Trinity 5

Jesse Jacobsen

Typeset July 17, 2015

Righteousness is of God, not of Man

We continue our series in the letter to the Romans.

The beginning of the letter had this glorious comfort:

  the resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead,

    proclaiming the grace of God, and peace with God.

  What a comfort this is: the reliable love of God.

    It doesn’t change with the wind, like popular opinion.

    It will always be true, unlike the mind and heart of man.

This is the gospel that Paul was not ashamed of:

  “the power of God to salvation

    for everyone who believes”

  But beginning two verses later,

    Paul goes on for 63 verses without mentioning it again.

  To be sure, there’s a glory in those 63 verses too:

    truth about humanity living without the gospel.

    Today we’ll come to the end of that section.

Paul knows we all need to hear this. The whole world needs it.

  Why? Because we are naturally wrong about righteousness.

  Those who remain in the dark about this

    must face God’s judgment in the end.

Righteousness is of God, not of Man

  The best righteousness we have is still sin.

  We must be given the righteousness of Christ.

Romans 3:1-20

What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God. For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written:

“That You may be justified in Your words,
And may overcome when You are judged.”

But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust who inflicts wrath? (I speak as a man.) Certainly not! For then how will God judge the world? For if the truth of God has increased through my lie to His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner? And why not say, “Let us do evil that good may come”? — as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say. Their condemnation is just. What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. As it is written:

“There is none righteous, no, not one;
There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.”
“Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit”;
“The poison of asps is under their lips”;
“Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
Destruction and misery are in their ways;
And the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

The best righteousness we have is still sin.

In chapter 3 to the Romans, Paul asks what advantage a Jew has, seeing that Jews violate God’s Law just as commonly as Gentiles do. The answer may not be obvious: the Jew’s advantage is that he has the Law to begin with. He knows what God has revealed, as touching both our obedience, and all that God has done. Without that revelation, there would be nothing for Paul to write about in this letter. But this letter itself is also an expression of God’s Word, inspired by the Holy Spirit to be written by the Apostle. But it’s not an epistle written and sent only to Jews. It’s called “The Epistle to the Romans.” Paul addressed it “To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints.”

So when Paul writes that a Jew’s advantage is having the Law, he means the Old Testament Word of God. But now that the New Testament has also been written, and they have been widely published together as the Holy Bible, the Jew’s advantage has been shared with all Christians. You have the same advantage as the Jews, if only you study the sacred Scriptures.

Yet this advantage did not help the Jews to keep the Law. Not only did they break God’s commandments in their lives, but they also failed to hold on to the things He revealed. They lost track of what the Law says about Christ, and so they generally did not recognize Him when He appeared.

Have you done any better? Have you either kept God’s commandments, or do you well know what God has revealed? Because you now have been extended the advantage of a Jew: you have the Word of God available in more ways than ever. It’s published in a great many books. It’s provided to you many ways online. It’s preached week to week from this pulpit. What have you done with this blessing of God?

You have squandered it, that’s what. You are no more righteous than the Jews. God, meanwhile, has been faithful and exceedingly good to us. But we have not lived up to that goodness ourselves.

To be sure, we have a kind of goodness. There’s an earthly righteousness that we like to show. And “show” indeed, whether before the eyes of others or before our own witness, so that we can tell ourselves how good we are. But man’s goodness is not according to God’s Word. We make virtues out of vices. Affirming our neighbors in their desire to violate the commandments of God is supposed to be a good, loving thing. But it’s like standing by to watch lemmings run over a cliff to drown in the sea. The lemmings won’t like it if you get in their way.

So we don’t. We don’t stand in the way of our relatives who want to ignore God’s will and destroy their lives, and we give up objecting to our neighbors who want to do the same thing. But this silent assent is made worse when we begin to think that God is wrong, and the fallen world around us is right. Then we have switched sides and given up the advantage of having God’s Word.

The world’s righteousness God calls sin, and a righteous life in God’s sight the world calls wickedness. It’s important to get this right, but so often, we align ourselves with the world. Why? Popularity. Comfort. But ultimately, because we are naturally worldly people. We are the world.

Yet maybe you’re able to claim that you’ve done well. You’ve stood up for what is true and right against all that is twisted, perverted, and wrong. You’ve patiently accepted the suffering that comes with it. Yet in your righteousness, you still lack this thing that God’s law requires: pure love. Jesus prayed even for those who crucified Him, that His Father would forgive them. The martyr Stephen’s final words were (Acts 7:60), “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.”

Perhaps your zeal for God’s Word is strong, but not your love for others. And as Paul wrote (1 Cor. 13:1), Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.

