On this 4th of July Sunday, we have the wonderful opportunity to remember the founding of our nation. It is important that we recall the titanic struggle for freedom and marvel at the system of government that was developed that provided balance and true freedom for the people of our land.
As we remember our beginnings, we are also reminded that there are implications that come with that freedom. We have an obligation to exercise our right to vote and to be informed about the candidates. We have an obligation to stand against unjust laws and against branches of the government (such as the Judicial branch) that overstep their bounds and disrupt the balance of powers. If we do not exercise and defend our freedom, it will be taken from us.
In much the same way a study of Romans helps us understand the freedom from sin that has been gained for us through Christ. This is something we ought to celebrate. But like the freedom of citizenship, the doctrine of grace has certain conclusions and implications as well. We are going to look at the three Paul lists in Romans 3:27-31 this morning.
Up to this point in the book of Romans Paul has worked to establish the fact that we are alike condemned by our sin. Though we may compare ourselves favorably to each other, we fall far short of God’s standard. We are all sinners. We are lost and have no hope of being right with God by our own efforts. However, Paul tells us that a “righteousness from God apart from the law” has now been revealed (v. 21). Paul announces that there is a way to be right with God. God himself provides this way of righteousness.
Paul tells us that Jesus came to earth and fulfilled the requirements of the law by living a sinless life. Then He gave His perfect life as a payment for the sin of our lives. Since He is the very Son of God, His life is sufficient to pay for the sin of all who would believe. God’s justice and holiness is satisfied; and God’s mercy is extended.
If we grasp these truths, Paul tells us we draw three conclusions.
The Gospel of Grace Excludes Boasting or Feelings of Superiority (v. 27)
27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith.
There is a natural tendency to boast whenever we do something noteworthy. Think about it, we boast about the score of our game, our grades, our weight loss, our income, our purchases, our reputation, our children, and even about our favorite sports teams (even though we have absolutely nothing to do with their success or failure). We like to boast. Maybe we boast so much because we feel we do things right or well so infrequently that we don’t want people to miss the few times we do things right. For some, boasting may arise from a feeling of superiority toward others.
Paul says when it comes to Heaven; we will have nothing to boast about. We are saved because of a gracious gift of God, to which we contribute nothing. It is easy to miss this point. Sometimes when we say we are “saved by faith” we think that we are saved because we have MORE faith than the other guy. It is as if we said, “If you had more faith like me . . . you could be saved as well.” Sometimes we imply that we are saved because we walked an aisle or said a prayer. In this case the focus is on what WE have done. In other words, we are boasting about the good choice WE made or the great faith WE exercised.
Saying we are justified by faith is like being saved from a fire by a fireman. By allowing the fireman to rescue you, you are not contributing to your rescue; you are simply receiving the rescue provided for you! Suppose you were interviewed by a media person after the rescue, would you say, “This fireman and I did a great job of getting me out of the burning building?” No, that would be absurd! You would likely say, “I took the hand of the fireman and he led me to safety. I will never forget the way he saved my life.” The credit would go to the one who saved you. We can say we are justified by faith, or through faith, but never “on account of” faith!
It is important for us to understand this doctrine and this is why Paul spends so much time on it. When we understand the doctrine of justification by grace through faith,
- We will cease trusting our efforts more than His grace
- We will understand that there is no class distinction in Heaven. Boasting erects walls; grace takes them down.
- We will give glory to God
- We will be encouraged in our witness because we will know that it is possible for even the most wayward and broken to be saved
- It will make us softer rather than hard; humble rather than arrogant
There will be boasting in Heaven, but the focus of our boasting will not be our greatness but the greatness of the Lord! In Revelation 4:10,11 we are told that the redeemed “are casting their crowns before the throne, while they say, ‘Thou are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power.’” When we understand the gospel we are filled not with pride, but gratitude and worship.
This Gospel Established the One Way of Salvation (v. 28-30)
28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. 29 Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.
