ESV Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteo usness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it– 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
What should I do?
What is the proper way to act in this situation?
What would be the right thing for me to do?
We are a people who need someone to tell us what to do. We are a people of law. We need external rules, regulations, policies and procedures to guide us, to restrain us, to give us a sense of security. Because when we think we know what is right; when we think we know what to do ourselves, we mess it up. The real fool is the one who thinks he knows what is the right thing to do. We are a fallen people and our internal guide is broken. We need external laws and rules to keep us under control and to guide us. The law is our guardian, it’s a fence around us to keep us in place and under control. And so we have become a people of law. We love rules. They give us a sense of security. We have guidelines, procedures, by-laws, and regulations for every aspect of life, and when we come across a new situation for which we don’t have guidelines, we make new ones to cover that situation. We employ Congressmen and Legislators for the specific purpose of coming up with new rules to govern every part of our life. Government regulations and legal codes fill literally millions of pages covering everything we do, purchase, eat, drink, wear, drive, build or make.
I’m not advocating that we do away with laws and rules, but the problem is we often use them in a very wrong way. We become their slaves. Rules and regulations are for the purpose of helping us to live better, safer, healthier, and get along with each other. They are supposed to be our servants, but we wind up serving them, becoming their slaves. We have the attitude that because there is a rule or policy, that is the right way. That just because some fallible, sinful human being sat down and wrote a law, that makes it right. Again just showing our love affair with rules. We think they make us better people.
For who among us does not think that obeying the law makes him a good person? Who among us does not feel proud of himself when he does a good deed? Who among us does not think that by obeying God’s commandments he becomes a better person, or that God is pleased with him on account of it? We think that the way to be more holy in God’s eyes is to obey God’s law; that the law is our path to righteousness. We think that the Christian life is about virtue, and that the Bible is a recipe book on how to be more virtuous.
But verses 19 & 20 of our text today tell us just the opposite. God tells us: “By works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight.” In Galatians God tells us, “by works of the law no one will be justified.” Obeying the law, doing good works, does not make us better people. The law is not God’s way of advancing us on our way to God or to holiness. The law doesn’t make us righteous. Obedience doesn’t make us righteous. The law never praises us and tells us how good we are doing, it only threatens and condemns.
That was the problem at the time of the Reformation. For at that time, the church preached almost all law. Seldom was heard the Gospel. The church preached law which condemns. People lived in fear of judgment and hell as seen in the art, music, literature, and poetry of the day. Paintings and frescoes abounded with judgment scenes and images of people being tormented in hell.
So then, if the law doesn’t show us how to be better people, what does the law do? According to our text, the law makes the whole world accountable to God. It reveals our sin. It makes our sins more visible! Now, that’s one thing I really would prefer to keep hidden. The law always accuses. It points its finger at us and accuses us of being sin. By means of the law, we know only an angry God. The law makes us God’s enemy, according to Romans 5. Galatians 3 tells us the law imprisons everything under sin and holds us captive. The law is a taskmaster, a slave driver. The law only has the power to condemn and kill, for God says in Corinthians (II Cor 3:6), the letter of the law kills. It can never forgive or raise to life or make us better people. The law accuses us of sin and the wages of sin is death. The law kills, period!
Once I got in trouble with the law and was arrested. I was taken to court and an officer of the law was my accuser. I was declared guilty. Then came the sentencing phase: I was condemned to die in the electric chair. That day the law killed me.
But now, apart… from… the… law, the righteousness of God has been manifested. The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. I was told to report to the prison where the electric chair was tomorrow at 10:00 am. The prison was located on a hill just outside of town. But there was a problem. I had a doctor’s appointment tomorrow at 10:00 am. I asked if the execution couldn’t be rescheduled. They said no. Now what was I to do? Then I had a plan. I would see if I could get a friend of mine to go to the electric chair for me. He agreed, and the next day he went in my place. His name was Jesus. So now the penalty was paid, so the judged changed my verdict to “not guilty.” Apart… from… the… law.
So, if the law does not make us right in the sight of God, what does? God’s grace does. What does God do to make sinners right in his sight? He dies for them. He made himself sin for you. He took your guilt from you and placed it upon himself. He took your place in the electric chair on a hill just outside the city limits in. He poured out his blood on a cross and paid the punishment for your crimes and sins.
Then he declared that you are right in his sight without having to do anything. He counts you righteous on account of Jesus. So, then, what about the law? Jesus obeyed it. Jesus fulfilled it. All of its demands and requirements have been met so you have been freed from its prison. All righteousness has been fulfilled. You have been released from the bondage of slavery to the law. The law can no longer accuse you for not doing what it says, because it has already been done for you, by the perfect obedience of Jesus. If the law shuts our mouths from bragging about how good we are, the gospel shuts the mouth of the law from accusing us. Paul tells us, “Who can bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” It’s not that God has tossed his law aside and no longer requires obedience; it’s that the law has already been obeyed and its demands have been met by his Son. Now God regards you differently. Now God recons you righteous through faith in his Son apart… from… the… law, and apart from doing what it says. For you have all sinned and lack the glory of God, and are justified by God’s grace as a gift.
How do you get to be righteous? God gives you his righteousness; you are merely the recipients of the gift. Jesus was set forth by God as our propitiation by his blood, you receive it as a gift. Jesus was made sin for you so that in him you might become the righteousness of God (II Cor 5:21) apart… from… the… law. Jesus absorbed all your sin into his own flesh and took it to the cross and crucified it (I Peter 2:23). Apart… from… the… law. Christ purchased forgiveness for you. Christ redeemed you from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for you (Gal 3:13).
So how now do we live? We all know that the Christian life is about virtue, and the law is a recipe on how to be virtuous, right? Wrong! We all know that now is the time in the sermon to give out the homework assignment: Here’s what you are supposed to go home and do, right? Wrong!
Now is the time to tell what God is doing in your life as a result of forgiving your sins: God is continually regenerating you. The Holy Spirit is at work in you continually to kill your old sinful nature and to renew you. This too is not your work. It is not the work of the law, it is the work of the Holy Spirit which he does in all who are in communion with God through faith in Christ. In Romans God says that by means of your baptism you died together with Christ. In baptism God put the old man of sin to death; then he created a new man, a new you, born again from on high and resurrected with Christ. He regenerated you, which means born again. This death to sin and regeneration is an on-going thing, it goes on continually throughout your life ,so that now the Spirit of God is making you instruments of righteousness, instead of instruments of sin. By the forgiveness of sins through faith you have been freed from the slavery and condemnation of the law, free to love your neighbor, free to live as children of God. Forgiveness is the source of your new life in Christ. It is what brings you into a relationship with God and makes you his child so that the Holy Spirit can produce his fruit in you. Not the fruit of the law, but the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of a new life, a renewed heart, a changed person, the fruit of love and kindness.
And that is the message of the Reformation. That is the eternal gospel which the angel flying overhead proclaimed to all the world. The message that apart from the law; apart from doing good works, God has declared you righteous in his Son, Jesus Christ. It is the message that God has freed you from slavery to the law; he has freed you from condemnation; he has freed you from the guilt of your sins; he has raised you from the dead and made you alive in Jesus Christ as you live, walk and have your being in the goodness and mercy of God.
So, tomorrow morning at 10:00 am… I’m not going to report to the electric chair. After all, Monday is my day off. Amen.