Monday, October 28, 2013

Sermon on Romans 3:19-28 for Reformation Day, "Christ Alone"

Sermon Outline:
·         Last in our Reformation series: Christ alone. Previous weeks—faith, grace, and scripture alone. Triangle diagram: three points with Christ alone at center—all are interconnected. How does faith, grace, and scripture intersect with Christ alone? Christ stands as heart and center of our salvation, because faith or trust depends on Him—without the powerful Savior, faith would be aimless or helpless. Faith aimed toward anyone or anything else than Jesus Christ, is a vain and empty hope. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:60. Christ alone is our salvation. There is no other name under heaven, by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
·         Without Christ, we would not know grace, as scripture says, “the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Because of Jesus’ incredible self-sacrifice and love, salvation comes to us as a free gift. Grace means God’s undeserved love and favor, and that comes to us because Jesus has erased our debt of sin. So salvation is not a work-exchange program with God, it’s not a contest of merits to win His approval, it’s not a debt-reduction or payment plan that we work out to cover our sins. Rather it is a completely free and undeserved gift to us, by the grace of God in Christ Jesus.
·         And without Christ alone, the Scripture would be missing its beating heart. All the Scriptures testify of Him (Luke 24; John 5:39), and the life we have in His name. Jesus Christ is the living Word of God, and the Bible is the record of this “word of life” (1 John 1:1-4). Disconnected from Christ, faith, grace, and Scripture all falter and fail—but Christ holds them altogether.
·         Rom. 3 talks of two kinds of righteousness—righteousness of the law, and righteousness that comes apart from the law. We can understand them in this way—the first kind of righteousness is measured by the law—whether you have obeyed or disobeyed. The rightness or wrongness of your life and deeds. It consists in whether or not you have good character, are a trustworthy citizen, take good care of family, etc, or whether you don’t do those things.
·         This righteousness of the law is also called civil righteousness. It’s how we look in the eyes of the world. And the world grades on a curve, or a sliding scale. We are impressed by the outward goodness of some people, and by the outward wickedness of others. We rank people on a scale of their righteousness (by the law).
·         But this righteousness is so far removed from what God demands, that Paul will later say in chapter 4, that if Abraham was justified by works, that he has something to boast about—but not before God. So we must mark the sharp difference between man’s opinions about righteousness, in terms of ordinary civil goodness, and God’s declarations about righteousness. Because no human righteousness of our own, no civil righteousness, no good citizenship or exemplary life of good works is anything to boast about before God. When it comes to matters of salvation, and where we stand before Him—only God’s opinion matters. By God’s measure, none of us attain to the righteousness of the law. God does not grade on a sliding scale or on a curve. It’s all or none with Him, and His verdict is that all have sinned and fallen short of His glory.
·         That is a devastating verdict—that our civil righteousness doesn’t justify or put us right with God. The law of God delivers that verdict, stopping every mouth and holding the whole world accountable to God. No protest, no objection. The law shows our sin, and it announces the judgment for that sin is death. This message of the law is a terror to sinners—and it was a terror to the young Martin Luther. Before he discovered the good news, the gospel—in this very book of Romans—perhaps even in this very chapter, he despaired of God. Despite all the spit and polish of his best efforts to gain righteousness by the law, he knew it was all a sham before the Holy and Righteous God. And the Righteousness of God terrified Luther! He saw God as a fearful judge. That is, until he discovered what Paul taught about this other righteousness, the second kind of righteousness that has been revealed apart from the law.
·         Righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. Since none can attain a righteousness that holds up before God by the law—God has given us His righteousness by faith in Jesus! This second righteousness, a spiritual righteousness or the righteousness of faith, is not our own, but it is granted to us by Jesus Christ alone. It’s a gifted righteousness. God gives you credit for what you didn’t do, but Christ did—keeping God’s law. Jesus Christ forgiving all your debt of sin on the cross. And faith finds this righteousness nowhere else than in Jesus, who lived, suffered, died, and rose for us.
·         Discovering this glorious and free gift, and how we’re set right with God, or justified, was a marvelous experience for Martin Luther. It’s sometimes described as his “tower experience”—where he finally grasped that we could never satisfy God’s justice by our good works, but that Christ has done so in our place. This is the most freeing and beautiful truth, to know that Jesus Christ has redeemed us, and that His work of salvation is all-sufficient. That means that Jesus did everything that is required, so salvation is a pure and free gift, with nothing of ours added to it. And Luther grasped that anything we add to Christ’s completed and all-sufficient work, just reduces His grace by that much. Our additions just end up being subtractions from Him and His glory. Even the smallest piece of our own work diminishes the glory of what Jesus has done, when it comes to salvation. That doesn’t mean that there’s no place for our good works, but it does mean that their place is not in accomplishing our salvation. That is reserved for Jesus Christ alone.
·         Paul drives this point home by showing the reason why God intends to exclude our every effort, our works, our own civil righteousness, our merit, and any other Savior etc, from the equation. God excludes everything that we have done so that there will be no room for our boasting. We are justified by faith apart from works of the law. No room to boast in ourselves—which means all glory, honor, and praise is due to Christ alone.
·         We don’t hold up ourselves, we hold up Jesus Christ alone. He is our salvation and life. Romans says that God put Jesus forward as a “propitiation” by his blood, to be received by faith. What does that funny word “propitiation” mean? In the words of the song “In Christ Alone”, Till on that cross as Jesus died, The wrath of God was satisfied; For ev'ry sin on Him was laid. Propitiation means that the wrath of God against sin was satisfied by the death of Jesus on the cross. Or in the words of the old hymn, Jesus Christ our Blessed Savior, turned away God’s wrath forever. Propitiation means that Jesus turned away God’s anger against sin, and that now in place of God’s wrath and judgment against sin, we face His loving and forgiving face. And now and forever, if we stand in Jesus Christ by faith, there is no condemnation for us! God declares us innocent, just, and pure, just as His sinless Son Jesus is innocent and pure. It’s the great exchange—Jesus trading all His goodness, innocence and blessing for our sin, guilt, and the curse we bore for it. The great exchange of Jesus taking what was ours, and giving us all that is His.
·         And Paul tells us why God did this—he repeats it twice—that it was as a proof of God’s righteousness, and His divine forbearance. What’s that? That God was not hasty in punishing sin, that He did not rush to judgment, but that as the OT describes Him over and over, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6). It is proof of God’s righteousness, because the propitiation of Jesus shows God’s perfect justice and mercy. God’s justice is upheld because He did not ignore sin or its penalty, but rather delayed it, to be fully paid in Jesus’ death. And God’s mercy is upheld in that He forgives sin and graciously clears us from our guilt. We sinners have hope and a way to salvation by faith in Jesus.
·         According to His strict justice, none of us could be admitted to heaven, because we have completely failed in His law—in that first kind of righteousness. But according to His infinite grace, heaven stands open to all who trust in Jesus, because He grants to us the infinitely superior, second kind of righteousness, that comes by faith in Jesus Christ. This spiritual righteousness stands up before God, and is pleasing to Him, because it is God’s own gift to us, received by faith. This gift, this joy, is worth all the celebrating and the triumph of this Reformation Day, as this good news broke afresh on the Christian church in the time of Martin Luther, as it returned to the Word of God, and as it continues to echo and reverberate through the churches of the Reformation today—we poor sinners are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, revealed to and shown to us in God’s own Word, the Holy Scriptures. It is our joy to celebrate all that Jesus has done for us. Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Read Romans 3:19-28. What’s the stated purpose of God’s law? What does it accomplish in us? 3:19-20, 23; 2:12-16; 5:20; 7:1-15. What’s the law unable to do? 3:20, 27-28; Galatians 2:16-3:14. How are we accountable to God? Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:1-3; Colossians 2:13-14.

