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Once Bad, Now Good (Romans 3:21-26)

Romans: Guilty with Hope  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  45:52
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Today's message: Once Bad, Now Good (Romans 3:21-26)... "Now that you know you’re really bad, it’s time to focus on what’s really good." // To find out more about Involve Church, head to involvechurch.com or email info@involvechurch.com.

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Introduction

Good morning! Its good to see each one of you today - I want to welcome you again. For those that don’t know - I’m Pastor Luke and I have the privilege of getting to preach a little more often this year. We just rolled out our Step Up leadership training this year and that training takes place for three hours every fourth Saturday of the month. Pastor Ryan is doing a great job in developing that course work, but as you can imagine preparing a three hour lesson and all of the coursework leading up to that lesson takes a lot of time, so to give him that necessary time to prepare I agreed to share some of the preaching load this year. We are so excited for each person going through that leadership development and we’d ask that you be praying for them. They are people that have stepped up to say - “yes, I’d like to lead people to know Jesus in the context of the church, my family, and my everyday life” and they are going to invest many, many hours in 2020 to become better equipped to do what God has called them to do. So please be praying that they would have endurance and that God would give them strength as they step out in faith to become better leaders for Jesus.
Q&A Slide
Well, with that said, if you are joining us today, I’ll fill you in on where we are at. Three weeks ago, we started our series in Romans. Something unique about this series is we are doing a text-a-question time. If you have a question that comes up in the middle of the sermon, feel free to send it in to the number on the screen. We’ll have that number scroll across a couple of the slides, too, as we move through the message. We just invite you to make this an interactive series - we’ve enjoyed the questions so far - hopefully you find the time helpful. I know that we are learning a lot as we try something new.
And Romans was a letter that was written by the Apostle Paul about 22 years after he was commissioned by Christ to take the message of the Gospel to the Gentiles. There was a question a couple weeks ago that was submitted asking who started the church in Rome. And while we don’t know exactly who started the church in Rome, many scholars guess that it was primarily Jews from Jerusalem who had placed their faith in Jesus and traveled up to Rome. Once in Rome, they began speaking in the synagogues and also in the streets regarding what they witnessed - and that was Jesus crucified and then risen from the dead three days later. And as they shared, others came to believe and the church in Rome was established and began to grow.
And as you begin studying the letter from Paul to the church in Rome, you begin to realize that Paul is providing the church in Rome with the foundations - the core gospel - of the Christian faith. He is building a solid, airtight argument for the fact that all people, everywhere need Jesus. And its possible that because there was a mixture of Jewish and non-Jewish believers in the Roman church that there was some confusion about the status of each individual. One of the most important things we need to understand before we dive into the text today is that, up to this point in history, the Jews were the only people that could make this statement - “We are uniquely chosen by God. God has revealed to us alone His perfect ways and His perfect Word. We and we alone are His covenant people.” And the non-Jews - called the Gentiles - knew that the Jews had this attitude towards them. They knew that the Jews looked down on Gentiles for the sinful things in which the Gentiles participated. Last week, we went through an entire list of horrible, awful things which the Jews were forbidden from participating in.
And as Paul is building his argument through the end of chapter 1 of Romans, you can feel the Jewish believers and even those Jews hearing this letter read who had not yet placed their faith in Jesus saying, “Yep - those Gentiles are pretty bad. But, as Jew, I’m the chosen of God. I’m one of the covenant people. God’s got me covered.” And then you see Paul make this statement in Romans 2:1, speaking to those with a Jewish background:
Romans 2:1 CSB
Therefore, every one of you who judges is without excuse. For when you judge another, you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the same things.
As we are going to see, Paul turns the tables and begins showing us that not only are Gentiles sinners and stand guilty before God, but Jews are just as guilty. We are seeing in the first several chapters of Romans that Paul is building this argument:
All stand condemned aside from Christ, so trust in His righteousness alone. God equally applies His perfect and righteous judgment to every person and the standard which He uses to judge them is whether they’ve been perfectly righteous in everything they do. Those who are not found to have been perfectly righteous in everything they do stand condemned. We are going to wade into some difficult things today and sometimes it might seem a bit tedious, but I’m asking you to stick with me. Its crucial, because as we work through Romans together, and we seek greater understanding about what this means and the implications of it all, we won’t only understand how guilty we are, but we will better be able to see the depths of forgiveness and grace God has shown in Christ. And it should move us to a life of awe, wonder, and worship of Him.
With that said, let’s pray together before we move on.
Pray

There is no special status - all are the same (vv. 1-5).

