In Romans 3, Paul finishes up with the bad news—just how bad we are and how bad the world is. Then Paul says in effect, “Listen up, now I’ve got some very, very good news for you!”
What is the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
“But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed…” (Romans 3:21).
Let me give you a principle: Whatever you think God is doing in your life, he probably isn’t. As we read through the Bible, God is full of surprises. God does the unexpected.
There is something unreasonable about the love of God.
I’m not a good handyman around the house. I once tried to use a hacksaw and it wouldn’t even cut through butter, much less the piece of wood I was working on. A friend came by, took one look at the saw, started laughing, and said, “Steve, you have the blade in backwards!”
That’s what Paul is saying to us in Romans: We have the blade in backwards. We have been doing it all wrong. You may have said over and over again, I’ve got to be good, pure, kind, obedient and righteous and tried your best over and over again…yet end up miserable. You may have attempted to obey a whole bunch of rules, hoping that if you act like a Christian, you’ll be one…and yet it hasn’t worked. You may have been going to church, reading your Bible and praying…and you don’t even like doing it. You have the blade in backwards.
The righteousness of God is apart from the rules; it is apart from the law of God.
The righteousness of God is apart from the rules; it is apart from the law of God. In other words, if you go down the road of the law, you will do it all wrong…and there’s a better way.
“But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets” (Romans 3:21).
When Jesus came, he said to the Jews, “You know those guys? They were right. Everybody thought Moses was psychotic when he said he heard God talk through the bush. He was right. Everybody thought Abraham was crazy when he left everything. He was right. Those Jews were different. They were right. They had the truth.”
Then Paul says, “Not only were they right, they witnessed the reality of what’s happening right now.” When Jesus comes back (and it may be soon) we, as Christians, will be able to say, “This isn’t a surprise to anyone. The whole Bible gave witness to these things. God sent his preachers and prophets who witnessed to it. This event should not be missed nor should it surprise us.”
Paul is putting his roots down deep into the Old Testament. He wasn’t bringing us something new. In fact, we should already be experts. We knew what God said before. He prepared us for the coming of his Son.
When Jesus comes back, we’ll say, ‘That’s what he meant!’” It won’t be a surprise. Not only will Jesus come back, the entire Old Testament witnessed to the reality of his coming. That is a wonderful confirmation of the good news that Paul is about to give us.
“Even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe” (Romans 3:22).
What is the good news? What does it mean to get the blade in right? What is it that the prophets and the law witnessed to? This is what the Christian faith is all about: What we couldn’t do for ourselves, God did for us.
After my friend told me that I had the blade in backwards and to trust him, he said, “Let me do the work on this wood. I’ll do the sawing and you do the preaching.”
It’s an old sermon illustration. There was a judge whose son came before him for a very terrible crime. Grieved by his son’s actions, the judge gave him the heaviest possible fine. The judgment was rightly deserved. Then the judge took off his robe, walked down from the bench, and paid the fine himself. That is what God did. He fined us for our sin (we are lost) and then he paid that fine (one we properly owed) with the blood of his own Son. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
You can’t save yourself, so why keep trying? We try and try, yet end up feeling like a miserable failure. At that point, God can do something. God cannot deal with an arrogant, holy, righteous person who thinks that he or she is good.
As a pastor and an old guy, I’m not shocked by human sin. There is absolutely nothing you can say—no confession of sin—that will shock me. Why is that? What the Bible says is true…about both of us. There is none righteous, without exception, no not one. The prophet Jeremiah describes it well, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
There are two anthropological views of man: Man is basically good with a proclivity for evil or man is basically evil with a proclivity for good. The Bible stands on the second view. People are not naturally good. God knows our sin. God knows that we can’t do it on our own…so he does it for us.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
At this point, you may be thinking, So, big deal, I’m a sinner. Yes, I’ve made a few mistakes, but nobody’s perfect!
That is not what the Bible says. You haven’t made only a few mistakes. You have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. God is holy and one day you will have to stand before him. Sin is a big deal. Sin separates you from yourself, from other people and, more important, from God.
Sin separates you from yourself. Have you ever had trouble sleeping at night because you felt so guilty? Have you ever blushed in private and felt absolutely terrible about yourself? That is what sin does. Sin is at our core.
Sin separates you from other people. In your entire lifetime, you will have only two or three, at the most five, real friends (not acquaintances) who know you inside and out, and accept you. The reason is that we all wear masks. We try to be as nice and as attractive as possible. We want, almost more than anything else, for others to like us. So we all wear masks.
Sin separates you from a holy, righteous God.God has forbearance. He is patient and kind to those who feel they’re unqualified…but you don’t want to fool around with God. God is God: “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
If you have never stood before God and been afraid, then you have never stood before God. You may have stood before a nice, little idol that you made…but you have not stood before the real God.
God is holy and separate. In Isaiah 6, when Isaiah stood before God, his response was, “‘Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips’” (Isaiah 6:5).
The principle built into the nature of the universe is this: Unrighteousness cannot stand in the face of righteousness without running or destroying. We have violated something about God. As the Psalmist said, “Against You, You only, have I sinned” (Psalm 51:4).
Sin separates you from yourself, from other people and from God. And there’s nothing you can do to fix it. Then the good news. God says, “I’ll fix it for you. My Son, who is totally perfect, will bear your sin for you.”
“Christ Jesus whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness…” (Romans 3:25). The Greek word for “propitiation” is derived from a verb with three meanings, “To placate, conciliate or appease someone.”
So what did God do? God placed his Son, Jesus Christ, in your place on the cross. He placed all of your sins—past, present and future—on the back of his Son and allowed him to die in your place. We deserve the punishment. We committed the sin. We did the crime…and yet God took our place. Every time God looks at you, he looks at you through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Jesus took our place. As our substitute, Jesus vicariously bore our sin on the cross. God’s Son died so that you might live.
“Since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith” (Romans 3:30).
Heaven will be a place of salvation for people who put their faith in Christ and whom God justifies—no matter what nationality, denomination (whatever they say about religion), or race. God, the God who had been the God of Israel, decided to move out into the rest of the world to offer a way of salvation.
God kept a nation together because, from that nation, the nation of Israel, would come the Messiah who would save all who come to him—both Jew and Gentile. The bad and the good. No matter who you are. No matter what you have done.
“Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law” (Romans 3:31).
This verse is by way of review. The law of God whereby we know our sinfulness remains. The law is established. It is how God feels about things. It is a measurement of right and wrong. It is what the world is all about. When Jesus said that the law was fulfilled in him, he was pointing to the fact that God has not destroyed the law; he has fulfilled it. God has not changed his mind. But once we try to obey the law and fail, God says, “I have a deal for you. I will place my Son upon the cross and he will become a substitute for you.”
The standard of the law is never lowered. But God knows that we can’t live up to it.
So God in his love took the initiative.
God sent his Son to make up for our lack.
And that’s really good news.