Please turn with me to Romans 3. I’m going to read just a few verses [Read 3:21-22a]
I want to start off tonight telling you a little bit of a joke I read yesterday:
Nine year old Joey, was asked by his mother what he had learned in Sunday school.
"Well, Mom, our teacher told us how God sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. When he got to the Red Sea, he had his engineers build a pontoon bridge and all the people walked across safely. Then he used his walkie-talkie to radio headquarters for reinforcements. They sent bombers to blow up the bridge and all the Israelites were saved."
"Now, Joey, is that really what your teacher taught you?" his mother asked.
"Well, no, Mom. But if I told it the way the teacher did, you'd never believe it!"
We laugh at little Joey and his Mom, but sometimes we live just like him.
I’ve been doing a study through Romans for the last many weeks. Praise God for that book! Have you ever studied Romans, little bit by little bit? I’ve heard a pastor say that you cannot preach on Romans until you’ve been in ministry for at least 20 years. Well, I’m going to challenge him on that tonight.
The reason that pastor said that is because Romans is such a deep and profound book. But one of the lessons that I’ve learnt going through it myself is just how deeply and profoundly simple it is. Hear me: so deeply and profoundly simple that it’s difficult to accept!
How about this one: Our salvation. A huge theme of the book of Romans is the salvation that we have through Jesus. I believe everyone here tonight will say that they are saved. But are you able to explain just what that means? Are you able to lead someone to being saved? Or would you feel, just like I’ve felt many times before, that it’s best left to the apologists, the theologians, the pastors, those with teaching. It’s too complicated and convoluted for little me.
Well it’s not all that complicated at all – in fact it’s infinitely simple. I can say, just like Joey: ‘You won’t believe it if I tell you how it really happened, Mom!’
I’m here to tell you how it really happened, and I want you to grasp this.
1. THE NEED FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS
Every belief system says that God is holy and perfect, and we used to be, but we’ve been tainted by imperfection, by darkness, and the only way to be with God again – to be ‘saved’ – is to be righteous.
I’m sure you’ve all heard the word ‘righteousness’ before. Sometimes when we hear these words we’ve heard so many times in Church, we begin to think it’s a really Christian concept.
But the issue of ‘righteousness’ is in all major religions, not just Christianity. Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and many others speak about this issue of righteousness – being right with our Creator.
Every belief system says that God is perfect, and we used to be, but we’ve been tainted by sin, and the only way to be with God again is to be righteous.
Right, we know this. But how do we get there?
The Qur'an says that a life of righteousness is the only way to make it to Heaven.
Judaism agrees. I was going through the book of Deuteronomy at the same time I was studying through Romans and I came across this little passage in Deuteronomy: 6:20,24-25 “In the future, when your son asks you, ‘What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the LORD our God has commanded you?’ tell him: ‘…The LORD commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the LORD our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.’”
If we are careful to obey all the law, that will be our righteousness.
That’s true, that’s what God had said.
And so they set out to try; better and harder than anyone else in history perhaps. They set up the tabernacle ‘just as the LORD had commanded through Moses’; they set up and ordained the priesthood ‘just as the LORD had commanded through Moses’; they set up and kept the sacrifices and feasts ‘just as the LORD had commanded through Moses’. They tried their utmost to keep the law just as the LORD had commanded through Moses because they wanted that righteousness. They wanted to be right before God.
Now we know that as hard as they tried, they still failed. And after a generational burst of enthusiasm, it almost entirely sputtered out and died. Apart from brief revivals through people like David and Josiah, God’s people failed thoroughly and utterly to obey all this law before the LORD their God as he commanded, that it would be their righteousness.
2. THE FRIEND WHO FINDS OUR FAILURES
Do you know what that makes this, the Law of God? It makes it the friend who finds our failures.
I wonder if you ever had a friend who pointed out all your failures. Maybe she wouldn’t be your friend for very long, hey? You’re up before dawn to get your kids ready for school; after much huffing and puffing and whining and griping you manage to get food into them, school clothes on them, and see them jump through the school gate just before the first bell rings, and there’s your friend in the passenger seat saying: “Boy, you really failed that one hey? No devotions over breakfast, you didn’t get them to floss, and you didn’t pack a very healthy lunch, did you??”….*punch!* Get out my car!!!
But that’s what the law does for us – it shows us that no matter how hard we try, we can’t get it right. We can’t be righteous. You make meals for the hungry, you pray for the salvation of the guy who cut in front of you at the till, you help out at the Church youth program, but oh! you only gave 9% tithe…fail! Try again next life – oh wait, you won’t have one.
I guess I’m kind of making it sound unfair. But that’s God’s law – it shows us that we’re not making it, and that we’ll never make it. Just how far short have we fallen? Let’s read Romans 3:9-18 “What shall we conclude then? Are we any better [for having the written law]? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are under sin. As it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one…All have turned away, they have together become worthless…Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Paul points out here that it does not help to have the written Law. It does not even help to try and keep the written Law, for “Jews and Gentiles alike are under sin.”
How does God’s Law fit into all of this? Let’s read the next few verses (19-20) “Now we know that whatever the law says it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”
Here we start to realise that it does not help me one bit to have grown up in the Church. It doesn’t help me to be right in God’s eyes. I’m not any cleaner because I have a Bible, or if I read the Bible, even if I study the Bible and try to apply it to my life.
As one who has the written Law, I accept that there is advantage, but no virtue in it. I am still under sin.
It doesn’t help me to be kinder than my neighbour, more forgiving than my boss, more disciplined in spiritual matters than my wife, or whatever. People may look at me and say that I’m mature and wise for my age, but that doesn’t help me to be right in God’s eyes. I will not attain righteousness by doing any of these things.
Let me ask you tonight: What are you holding on to as a label to say, ‘This makes me right in God’s eyes’? Are you holding on to your Sunday school attendance? Are you holding on to your baptism? Are you holding on to your success in withstanding some temptation? Are you holding on to your success as a parent – raising godly children? In your heart do you think God will favour you for your involvement in the worship team or other ministry? Are you holding on to your achievements – ‘by this I am right in God’s eyes’; ‘this makes me right in God’s eyes’?
I want you to hear me – none of these things will make us right in God’s eyes. They can be good and excellent things, but they don’t make us right in God’s eyes.
So what will make us right in God’s eyes? By what do we have righteousness – that ticket into God’s presence forever?
3. GREAT NEWS OF FAITH!
That brings us back to our verses that we read at the beginning of the message. The great news of faith! Let’s read them again, Romans 3:21-22a, 27-28. [Read]
What can be our response to this? I don’t know about you, but my response was, “I need to know what this faith thing is all about! If my eternal life depends on faith – I need to understand what that is!” If your eternal life depends on your faith, are you sure that your faith is a sincere, sure faith?
What is faith? Faith is trusting in something. I’ve done an exercise with the youth before. I said to them, ‘Go and do such-and-such an activity, and when you are done, race back here and I’ll give you a sweet!’ Now, there’s not much that youth won’t do for a sweet, so they rushed through the activity and they hightailed it back to me for their reward. There wasn’t a doubt in their minds that I would keep that promise. They trusted my words.
Why is it that we will trust our parents, our teachers and pastors by their words, but we won’t trust God’s word? God says to us, ‘Go and do such-and-such an activity, and when you are done, you’ll come back to me and I’ll give you a reward’ and we say, ‘Yeah…I’ll get to that when I’m older and have less to live for.’
Now, God says that we will be righteous through faith in Jesus. That is all. That is all. That is all. Will you accept that? Will you trust that? Will you accept that there’s nothing else that will make you right in His eyes? Will you accept His Son? Will you accept what He says – and that’s all?
A man dies and goes to heaven. Of course, St. Peter meets him at the pearly gates.
St. Peter says, "Here's how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you've done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in."
"Okay," the man says, "I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart."
"That's wonderful," says St. Peter, "that's worth three points!"
"Three points?" he says. "Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithe and service."
"Terrific!" says St. Peter, "that's certainly worth a point."
"One point? Golly. How about this: I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans."
"Fantastic, that's good for two more points," he says.
"TWO POINTS!!" the man cries, "At this rate the only way I get into heaven is by the grace of God!"
"Come on in!"
God isn’t going to let you in for raising godly kids; or for conquering an addiction; or for sticking to the speed-limit; or for speaking against Satanism; or for converting your Hindu neighbour. We want to hold onto those things; we want to wear them as a label. But God will accept you on one thing: Do you have faith in Jesus. That is all.
My challenge for you this week is simply to let this settle in. Think about all the labels that you carry around to show yourself righteous. Give those to God, and choose to boast in this one thing: that you believe in Jesus and you accept His sacrifice for you.
Close in prayer.
If you want to hear more about faith, specifically about making faith practical from Romans 4; come join us for next week’s message.