Deleted (Romans 3:10-24)
A Sermon by Rev. Scott Dudley
A couple of years ago a famous Hollywood celebrity drew a lot of criticism when it was discovered that she had been exploiting some of the people that worked for her. I remember seeing her at that time in an interview saying,
I don't understand why everyone is so mad at me.
After all, I am a good person.
That phrase interested me because you hear it a lot these days,
I'm a good person, I'm good.
I think it is that idea that we are good people that makes being a Christian seem unnecessary and even weird in our culture. After all, Jesus offers to save us from our sin, and if we think we are good people, then we don't really see the need for a Savior. I think a lot of times Christ's death on the cross doesn't resonate with us because we don't realize the magnitude of the burden that Christ has lifted from us by forgiving our sin. And so, for a lot of us, God becomes kind of ho-hum. Even as a Christian, sometimes I am no different. A lot of times the thing that most excites me about God is not that He has forgiven me for my sin, but the ways He can help make me more successful, or help me to have a better, happier life. And if He doesn't do that, then I get depressed about God. I feel like He has abandoned me.
I want to give you just one pathetic example from my life. A couple of months ago at a meeting of our College Ministry, we were having some technical problems. There was a keyboard that didn't work, and I actually found myself thinking,
God, help! I am doing ministry for you and I want this to go well, come on in here and help with this keyboard thing, God. If you're God just do that, ok?
Then I stopped myself and I thought,
How small is my God?
God comes in human form, dies on the cross to forgive me for my sins and I have reduced Him to a keyboard repairman. And the reason I do that is that I don't take my sins seriously. I don't see the fact that He forgives me of my sins as that big of a deal, so the cross fails to move me. It fails to captivate me, and the miracle I begin to want is not salvation but my keyboard fixed.
Jesus will never be real for us... Jesus will never be exciting to us... until we realize the magnitude of the burden He has lifted from us. The only way to do that is to take our sin very seriously.
That's the issue Paul is talking about in the verses we just read from Romans. The whole first part of Romans is designed to demolish the idea that we are "good people," and therefore, not in need of a Savior. In chapter one Paul talks about the sinfulness of unbelieving people. Then he goes on in chapter two to talk about the sinfulness of religious types and he wraps it all up with the verses we just read. Paul's point is this: No-one is righteous... not one.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Now sin is an old archery term. It means to fail to hit the bullseye. What Paul is saying is that there is nobody that gets up every morning and hits a moral bullseye.
But here is what I think our culture does with that. We say,
So, what? Yea, I know I have these trivial little pecadillos. They are almost charming how small they are. I am not really sinful. I am morally sub-optimal. I have failed to maximize my spiritual potential. Why can't God just overlook my minor little imperfections? After all, I'm not Hitler or anything.
As if that were a recommendation! I hear that all the time. Well, here's the thing. God is holy. We have reduced God in our culture to this nice, kind of goofy, Grandpa in the sky. Biblically speaking, that is not who God is. God is holy as we sang about in the songs this morning. And what holy means is perfect, flawless, without blemish. Here is the deal... you can't be ninety-eight percent perfect. Just a little bit not perfect is not perfect. So if God accepts even the smallest sin, the smallest flaw, He has compromised His standards and He is no longer perfect.
Let me just take one example of a teeny, tiny, little sin. Let's take the teeny, tiny, little sin of gossip. We all do it and most of the time we don't feel so guilty because it seems like a small sin. So what is so bad about it? Why can't God just say, "Oh, it's all right?"
Well, for one thing, gossip destroys the reputation of a person.
For another thing, it can make people angry with that person for no good reason.
It can destroy that person's standing in everyone's eyes.
And if the gossip gets back to that person, it can wreck his sense of self.
So let's say God tolerates it because after all it's a little sin. We are good people.
Is God still perfect? For that matter, is heaven still heaven? Do you want to be in a heaven where people can gossip about you even just a little?
And is God still loving? Certainly not to the person who got gossiped about. That person's reputation got ruined, and no one was held accountable.
You see, God's love and God's justice are not opposites. They are the same thing. Finally, perfect love demands perfect justice. So even the littlest sin compromises who God is and is an absolute offense to God.
It is like a Silicon Valley chip factory. You know how even the smallest piece of dust will ruin the silicon chip so they have to wear gloves. They have all these filtering systems to keep the room clean. That is kind of how God is. The smallest sin mars His holiness. And chances are that you and I have committed more than just a few sins. Over the course of a lifetime most of us manage to rack up a few whoppers that really hurt people. That is why you and I stand guilty. It doesn't matter how good we are compared to someone else.
It matters how good we are compared to God. I could be in Death Valley; you could be at the top of Mount Whitney. You would be higher up than me, but you still could not touch the stars.
Measured against God's standards we fall short and that is the case that Paul is building against us. I know it is hard to hear. It is kind of depressing. But you know what? The gospel is bad news before it is good news. What Paul is saying over and over again is all have sinned, none are righteous... not religious people, not the unbelievers, all fall short of God's perfect standards. Everyone has marred creation. We all, therefore, stand justly accused of sin. Paul is like a prosecuting attorney hammering the point home over and over again. We are guilty. Guilty of sin.
But then, in verse 21 an amazing thing happens. Paul walks across to the other side of the courtroom and instead of being the prosecutor, suddenly, he becomes the counsel for the defense. And he announces that change with two very important words, "But now." And that "But now" are the most important two words in the book of Romans. Certainly the turning point of the book, and certainly the turning point of human history, and definitely the turning point in our lives.
But now a righteousness apart from the law has been revealed from God.
And what that means is that we are justified freely by the grace that comes to us through the redemption that Jesus Christ gained for us on the cross. "But now," we are justified.
I want to take a minute to talk about the word justified because I think it is important. You see justified is more than just forgiven. We are often told as Christians, "God forgives your sins." You know what? That is not quite one hundred percent true. God does more than that. He doesn't just forgive; He justifies us. To be justified is to be acquitted of all crimes. To have the records erased and deleted.
Think of it this way... if you went out and robbed a 7-11 and you went to trial, and the judge said, "You are guilty but this is your first offense so we will let you off the hook." That is forgiven. But if you went to court and the judge looked down at you and said, "We have no record, there is no record that you robbed that 7-11; you have been acquitted." Now, you are justified. Remember it this way. Justified is just as if I'd never done it.
If we know Jesus Christ, it is just as if we'd never done it. We are no longer like that piece of dust that mars the perfect chip. We are pure. We are holy. We are righteous in God's eyes, and that is an amazing thing. Not just forgiven, but justified.
Now some of you have probably heard this message over and over again. Maybe you have checked out on me because you have heard this all before. If you checked out, I want you to come back now and focus. Here is the important deal. I have heard this all my life. I studied this for three years in seminary. Here is the question I want to ask you.
Do you believe it?
Do you really, really believe it?
And more than that, do you trust it?
You see, I am not so sure I always trust it. I know it, but I'm not sure I always trust it. I have this image that God is up there not so much forgiving me, but really barely tolerating me. He is up there,
Oh, that Dudley, one of these days -- man. Oh.
I go around feeling guilty. And I start to think things like,
Oh no, I sinned.
I can't have friends now because I sinned.
Something terrible is going to happen.
Maybe I shouldn't preach because I've sinned.
Of course, you would never hear from me then. Paul is saying, "It is nothing like that." Paul is saying that because of Jesus, I am pure in His sight and so are you if you know Christ. He doesn't see our sin anymore. He doesn't know it is there. God, Himself, says this in Jeremiah,
I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.
If you are a follower of Christ, when God looks at you He doesn't see your sin, He sees nothing but the pure, righteous, holiness of Jesus Christ. Now it is worth saying by way of caveat that, of course, sin carries with it it's own consequences. You rob a 7-11, there are consequences to that. But those consequences are natural. They are not God punishing you. Because, what God sees when He looks at you is Jesus Christ. You are pure and holy in His sight. The reason that is true is because we are "in Jesus Christ." That is the phrase Paul uses over and over again throughout the New Testament, "in Jesus Christ." That preposition is so important... "in." It is like being inside a house. It is like being inside a suit of clothes. When God looks at us He doesn't see us, He sees Jesus Christ because we are inside of Him. That is what Paul means at the end of the chapter when he says this,
Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith: Not at all! We uphold the law.