Who here is familiar with the concept of diplomatic immunity? Do we have anyone familiar with the State Department or anyone who works in the State Department. I’m a big fan of political dramas, myself. One controversial thing that seems to always come up in political dramas is this concept of diplomatic immunity. Here is one way to define it: Diplomatic immunity is a form of legal immunity that ensures diplomats are given safe passage and are considered not susceptible to lawsuit or prosecution under the host country's laws. And so a lot of political dramas like to set up a scenario where you have a diplomat, many times in the US, that is intentionally and knowingly breaking laws, but then they claim diplomatic immunity to avoid prosecution and they get away with all of the horrible things they’ve done. Whether things pan out like that or not in real life, I don’t know, but it makes for good TV watching. Point being - diplomats have a special status that helps them avoid the consequences of their actions. And that very well could have been a Jew’s attitude in regards to God’s judgment - that, as a Jew, there is some special status that helps me to avoid God’s judgment. Let’s see what Paul has to say.
Remember that Paul has just said that Gentiles in their unrighteousness have suppressed the truth and done all manner of wicked things at which point the Jews, hearing this read in the assembly are probably feeling pretty good about themselves, then Paul says,
Romans 2:1–5 CSB
Therefore, every one of you who judges is without excuse. For when you judge another, you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the same things. We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is based on the truth. Do you really think—anyone of you who judges those who do such things yet do the same—that you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you despise the riches of his kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? Because of your hardened and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed.
Paul is now saying that the Jews - who were uniquely given the truth of God - also suppress the truth by their unrighteousness. This is a complete paradigm shift. He has completely leveled the playing field. And as Paul is anticipating that someone might think that this is unfair of God he says in verse 2
Romans 2:2 CSB
We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is based on the truth.
This is very different from human judges, isn’t it? Even the best and most impartial of human judges can’t 100% of the time judge based solely on the truth. I would guess its one of the hardest parts about being a judge - wanting to be partial in some cases and impartial in others. But God’s purity, righteousness, and perfect justice demands that He judge based only on the truth.
Romans 2:3–4 CSB
Do you really think—anyone of you who judges those who do such things yet do the same—that you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you despise the riches of his kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
And now Paul gives the reason that God does not pass immediate judgment on the Jews - its because He wants to give them a chance to see the light. He wants to give them a chance to repent of their hard hearts and turn, with humility, to Jesus Christ. But then he says this,
Romans 2:5 CSB
Because of your hardened and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed.
This is another way of saying that God will not be patient forever, but that He will one day judge in perfect justice and righteousness and those that remain hard and unrepentant will face God’s perfect judgment.
Now, you might be asking yourself - by what criteria does God judge? What will happen when God judges? I’m glad you asked. Let’s read on.

The criteria are the same for all (vv. 6-11).