There is only one way of salvation. Paul maintains that the only way to be declared “not guilty” (justified) is through faith in Christ. This is difficult for people to accept today. Today we are supposed to believe that you can get to Heaven through many different means. People say, “Christians are arrogant” to say that their way is the only way.” We are not saying, “Our way is the only way to Heaven.” What we ARE saying is, “Jesus is the way God has provided.” There is no arrogance in this statement. We have not designed this way of salvation, God did.
In this world that has so many different religions in it that it is easy for us to be confused. How do we know what is right? Actually, all these religions boil down to two different ways of salvation. My friend, Ray Pritchard has written,
Let’s imagine that there are two chairs in the middle of an empty room. One chair is labeled “Do” and the other chair is labeled “Done.” Those two chairs represent the two kinds of religion in the world. Every religion is either a “Do” religion or a “Done” religion.
The “Do” religions are based on the notion that in order to please God you have to do something: Pray, join a church, give money, be good, keep a list of dos and don’ts, go to Mass, offer a sacrifice, make a pilgrimage, wear certain clothing, go to the temple twice a year, follow the Ten Commandments, and so on. Although these religions may seem to be very different on the outside, they all teach that salvation is “earned” by the things you do. In various degrees, and in various ways, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Shintoism are all “Do” religions. So is Mormonism. So is Jehovah’s Witness.
In fact, every religion in the world is a “Do” religion, except one. Christianity is a “Done” religion. [http://www.calvarymemorial.com/sermons]
The gospel message declares that what is needed for salvation has been accomplished in Christ. The work is DONE. Our job is to rely on His work for our salvation. We must receive the salvation and new life that He extends.
The question you have to ask is not which way of salvation do you prefer, but which is valid? Before you can answer that question you have to come to grips with another question: Who is Jesus? Was He merely a good man, a religious leader, a philosopher that urges us to live better? Is he any different from some of the religious leaders of today? Or was Jesus unique? Was He uniquely the Son of God? Were His teachings, miracles, death, and resurrection commonplace, or were they one of a kind?
Once you have settled the question about Jesus you will be able to tell whether salvation is through the world’s way (DO) or through the way of Jesus (DONE). The next decision must be whether you will trust His work or still try to get to Heaven on your own. One way leads to futility. The other leads to life and joy.
This one way of salvation is available to everyone. This way of salvation is the same for everyone. Paul points out that it is the same for Gentile and for Jews. We could continue the list by saying salvation is available to everyone; whether we grew up in the church or didn’t; whether we have lots of religious knowledge or have none; whether we grew up in America or the Arab States; whether we are politically liberal or conservative; whether we have sinned blatantly, repeatedly and publicly, or sinned in more “socially acceptable” ways.
The person who understands and receives this message of a DONE salvation,
- No longer has to look over their shoulder wondering if something is going to happen to disqualify them for salvation.
- No longer has to be afraid that they have done too many bad things to receive God’s grace
- Can have absolute confidence as they face death
- No longer have to wonder if they have “done enough”
- Can leave the past in the past and concentrate on living the new life that Christ provides
- Can extend the message of salvation to anyone, confident that they can be reborn
On the contrary, those who follow a “DO” religion,
- Are never sure they have met the standard
- Can have no confidence at death that they will go to Heaven
- Are always concerned they will make a fatal mistake that will cause them to lose salvation
- Will sometimes feel hopeless because of the mistakes of their past, feeling that they can never do enough to erase the bad things they have done.
This Gospel Upholds the Law of God (v. 31)
31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
Paul’s teaching was radical to some people. All their lives they had been working for salvation. There religion was always a DO religion. Paul’s message sounds like it contradicts even the Law of God as delivered in the Old Testament. In verse 31 (and in chapter 4) Paul contends that the message of grace is a message that is consistent with all of Scripture. It is not a new cult! Rather, the Christian message is the fulfillment of the law in several ways.
