Press play on the player below to listen to this message. Or to download to your computer – On a PC right-click “download audio” and select “Save As Target.” On a Mac Ctrl+click “download audio” and choose “Download linked file as.”
Tonight we are looking at Romans chapter 3 and 4. In the chapters leading up to this point, Paul has exposed the problems, or sins, of every people group on earth. He has touched on those who are openly wicked, the morally self-righteous, those who have never been evangelized, and then finally, the group we looked at last week, the Jews who were religiously pious outwardly, but lacked the same inwardly. And now in chapter 3 Paul is going to pull all these groups together by explaining this universal problem that all of mankind shares because of sin and then explain what God has done in light of this.
No One is Righteous
Read Romans 3:9-20
Paul begins in verse 9 by summarizing what he has just gone over in chapters 1 and 2…. ”Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.” And now Paul is going to show how Scripture has always attested to this truth. If you know what a concordance is, it’s like he’s going to look through his concordance and show all the verses that appear under the topic “sin” to support what he is saying. Paul begins in verses 10-12 by quoting from two almost identical Psalms….Psalm 53 and Psalm 14. Turn to the first 3 verses in one of those Psalms just to see how Paul is really simply quoting God’s Word here.
“There is none righteous, not even one;” v.10
One of man’s greatest hang ups when it comes to being acceptable to God, is trying to earn God’s acceptance. But what Paul is saying is that not even the most moral man is considered righteous before God.
“there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.” v.11
Not only is no one righteous, but no one understands God or His truth on their own, and no one who seeks God on their own. So in two verses Paul has stripped away all of our crutches….our morality, our understanding, and now our desire for God. Paul says, in and of himself, man has none of this.
“All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” v.12
This is the point Paul has been trying to make since the beginning of his letter to the Romans. All of mankind has turned it’s back on God. On his own, Paul says man is worthless/useless…meaning, he is incapable of achieving the righteousness that God requires. There is not even one man who is good in God’s eyes.
Then in verses 13 through 18 Paul describes the depth of man’s condition, just how far man has turned from God, in case someone is thinking to themselves, ok, I can see what he is saying, but it’s not that bad…
“Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. 14 Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.
More words from the Psalms explaining that the sin of man is seen in his words, what comes out of his mouth flows from what is inside. If you don’t believe that man is truly that wicked, listen to what people say, what is at the root of our words.
15 Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 ruin and misery mark their ways, 17 and the way of peace they do not know.
Verses 15-17 are references to what is written in Isaiah 59:7-8 (flip there). These are the very words of God to His people. These descriptions of mankind are not Paul’s, they are God’s! When we read this in Romans we might think that Paul is exaggerating to make a point….but then we would have to say that God is an exaggerator as well when we realize Paul is just quoting God. And God says here that without Him, man is quick to slay others, to bring about ruin and misery, and to never seek peace.
If you look at the second verse of Isaiah 59 it explains why man is like this…“your iniquities have separated you from your God…” This is at the heart of the gospel, our sins have separated us from God. Many of us experienced that separation before putting our faith in Christ, but even now as believers we experience that. When we sin or live in sin, we really do feel that separation don’t we, we verbalize it when we say we “feel far from God.” It is a very real and very tangible experience, we often use the word “void” to describe that feeling of separation from God before we know Christ. When my father put his faith in Christ in his mid-fifties, he stood up before a group of people and explained how there was a void in his life and he realized then that Christ and God were the only ones who could fill it…he had not been a believer yet he felt that separation.
18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Turn to Psalm 36. Paul’s final description of mankind without God, is that he doesn’t fear God. This means man on his own would never look to God as God, he would never honor, respect, or worship God. On our own instead of worshipping God and living our lives according to His ways, we would worship ourselves and live according to our own desires and what we think is right. The psalmist explains the result of this…
Psalm 36:1b-2 “There is no fear of God before his eyes. 2 For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin.” Instead of worshiping God, man without God worships himself, he replaces God with self. This is the root of sin: pride. Think of the sin in the garden that Eve committed…her motivation was that in eating the fruit she would become like God. And the Psalm here says the result of replacing God with self is a failure to even recognize sin, much less hate it enough to repent of it. And we also saw that Adam and Eve both justified their involvement in eating the fruit by blaming another. And the truth here that we need to understand is that without repentance man will never turn to God in need of a savior. Which means, on his own man is hopeless.
