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3-21 God to the Rescue

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2/6/2005 – MBC – Pastor Doug Thompson

“God to the Rescue”

Romans 3:21-24

20 by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight;

for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.

21 But now apart from the Law

the righteousness of God has been manifested,

being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,

22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction;

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;

Intro: Why I don’t care for science fiction. I’ve never read Lord of the Rings, or even seen the movies, which could qualify me for instant stoning at the hands of angry of homeschool children. What I don’t like is that there are no rules—the writer can get out of any plot by bringing in something supernatural. That’s not fair, that’s cheating. In the old Gk. and Roman dramas sometimes a writer would write himself into an unresolvable plot, and he would just bring in a god to get him out of the jam, They called that device, deus ex machine—god in the machine.

The Roman poet Horace said, “Don’t bring a god on the stage unless the problem is one that deserves a god to solve it!”

As we finally come to Rom.3:21, we have a situation that only God can solve. Paul has spent 2 ½ chapters painstakingly proving that all of mankind is involved in an unsolvable plot: all men, whether they are up to their armpits in sophisticated religion, or down on their knees worshiping rats and frogs—all men—every man, woman, and child, are, by virtue of their sins, under the judgment of God. We have been condemned, sentenced, and are awaiting execution.

And our secular society might laugh at what I just said and say it’s ridiculous, but why, then, are we so guilty?

Ø      Psychologist Erich Fromm said this: “It is indeed amazing that in as fundamentally irreligious a culture as ours, the sense of guilt should be so widespread and deeply-rooted as it is.[1]

Ø      Marlon Brando died last year. Back in the 50’s and 60’s he was the Brad Pitt or Colin Farrel of his generation. He was young, fit, and handsome. Before he died he weighed over 400 pounds. He said this: “I’m sorry for all the harm I’ve done and for all the troubles I’ve brought to others in my life. I’ve never been a good parent or a good husband. I’ve been too busy with my own life to have time for others. Now I’m a guilty old man who’s ashamed of the kind of life I’ve led. There’s nothing left for me except eating.”[2]

I’ve been around long to believe that unbelievers sense their guilt and they also sense that before God, they are in trouble.

And that’s what Paul has been saying: Our last hope and appeal has been denied, we’ve been shut down:

Ø      V. 20 by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight;

We just wanted a chance to have our day in court and argue with God the Judge what good things we have done that might offset the bad, but our appeal has been denied. The Judge won’t even hear it. Why? Whatever we have to offer is not nearly enough, because God’s standard for goodness is perfection. And besides, it’s just like a human law court: when the jury found Scott Peterson guilty of premeditated, 1st degree murder of his wife, it didn’t matter to them that he occasionally worked for charities and was kind to older people! Whatever good we have done is infinitely insufficient, and our sins, because they are all against a holy God, are infinitely heinous and offensive.

Every mouth has been closed, right? It’s as though the entire human race has been brought before God and gathered into one mass, and there is absolute silence—

And beloved, if we hadn’t studied these first 2 ½ chs., we wouldn’t be ready for the good news that comes next, but if you have been reduced to helplessness, hopelessness, and despair. If God, through these words has brought you to cry out for mercy, here it is—

But now! That’s so powerful! But now—on the other side of these two words is death and despair and condemnation—but now—there is an alternative! What man wouldn’t do, and couldn’t do, God has done. There’s a solution.

But now, God has come to our rescue! And this is no dream! This plot is real. A vast multitude of those who were under the sentence of eternal punishment will instead receive eternal life, peace with God, and heaven!

This morning we come to the good news. God offers every condemned sinner—

A righteousness apart from law and a justification through redemption. (We are just scratching the surface this morning . . .)



I. A righteousness apart from law.

Ø      20 by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight;

Ø      for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.

Ø      21 But now apart from the Law

Ø      the righteousness of God has been manifested,

A. It is of God and from God.

We have to turn back to 1:16-18 to see what Paul is talking about when he says “the righteousness of God:”

If you remember, this was the passage that turned the lights on for Martin Luther and launched the Protestant Reformation. But that phrase, “the righteousness of God” was a huge stumbling block to Luther. Luther took “the righteousness of God” to mean the attribute of God’s character. God is just and righteous and holy. And Luther knew that the greatest commandment was to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and he knew that he didn’t even come close, so if the gospel is the revelation that God is holy and just, and Luther is sinful—then the gospel is not good news, and Luther is damned. That’s why he said he hated God. Let’s look at it--

Ø      ROM 1:16 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.

Ø      ROM 1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "But the righteous man shall live by faith."

When Luther studied this passage in the original Gk., he finally understood what it meant: —

The rtnss. of God is God’s own absolute holiness and righteousness, but the “of” also means “from,” so it means the righteousness of God which comes from God to us!

If you get this, you see what Luther saw! God is righteous, and holy, and just. He demands absolute righteousness from His creatures—look at vv.18ff—God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against ungodliness and unrighteousness. God demands holiness—from you and I!