That is an amazing statement. We don't uphold the law by ourselves, but Christ upholds it for us, and we are "in Him," therefore we uphold the law. It is what theologians call "imputed righteousness." It is a great little phrase... "imputed righteousness." Take it to work, try it out, people will enjoy it, "imputed righteousness." We are not righteous, but Christ is righteous in our stead. And that makes us pure before God.
And what all this demonstrates is two things about our God -- His love but also His justice. We tend to think of the cross as the demonstration of God's love, which it is. But it is also a demonstration of His justice. And you can see it in the very symmetry of the cross. You can see His justice coming down that vertical axis as God pours His punishment down on sin. But you can also see the love stretched out over the horizontal beam of the cross as Christ stretches His arms out in love for you and for me. The judgement and justice of God meets the love of God. And where they meet is in the center, in the heart of Christ. Justice is upheld because sin is punished, but love is also upheld because we are spared. And this is the answer to the common complaint that you have heard before about Christianity:
Doesn't all this talk about forgiveness mean that you Christians condone sin?
No, absolutely not. No sin is condoned. No sin goes unpunished. Every evil thing is accounted for. It is just that we don't take the punishment, Jesus does. It is a pretty clever system to get love and justice together, and I doubt a human being could have thought it up.
These few verses are some of the most life-changing verses, maybe the most life-changing verses there are. It absolutely transformed Martin Luther's life. You know the story, Martin Luther was a monk in Germany and he was obsessed with the holiness of God. In fact the first time he served communion he fainted because all he could think about was how holy God was and how unholy he was, and the chasm between the two of them. So Luther tried and tried to measure up and obey every law, always falling short. He was like a lot of us, always trying harder to be perfect, to be a better and more moral person. Do a better job. Be a better parent, spouse, worker, whatever. Always falling short and never measuring up. And then Luther read these words,
But now a righteousness apart from the law is being revealed.
It changed his life. Luther found out he was righteous because of Jesus Christ, because he was in Christ.
I heard Tony Compolo describe it this way. He said,
Remember when you were growing up and people would say to you,
When you die and go to heaven, there is going to be this giant video of your life for everyone to see.
Remember that? I was told that. I don't know about you. A giant video screen, and everything you have done, every horrible deed, every filthy thought, every vile thing you have ever done will be projected up there for everyone to see, and your mother is going to be there. It's terrifying right?
But he said,
You know that is not how it is. It is more like this... Remember Watergate?... Those tapes with Richard Nixon plotting and scheming. But when they got to the tape that was supposed to convict him, what happened? It was blank. There was an eighteen and a half minute gap because his secretary had erased the tape.
Guess what? If you know Jesus Christ, your tape has been erased. They are going to pop that baby into the VCR and there is going to be nothing on the screen in heaven but the pure, white snow of an erased tape. And Jesus Christ, Himself, will be standing right next to you, and He is going to say,
See, I told you he was righteous. I told you she was pure. They know me, and I have wrapped my holiness around them. They are justified in my sight.
1 John 1:8 says
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteous-ness.
It's been said that G.R.A.C.E. is an acronym for God's Riches At Christ's Expense. That's what Jesus offers us. Because of Christ, we are pure and holy and we become the adopted sons and daughters of God. God's Riches At Christ's Expense. That's what we receive when we come to communion. All of God's riches at the expense of Jesus Christ. At communion we see the extent our God would go to to reclaim us, and to redeem us, and to make us justified.
I don't know how you have come in here this morning. Some of you may have come in here with a load of guilt, or load of shame. Maybe some of you feel unworthy. Maybe some of you feel worthless. Let this table remind you that if you know Jesus your sins have been washed away. But as far as east is from west that is how far your sin has been separated from you. That is what God does. And if you know Christ, he remembers your sin no more. If you don't know Jesus this morning, I invite you to pray this simple prayer.
Lord come into my life and be the forgiver of my sins and the leader of my life.
And if you do that, just let someone here know. We would be happy to rejoice with you that you are justified before our Lord. This table is not for good people because there are no good people. This table is for sinful people who know their need for a Savior. And if that is you, then Jesus is our host here and He invites you to come.
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