  1. In Romans 3, Paul speaks of two kinds of righteousness. See vs. 21-22. What are they? How did the Law and the Prophets testify of this righteousness of God through faith? Genesis 15:6; 2 Chronicles 6:21, 26-27, 30, 36-39; 7:12-14; Psalm 32:1-2; Exodus 34:6-7; 85:2-3; Isaiah 53:5-6, 10-12; Habakkuk 2:4.

  1. This righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ is freely given to all who believe. Why is Jesus perfectly righteous, and able to grant us or credit to us, His righteousness by faith? Matthew 3:15; 5:17; Hebrews 2:10, 17-18; 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22; 2 Corinthians 5:21.

  1. The term “propitiation” (Rom. 5:25) is an unfamiliar one to most of us. It means that Jesus Christ turned away God’s wrath over our sin by His death on the cross. What is the effect of this “propitiation” for us? 1 John 2:2; Romans 5:9-11; Isaiah 53:10; Galatians 3:13; contrast to John 3:36 if we don’t believe. If we no longer face God’s wrath because of our sin, what is His attitude toward us instead? Numbers 6:23-26

  1. Jesus’ sacrifice at the cross and His justification of sinners proves God’s righteousness. How does this remove from us any ground for boasting in ourselves? Why is Christ the only way of salvation? John 14:6; Acts 4:12

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