Romans 3:1 – 31
Romans 8:1 - 8, 28 – 34
Deuteronomy 32:36 – 43
Letting the guilty go unpunished
I wonder if you heard last week about Ruth Anne Steinhagen. A Chicago coroner announced that she passed away in December last year.
Steinhagen was better known as “Baseball Annie”, and in 1949, obsessed with Eddie Waitkus, the famous 1st baseman from the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team, she called him to a hotel room, requesting an urgent meeting, at which point she pulled out a rifle and shot him in the chest.
Amazingly, Waitkus survived,
Steinhagen spent 33 months under observation at a psychiatric hospital, where it emerged that she had been infatuated with Waitkus for several years, as a teenager she had set a place for him at the family dinner table every night.
Later on though, it was determined that she was, in fact, sane, and she was going to face charges from the shooting.
However, Eddie Waitkus, still playing baseball, now married, didn’t want to become involved in a long, high profile criminal trial and so he decided not to press charges.
Ruth Anne Steinhagen was free.
She escaped the punishment for her crime, and she enjoyed the next 60 years of her freedom, dying peacefully in her home, in Chicago last year.
Is that right?
Is it right that a person can put a bullet in the lung of someone else, and never face the consequences?
Surely crime, requires punishment,
Surely guilt, must be paid for.
We get mad, don’t we, when people get away with murder, or sin, or evil.
We might even say we experience righteous indignation!
We know what ought to happen, to guilty people,
And we’re distressed when the guilty go unpunished,
And yet, what do we do, when we’re the guilty ones.
If we raise our gaze from an offence against a person, to an offence against God.
Is there any of us, who could honestly say we are absolutely innocent before God?
That we’ve never been selfish, angry, or greedy,
That we have honoured him with every decision we’ve ever made in our lives, always put God first, that’s what he deserves, pure, holy creator God that he is.
So how can God welcome guilty people,
Can he overlook sin? If it’s our sin, not other people’s sin, of course, we want God to punish other people’s sin, don’t we?!
Well, Romans 3 answers that question, but before we get there, I’m sure you’ve noticed already, this is a discussion couched in legal language, And like any good legal argument, it’s important to get our definitions right.
I found myself in the Supreme Court once, not through any crime of my own, let me assure you! I was there as an observer!
But I learned a few things about being in court,
Turn off your mobile phone, very important!
Bow to the judge when you walk in,
And something called the agreed facts. The agreed facts are the facts of the case that the different parties agree on,
Things need to be defined so everyone knows what is being talked about.
And the same thing goes for us this morning.
You’ll see some definitions on your outline, justification, and righteousness, and as it happens those 2 words are actually just one word, in the Greek language of the New Testament.
One’s used as a verb, one’s a noun, but it’s the same word behind them.
Righteousness is the character or action of God, that means he deals rightly with his people.
God’s righteousness means that he judges justly, for example.
God’s righteousness means what when he saves people, he does it rightly, he doesn’t do wrong to these people, in order to save these people.
And when people are spoken of as righteous, ultimately it’s a right standing before God which is on view,
Look there at verse 10, and those words drawn from a few different parts of the Old Testament.
There is no one righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God.
We see both parts of our definition there.
There is no one who acts appropriately, and no one who has a right standing before God
That’s righteousness, being guiltless before God.
In Australian-speak, it’s Mick Dundee saying “Me and God, we’d be mates”!
Justification then, is the declaration that someone is righteous. So see down there in verse 26, God justifies those who have faith in Jesus, which means God declares righteous, declares guiltless, those who have faith in Jesus.
When the Apostle Paul speaks of God justifying people, he always speaks in a legal sense, it’s courtroom language, the verdict being handed down, “Not guilty”, “acquitted”.
The judge saying to the accused, “You’re free to go, there’s no charge for you to answer.”
Justification is God pronouncing someone as righteous, and treating them as such.
Those are our definitions, keep referring back to them if that’s helpful.
Justification is needed
So chapter 3 of Romans opens with Paul saying that all people, Jews and Gentiles, have failed to live according to God’s standard,
Failed to live up to God’s righteousness.
And in verses 9 to 20, he shows just how serious the problem is,
How we desperately need justification.
Look at the picture he paints, from verse 10,
“There is no one righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”
If you, like me, were a fan of the Back to the Future movies in the 80s and 90s, and like me, are still waiting for technology to advance to the point promised in those movies, where we get our hoverboards, our automatically fastening Nike sneakers, and clothes that instantly adjust their size to fit us perfectly,
Personally I feel very let down by the future!