Romans 2:6–11 CSB
He will repay each one according to his works: eternal life to those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality; but wrath and anger to those who are self-seeking and disobey the truth while obeying unrighteousness. There will be affliction and distress for every human being who does evil, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does what is good, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. For there is no favoritism with God.
Paul, here, is helping us grasp the perfect justice of God. God must perfectly and righteously dole out punishment for those that sin - even a little bit - and reward for those that live perfectly righteous. He pours out His anger and wrath on those who live in unrighteousness and grants glory, honor, and immortality to those that persist in doing good. If God wasn’t this way, you would have reason to question whether He was just or not.
Some of you who know me well know that I’m a guy who loves patterns and systems and organization, right? Something else I love - God’s Word. When you put both of those things together - I start geeking out. Let me share something with you that is not just cool, but helps us understand what the main point of verses 6-11 is.
Everyone close your eyes for a minute and visualize the letter “x.” You’ve got it? Ok, now I’m going to tell you how to pronounce that letter in the language of the New Testament. Say “xi.” Awesome. You can open your eyes. Verses 6-11 use a literary device called chiastic structure that serves to highlight certain ideas and motifs. To help, visualize an “x” again. At the top left of the x is a point Paul wants to make - Point A. Just below it is the next point - Point B. Below it is Point C. And at the very center of the x is the main point - Point D. And that’s typically the main point. Then, visualize in your mind the lower left leg of the x, just below the center of point D is Point C’, followed by B’, and A’, with each of the primes corresponding to their parent points. So I’m going to share something with you - verses 6-11 are in reverse chiastic structure. By now you are asking - why is he going through all of this? Because its cool. But more importantly, being able to recognize this helps us to understand Paul’s main point in these five verses. So if its chiastic and the main point is in the center - if its reverse chiastic, the main point is on the outside. Let’s take a look…see the left side of the ‘x’:
A God repays each person according to his works (v. 6).
B God gives eternal life to those who do good (v. 7).
C God shows wrath and anger to those who are unrighteous (v. 8).
C’ God gives affliction and distress to those who do evil (v. 9).
B’ He gives peace to everyone who does good (v. 10).
A’ God shows no favoritism - all are on equal footing (v. 11).
All people are on equal footing when we consider the criteria - God repays each person according to what he or she does. He gives no one special status, but fairly and impartially measures them according their works.
So at this point, we have that the Jews are not better off in their standing with God than Gentiles and we have Paul leveling the playing field, demonstrating that all people are judged according to the same standard of truth - God applies it to all. By this point, the Gentiles might be feeling a little bit better about their standing, given what Paul has just had to say to the Jews. But, they would be wrong.

All are the same with or without the Law (vv. 12-15).

Paul starts dealing with a concept called the Law. Let’s take a look:
Romans 2:12–15 CSB
All who sin without the law will also perish without the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For the hearers of the law are not righteous before God, but the doers of the law will be justified. So, when Gentiles, who do not by nature have the law, do what the law demands, they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts. Their consciences confirm this. Their competing thoughts either accuse or even excuse them
In this particular instance, I’m going to summarize what Paul means by the Law for you. We could spend a lot of time on what Paul is talking about here - weeks. But suffice it to say that he is using the word “Law” in two different ways.
The first way is the Law of Moses, many times referring to the first five books of the Old Testament. There were rules and regulations given to the Jews in order to set them apart and demonstrate to others that they belonged to God - that they were His chosen people. By living in this way and keeping the Law, humbly before God, they would be in right relationship with God - they would be His people, and He would be their God. It would be a good and beautiful thing. But - here’s the catch. Somewhere along the line, the Jews transitioned from humble obedience to the law and a sincere sorrow over sin in their lives to an attitude of “we have the law and we are the covenant people, so God will overlook our transgressions because we are the chosen.” To that, here’s what Paul said,
Romans 2:12–13 CSB
All who sin without the law will also perish without the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For the hearers of the law are not righteous before God, but the doers of the law will be justified.
He said that its not enough to have and to Know God’s truth, but you have to also live it out in your life. So the Jews have the Law of Moses, the way by which they can have a relationship with God, but they don’t abide by it. If you live by it, you are justified. But Paul is saying they don’t live by it, so they are not justified. They are guilty.
Then Paul starts using the word “law” in a different way. He almost anticipates at this point Gentiles listening to the reading of this letter in the assembly and saying to themselves, “Aha! I don’t have the law, so I’m not held responsible for what I don’t know or don’t have.” But Paul starts talking about something that is written on the hearts of all people - their conscience. Paul makes the argument that you and I know the difference between right and wrong without ever having been taught what is right and wrong. He says,
Romans 2:14–15 CSB
So, when Gentiles, who do not by nature have the law, do what the law demands, they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts. Their consciences confirm this. Their competing thoughts either accuse or even excuse them
Paul talked about in chapter 1 that natural revelation - all of creation - testifies that there is a Creator God who made all things. Now, in chapter 2 - Paul is talking about natural law - that there is Creator God who made you and me in His image and placed within us a moral compass that, deep down, helps us to know the difference between right and wrong. But in our unrighteousness, we have chosen to sometimes and many times ignore that moral compass. Even though we know what is right, there are times we choose to do what is wrong. And Paul says that these thoughts we have cause conflict within us and we try to justify ourselves. But in the end, as we see in verse 16,
Romans 2:16 CSB
on the day when God judges what people have kept secret, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus.
Can I see a show of hands - who here is perfect? If we were to lay out everything you’ve done, both known to people and unknown, would you be found absolutely blameless? Raise your hand if that’s you. Paul says that righteous judgment of God affords to you a verdict of guilty and the payment for that guilt is God’s wrath and anger, affliction and distress - and ultimately, death.
Romans 3:9–13 CSB
What then? Are we any better off? Not at all! For we have already charged that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin, 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; they deceive with their tongues. Vipers’ venom is under their lips.
End of message. Let’s pray.
Just joking.

