Not Guilty

Romans 3:19-28

October 25th & 26th, 2008

In school there are many things to learn, both in and outside of the classroom.  I think most teachers would agree that some items are more essential than others. If these items are not learned early on in ones education,    everything that follows will be a struggle.  For example if one does not learn to read, other subjects learned in the latter grades in school will be impossible to understand.  Almost 500 years ago, a group of Christians, said that there is one teaching in Christianity, upon which the church either rises or falls.  If you get this right everything else falls into place, if you get this wrong everything falls apart.   In a 450 year old document titled the Augsburg Confession, 27 key Christian beliefs are confessed.  This document served as the foundation for the Lutheran Church.  Yet, out of the 27 teachings/doctrines, this teaching gets the most ink.  In my English version it gets 61 pages (show book of Concord) .   What is this teaching?  Justification by faith.    That is, “We receive the forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God by Grace, for Christ sake, through faith, when we believe that Christ suffered for us, and for his sake our sin is forgiven. “      We are declared, outside of ourselves for the sake of Jesus, to be righteous, and because of his work alone we can stand before God.  This is essential for our comfort, and  more importantly for our salvation.

            This week you may have seen this message on the church/school sign.  “If God seems distant, who moved?” (Romans 5:6-8).  This is a law statement  that tells an important truth.  Not the whole truth, but an important biblical truth. (The whole truth is found in Romans 5:6-8)      That is the problem we face are not just our environment, not poor government, not those we work with,  or others who in our view make our lives difficult.  Ultimately this problem is not God, who created all things and keeps all things going.   
Rather it is a sin problem, and if it’s a sin problem it’s an us problem.       How do we know this?   On the musical, the Sound of music, the Father is talking with Maria about the seven caretakers they have had to watch the children.  None of whom had stayed very long.  Maria asked Mr. Von Trapp “what is wrong with the children?”  He responded,   there is nothing wrong with the children, I just haven’t found the right governess.”   He was duped; he had put the fault in the wrong place.   What he didn’t know that ultimately he had a role, a large role in the problem.   Even when on the outside we try to blame others and maybe even our God for our lot in life, deep down we know, even if ever so faintly that we aren’t as we should be toward God, and yes toward our neighbor.  We are the ones who have moved away from God. 

            In the first three chapters of the book of Romans Paul, in a logical but devastating way, cuts all humanity down to size.  He even takes on his own “religious” background,  that is those who had the law.  Any form of human performance that elicits or attempts to prove that we are worthy of love ends up falling short.    But oh, do we try.    We say “we have tried to do our best?” Or how about this “We aren’t as bad as some people, I mean we haven’t killed anyone?”    That is God should look at us and make us righteous because of some moral standard we have kept or tried to keep.   Yet isn’t it fascinating that the whole purpose of God’s standards, his moral standards, are ultimately to keep us quiet.  “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 held accountable to God.” (Romans 3:19)    If this is truly God’s standard, then our good intentions, our “I’m not as bad as some people” approach simply is not going to cut it.  All our attempts to prove ourselves to God, are simply empty chatter  to God.   In essence he says, “Stop talking, stop trying to do it your way.”  You see “no one is righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10)    In Isaiah it says “all our righteous acts, are like filthy rags.”(Isaiah 64:6)   The wages of sin is death, and no one, and I mean no one will miss this payday.  The law reminds us that you and I not only have a problem, but that in fact we are the problem.   Whether we like it or not we are guilty, we have moved to our self made prison, and there is no way out. 

            “But now a righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law.” (Romans 3:21)   Did you hear that? There is another approach.  Another way to be close to God, and it is not dependent on anything in you or I.  It is not based on our keeping or not keeping the law.  It is not based on what is inside of our heart.  Rather   someone from the outside has made a declaration  that we are right before God.  “For there is not 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, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith”. (Romans 3:23-25a)   There is a Word here used that is so important, and that is propitiation.  The word means that God himself in Jesus took on the anger, and the wrath that we deserved.   Here we see that God is   Just, as well as merciful.   Why doesn’t God just snap his fingers, and by grace save everyone?    If this happened he may be merciful, but he is not just.  On Calvary’s cross he is both merciful and just.   Our sins are real and not minor, but every last one of them were placed on the body of Jesus and buried in the tomb.  Sins buried with Jesus, are hid from the Father, and you know what that means for you and me.  Our greatest fear, that somehow we are on the wrong side of God, that we haven’t done enough, that our faith has faltered, is taken care of by the Savior on the cross.  The   one who is the anger taking savior.  For on the cross he became the drunkard, the adulterer, the lazy uncaring person you and I are.  He receives the punishment you and I deserve.  He makes us right before God, he takes our sin stained dying hearts and gives us a new heart, and with it a new life.  Why?  Because of his justifying grace, without any worthiness on our part. 

               Why are you declared not guilty.   If God seems distant, guess who moved.” Certainly we have moved away, but Jesus has also moved to bring us back from our retreat.  Like a lost sheep, Jesus is the one carrying us back to a relationship with him.  Jesus has moved your way, and he   offers you the riches of his forgiveness, life and salvation.   In Christ you are holy, perfect, and justified.  In him you have life, even in the face of death.  Through Jesus Christ, you are free from the power of sin.   You are free from having to defend yourself before God, you are free to live both now and into eternity.  Justification means he declares you not guilty.  Believe it, speak it, and live it.   Amen.