But you may remember, the point in the movie, where the inventor points to 3 digital displays on the dashboard of the car that he has converted into a time machine, and each one shows a different time and date, and he says
“This one shows you where you’re going,
This one shows you where you are,
This one shows you where you’ve been, ”
Pretty important, I imagine, if you’re travelling through time, to keep track of those things.
In many ways, Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome, is like those 3 displays on the Delorean dashboard.
Paul’s writing to Christian people, and he starts by describing what their previous situation was, a situation they shared with all humanity, “this is where you’ve been,” he says.
And then he says, “but this is where you are now”,
And then he goes on to explain, “and this is where you’re going”, this is how you, as God’s people, go on from this point.
And chapter 3 here, is the turning point between the past and the present, between the problem that the Christians in Rome, and indeed all Christians, once faced, and their situation right now, present reality, because of Christ.
And in chapter 8 for example, which we read from earlier, we see him drawing his readers’ eyes to the future, “this is where you’re going”.
But of course, we need to remember, that what Paul says lies in the past for the Christian person, is still very much the present reality for people who are outside of Christ, far from Jesus, people who are still living in God’s world, but with no thought of God, and no thought of Jesus as his chosen king.
Maybe that’s you.
Maybe you are still living in God’s world, but living as if God doesn’t exist,
Living as if God has nothing to say about how you live your life,
And if you think that’s OK, that God doesn’t care how you live your life,
Or that God ought to be pretty pleased with how you live your life,
Have a look at what the Bible says your life is like, if you’re relying on your own goodness,
Or your own efforts,
Or your own religious devotion, in order to please God.
And if you are a Christian, and you’re ever tempted to minimise the change that’s happened in your life by the grace and kindness of God,
Look at Paul’s description
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.”
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.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
This is, if you like, the prosecution’s case against us.
The charge is there in verses 10 and 11, no one is righteous.
And verse 12 to 18 are the irrefutable evidence.
You remember John Gotti, the New York Mobster, what did they used to call him?
The prosecutors couldn’t make anything stick!
Well this is the evidence that guarantees the charge against will stick.
No one is righteous,
We all need justification,
Here’s the proof,
Let me highlight a couple of things.
The need for justification is universal
First of all, the need for justification is universal.
As I said, Paul just kind of strings together a whole lot of quotes from the Old Testament.
The consistent testimony of the Bible is that left to our own devices, we are God’s enemies.
It’s popular today, isn’t it, to say “Well, people are basically good,
We’re all God’s friends,
I think God would be pleased with how I live, ”
In fact just this week I read an article by a Roman Catholic priest, who said “I would argue that Christian tradition (including the Bible), would teach us that people are essentially good”
I once heard someone say that the doctrine of universal human sinfulness is the least popular doctrine of Christianity, and yet the easiest to prove.
Just take a look around you.
The theologian Karl Barth commented that the whole course of human history, announces exactly what the Bible teaches us here.
We need to be justified.
We need someone to do something, about our guilty state, about our failure to live up to God’s standard.
Our need for justification is a problem of our own making
Notice also that this problem is of our own making.
Do you see the language, verse 11, no one who seeks God,
All have turned away, see, conscious decision.
Chapter 1 of this letter, gives us the picture of men and women turning away from God.
Sin isn’t an accidental drift away from God,
The Bible doesn’t picture lost people as those who have made a bad choice here and there, not really knowing what they’re doing.
This charge against us, says that if we are still running from God, it’s because we have chosen to do so.
Our whole person, our mouths, our throats, our lips, feet, eyes, we have aligned these parts of our body against God and his purposes.
No one can say, “I didn’t have a choice, I was just carried along by my sinful nature, or by society, or whatever.”
Verse 19, the only appropriate response after hearing this charge-sheet, this evidence against us, is that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God
This charge will never be thrown out of court for lack of evidence.
There is a just punishment for living this way in God’s world.
Jew and Gentile alike, we all deserve the full force of God’s anger at sin,
We find elsewhere in the Scriptures the penalty for sin, for living this kind of life in the world that God made, the penalty is death and separation from God forever.
And every mouth is silenced and the whole world held accountable to God
The defence rests, your honour!
Now,, that’s not a very happy picture is it?
You might not like being told that’s where you stand in God’s eyes, or where your friends and family stand in God’s eyes.
It’s not popular to talk like this.
Lots of Christians, even, don’t like talking about this,
There are whole courses written, to introduce people to Christianity, that deliberately skip this truth, that we deserve God’s righteous judgement, because of our unrighteousness.
Some years ago, I was on a boat, it was a big boat, an ocean going catamaran, and we got caught in some bad weather.
Some really bad weather!
The waves were breaking over the front of this big boat, and you could see the whole vessel flexing, as the waves slammed into it.