Last week I made the statement that: “I’ve begun to believe…the most true sign of a spiritual problem [is] lack of repentance and justifying our actions. Let me offer an analogy. My mom is a very anally clean woman and as long as I’ve known her she has always cleaned house 2-3 times a week (she never really believed in housekeepers). But my dad never helps her and so she finally stopped cleaning in hopes that it would motivate my dad to help with the cleaning or at least hire a housekeeper. But anyone in this room who is married knows that that tactic NEVER works. So, the result, an inch of dust on everything…and they have 3 cats so you can only begin to imagine how bad it was. But what I found most interesting was that over time it didn’t seem to bother my mom anymore. It was like she didn’t even notice it. But the truth was, whether she acknowledged it or not, it was there, and the longer she ignored it the less she had the ability to even notice it…which means she was never going to be disgusted enough to clean it!
And this is what we do with sin – we try to ignore it, even justify it, and eventually we’ve ignored our sin enough that as the Psalmist says, we fail to even detect our sin anymore, much less hate it enough to repent of it. And the root of all of it is pride, love of self. We don’t want to acknowledge our own failures and inability to do good and be in control.
So then in verses 19 and 20 Paul explains the result of our condition, the result of sin. He explains how it happens. First, we fail to live by God’s law and commands. So we can’t make it right, we lack the ability to be righteous/holy/perfect on our own. So the law and our inability to uphold it silences us. As we stand before God in light of this truth we are left without excuse or exception. All are sinners and all fall short. It is through our inability to live according to God’s law on our own that we become conscious of our sin and the reality that we can’t do it.
Before moving on to the rest of our passage I want us to stop and think about this. What does this mean for us practically? Daily? It means that when we fail to live up to God’s law we must make a decision on how we will respond. We have two choices.
1. Self at the Center – First, we can respond by putting ourselves at the center. Self-protectively and pride-fully choosing to not focus on our sin, as I have said before, justifying it, ignoring it, and failing to hate it and repent before God. We can pretend that we are not all that bad and we are doing the best we can, avoiding any conviction God may put on our hearts or on others’ hearts. Or we can keep picking ourselves up, punishing ourselves for our failures, and try harder and harder to please God in our own strength and ability. And we can try to draw close to God through our own efforts and doing the right thing.
2. God at the Center- Or, we can respond by putting God at the center. This means that we not only allow God’s law to expose our sin and inability to uphold it, but we also acknowledge how we have failed, hate it, and repent of it. We can choose to depend on God’s grace and strength rather than our own. To respond in repentance when we feel His conviction on our hearts. And allow that humility and dependence on God be what draws us near to Him.
Earlier we talked about why we should serve and most of us are tempted to quickly come up with a reason or justification of why it doesn’t apply to us. But what God’s Word teaches us is that our response instead should be one of humility, willing to accept that it probably does apply to every single one of us because of our sin nature…and then to take that conviction and put it into action, letting it motivate us to humble ourselves before Him and listen to His voice, not our own.
The Good News
In Young Life we had a series of “talks” that we gave at club every Monday night. And one of the things I loved and hated about it most was how we would talk about sin and our separation from God one week and not tell them about Jesus until the next Monday. It was painful but we really wanted to kids to think about it and let it sink in, because without an understanding of our sin and inability to be in relationship with God we can’t even begin to understand our need for a savior and what God did for us. But luckily, Paul is much nicer and he immediately tells us the good news.
Read Romans 3:21-26
”a righteousness from God, apart from [obedience to] the law, has been made known”
There is hope, God has another way for man to be justified and restored to a right relationship with Him….and not only that, Paul says that God has been trying to tell mankind about it since the very beginning through the law and the prophets…this new way to righteousness had been prophesied And then Paul tells them what you and I already know. That God’s way of righteousness comes through faith and belief in Jesus. And this is for all of mankind, not just the Jews, but also the non-Jews….just as all fall short, all can receive this free gift from God. It is through the grace of God that we receive Jesus, and it is through Jesus that we receive redemption. Whether you believe in predestination or not, this is the truth of God, and how this works in light of election is a mystery to us, but it doesn’t change what Paul is saying here.
And very briefly here in verses 25 and 26, Paul explains how God did this. To you and I it sounds foreign and strange, but to the Jew it made perfect sense.
“God presented [Jesus] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.”
