September 16, 2018
Pastor Michael King
I hope you have been here for this series, One Race, that we’ve been participating in together. I hope you’ve learned some good things. I hope you’ve learned from people like Pastor Jeff, who taught us about the unity that’s found in the diversity that God created. You heard from Pastor Alan that individuality may be nice, but it’s not really a biblical idea and that empathy is the thing we need for unity. You heard from Pastor Jason that racism may not be your fault, but it is your responsibility. You heard from Frank that sometimes we need to let go of our traditions and ceremonies in order to share the radical love of Jesus with someone. Last week you heard Alan talk about walking the walk or just staying quiet. In all of that, what I’ve hope you’ve heard is how the Bible is commanding us to live as a people in an increasingly diverse community. What we’ve been trying to do is just open God’s word and let it answer some of the questions and speak to some of the conversations that we’ve been hearing and having surrounding this idea and reality of racism in our community.
I want to tell you a story you’ve probably heard before. Are you familiar with the story, The Emperor’s New Clothes? There’s this emperor who is very vain, and he loves wearing very fancy clothing. He loves showing off how amazing, regal, and great he is. These two swindlers come to town and tell him that they could make such fancy garments for him, that anyone who isn’t wise and righteous won’t be able to see it. The emperor loves that idea because it means that he gets to show off great garments, and so he pays them what they want. They take the money and the cloth. They put it in a bag and they sit at empty weaves for a week. Then they bring back a box that’s empty, show it to the emperor, and tell him that the garment is so fine that, he won’t be able to feel it when he puts it on. So even though he can’t see anything, he doesn’t want anyone to know that he’s not wise or righteous, and so he puts the garment on and talks about how beautiful it is. He orders that a parade be set up through the town so that the town can see how beautiful his garments are. The townspeople know that if they can’t see it, that means they’re not wise or virtuous. So, they all extol the glories of this garment until one little kid in the back row who doesn’t know any better stands up and says, “The emperor is not wearing any clothes!” -literally leaving this emperor with his pants around his ankles. He’s nude in the street.
I think what happens is, a lot of times we think that story’s about vanity. We think what that story is teaching us is, “Don’t be vain or you’ll be exposed.” I don’t think that’s what Hans Christian Andersen is trying to teach us in that story. I think what he’s trying to say is that sometimes, large groups of people will start to believe a lie just because of what the truth says about them. That’s important! Hold onto that as we dive in this morning. Today we’re going to look at a passage of Scripture that’s going to show us exactly where the Holy Spirit through the servant Paul is going to answer some questions that he knows the Jewish people he’s writing to were going to have. At the same time, he’s going to answer some questions for us.
1. What good is it?
1 So what advantage does the Jew have? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? 2 Considerable in every way. First, they were entrusted with the very words of God.
At the end of Romans chapter two, Paul does something really important where he shows the Jewish people that all these traditions that they had, all of the things that they were doing, and all these outward actions that they thought were the things that were making them righteous were actually quite pointless and didn’t achieve what they thought they were going to achieve. They had become much like the villagers in our story. They believed that they were right just based on what they did or what they could see, and now they feel discouraged. Paul has quite literally laid them bare. He has stripped them of their righteous robes. He hears them asking, “What good is it being Jewish, then? Why does any of this stuff matter? Why do we follow this system?” The answer is very clear. You’ve been given the Word of God. This is great news!
For their context, that means he’s been given the Old Testament and the law which we’ve been talking about a lot over the past couple of weeks. The laws in the Old Testament are important for a couple of reasons. First, the law reveals to us the nature and character of God. It’s a big deal! Second, the law reveals to us the nature, character, and purpose of man. The law teaches us that there is this great, sovereign Creator over of all the universe who holds the galaxies in his hands perfectly forever. He is perfect in love, justice, righteousness, and holiness. He is a perfect creator.