The gospel of grace takes the Old Testament law seriously. The Old Testament Law tells us that we are to be holy as God is holy. The gospel recognizes that that we cannot keep the standards of the law. It takes seriously the penalties of the law. The gospel refuses to compromise the Law. The gospel says nothing but the cross can satisfy the demands of the Law. Dr. Boice gives us an illustration of how the gospel establishes the law,
The law of a city specifies that the maximum speed permissible within the bounds of the city is thirty-five miles per hour. A man drives across the city line and continues on into the downtown area, going fifty miles per hour. He is stopped by a policeman. How is the law to be established in the case of the lawbreaker?
By letting him go? Obviously not.
By suggesting that the standard is perhaps too high and that fifty miles per hour actually is close to what probably should be required? No.
By making the offender promise to drive slower the next time? No, that is not a case of establishing the law either.
The only way the law can be established in the case of the speeding motorist is for him to get a ticket and for the necessary fine to be paid. Supposing the motorist had no money? To establish the law in that case, he would have to go to jail, unless someone could be found to pay the fine for him.
It is exactly the same spiritually. When the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross for us, he showed that God took the law with full seriousness. The law demanded death for infractions. Jesus met that demand by suffering the law’s penalty in our place. Therefore, by basing salvation on what was accomplished by Jesus’ death rather than on what we could (or, in fact, could not) do, God established the law while at the same time providing a way by which sinners could be saved. [Boice ROMANS Vol. 1 p. 423]
The gospel shows that the Old Testament Law pointed to Christ. In the Law a perfect sacrifice had to be given to pay for an individual’s sin. Jesus fulfilled the Law perfectly. He was the perfect sacrifice given for man’s sin. Sin is paid for in the way the Law required. We are told, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” In the sacrificial death of Christ, the demands of the law are fulfilled.
The law takes on new life in the gospel. Paul is not making this point in these verses but will make them further on in the gospel. Before we trust Jesus, the Law is seen as just an impossible to obey list of dos and don’ts. When we come to Christ, the Law becomes something we can do by His Spirit and we delight to do because we want to honor and glorify the Lord. Christians do not dismiss the Old Testament; they embrace it as a revelation of the very heart of God.
There is no Reason for the church to come across as arrogant to a watching world. It is unfortunate that people often caricature Christians as those who think they are better than others. Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is, to be part of the Christian community you have to admit that you are a person addicted to sin. The church is like an AA meeting. We should probably begin each service with the reminder, “I am a sinner and my only hope of salvation is God’s mercy and grace”.
We must never forget that the blessings of salvation and new life are not ours because we have earned them. They are ours because of God’s mercy and grace. We should be the most humble and grateful people around.
We need to realize that every non-Christians, and many church people you know, are trying to earn their way to heaven. They are tired, worn out, and many are discouraged and feel defeated. Look at the eyes of the people you know. See the weariness and hopelessness that seems to be there. They have made mistakes, committed sin, and willfully turned away from the Lord. Now, many wonder if forgiveness can ever be possible. No matter how hard they work, they know in their hearts that they fall desperately short of the standard God has set for them. Some of these people want to give up trying. Some want to give up on life.
We have an obligation to share with these people the liberating message of the gospel. We have the wonderful opportunity to show people how to find spiritual independence. We can tell them that the sacrifice of Jesus is sufficient for ALL their sin. We can let them know that those who take His hand will be led from the fires of futility and defeat into forgiveness and new life. It is a message of incredibly great news and we must share it.
This Fourth of July we should celebrate the freedom that is ours as citizens of the United States. Let us give thanks for those who have gone before us and let us resolve to be faithful to the trust passed on to us. But, as we celebrate this freedom, let us not forget the greater freedom that is ours because of Christ. Let us celebrate God’s goodness, grace and love. Let us humbly accept the forgiveness offered and joyfully follow the one who set us free! And as we dance and sing along the road to Heaven, let’s freely invite everyone we know and meet to join us in this celebration that will last forever!