Every time the Jews sinned by not obeying God’s law, they had to go to the temple and make a sacrifice for forgiveness and to be made right before God. It was constant because as Paul said, we are unable to uphold God’s law on our own. So in the most simple terms possible, Paul explains that God sacrificed His own Son to cover over all sins for all time, so that if someone accepts Christ’s sacrifice for them, then they are restored before God for good. Think about what that meant for the Jew hearing or understanding this for the first time.
“He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
Paul explains that it is because of the justice of God that He did this. God is not able to do anything that isn’t true to His nature. So God can’t lie because He is truth, and that would go against who He is. Along those same lines, God is perfect in His execution of justice because he is perfectly just. So Paul explains that God had held back and “passed over” the sins of mankind because of the justice that He planned to carry out through Jesus Christ and those who would put their faith in Him. So God endured the sins of the past because He knew that through Christ, those sins would be atoned.
Finally, in verse 31, Paul answers a question that many at the time, and even now, were wondering….and here’s how Eugene Petterson words it in “The Message,”
“By shifting our focus from what we do to what God does, don’t we cancel out all our careful keeping of the rules and ways God commanded? Not at all. What happens, in fact, is that by putting that entire way of life in its proper place, we confirm it.” 3:31
One of the first time I took a group of High School girls to Young Life summer camp I got a question similar to this during cabin time. It had been an incredible week and I was seeing God really changing their hearts and their minds. And during one of our last cabin times together one of the girls said something to the effect of…So, if our sins are always going to be forgiven, and we can’t lose our salvation, then why stop sinning? I had only been a Christian for about 4-5 years and this question stumped me, I had no idea what the “right” answer was! But this is a question that is common to man and that Paul deals with here knowing that it would be an issue. So, in other words, they wanted to know if they no longer had to uphold the law since they were made right before God through faith in Jesus. And Paul’s answer is….no!! And I want to offer three reasons why…
1. Now that we are set free to live according to the Spirit we can strive to uphold the law. And we do this knowing that we will still fail because we still have our sin and our flesh, but we also have the spirit and as we yield to Him we are able to live for God. And so we uphold God’s commands and ways with joy because of what He has done for us, not out of fear or condemnation, and because we long to please God and live in His ways.
2. And not only that, but we also are told in the New Testament that it is by living in God’s ways that we are able to live life to the full, experience God’s blessings for us in Christ, and have an abundant life. So when we view the law like that we see that it is a gift not a burden.
3. And lastly, when we strive to uphold God’s laws and fail, that is when we are reminded most of our need for God. It is His law that reveals to us our sin, keeps us grounded so that we always acknowledge our sin, and opens the door to repentance. The law has the power in our lives to turn us back to God when we have strayed and live lives that are fully dependent on Him.
A Word About Chapter 4
So based on what Paul has explained here in chapter 3 he goes on in chapter 4 to speak pretty specifically to the Jews. As we talked about last week, they often depended on things other than faith to make them righteous….obedience to the law, circumcision, and their ancestry from Abraham. But now Paul takes what he just said and shows how each of those things were not meant to be built upon human striving, but on faith in God and His Word. He shows how Abraham’s righteousness came because he believed God, not because of his works. Abraham’s works flowed from his faith. So Paul is basically telling the Jews that if they look to Abraham as their example then they need to see and understand that the example he set was one of faith and belief.
As we close tonight I want to tell you something that I read in one of the commentaries as I was preparing. It said that this truth that Paul presents is not about how we feel, but about what we believe. When we are feeling condemned by our sin nature we must realize that that is not from God, because God sees those who are in Christ as justified. When we feel far from God we need to remind ourselves of the truth that in Christ we are no longer separated from Him. We must learn to recognize the truth daily, believe it, live in it, and view our lives through it. Do you live as someone who has been set free or as someone who is still in bondage? I am not asking you if you still sin, I already know the answer to that. But I am asking you if you are choosing everyday to strive in the Spirit to live in the righteousness that Jesus purchased for you on the cross? Do you understand what Christ did for you and who you are now because of it? He died so you could be set-free from sin and live in relationship with God. Do you receive that gift with joy each day?
That is the gospel. Someone asked me once what people meant when they referred to “the gospel?” This is it – that our sin separates us from God, but He sent Jesus to pay the cost of our sins so that those who believe in Him will be restored to a relationship with God, saved from Hell, and given eternal life. We should strive everyday to ground ourselves in this truth and live it out in our lives.
Questions for discussion & application
● What are some ways we avoid repentance and instead justify our sins? If you have a personal example you feel comfortable sharing please do.
● What does it mean to live out the gospel in our lives? Give some examples.