Romans 3:19–28 (NIV)
19 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.
Origins are important. We like to talk of the way things were. “The good old days!”
Christians often look back to their origins as well. We can go as far back as Adam and Eve to our origins. They were created perfect, by God.
Most of us have learned that Adam and Eve were involved and guilty of the distortion of God’s good creation. We’ve learned that we’ve inherited the imperfection and corruption which entered the world through the deception and lies sown by Satan and picked up by our first ancestors.
But, we have also learnt of the promise of a Saviour to Adam and Eve after they had sinned. God said of the serpent who deceived Adam and Eve: Genesis 3:15
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel."
When God said to the serpent, you shall bruise his heel, God foreshadowed Jesus and His suffering – the cross, the crown of thorns and His death on the cross.
Likewise, when God said, …He shall bruise your heel to the serpent God foreshadowed Jesus’ victory over the power of sin, death and the devil when Jesus rose victorious from the dead.
Throughout history Satan has attacked God’s people. As Lutheran Christians we look back and see Satan’s bruising in 15th and 16th century.
Between the latter Middle Ages and the Renaissance there was a time when the church taught that salvation can be paid for in cash – a deception of Satan introduced into the church.
We look back and learn that God’s people, with Jesus’ Word, bruised Satan’s head – our text from Romans chapter three played a significant part in this with the restoration of the Gospel and the return to the teaching that …”we are saved by grace through faith and not by works of the law.” Salvation cannot be bought with cash or with good works.
Greed for power, and abuse of religious authority, had corrupted. The real issue for humanity when rebellion against God is allowed to flourish is it corrupts and destroys God’s good creation.
Sin is disobedience or rebellion against God – sin is biting the hand of the one who feeds us. We remember that God is our Creator and sustainer as we confess when we say, “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”
Sin is revealed in many different ways and where it is present someone always gets hurt. Sin is:
Selfishness – demanding our own way, seeking power and “things” – it’s the “gimme” attitude. Gimme this, gimmie that…
Verbal violence – gossip, backstabbing, harsh words, half truths and lies …
Physical violence – injuring another person or damaging their property…
Lust for the pleasures of the flesh – gluttony, substance abuse (drugs and alcohol), sexual promiscuity and perversity, …
An attitude of our hearts out of sync with God’s will as revealed in His Word.
These are the external and obvious sins – but what about the things we neglect to do? And our pride? The natural person, after the fall, is in a perpetual state of sinfulness and rebellion against God – even to the point where we might think God doesn’t exist or is of no consequence, so we can think, do and say whatever we feel like.
This is where we come from. We are alienated from God by our sin and the natural person doesn’t want to look in God’s mirror because it hurts to see the corrupt state of our being.
When we see exactly who we are, we may appalled – some people to the point of total despair – with the desire to take their own life to attempt to free themselves of the burden of sin – their own, and even the sin of others.
In God’s eyes we are guilty of sin and we stand in the dock – condemned. As St Paul says: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, …
Most of the time we don’t even realise we’re sinning and that we’re driven by our selfish motives – sometimes even in our attempts to do the “right thing” we sin.
We should examine ourselves – here Luther’s Small Catechism is handy with the explanation of the 10 Commandments. It’s like looking in a mirror. When we realise the extent of our weakness and brokenness we can hear God saying, …the wages of sin is death… surely this leads us to despair.
We find ourselves separated from God and even from each other – what’s our common reaction when are accused of some wrong doing?
We might say by our body language or even using words: “I’m hiding from you, I don’t want to talk to you” just as Adam and Eve tried to hide from each other with their fig leaves and from God in the trees of the Garden of Eden.
We need some help to come out of hiding – we need help to be best mates with God. Our own effort just isn’t good enough. If we fail to obey even the most insignificant of God’s laws, we fail at them all. We need someone to be perfect for us.
As God sheltered and protected Adam and Eve with clothes made of animal skins, He provides His protection for us too. St Paul tells us all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. This grace is an ongoing gift – it never ends.
God sorted the problem out for us – like your parents or care givers might have sorted out a tricky mess we got ourselves into as children.
Because we’re blind to all that God demands of us, He sent the solution to our sin in the person of Jesus Christ.
God solves the problem for us too – so that our sin balances out with the payment of His perfect life. Jesus swaps His perfect life for our sinful life and cancels the debt of sin.
Jesus then leads us and presents us to God the Father as His perfect people. Our salvation is not earned with our obedience to God’s laws – and, our salvation is not earned with charitable acts.
God’s blessing comes through Jesus, and is given to us as a gift – no strings attached! While we were still sinners Christ died for us.
Before we went to Sunday School, before we learnt our catechism, before we worked our way through the Bible, before we tried to live according to what we learnt in our Confirmation lessons, and from countless sermons, God showed His love for us in the life and death of Jesus.
My sinful self likes to boast about starting Sunday School when I was three years old, the two and a half years I spent doing confirmation lessons and my study of the Bible at Seminary.
But, as St Paul says, 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.
The whole of Scripture as you have studied and continue to study it throughout your life, the Old and the New Testaments witness to the truth of St Paul’s statement quoted from Habakkuk 2:4 …but the righteous shall live by his faith.
This faith was given to you by God when His Holy Word and ordinary water were used in your Baptism. The only cost was God’s.
Martin Luther, whose life and work we give thanks to God for as we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation wrote of God’s sacrifice:
“God does not justify us freely by His grace in such a way that He did not demand any atonement (payment) to be made (for our sins), for He gave Jesus Christ into death for us, in order that He might atone (make payment) for our sins.”
As recipients of God’s gift of forgiveness of sins, receive it, and grow in your dependence on Jesus. St Paul tells us what Jesus said about His gift of grace in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 …, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness."
Now with St Paul, we may boast about something: Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
So we are dependant on our God and His promises. And with Luther we can pray “…grant us grace that we may do what You, the Lord, have commanded us.”
God doesn’t just claim us as His own. God desires that we receive and use His gifts to continue growing even though we may have completed a confirmation course, a Bible Study series or even a degree in theology.
God wants us to follow throughout our whole lives as His disciples – to live, work and play together with guidance from His law, which no longer condemns us, but guides us in joyful holy living.
So we become volunteers in obedience – responding to God’s call and equipping. We listen to one another and forgive one another as God forgives us. We remember we are baptized and blessed to confess our love for and trust in Jesus.
But more than this, to go into the world and make disciples of all those around us that as many as possible are brought back to their origins as perfect Human beings – in a state of grace – perfect in God’s eyes and in each others estimation.