The Most Important Paragraph Ever Written
Preached at Main Street Church on May 5th, 2019
Proposition: Since God justifies sinners through faith in Christ, we must put our faith in Him.
The book of Romans is the longest letter in the New Testament written by the Apostle Paul. It is the most thorough and clearest explanation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and some scholars think it is the most important book in the New Testament.
Paul’s main point of the entire letter is that the gospel reveals the righteousness and justice of God. For the first eleven chapters Paul shows how the gospel has revealed the righteousness of God as it has slowly unfolded through the course of history, and then the rest of the letter from chapter 12 on teaches us how to live in light of the gospel. On May 19th we are going to start a new sermon series on Romans 12-15 called “Gospel Living: 101” where we will learn how our lives should look if we have truly experienced the power of the gospel.
But before we can learn ‘Gospel Living: 101’ we have to know what is at the heart of the gospel, and that leads us to our text for today in Romans 3.
Chapters 1-3 are the most powerful indictment in the New Testament of the sinfulness of all people and how their unrighteousness has earned the wrath of God against them. In chapter 1 Paul exposes the unrighteousness of non-Jewish people who suppressed the truth of God with their lives. And then in chapter 2 Paul moves on to to the Jews and shows that they are potentially even more guilty than the Gentiles because although they had God’s law they failed to obey it. All of this culminates in chapter 3 where Paul quotes a flurry of Old Testament passages showing the utter sinfulness of all people, whether they were Jew or Gentile.
And then we get to verses 21-26 in chapter 3. Martin Luther called this passage, “the chief point, and the very central place of the epistle and of the whole Bible.” And some scholars—who have won my agreement—acclaim this text as, not just the most important paragraph in the Bible, but “possibly the most important single paragraph ever written.” So after the stinging and frightening indictment of the sinfulness of all humanity, and the wrath of God against sin, Paul writes this:
Romans 3:21-26: “21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
We put our faith in the wrong things. The Gentiles put their faith in false gods that resembled mortal man (Rom. 1:23), while the Jews put their faith in their ability to keep the law (Rom. 2:17-24). Ultimately, they were both putting their faith in themselves.
We do the same thing. We think that if we try hard enough, or do enough good things, or have good enough intentions then God will understand and accept us. We think if we do at least 51% good things and only 49% bad things then that will tip the scale of God’s love in our favor. We think that since God knows everything, he can see our intentions and knows that deep down we’re really good people even if we’ve done a lot of wrong things.
According to a survey funded by Lifeway last year, 52% of people who claim to be Christians say that everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature. Almost the same number of people, 51% believe that God accepts the worship of all religions. What this tells me is that the indictments of Romans 1 and 2 are still very real and fresh today. Some people put their faith in human nature and people’s ability to be ‘good’, and some people put their faith in the idea that what people believe really doesn’t matter very much at all.
According to this text, where you put your faith is the difference in Heaven and Hell, and tell us this simple truth: since God justifies sinners through faith in Christ, we must put our faith in Him.
V. 21: But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—
- The righteousness of God is the ‘right’-ness of everything he does, and it is right because he does it. It is the rightness of his character, actions, and judgments.
- Paul is saying that the righteousness of God has come into focus in a new way since Jesus showed up. The righteousness of God is now seen in the gospel. That’s why he says this at the beginning of his letter in v. 16 and 17:
- “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith,[e] as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
V. 21b although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—
- So the righteousness that is revealed in the gospel is not totally new and different, it’s just that it has come into focus and into view in the person and work of Jesus.
- That’s why Jesus said, ““Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matt. 5:17)
- And “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,” (John 5:39)
V. 22: the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
- This means that every single person who puts their faith in Jesus will be declared righteous by God.
- And the point is, every single person, without distinction, look at the next verse:
V. 22b-23 For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
- The playing field is level. Everyone without distinction has fallen short of the glory of God.
- I want to take some time to talk about what that means.
- We will so easily say that we all sin, or that we are sinners without understanding the weight of what that really means. We’ve been sold such a cartoonish and fluffy version of God’s love that we’ve forgotten that pure, holy love comes with wrath. We mention sin without feeling God’s hatred towards sin. We call ourselves sinners and forget God’s disposition towards those who have rebelled against him.
