Sermon on Romans 3:19-28
Text: 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. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood — to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.
What is righteousness? What does the word mean? It is a very important word for us to understand as we study this text. This is obvious when we see that the Greek word for righteousness is used nine times in one form or another in these verses under our consideration. Simply put, the word “righteousness” means to be in a right or correct relationship with God. How do we enter into this relationship with God? That is going to be the focus of our study as we study the fact that GOD’S RIGHTEOUSNESS IS OURS 1. Not By Works, 2. But By Faith.
How do we enter into this relationship with God? A man asked Jesus a similar question. He asked, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” In reply, Jesus asked, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The man then summarized the law by saying, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Then, Jesus said, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:25-28) In these verses, it is very clear as to how you get into a right relationship with God. You do these things. You live a certain way and God will give you eternal life. You would be righteous in God’s sight. It is a very easy concept to understand. You do this and God gives you that. You keep God’s laws and God gives you eternal life.
Therein lies the problem. The problem doesn’t lie with God. He hasn’t changed in his demands. The problem lies with us. We cannot keep our end of the agreement that God has made with all people. It so clearly says in verse 23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” First of all, we note the word “all.” That word means that this applies to everyone. There are no exceptions. Next, we note the word “sinned.” The word “sin” comes to us from the archery field. It, literally, means “to miss the mark/bull’s-eye.” God has set the mark of perfection in front of us. This is what we are to hit with every one of our words, thoughts, and actions. Any time, we do not, we have sinned.
There are many people today who want to ignore sin. They say that the church shouldn’t talk about sin, because it makes people feel bad about themselves. They should be in the business of making people feel good about themselves. Others will try to cover over sin and call it a “syndrome” or an “addiction.” They look for ways to say that it isn’t their fault. People drink because their parents drank. They are sexually immoral because they were born that way. The list of excuses goes on and on as to why their sin isn’t their fault.
We don’t have to look any further than the mirror to find people who make excuses for their sins, do we? How many times haven’t we made an excuse for an outburst of anger because we were tired and had a long day? We excuse our lack of being involved with God’s Word on a personal level because we are so busy with everything else. We tell ourselves that everyone else is doing it. Besides all that, we try to comfort ourselves by saying, “No one’s perfect, but I’m certainly better than many other people.”
However, it doesn’t matter if we have only sinned one time in our lives or are the worst possible sinner that the world can think of. It says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Think of trying to jump a canyon that is 100 feet across. It wouldn’t matter if you jumped the world record of 29 feet or you tripped on the edge. You still didn’t make it across. You would still be just as dead either way. That is the purpose of the law. It shows us that we cannot enter into this righteousness with God in our own. Paul put it this way in 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 the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.”
Early in his life, Dr. Martin Luther was well aware of this righteousness of God. He knew what God demanded in the law. He knew that he hadn’t done it. As a result, he tried to make it up to God. He became a monk, thinking that would please God. When that didn’t do it, when his conscience continued to plague him over his sins, he tried other things. He slept on hard floors. He fasted. He beat his body. He went on pilgrimages to Rome. Yet, try as he might, Martin Luther could not quiet his troubled conscience. He often said that the words “just” and “righteous” were like thunder and lightning to his conscience. Just hearing those words terrified him, because he thought that God was demanding that we be righteous and he knew that he wasn’t righteous. He tried to do all of these things in the hope that God would see how sorry he was for his sins and why he should be forgiven. Dr. Luther knew that, in spite of all of his best efforts, he could never earn God’s righteousness. We, too, as we look at ourselves honestly, see that we cannot earn God’s favor by what we do. God’s righteousness can never become ours through the law.
Since this is the case, where can we get the righteousness that is necessary? Paul tells us in verses 21&22, “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” What beautiful words are the words “but now!” The other way would have never saved you. The other way would never have given you the righteousness of God, “but now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known.” God has revealed to us the place where we can get this righteousness. “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” The righteousness that we need is given to us through faith in Jesus Christ.
First of all, we look at the source of this righteousness. It is only found in Jesus Christ. Jesus was perfect. He alone kept all of his Father’s laws. Every one of his thoughts, words, and actions were completely in line with his Father’s will. Using the archery picture, Jesus hit the bull’s-eye every single time. He was righteous. Jesus, then, took that righteous life and went to the cross. While on that cross, he suffered the punishment that was ours because of our unrighteousness. He paid for every one of our sins. He took what was ours and paid for it. In exchange, he gives us his righteousness. Now, when God looks at us, he only sees the righteousness of Christ. Dr. Luther put it so well in describing what Jesus has done for, when he wrote this prayer, “Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, I am your sin. You have taken upon yourself what is mine and given me what is yours. You have become what you were not so that I might become what I was not.” This is the righteousness that we need.
How do we receive this righteousness? Again, it says in verse 22, “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” It is only through faith, trusting in Jesus that we are saved. Faith is the hand that accepts the righteousness that Jesus won for us. We add nothing to what Jesus has done. He has done it all for us. Even the faith is not of our doing. That only comes through the working of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works through the gospel message as it is proclaimed in God’s Word and the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper to create and strengthen the faith that receives this righteousness. Jesus’ saving work is so beautifully proclaimed in the gospel message. Where verse 23 had stated “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” verse 24 continues, “All are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” You and I receive the righteousness of God only by the grace of God, his undeserved love for us. It is ours free of charge. This free is far different from the television adds that tell you something is free. All you have to do is pay shipping and handling. If that is the case, is it really free? Contrast that with the gift of righteousness that God gives us in Christ Jesus. This gift is truly free. It is given because of God’s grace. We add nothing to it. God has done it all for us. Through our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior, we receive the righteousness of God.
This truth is really the cornerstone of our faith. In 1537, Dr. Luther was asked to write a summary of the most important teaching in Christianity. In the First Article of the Smalcald Articles, he wrote about justification and how we become righteous before God. After he laid out basically what we have studied, he concluded by writing, “Of this article nothing can be yielded or surrendered (nor can anything be granted or permitted contrary to the same), even though heaven and earth, and whatever will not abide, should sink to ruin. For there is none other name under heaven, given among men whereby we must be saved, says Peter, Acts 4:12. And with His stripes we are healed, Isaiah 53:5. And upon this article all things depend which we teach and practice in opposition to the Pope, the devil, and the (whole) world. Therefore, we must be sure concerning this doctrine, and not doubt; for otherwise all is lost.” In other words, it doesn’t matter what you believe and teach, if you have this teaching wrong. If you have this wrong, you will spend your eternity apart from God. If you have it correct, you will be with him forever in heaven. It is our prayer that we continue to hold on to this central teaching of God’s Word. No matter what others may teach, no matter how it might appeal to the part of us that thinks you earn whatever you get, God’s Word teaches us that God’s righteousness is ours, not by the works of the law, but by believing in Jesus as our Savior. May God help us to spread this message around the world and may he help us to pass this heritage to the generations that follow us. In closing, we join our voices with Paul and those who have followed him, “We maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” (Verse 28) Amen.
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