But there is hope - “according to my Gospel through Jesus Christ” (v. 16, and others).

Paul says something at the end of verse 16:
Romans 2:16 CSB
on the day when God judges what people have kept secret, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus.
And in the statement “according to my gospel through Christ Jesus” is where we find our hope.
Listen to me - there’s only one person ever, in history, who could have said - “yes - I have fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law. I have not fallen to temptation. I can stand before God, the completely impartial, righteous judge, and - based on my own merit - I should receive glory, honor, and praise from God.” That person was Jesus Christ. But do you know what happened instead? He died a sinner’s death and received the punishment of a person that would be judged unrighteous by God so that you and I might experience the rewards of His righteousness. He took our punishment on Himself and gave His reward to us who place our faith in Him and Him alone.
Paul says it better later in Romans:
Romans 3:20–26 CSB
For no one will be justified in his sight by the works of the law, because the knowledge of sin comes through the law. But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been revealed, attested by the Law and the Prophets. The righteousness of God is through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 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. 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.
If you repent and place your faith in Jesus - the righteous One - His righteousness becomes yours. His eternal life becomes yours. He died a sinner’s death so that you didn’t have to. And more than this - in an amazing miracle, He demonstrated His complete power over even death and His complete sufficiency to accomplish all things and He rose from the dead, so that we might know that even physical death has no hold on us who place our faith in him.
Jesus came for the Jews - as the anointed one sent from God to save them from their sins.
He came to live a perfectly righteous life and died a sinner’s death.
He came as the righteous requirement of the Law, both for the Jews who failed to do the Law, but also for Gentiles whose consciences condemn them.
And in placing our faith in His righteous life, his death, and his resurrection, we are saved. And so I’m going to make a plea with you this morning - don’t make this impersonal. I stated the main idea of the passage earlier - All stand condemned aside from Christ, so trust in His righteousness alone. But I’m going to restate it, as a challenge:
You stand condemned aside from Christ, so trust in His righteousness alone.
God offers forgiveness in Christ as a free gift to all those who place their faith in Him. Go ahead and bow your heads. This morning, I want to invite all of you who are already believers to reaffirm your faith in Jesus by praying with me, but if you’d like to respond by taking first steps to placing your faith in Christ, feel free to pray with us. Pray after me,
“Father, I admit I fall short of righteousness. I admit I’m a sinner and deserve your judgment. I’m sorry that I’ve sinned against you and others. Lord, I thank you for your Son Jesus who died in my place and rose again. Moving forward, I place my faith in His righteousness alone and in nothing that I can do. I humbly ask that you help me to walk with you daily. In Jesus name, Amen!”
Ok - before we have some application points, we have a time for Question and Answer. So I’m going to invite Pastor Ryan up to join me for some Q&A time.
Q&A Slide
Application Points
If you placed your faith in Jesus today, make sure to let us know by submitting a response.
If a believer do you, like some of the Jews, have a casual view of sin? Invite God to check your heart this week for any areas that need His cleansing power. Talk about it with a brother or sister in Christ.
What might this “equal footing for all” do in your attitude in regards to others who don’t know Jesus? Pick one thing you can do this week to show God’s love and mercy in Christ Jesus to someone who doesn’t know Him.
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