Justified By Faith
October 24th and 25th, 2009
There was a time in school when I thought I was pretty good at math, and then came Geometry. There was a time where I thought I could really hit a baseball, but then came that college pitcher who could throw 80 plus mile an hour (can you ssy three strikes and you’re out). I really thought the Twins and the Cardinals would be in the World Series, and……. Today’s reading from Romans expresses two realities we supposedly understand, the law and the gospel. Both are words from God. One tell us what we are to do, and the other what Christ has done on our behalf. Yet God’s word from Romans challenges some of our basic assumptions about why God gave us his law, and the ultimate impact of the gospel. The Reformation was and is about taking away all the factors that keep Jesus Christ’s cleansing love from being at the center of our life, and the church’s life. Today God will clarify for us, and expand for us, his use of law and gospel.
“Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God” (Romans 3:19-20). You may have heard it said that the purpose of religion and or Christianity is to teach us right from wrong, raise our moral standards or maybe even to put in modern terms “give us proper boundaries”. Included in this are things like the golden rule, and the like. We tend to believe if we do something we can maintain our access this God …provided we fulfill some sort of religious task”. Here is where God in just a few verses from Romans transforms our thinking by speaking to us (those under the law) and to every last man, woman, and child (the whole world) on this planet.
Our old nature looks at the law as some sort of an assignment . Now seemingly the religious folks, do a little better on this assignment because they outwardly did the religious things they were supposed to do. Sometimes religious folks make up extra things (extra credit of sorts), hoping that this sill satisfy God. Extra prayers, extra money to God, staying away from the rough and tumble crowd, living a very “productive” life filled with a flurry of activities. For others living with self defined integrity and sincerity also will get and keep us connected to this God. All these “doing” things must count for something, don’t they? And yet, the text say God gave his law, his commandments his so that our mouths may be stopped, and that we might be held accountable to God. God has expectations for his people, and what he expects is not merely outward transformation (the Pharisee’s looked good), but also inner transformation. The GE (Good enough) approach is not going to cut it. The God described here in Romans is not like that gentle grandparent which merely puts up with our foibles, and either can’t see or doesn’t care about our specifics. How different from our Savior who does something better than “put up with us”, he forgives us. James 2:10 says “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” Galatians 3:10 “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse...... The key words here are keeping, and relying. If that is our basis for significance and/or connection to Christ then we ultimately will fail, and we are under a curse. Now at this point, we can go a couple of directions. We can attempt to change the way things are set up, we can cover up the law a bit, and take out some of its sting. For example, we may think and believe that as long as we go to church and read our Portals of Prayer we’re really pretty good in God’s eyes and have kept the 3rd commandment, at least most of it. Especially in comparison to others, we are doing ok. In God’s law our Lord speaks and says do you delight in my word? Or is my Word drudgery? Do you pray without ceasing or is love rather than one-upmanship the order of day when you participate in your religious gathering? This is what it means that through the law comes the knowledge of sin. See the change that has happened, we thought God’s laws would bring a cure, but in fact the law is there to diagnose sin.
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law….the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” Romans 3:21a-22. Christianity at its heart is not about how we are doing, but rather what Christ is doing and has done on our behalf. Sometime we refer to this as well you just got to believe, as if that comes naturally. This is not easy because it goes against everything we are taught about how life is successful in this world. Yet, before God it is a different way to success. In theological terms our righteousness comes to us passively. That is before God we passively receive what he has to offer. He does 100% of the work to forgive renew and strengthen, and we do 0%. This is a positive thing, even though passive is rarely used in a positive way. It is positive because the word “passive” confesses the truth that Jesus Christ has entered into our life and his work on our behalf completes us. As we stand before God not able to speak, accountable to him, there is one who speaks to the Father in our defense, the righteous one Jesus Christ our Lord. While we can’t justify ourselves by works of the law or by what we have and haven’t done, Jesus says there is a whole other approach. Our gospel reading says it so well “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed”. This grace isn’t something that God has to do, it is rather something he has chosen to do not by virtue of his creating us, but rather through his redeeming us and continuing to deliver those redemption goods in his word, meal, and spoken forgiveness.
While the rest of the world busies itself by defending itself before God or by trying to change his expectations, we can approach his throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. He has come to carry our burdens, and forgive our sins. His expectations have been met in Jesus. An elderly woman just got into the elevator after a very exhausting day. In her hands were two large grocery bags she was struggling to carry. A younger woman noticing the burden these bags had on her, said Ma’am you can put the bags down. Let the elevator carry them. Whatever your burdens, whatever your sins, no matter how far you have been from the hand of the lord, go ahead and let go for your Savior is more than happy to take the whole load on himself. For in his grace, he does more than we deserve, and yes more than we expect. Amen