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Look in the Right DirectionRomans 3 reformation

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Look in the Right Direction                  Romans 3:19-28

Romans 3:27—Where then is boasting?  It was excluded.  Through what sort of principle?  One of works?  No, but through a principle of faith.

Think with me for just a second about opposites.  One way to think about them is to say that 2 things which are opposite cannot occupy the same space at the same time.

So, light and darkness cannot fill the same room at the same time.  You can have growing light that drives back darkness, or vice versa.  But light and dark are opposite.  So are love and hatred.  Truth and error.  And any number of things like that.

Today we celebrate the Festival of the Reformation of the church.  A day to remember.  A day to rejoice.  And also a day, ourselves, to be changed again, since the Lord of the church has not yet returned in glory.  Perhaps you’ve noticed. 

And so we need to be RE-FORMED in who we are as Christians and how we think and believe and live as Christians.

Most of us are familiar with the 3 Sola’s or the 3 Alone’s of the Reformation.  Grace Alone.  Faith Alone.  Scripture Alone.

The reading from Romans 3 takes us directly to that middle one—faith alone.  That’s where Paul is living and moving in Romans 3.

Question.  What is the opposite of faith?  Well, if you just look at the text in Romans 3 the answer is very obvious.  The opposite is works.

Not the works of the Law, but faith in Christ is what gets a person into a right relationship, gets them right in the sight of God.

But, let me ask the question again and offer a slightly different answer.

What is the opposite of faith?  What cannot occupy the same space as faith at the same time?

The answer is boasting.  Paul says, “Where is boasting?  It was excluded.”  It was shut out.  There is no room for it.  Boasting is the opposite of faith.

Now, why would that be?  I can suggest 2 things about boasting.

First of all, boasting spends its time looking in the wrong direction and looking at the wrong thing.

This is precisely the issue Jesus addresses in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican in Luke 18.  “I thank you, God that I am not like other people.” I. I. I. I.  It’s a little obvious.

But there are clever ways of boasting that come because we spend too much time looking at ourselves, looking in the wrong direction and comparing ourselves with others. 

Now, there are 2 ways this works, of course, depending on whether you have a neurosis or a character disorder. 

I heard once that the difference between a neurosis and a character disorder is that a neurosis makes you unhappy, and a character disorder makes everyone else unhappy.  Whatever.

You can boast.  Look in the wrong direction.  Look at yourself and despise the people around you.

Or, you can boast.  Look in the wrong direction.  Look at yourself and you can despise yourself. 

The one is just successful boasting.  But both are boasting because you’re looking in the wrong direction and at the wrong thing.  It’s the opposite of faith.

I suspect that you can stop right now and imagine a very particular person in your life.  Maybe it’s a spouse or a co-worker or a neighbor or a friend. 

You can stop and admit that you have been boasting, comparing yourself to them, perhaps despising.

Boasting is the opposite of faith.  It drives out faith because you’re looking in the wrong direction.

The second thing about boasting is this—it talks.  Boasting talks.  It loves to talk.  And it loves to talk about itself.  I.  I.  I… as in the Parable in Luke 18.

Now, you can be clever about this.  You can mask the I.  You can wear a mask, appropriate on a day, we don’t like to admit it but the celebration of the Reformation falls on Halloween and people wear masks.

And so you can wear the mask of every Sunday worship attendee.  Or the mask of Church Board Member.  Or the mask of Community Volunteer.  There are all kinds of masks.  And we hide behind them, but we’re really just talking about ourselves.  And about our passion.  And about our zeal and why we’re right and the other person isn’t.

Boasting talks and there’s a lot of noise.  And it might only be in your head, but you’re looking at the wrong thing and you’re talking a lot.

And that’s why in verse 19 the Law has to come in, Paul says, and “whatever the Law speaks it speaks to those in connection with the Law so that every mouth may be shut.”

Where there is boasting, faith cannot remain.  And boasting grows little by little.  It can drive back faith.

Paul says, very interestingly in verse 27, “Where then is boasting?  It WAS excluded.”  Not, oddly, as our English versions read, “It IS excluded.”  But, I’m very happy to say, the Greek text insists, “It WAS excluded.” 

How did it happen?  Paul says, “Through the principle of works?  No!”  The opposite of boasting that drove it away is the principle of faith.

What is it about faith that has excluded boasting?  Faith looks at the right thing.  It looks in the right direction.  Something that someone has displayed for faith to see.  Someone has put the right thing forward.

God put forth Christ.  And when God did that boasting was excluded.  God put forward Jesus for faith to see.

What do you see when you see Jesus?  You see a sacrifice.  A sacrifice by which guilt and filth are taken away.  His bloody death was enough to make you clean.

No, don’t look at yourself to check!  Don’t look in the wrong direction!  Don’t check to see if you’re clean enough.  Look at Christ!  The sacrifice that cleanses you and strips away your boasting.

Faith looks at Christ whom God displayed and set forward as a sacrifice, Paul says.

What do you see when you look at Christ?  You see God’s justice.

How evil is sin?  So evil that it is tangible.  It is real.  It is destructive.  And it cannot be ignored.  Sin must be dealt with.  And the righteous Judge has dealt with your sin.

For centuries, as His plan worked its way out, God passed over the sins formerly committed.  He had not yet fully and definitively dealt with your sins.  But He never lost sight of what needed to be done. 

And then, one day, He excluded boasting.  And when you look around at what God did you find out that you and I are nowhere to be found.  Nowhere. 

One Man is there.  God displayed Him.  Jesus of Nazareth.  In His own body, taking the justice of God against sin.  And dying, the consequence of my boasting, and yours.  And the boasting of the whole world.

And Jesus rose from the dead.  He isn’t dead anymore!  And He will never be dead again!  He lives!  And so, guilt is undone.  And death is undone.

Faith looks at what God has put forward for us to see.  And on the day that Jesus died, and on the day that Jesus rose, boasting was excluded.

Faith drives it out.  And boasting talks a lot, but faith covers the mouth and is silent—at least at first.  Faith is silent and lets someone else do the talking.

And God speaks.

“This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”

“My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”

“Peace be with you.”

The Judge speaks to you, and He says, “Fully accepted.  Slate clean.  Not guilty.  You belong to Me.”

Dear friends, let faith drive out the boasting.  Once again, this day, look to Christ.  Look to His body and blood.  Look to your Baptism where faith in Christ has been delivered to you.  Look to His Word by which the Holy Spirit strengthens faith in Christ.

Be silent and listen to Him as He says, “You belong to Me.” 

And then, all boasting excluded, we will leave this place, and strangely, we will have something very good to say.

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