Eventually some of the crew came down to where we were, started giving out life jackets, and said, “you need to put these on”, and they suggested we go up on the deck, rather than be confined below the water line.
I can tell you, there wasn’t a single person on that boat, who wanted to hear that message.
There wasn’t a single person on that boat, who felt good about hearing that message.
And yet if no one told us, about the situation we were in, we’d be rightfully angry, wouldn’t we?
And if no one told us about the situation we were in, we wouldn’t be able to make sense of any of the activity taking place on board, that was all about ensuring our safety.
These verses, they may be unpopular, they may be confronting, but they show us our need, don’t they?
They show us the need for the kind of justification we were talking about in those definitions,
The kind of justification that Paul goes on to explain, is ours freely, through Jesus.
Justification is provided
So let’s look at the justification that is provided.
21 But now apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.
But now., That was the old situation,
“That one shows you where you were”,
But now, things are different,
Martyn Lloyd Jones, the famous Welsh preacher once said “There are no more wonderful words in the whole Scripture, than these 2 but now.”
We were, every one of us, in desperate need of justification,
But now, the righteousness of God has been made known,
Principally, this righteousness is the right standing before God that he offers us,
Remember our definition?, A right standing before God has been made known.
Of course, God’s own inherent righteousness is in the background also.
Being justified means receiving God’s own righteousness
It’s true that the life and death and resurrection of Jesus reveal God’s own righteousness, but the wonder of justification is that God’s righteousness, becomes our righteousness.
Do you see that, our right standing before God, verse 21, the righteousness that comes from God, is the very righteousness of God himself.
And see also in verse 22, This righteousness is given, through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe
God demands righteousness, his pure and holy character necessitates righteousness, and yet God is also the one who gives righteousness.
If you’re a parent, perhaps you’ve had that experience where, Mother’s Day, or Father’s Day is approaching, your child wants to get you a present, and so you give them some of your money, out of your pocket, for them to go and buy a present, to give back to you!
Have you ever done that?
It’s not an exact parallel, I don’t require a Father’s Day present, but it’s somewhat similar.
The very thing that God’s righteous character demands of us, God himself provides.
And that giving of righteousness, is what we call justification.
Justification is apart from the law
So what do we learn about our justification?
Well our justification, the right standing before God that we’re given, is apart from the law.
Notice that Paul can’t mean, that in the past, people were justified by the law but now, we receive justification apart from the law?
He’s spent the first half of the chapter arguing that justification by the law is impossible,
No one could ever be declared right with God, justified, declared righteous verse 20, by keeping the law of Moses.
Even Abraham, he says, in the next chapter, was justified by faith.
The point is, that this right standing before God that can be ours, has been made known apart from the law.
The law testifies to this justification,
It will get you ready for justification,
Show your need for justification,
But religious rule-keeping will never give you a good standing before God.
I was talking about the graffiti at university, someone thinking that God in the Old Testament is kind of vengeful, and in the New Testament, is kind of happy.
It’s a common picture of God, maybe it’s even your picture.
But, if we really read our Bible, what we find is that the picture of God as gracious and compassionate, is if you like, ratcheted up as we move from Old Testament to the New,
But also, the picture of God as a God of righteous anger is also ratcheted up, painted with more clarity and with more detail as we move from Old to New.
In fact it’s Old Testament times, in verse 25, that are described as times of God’s forebearance.
What we see as we move from the Old Testament to the New, is not a picture of a different God,
Or even a different picture of God,
But a fuller picture of God.
And now this fuller picture of God and his purposes is made known, and we’re told that justification is through Jesus Christ.
Justification is through Christ
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.
Our justification, the declaration that we are in a right relationship with God, comes to us through Jesus.
As a child, I once visited the Changi prison in Singapore.
And I was given a copy of the Bible that is handed out to prisoners when they arrive, and because most of them have no idea about the Bible at all, it’s got various notes and helpful things in it, and an arrow that says, “Start reading here.”
You want to understand what the Christian message is about,
You want to learn what the Christian message offers you when you’re at your lowest point in life,
Or when you’re on top of the world and think you have no need for God,
This is it.
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. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, m through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness,
Our justification, our declaration of right standing before God,
comes to us through Jesus Christ.
Now sometimes when we read passages like this, we might tend to think of Jesus as feeling positive towards us, but God the Father is angry at us, and it’s only by Jesus intervention that God the Father looks favourably on us.
You understand this if you have a pet.
You know, your dog relieves itself on the carpet, you parent, are filled with righteous indignation at the dog.
You want justice,
You want it out,
You want it taken to the pound,
This is the last straw!