So the righteousness even of believing Jews and Christians is not enough to satisfy the perfect requirements of God’s Law. A synagogue ruler asked Jesus (Mat. 19:16–17), “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

The commandments of God define righteousness: the expression of perfect love for God and love for others. That’s the level of righteousness we can’t meet. The best righteousness of man is sin before God.

We would not have known this without God telling us. Instead, we’d accept the worldly concept of righteousness, and ultimately perish under the condemnation of God’s perfect Law. But now you have this advantage, knowing the Law, and seeing that your own righteousness can’t measure up. God made this knowledge possible in the revelation of His Word. That’s why Paul, writing by inspiration himself, collected a number of older verses in Romans 3 to make his point for him. They begin,

“There is none righteous, no, not one;
There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.

We don’t have time now to read them all again, but they describe sinful man perfectly from God’s perspective. Again, we wouldn’t know if God hadn’t told us. Knowing this is the first part of obtaining true righteousness before God.

We must be given the righteousness of Christ.

Paul wrote in our text, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.”

It stands to reason that the world doesn’t want to be guilty before God. Sinners want to cling to their sin and pretend that they don’t need a Savior. They are perfectly capable of helping themselves, thank you very much.

But they’re not. Not even Christians and believing Jews. That’s why there’s so much resistance to God and His Law.

Thieves don’t like the seventh commandment:

  “You shall not steal.”

Rebels don’t like the fourth commandment:

  “Honor your father and mother.”

Disciples of the sexual revolution don’t like the 6th,

  including the GLBT (etc.) movement:

  “You shall not commit adultery.”

Those who nurse hatred and harm others don’t like the 5th:

  “You shall not murder.”

Those who would gossip and slander don’t like the 8th:

  “You shall not bear false witness.”

Those without regard for holy things don’t like the 2nd:

  “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”

Those who rather make up their own religion despise the 3rd,

and those who would worship anything of their own choice

  scorn the first and last commandments:

    “You shall have no other gods,” and “You shall not covet.”

As a result, many people seek to remove the Ten Commandments from public view, complaining that they establish a state religion these people don’t share. But they don’t. The Ten Commandments only summarize the natural law that Man once knew perfectly, and still knows in part, even without the Ten Commandments as a guide. In fact, the reason God’s Commandments have been honored at American courthouses is because prior generations recognized that natural law is the basis for our whole civilization, including the American system of justice.

I understand why people flee from the Commandments: they sting! In fact, they kill anyone who doesn’t keep them. But so does natural law. Those who resist the Ten Commandments are really resisting the foundation of earthly civil society. And we all carry it within, as we heard in chapter 2, that “Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law.”

But God’s Law goes much farther than that. It doesn’t only show us the right way to live. It shows us righteousness before God. In that sense it is religious. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. We know sin by our failure to keep the Law. But we know true righteousness by the life of God’s Son.

Jesus is the only human to escape the Law’s condemnation, and this was only possible because He’s not only the Son of Mary. Jesus is the eternal Son of God, conceived miraculously in Mary to accomplish everything that we could not do. In short, to be righteous. How do we know His life was perfect? Well, the Bible tells us so. But for those who doubt it, there’s something else.

Come with me again in your mind’s eye to the dark, earthy tomb near Jerusalem, about 2,000 years ago. Its only occupant was the same Jesus, Who had died on a tree under God’s curse. You know what happens to sinners under the Law, right? They die and face God’s judgment. That’s what the religious leaders wanted everyone to see: Jesus was judged to be a false prophet and a sinner. But enter His tomb on this third day, and see for yourself.

It’s open. Nobody is guarding it any more. There are fresh footprints on the ground. The sunlight shines into the doorway, and when your eyes adjust, what do you see? There’s nobody here. The body is gone, leaving only the bloody wrappings from Friday evening. What does it mean?

Well, it means exactly what the angels said. Christ is risen. Death could not hold Him, because He was counted innocent, having suffered for no transgression of His own, but for the sins of the world. Now, all who are in Him through faith are also justified by the Father. The righteousness of Jesus is imputed to us.

These wonderful things are not included in our text, or even in the last 63 verses we’ve covered in Romans. But Lord willing, we will return next week, and will begin hearing what Paul says about this in the very next verse. This is where we’ve been heading these last few weeks: to the righteousness that comes not from our own ideas or efforts, but from Jesus. This is the true righteousness that comes with God’s favor and eternal life. This is freedom from the condemnation of the Law, and the adoption as sons and heirs of God in Christ Jesus.

In case you don’t make it back next week let me assure of this: God has reckoned the perfect righteousness of Jesus to you, and your sins are forgiven.

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria!