’re done, I’m going to ask someone to dismiss us with a word of prayer and then we’ll all meet in the back for a time of fellowship over coffee and cookies. Maybe you’ve got some questions about church membership, becoming a Christian or what it means to be called to ministry. Maybe you just want to meet us. Come on back and visit with us.