We don’t have it. Not even close—that’s the bad news. But the good news of the gospel is that God supplies us with the righteousness that He demands by giving us His own. Luther saw what Paul saw when God saved him—Phil.3:9:

Ø      PHI 3:9 [Paul said that he added up all of his achievements and qualifications before he met Christ, and they equaled a big zero] so that I  may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.

What once was only a demand is now a gift in Jesus Christ.

We will see more about where this rtnss. comes from when we get to ch.5, but let me try to put it in a nutshell: When Jesus walked on this earth, He kept God’s law perfectly. He never sinned. He was righteous. God appointed Jesus as the representative—the substitute, for everyone who will believe in Him—so if you trust in Jesus, God credits Jesus’ perfect rtnss. to your spiritual account. And He treats you as though you have kept the law as perfectly as His Son kept it! You are holy and blameless in His sight!

But never forget, that it’s not your own rtnss. This is why Luther called it “an alien righteousness,” a “righteousness outside myself.” Get a hold of this, and it is mindblowing! It brings such peace and security, because in terms of your standing before God, (if you trust in His Son) He doesn’t even look at your disobedience, He looks at His Son and His obedience. We sang it: “And God the just is satisfied, to look on Him and pardon me.” Listen to these words—they’re yours if you trust Christ:

Ø      ISA 61:10  I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

B. It is apart from law.

The good news of the Gospel, that we can stand before God, covered with His own rtnss., is “apart from the Law,” (lit. apart from law—it’s apart from any lawkeeping scheme) What does Paul mean? He means that God’s way of saving us has nothing to do with any human contribution or addition to His grace.

Ø      Beloved, we need to share the gospel with our unbelieving friends because they don’t know this! Ask any unbeliever to answer this question: “How do you get to heaven?” What will 99 out of 100 say? “Be good.” “Keep the 10 commandments.” A good follow-up question is, “Since you are relying on keeping the 10 commandments to get you to heaven, can you name them?” I saw a video of this question being asked of people on the street, and it was abysmal. Then they turned around and asked people to name 10 beers—and that was no problem!

But now, God has revealed a way of getting sinners to heaven that is completely apart from their lawkeeping or being good enough. V.20 says that that keeping the law will never get anyone to heaven, because God’s standard is sinless perfection, and v.23 says that we all fall short of that.

Now it does have to do with lawkeeping—but it’s not yours, it’s Christ’s. He kept the law that you could never keep, He did it perfectly, and if you trust Him, His lawkeeping is credited to you.

Ø      Not only are people ignorant of this good news, once they hear it, they aren’t thrilled about it either. There is something deep inside our skin that wants to see heaven as something we accomplish. Something we achieve by our own efforts.

This was the problem with the Jews of Paul’s time. Turn over to Rom.9:30--

Ø      ROM 9:30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith;

Ø      ROM 9:31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law.

Ø      ROM 9:32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, [Christ! He is a stumbling stone because He won’t allow for their good works. The cross has a sign hanging over it that says, “No help wanted!”]

Ø      ROM 10:3 For not knowing about God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.

The gospel is good news about the rtnss. of God that can belong to any sinner through faith in Christ, but it is totally, completely apart from their works. And you can’t be saved unless you subject yourself to God’s plan, you must humble yourself to receive something you can’t earn and you don’t deserve. I’ve known people in my life who would say, “I don’t take no charity!” But you will never get to heaven unless you take God’s charity in Christ—

Ø      ISA 55:1 "Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk Without money and without cost.

Are you dying of thirst? Will you admit that you are flat-busted? Will you take what was purchased for sinners by Christ?

“There are, after all, only two kinds of religion in all the world. Every false religion ever devised by mankind or by Satan is a religion of human merit. Pagan religion, humanism, animism, and even false Christianity all fall into this category. They focus on what people must do to attain righteousness or please the deity. Biblical Christianity alone is the religion of divine accomplishment. Other religions say, “Do this.” Christianity says, “It is done” (cf. John 19:30 ). Other religions require that the devout person supply some kind of merit to atone for sin, appease deity, or otherwise attain the goal of acceptability. Scripture says Christ’s merit is supplied on behalf of the believing sinner.”[3]

Paul goes on to say that this plan for salvation, this rtnss. apart from law, is not new, it was witnessed by the law and the prophets, and we will see that as we get into ch.4. I want you to see that this salvation is also--


II. A justification through redemption.


Ø      Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.

Justification is God’s declaration that a sinner is forgiven of all sins and righteous through faith in Christ. To be justified means that God looks at me just as if I never sinned. And this justification is based upon redemption: what Christ did and accomplished for sinners who will trust in Him.

These are two words here that every Christian should understand: justification and redemption. Rather than just define these words, I want to paint two pictures: two unresolvable plots that God stepped into to rescue us for Himself:

            A. Justification: Man in the law court.

Paul pictures man's situation like that of a condemned criminal in a court room. You are the defendant. God is the Judge. Satan (the Accuser) is the Prosecutor.

The Prosecution's case is really very short. You see he only needs to point out one of your sins, and then he just quotes Jms.2:10: "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all."