And then there are also these other things called people that aren’t any of that. In fact, they’re so far distant from that, there’s an infinite gulf or chasm that stands between them. That’s important because at the time, that is not what the people thought about God; that’s what the Jews thought about God. Today, that is not what unbelievers think about God. In fact, most people will try to shorten that distance by either lowering God down to our level, or they’re raising us up to his. Both of those things are wrong. Those who trust in and respect the creator God are given insight into the mystery of their own being in God’s Word. In God’s Word, we learn about our sinful nature and how we without God are radically corrupt. Ultimately, God’s Word tells us what is required of us by God. We are to love God with our whole being.
The advantage of being a Jew, and indeed a churchgoer today, is the Word of God (Paul would tell us) because it’s the same for us as it was for them. We get this confused. We think that membership, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, or even lifting our hands in worship are what make us righteous. In fact, they don’t save us at all. Those things are gifts and signs of grace that are given to us in Christ.
2. Am I better off?
9 What then? Are we any better off? Not at all! For we have already charged that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin
“Okay, then Paul,” they replied. “We have the Word of God, so that makes us special. We have something to look forward to, so we’re better than everyone because of it.” Paul says, “No, that’s absolutely not true. You may have an advantage in the Word, but don’t forget what the Word reveals. You aren’t better off, because we’re all under sin.” This language is unmistakable. It is not plural; it is the singular meaning. He’s not talking about personal responsibility. He’s not talking about your sin or my sin. He is talking about this dynamic, this function of sin that oppresses and suppresses all of humanity, indeed all of creation.
Then he sets out on the most vibrant description of man’s depravity in all of Scripture. Hear the language that Paul is using, starting in verse ten:
As it is written, there is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands. There is no one who seeks God. All have turned away. All alike have become worthless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave, and they deceive with their tongue. Viper’s venom is under their lips. Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood. Ruin and wretchedness are in their path, and the path of peace they have not known. There’s no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are subject to the law so that every mouth may be shut and the whole world may become subject to God’s judgment, for no one will be justified in his sight by the works of the law because the knowledge of sin comes through the law.
This language is crushing! Paul is a Jew talking to Jews here. He’s breaking down all of their tradition. He’s taking all of their naturalistic pride and throwing it out the window. The Jewish people knew from the Word of God that they were being oppressed by sin. They knew they lived under sin. They knew that they needed the righteousness of God to be able to stand in right relationship with him. The Jewish people knew that those who didn’t have God’s righteousness would suffer eternal death (what we call hell). But, the Jewish people are just like the people in our story from earlier. They had begun to believe, had taught their children, and had bought into the lie that all they had to do to earn God’s favor was to do the things that the law told them to do, and not do the things that the law told them not to do; then they’d be fine. They had conveniently forgotten that the Old Testament and the law were there to show them their sin, not show them how to escape it.
Don’t move past this too quickly! Feel the weight of what Paul is saying here. You can almost hear the hushed tones of the response from the Jewish people, “What are you saying, Paul? Everything I’ve ever worked for you, you’re throwing it away. You’re ruining my life. You’ve taken away the thing that I’ve put all of my hope in. How could you do this?” Don’t forget that he’s speaking to us as well. There is nothing you or I can do to obtain the righteousness of God. We are hopeless. In fact, the weight of sin is the thing that’s preventing us from gaining the righteousness of God. It doesn’t matter how good of a person we are. It doesn’t matter how many people you help or how hospitable you are. Your voting record, you’re giving record, and a clean bill of health all stand as a record of offense against you. Paul would go on to say that as sinner’s, all we do is for our own gain, meaning we don’t do it for the glory of God, and therefore, Paul would say (and the Holy Spirit would agree) it is the sin.