God’s Attitude Toward Sin
- The entire OT makes it very clear that God loves righteousness and hates unrighteousness. God says, “do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, declares the Lord.” (Zech. 8:17)
- According to Scripture, not only does God hate sin, but he hates sinners also. Ps. 11:5-7 “The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. For the Lord is righteous.”
- Psalm 5:5-6 “The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.”
- These passages reveal the strongest revulsion possible in the face of everything that is evil. God’s heart of righteous love is what caused him to pleading through the prophet Jeremiah, “‘I persistently sent to you all my servants the prophets, saying ‘Oh, do not do this abomination that I hate!’” (Jer. 44:4) But they did not listen or incline their ear, to turn from their evil and make no offerings to other gods. Therefore my wrath and my anger were poured out and kindled in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, and they became a waste and a desolation, as at this day.”
- And we are commanded in Psalm 97:10: “O you who love the Lord, hate evil!”
- We find this difficult because we are taught that God is love.
- But God’s love is not a careless sentimentality indifferent to the moral integrity of the loved ones. His love is a purifying fire, blazing against everything that hinders God’s people from being the very best they can be.
- God’s wrath is not an uncontrollable outburst of passion, but it is the reverse side of a holy-love, a flame which sears, but purifies.
The Infection of Sin
- So when Romans 3 says “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” it’s a terrifying statement.
- We like John 3:16 that talks about God’s love for the world, but we skip over v. 18 that says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
- Or perhaps we don’t want to hear about v. 36 just a few verse later: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”
- 2 Cor. 4:4 says, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ,”
- Romans 3 says “No one is righteous, no, not one. No on understands. No one seeks God…No one does good, not even one.”
- Our sin nature is not a barrier that keeps us from being righteous, even though we really want to be. It means that we want nothing to do with God or his righteousness.
- Romans 8:7 says, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.”
- Just three chapters earlier chapter 5 calls us “enemies of God.”
- What kind of righteous judgment, then, should come on people who have satisfied every sinful desire?
- John 3:19 says, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”
- This demonstrates the point that we can’t just say, “If only God would appear. If only he would make himself known.”
- Have you not read, “He came to his own and his own did not receive him. He was despised and rejected by men, one as from whom men hid their faces.”
- God himself came to his own people and their earthly king mandated a mass infanticide of all children age 2 and younger.
- Jesus cast out demons and they accused him of being possessed by the Devil himself
- Jesus healed people and they called him a lawbreaker
- He ministered to outcasts so they accused him of sin
- He was betrayed by one of his closest friends who had seen him literally give sight to the blind and heal the sick
- He raised the dead, so they raised him up on a Roman cross. Mocked him, whipped him; crucified him.
- Three days later he rose from the dead, and yet they still would not believe.
- So don’t we dare say, “If only He would appear. If only he would show his power.”
- Jesus himself said, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” (Luke 16:31)
- For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
What should become of sinners like me?
V. 22b -24a: For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift,
- How can God who is righteous, justify sinners like me? If God is a good judge, and is righteous, doesn’t the righteousness of his character require him to punish wickedness?
- One of the first times God disclosed something of his character to Moses in Exodus 34, this is what he said,
- Exodus 34:6-7 “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
- Some people think that after the serial rebellion of their life they are going to die and stand before God and he is simply going to let them off the hook. And it’s because they don’t understand the righteousness of God, and since they don’t understand the righteousness of God they don’t understand how evil their sinfulness is.
- Adam and Eve sinned once, and because of their rebellion against God He brought a universal curse on every square inch of creation. Billions of people have suffered and died as a result. And you think that with your lifetime of sinfulness built up, he is just going to let you go free? Absolutely not.
- So how can this merciful and gracious God—who will by no means clear the guilty—also forgive iniquity and transgression and sin?
V. 23-25: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.
- The only way God could righteously justify sinners was if the righteous penalty for sin was paid in full.
- all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
- When the word, “Redeem” is used throughout the Old Testament there are three aspects that are in view:
- There is a captivity which man cannot himself break, so there must be an intervention of an outside Person who pays the price which man cannot pay. (Jn. 8:34; Rom. 7:14)
- There is a price which man cannot himself pay. Both inside and outside the NT, the payment of a price is a necessary component of the redemption idea. (The root word ‘Ransom’ used in Mark 10:45). When the NT speak of redemption, it means that Christ has paid the price of our redemption. And the price paid must be adequate for the purchase in question; this indicates an equivalence, a substitution.