And as we saw in v.19, you have nothing to say—you are guilty before the Judge, you have no defense. But then, the Judge offers you a Defense Attorney, Jesus Christ! And He approaches the bench and makes the Judge an offer: He will take the death sentence for you so that you can go free. All you have to do is to plead guilty to the charges, and accept His offer.

If you plead guilty—admit you are a sinner, and accept Christ's offer God "justifies" you. This means that He declares you "not guilty," And that means that you are acquitted from all charges against you, past, present and future—the moment you believe:

Ø      ROM 5:1 Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

Ø      Rom.8:1: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

The Law of double jeopardy states that an individual cannot be tried a second time for the same offense if he has been acquitted. When you trust in Christ, you are a free man or woman, the trial is over!!

But not quite over, because before the Judge dismisses everyone He says that He has something else to say: “Not only do I pardon your sins on account of My son’s obedient death, but I hereby grant you His righteousness on account of His obedient life, and I grant you the inheritance that belongs to Him—all that He has is yours!”

That is justification: Through faith in Christ, you go from the status of a condemned criminal awaiting a terrible execution to that of an heir awaiting a fabulous inheritance!

B. Redemption: Man on the slave block.

The next picture that Paul paints of man's situation is that of an ancient slave block. The word "redemption" means to set a slave free by paying his redemption price. The Roman Christians would have understood this. Over half of the population of the Roman Empire at this time was slaves. And the slave-block was a part of the market place. You would go to market to buy food or tools, or clothing, and you could also pick up a slave or two while you were there. And once you paid the redemption price, that slave was yours—you could do whatever you wanted with the slave—including, setting it free.


Scripture says that mankind is on the slaveblock. This truth doesn't go over real well. The people you work with, go to school with, think they’re free; no one tells them what do to or think, or how to act. People resent the idea that they are slaves:

-Jn.8: I always laugh when I read Jesus' confrontation with the Pharisees in Jn.8. In v.32 He says, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free." How did they react? "We are Abraham's offspring, and have never been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, "You shall become free?" Never been enslaved?? What about those 430 years in Egypt — a long vacation in the south? And how about the 70 years in Babylon? But they were so proud, they couldn't admit that they had ever been enslaved to anyone. Jesus went on to say, "Truly, truly I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin."

Scripture says that men and women are born into this world in chains. We aren't free at all. We are slaves to sin, and slaves of Satan:

-Jn.l2:31: calls Satan the "ruler of this world"

-1 Jn.5:19: "The whole world lies in the power of the evil one."

-2 Tim. 2: 26: Says that we need to help people "escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will."

And there is one thing a slave can't do: he can't set himself free. Not for love or money. But it's God to the rescue again. He redeemed us from the slave block. He paid the ransom price to set us free from sin and Satan. How did He do it?

-1 Pet. 1:18, 19: "You were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ."

-Eph.l:14: "In Him we have redemption through His blood."

-Col. 1:14: "In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."

And when Christ sets you free from slavery to sin and Satan, He doesn't just turn you loose — you become His slave, His property:

-1 Cor. 6: 19: "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price!"

If you are sitting here this morning and you have been trying to rescue yourself from your sins by being a good person — I plead with you, give it up! God has already come to the rescue — His hand is out. There are just 2 questions:


1.) Will you plead guilty as charged? Will you stop trying to bribe the judge with your good deeds, and accept what Jesus did in your place?

2.) Will you admit that you are a helpless slave to your sins, and allow Jesus to set you free by His blood?

Once D.L. Moody was preaching and a man came up after the service and said, "Mr. Moody, what do I have do to be saved?" Moody said, "I'm sorry, but you're too late!" He said, "Too late?" Moody, said, "Yes, it's too late to do anything to be saved; it's already been done!"

For communion--

Justification illustrated

In his book Spiritual Depression, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones tells about a young girl in the days of the Covenanters in Scotland. She was going to attend a Communion Service held by the Covenanters on a Sunday afternoon, a service that was absolutely prohibited under the law.

The soldiers of the King of England were looking everywhere for people who were going to meet together and partake in this Communion Service, and as this girl turned a corner on her way she came face to face with a band of soldiers, and she knew she was trapped.

For a moment she wondered what she was going to say. She was unwilling to lie, but it would be deadly to tell the truth. But immediately on being questioned, she found herself answering: “Mt Elder Brother has died and they are going to read His will this afternoon, and He has done something for me and has left something for me, and I want to hear them read the will.”

And they allowed her to go on.[4]


[1]Morgan, R. J. 2000. Nelson's complete book of stories, illustrations, and quotes (electronic ed.) . Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville

[2]Morgan, R. J. 2000. Nelson's complete book of stories, illustrations, and quotes (electronic ed.) . Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville

[3]MacArthur, J. 2000. The gospel according to the Apostles : The role of works in the life of faith.

[4]Morgan, R. J. 2000. Nelson's complete book of stories, illustrations, and quotes (electronic ed.) . Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville

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