Paul would go on to tell us in Romans chapter eight that the mind that is set on things of the flesh, meaning that mind that hasn’t been renewed by God’s spirit, is hostile to God and cannot please God – not doesn’t, not sometimes doesn’t, not doesn’t try to, not doesn’t always, but cannot ever please God. This means that even if you follow the law perfectly, even if you do all the right stuff all the time, just like in the story of the good Samaritan, we’re trying to justify ourselves at that point. So he, in the story of the good Samaritan, knew that he could love God, but he didn’t know if he could love other people. And so, the Bible tells us that in seeking to justify himself, he asked, “Who is my neighbor?” He was looking for loopholes. He was looking for a place where God’s law didn’t apply. We need a way out from under this sin. We are hopeless and helpless. In fact, we need something outside of ourselves to pull us out.
3. Why celebrate?
These people knew of Paul and of his writing. They knew that Paul was a joyous man, a celebratory man. So, you can hear them asking, “Why would we celebrate anything, Paul? This is a hopeless life that we live. Why celebrate?”
21 But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been revealed, attested by the Law and the Prophets. 22 The righteousness of God is through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe, since there is no distinction. 23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as an atoning sacrifice in his blood, received through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. 26 God presented him to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so that he would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.
Why celebrate? Paul says, “Because Christ is your righteousness.” We could meditate on that all day. Christ is our righteousness before God. Christ has settled once and for all in his death and resurrection, who stands in right relation with God. God’s wrath against those who were not righteous was poured onto him, and he has taken our punishment; not only that, but he’s given us his righteousness. Look, there is so much in this passage that we could spend a year here and not get it all. There’re all these allusions to the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat. Some of your translations have this big word called propitiation. Suffice it to say, Paul is shouting for joy. Christ is the righteousness you seek, and he has completed in his death and resurrection the great exchange. It’s Jesus’s righteousness for our unrighteousness. He took it on himself. He died in our place so that we could live in eternal relationship with God. -because God is radically obsessed with his own glory. Us being in perfect relationship with him brings him the most glory. Are you trusting in Christ, or are you like so many relying on your own ability, trying to earn good standing before God?
Friends, this is the Gospel. In fact, this is the first full expression of the Gospel that we get in the book of Romans. This is important because Romans is considered the greatest letter to ever be written. It is full of information about how man can be made right before God. The book of Romans is all about salvation and the Gospel.
4. Whose God is he?
In verse twenty-seven, Paul tells them that they shouldn’t boast because they weren’t saved by something they did. They were saved by faith that was given to them.
29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith
There is one God. He’s referring to that classic thing that all the good Jewish people would know. “Hear o Israel, the Lord, your God, The Lord your God is one.” That is very common for them to say, but they had forgotten like the people in our story and much like we do.
The Gospel is always followed by what the Gospel demands. We can’t rush past this. These words seem shocking to me. They’re a little bit out of left field. Right in the middle of what is one of the clearest explanations of the Gospel in all of Scripture, Paul is reminding his readers how they should live as people in a diverse community. He’s reminding them again that Gospel proclamations are always followed by Gospel implications, and those two are inseparable. I don’t want to go further than where Scripture goes. I’m not trying to claim that this is giving a specific instruction about how we are to live specifically here and now. But I do think this points to a bigger issue in the Bible that I think I can show you in every book of the New Testament. -that it is not the way of Jesus’s church to preach the Gospel of Christ without demanding from itself the kind of justice that the Gospel implies.
The question that Paul is answering for us (and, sadly, a question that I’ve heard from this church far too often) pains me because this is the way we ask this question today: “Why can’t we just preach the Gospel? Why can’t we just talk about making disciples? Why do we have to get into all this social stuff?” I’m telling you an overarching theme of the New Testament is that we must be people who do both. There is no question that the church must be the place that unashamedly and overarchingly preaches the Gospel – that man is sinful in need of a Savior, and that Jesus Christ alone is that Savior. As long as I have anything to do with that, that’s never going to change about this place. I’m pretty sure the other pastors would agree with me.