But your child, puts their arms around the dog’s neck, and looks up at you, “It’s not puppy’s fault,
He didn’t know it was the carpet,
He just got too excited,
Please don’t send him away”
And if you didn’t pick it up, in that scenario, we’re the dog that made a puddle on the carpet! Which is probably not an illustration of sin that I would ordinarily use! But it will suffice for this!
Don’t think of Christ’s role in our justification like that!
God himself is the subject of this passage.
It is God the Father who makes his righteousness known, verse 21.
Verse 22 Gives us his righteousness, through faith in Jesus,
Buys us back, redeems us, pays the price, like freeing a slave, verse 24,
Presents Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement verse 25
To put the Father and the Son in opposing corners in our justification, is to be lazy in our thinking, and careless in our reading of the Scriptures.
Justification requires propitiation
The combined, co-operative work of the Father and the Son for our justification is then explained in some more detail.
In order for us to be justified, there needs to be propitiation.
Look with me from verse 25, God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, m through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.
That phrase sacrifice of atonement translates just one Greek word, that means “propitiation”, and you can see why the NIV translators use sacrifice of atonement.
Propitiation is an unusual word, isn’t it?!
It was a word that came from the pagan religious temples, and it means to turn away anger, specifically, to turn away the anger of the gods.
The pagan gods of ancient Greece and Rome were an unpredictable lot,
They were fickle, they were capricious, you never really knew what was going to upset them on any given day.
And if the gods were angry, you needed to turn away their anger,
You needed to propitiate them,
And the propitiation was the sacrifice that turned the gods’ anger away from you.
I once met a woman from Ghana, who had been, a propitiation, to pagan gods.
It’s a barbaric system called Trokosi, where someone, usually a young girl, is given over to the gods, made a slave in a shrine, usually involving sexual servitude, and all because the pagan priest determined that a family member, or even an ancestor, has committed some offence against the gods.
And as long as that young girl, remains enslaved in the shrine, it’s believed that the gods’ anger is turned away from the rest of the family.
Once again, we find ourselves in unpopular territory.
To many people, and again, even many Christian people, the idea that God’s anger needs to be turned away, is, well, they just can’t picture a God who would get angry!
But of course, the propitiation pictured here, is vastly different from the propitiation of the Greek and Roman gods, and even the fetish gods of West Africa.
God’s anger isn’t the capricious, unpredictable, fly off the handle anger of those gods of mythology.
Nor is the “lose my temper when things don’t go my way” anger of my 3 year old,
Nor is it the “patience running out” anger of his father!
God’s anger is the necessary reaction of a holy, and just, and righteous God, in the face of sin.
God’s anger is his settled opposition to sin.
God’s anger is his opposition to everything that is evil.
God’s anger is deserved, we saw that in the opening part of the chapter.
But perhaps even more than any of that, this propitiation, is not made my frantic worshippers,
Or desperate family members, sending their daughter away to the shrine,
This propitiation is made by God himself.
Verse 25, God presented Christ as a propitiation
That whole first section of the chapter is Paul saying “there’s nothing we can offer to get right with God.”
But God the Father, and God the Son, work together, for our justification.
We saw last week, God’s self-substitution. It’s the same idea here.
God must pour out his anger at sin and evil.
He cannot be good,
And righteous, and not oppose evil with everything that he is.
If he didn’t act on his settled opposition to evil, he wouldn’t be any of those things,
And he wouldn’t be any kind of God that we would want.
But God, in Christ, offers a propitiation, a sacrifice of atonement, so that he can act righteously,
God can welcome us, say “there is no debt outstanding”, and yet still remain just, see that sin and evil are punished.
he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, verse 26, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
The ultimate purpose of God in providing Christ as a sacrifice, was so that he could justify sinners and still be just.
Baseball Annie., she escaped the punishment, and we all know that’s not right.
It’s not justice if the punishment is just ignored.
God takes on himself the punishment, so that we can be acquitted.
Justice is done!!
But we escape the penalty.
I like watching the news, when someone is getting released from prison. And if it’s on the news, it generally means it’s someone high profile.
You know, the guy walks out that little door, in the huge prison gate, kind of blinking in the sunlight, clutching the plastic bag containing all his earthly possessions.
When he steps out of that prison, there is no longer any charge against him, no accusation that can be levelled against him.
Is he innocent?
Everybody knows he did it! That’s why the TV cameras are there!
He’s as guilty as ha, he’s as guilty as sin, but there’s no longer any accusation.
The penalty has been paid in full.
That’s either you right now, if you’re a Christian, if you’re trusting in Jesus’ sacrifice of atonement,
Or if it’s not you, it could be you!
The different between you and the guy who steps out of the prison gate that morning, is that he had to pay his penalty himself.
Jesus offers us the choice,
Either we pay for our sin, suffering separation from God forever.
Or he pays, and we’re justified.