- There is a status change that takes place. Man is brought out of the curse of sin, and into the blessing of God.
So how could Jesus Redeem us? How could he pay the price for our sin? How could he ransom us from the grip of our sinfulness?
V. 25: whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood,
- The word ‘propitiation’ comes from our word ‘propitious’ that means to make favorable. So when it’s used here, it means: A sacrifice that bears God’s wrath against sin, with the effect being that God’s wrath toward us is changed into favor. (Grudem)
- And we must notice here it says, ‘God put Jesus forward as a propitiation.’ That means God put Jesus on the cross, and then put our sin on Jesus on the cross, and then cursed Jesus on the cross as though he himself were sin.
- Isaiah 53 says, “It was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief.”
- 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “(God) made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
- Isaiah 53 “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;…But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
- Jesus suffered the wrath of God in our place, so that we might have the blessing of God.
V. 25-26: God put (Jesus) forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
- When Jesus took the place of his people on the cross, it showed God’s righteousness, because in the past God had passed over former sins. God hadn’t punished them right away, and it is because his wrath against sin was being stored up for Jesus on the cross. This showed God’s righteousness so that he might justify sinners, while still being a just judge.
- There is no sin in the history of existence that will go unpunished. God is perfectly just. Either that sin will be paid for by Jesus on the cross, or it will be paid for in Hell.
- This gospel is a scandal. The righteous son of God suffering in the place of unrighteous sinners. It is a stumbling block. It is scandalous. But it reveals the righteousness of God. So those of us who have been saved by this gospel can say, “I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes”
- 1 Peter 2:24 says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”
- Hebrews 9:12 says, “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”
- Revelation 5:9 says, “And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,”
- Romans 5:9 says, “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”
How can God be both just and the justifier of sinners? The Cross of Christ is the answer.
- Here is the beauty of the gospel. On the cross Jesus didn’t just save us from the wrath of God, but he turned God’s wrath towards us into favor. On the cross, God treated Jesus like us, so that we could be treated like Jesus. Do you understand?
- It’s not just that Jesus took your sin so that you’d be innocent. Friends, in Christ you are more than innocent, you are counted as righteous. Every spiritual blessing in Christ is yours. He who knew no sin became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God.
- This means that if you put your faith in Christ, God sees you as he sees his own Son. Let me explain something to you, Christian If you have put your faith in Jesus, God loves you as much as he loves Jesus.
Zephaniah 3:17 says, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”
- God sings over you like a Father sings over a child in a crib. Imagine the booming voice of God exulting over you in a loud singing. That is a picture of those who are in Christ because of what he did on the cross, turning back God’s wrath and turning it into favor.
- Romans 4:25 says, “Jesus our Lord…was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”
- He lives to give this blessing to you, and it is to be received by faith.
God put (Jesus) forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith…(and he did this) so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
- So put your faith in Jesus today.
- Every blessing that Christ possesses he now gives to everyone who has faith in him.
- So how do you put your faith in Christ?
- You lay your life down at the foot of the cross and surrender it to Jesus. It’s not about how big or how small your faith is, it’s about how great the work of Jesus is. Throw yourself at his feet. Abandon yourself to Jesus. Give him your faith.
In Exodus 12 When God’s people were in slavery in Egypt, God had struck the Egyptians with 9 plagues, but there was one more plague before Pharaoh would finally let them go.
- God told Moses to tell every family to choose a lamb, one without blemish. And they were to slaughter the lamb and put it’s blood on the doorposts of their homes. This lamb would be called the passover lamb.
- Exodus 12 says, “21 Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. 23 For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you”
- That night the destroyer came thought, and it says, “And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead.”
- Imagine two Israelite men there that evening before it happened. Let’s say Abel and Abner.
- It’s just gotten dark, everything is quiet. And their standing outside in the street, just about to go into their houses, and Abel says, “Seems pretty scary doesn’t it?” And Abner says, “I’m not scared…God said if we put the blood of the lamb on our doorposts we would be saved.”
- The next morning, whose firstborn lived? Both of them. Because it’s not about how much faith you have, but who your faith is in. Did you put your faith in the blood of the Lamb, or didn’t you.
- Cover yourself with the blood of Jesus this morning. Put your faith in him And go to sleep assured that he is both just and the justifier of the one who has faith.