James tells us that a man’s faith is dead if he doesn’t show it in good works, meaning it’s worthless, meaning it doesn’t exist. In fact, this is what Jesus taught when he said that the greatest commandment was to love God and the second was to love your neighbor. What he’s saying is that it is impossible for a true believer to lift holy hands in worship to God and not stretch out holy hands in service and justice to those around them. If you think this is just scriptural command, I have historical data to back it up, too. We can look at a couple historical examples. In the early 1800s, great men like William Wilberforce had settled the issue of slavery in the UK. Even in 1785, not ten years after this country was founded, Virginia Baptists passed a resolution saying, “Slavery is a violent deprivation of the rights of nature and inconsistent with the republican government, and therefore recommended to our brethren to make every use of every legal measure to extirpate this horrid evil from our land.” That’s 1785, only eighty years before the civil war. People in American churches started standing up all over the place decrying the practice of Americans and, more importantly, Christians in this country, they were told to sit down and shut up because that’s not the Gospel, and that’s not what the church is supposed to do. “You’re getting into politics and social life, and that’s not what the church should do.” Then we gave it stupid names, like protecting the spirituality of the church. I’m convinced if the church had just dealt with this when it could and when it should have, this country would have looked a lot different in the 1860s.
In fact, our brothers in the UK in our very own denomination, thought we had lost our minds. Famous preacher Charles Spurgeon would not take communion with a slaveholder. He was afraid to come to the US South because he knew that he would be killed or maimed because of what he had to say about slavery. We have lost our minds. Then it happened again in reconstruction, again in the early 1900s, and again in the 1960s. This has happened over and over and over again.
Let me show you that this is not just subject to everyone becoming a Christian. There was some research done about twenty years ago by Oxford University. They asked groups of non-believers what they thought was the cause of the seeming inequality in America. Non-Christian white people put the answer at mostly individual responsibility and some unequal access to education. Then they asked non-Christian African Americans where it went. They said a little bit of unjust systems and a little bit of unequal access to education. Here’s the problem: If it were just an issue of getting everybody inside of the church, then what we would expect to see is that when we poll Christians with the same data, those lines would get closer together because we are united in Christ. But here’s what happened: When they asked Christian whites in America and Christian African Americans in America the lines were further apart. Friends, culture is more together on this issue than we are.
Look, I’m not like a national leader. I’m not some news pundit. I’m a guy in Columbus. I’m trying to read the Word of God. I’m trying to figure out what it means, trying to apply to our lives, and I am begging you, church, do not fall into the trap of our history again. We cannot let this moment pass us by where the groaning birth pains of the earth are showing us that something is deeply wrong. We must step up and be the church. -men and women who unashamedly preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and unashamedly call for its implication in every single way. The only thing that will provide lasting societal changes is the church of Jesus Christ stepping up to its responsibility as the church. The church must be the church. To be clear, our righteousness is not dependent upon us getting this right. Do not mis-hear me. Our righteousness is settled in Christ and Christ alone, but Jesus has established his church on earth to proclaim the glory of God. The glory of God is at stake when the church ignores the conversation about racism. Friends, the cycle could have ended in the 1780s, and we didn’t let it. The cycle could have ended in the 1910s and we didn’t let it. The cycle could have ended in the 1960s and we didn’t let it. When the church ignores its responsibility to lead, it suffers great loss. Let the cycle end with us.
Today I realize that I’ve been trying to earn God’s righteousness on my own. For the first time, I want to repent and trust in Christ.
+I will accept the responsibility of being the Church, and not separating the gospel from its implications.
– I will remove attitudes of superiority in my life that are based on my religious actions.
- In what areas of your life are you still striving to earn salvation? Why?
- Why do you think it is so easy to slip into the mindset of earning God’s favor?
- Why is it important that the righteousness of God has been revealed outside of the Law?
- What are ways that you can celebrate the truth of Gospel?
- What implications of the gospel are important to you? How do you connect them to the Gospel?
- Read some other places in the New Testament where the Gospel is proclaimed and find the practical application that follows it.
- Pray that God would open your eyes not only to the beautiful truth of the Gospel proclaimed every day, but would also make you aware of how the Gospel should be lived out in your day to day life.