Sunday, 11 May 2008

What God has done for you

Professor Graham Hill
Roman's Series part 6 Romans 3: 21-31
Justification - REAL, PURE, JOY

1. Introduction
I hope all of us will be agreed that the most vital question that faces all men and women concerns our standing before God and our relationship with him. Here I am a human being with all the nobility and depravity that that expression implies and there is God in all the infinite perfections of his being, my creator and my judge. I came from his hand in the beginning and I shall give an account to him at the end; will he accept me or will he reject me. That is the question and no question can possibly compare with that in importance for it concerns our identity as human beings and it concerns our eternal destiny in heaven or hell.

Over the past 5 weeks from Chapters 1-3 in Romans have learned much about ourselves that is very unpleasant and very unpalatable. All human beings of every race and rank of every creed and culture, the wicked and the good are without exception sinful, guilty, inexcusable and speechless before God. The wrath of God is upon us now and we are storing up wrath for the Day of Judgment if Jesus Christ has not saved us. It is enough to drive anyone to despair for it seems that there is no hope of salvation. Is there any hope for people like us? This was the terrible human predicament described in the first three chapters of Romans. Paul summed it up by saying:
‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’
We are led to ask is there any hope for people like us guilty sinners without any excuse.

2. But now --------what is justification?

So we turn to verse 21: ‘But now, one of the great assertitives of the New Testament ----- ‘But now’ - through the black storm clouds of the divine wrath shines the bright light of his mercy:

‘But now’ (verse 21) ‘But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known,--(verse 22) This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.

Let’s put the searchlight on this word righteousness, it was this very word that caused such a stumbling block to a young Professor of Sacred Theology at the University of Wittenberg in East Germany 500 years ago. In late 1515 Martin Luther began a series of lectures on the book of Romans. His growing understanding of ‘the righteousness of God’ changed not only him but the whole course of history! He wrote:
“I greatly longed to understand Paul’s letter to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, ‘the righteousness of God’ because I took it to mean that righteousness whereby God is righteous and deals righteously in punishing the unrighteous ……… Night and day I pondered until ...I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby, through grace and sheer mercy, he justifies us by faith.
Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before ‘the righteousness of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gateway into heaven.
Perhaps the meaning is easier to understand when we read the Good News Bible translation of ‘a righteousness from God’:
21 But now God's way of putting people right with himself has been revealed. ---- God puts people right with himself through their faith in Jesus Christ.

Justification is the technical word for God's way of putting people right with himself. Justified is a key word in the Bible. It's a legal term -- a term used in a courtroom. It literally means "to declare not guilty." It means to be acquitted.
Imagine yourself standing before a judge and you know 100% that you're guilty and you're waiting for the verdict. Your knees are trembling. The judge looks at you and says, "You are acquitted." That's justification! God declares you Not Guilty for all of the sins you have committed.
Justification is more than just forgiveness. It means that there is absolutely, no longer, any case at all against you. It's wiped out. You are in a perfect standing with God. All the charges are dropped. It's not like you're just forgiven. The charges are dropped! There's not even a case against you. It is forgiveness plus righteousness.
To Summarise: Justification is something that God does to us. He declares us innocent, not guilty. We don't earn it, we don't work for it. It's just something that God does to us. It is a free gift, the greatest free gift in the world; utterly underserved it is a gift to all who believe in Jesus for God justifies, verse 24, freely by his grace.

3. The grounds of our justification – Christ and his cross
What will now occupy the rest of our thinking about justification which is offered to us as a free gift, free gratis and for nothing because it has been obtained at infinite cost by God in Jesus Christ on the cross. It is only free for us because it was so costly for him.
This is what we now are going to investigate – what did God do in this decisive event in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross that provided a righteous basis upon which he could forgive us as an absolutely free gift of justification, salvation, forgiveness, reinstatement which we do not even to begin to deserve
What is the meaning of the cross? A key question and this is what we should ponder every time we gather around the Lord ’s Table for the Lord’s Supper dramatizes the gospel that is being proclaimed.

Please notice now that there are three expressions: verse 24 ‘and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus’, in verse 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement(or as the KJV says to be a propitiation), through faith in his blood. And in verse 25 ‘He did this to demonstrate his justice’.
Now here are three theological words with which all of us have to grapple if we want to understand the basis of our salvation that will give us assurance so that we can look God in the face and be afraid neither of life nor of death then we must understand these expressions that describe what God did at the cross – the first is redemption (verse 24), the second is propitiation (verse 25) and the third is justice (end of verse 25 and the beginning of verse 26) – the demonstration of the justice of God.

(a) Firstly then the cross is a Redemption from slavery
Sin in the bible is often likenened to slavery and being sinners we have lost our freedom. As Malcolm Muggeridge has said we are prisoners in our own dungeon of our egos – prisoners of our own guilt Verse 23, ‘for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.’
What is redemption? It means to release by paying a ransom. It was a word used in Paul's day in the Roman Empire. It was used to refer to slaves. Every day you could go downtown Rome to the open market and there was a slave market. You could go and buy slaves. There were over a half million slaves in Rome when Paul wrote this letter. Over half the population in Rome was slaves. If you had the money you could buy slaves that were put up on the auction block and do whatever you wanted to with them. You could kill them. You had total rights to those slaves in the Roman Empire. They had no rights at all. When you would go to a slave market and buy a slave you would pay a redemption, a price to release that slave. You could either take them home with you or you could set them free. That's the term Paul is using here. Paul later on talks about how we are in a sense spiritual slaves. We are slaves to our habits that we can't break, to our passions, to our own desires, to sin. Jesus Christ came and paid the ransom to set us free.
As we partake in communion let us ponder Christ’s work of redemption. Our justification rests on the fact that God, so loved us that he gave himself in the person of Jesus Christ and redeemed us, bought us out of slavery, shedding his blood as the ransom price. In consequence of this purchase we now belong to him.
(b) Secondly the cross is a propitiation of God’s wrath
Verse 25: ‘God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement (KJV to be a propitiation), through faith in his blood.
To propitiate someone means to turn aside their anger.
Some ask why is propitiation necessary? The pagan answer is because gods are bad tempered, subject to moods and fits and capricious. We have offended the Gods so we must turn their wrath aside. The Christian answer is because Gods holy wrath rests on evil. There is nothing unprincipled, unpredictable or uncontrolled about Gods anger; it is aroused by evil alone. We have no means whatever to turn aside the righteous anger of God. But God in his undeserved love has done what we could never do by ourselves: as verse 25 ‘God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement – he gave himself in the person of Jesus Christ to die in our place.
Prof Cranfield an influential theologian put it this way:
‘God, because in his mercy he willed to forgive sinful men, and being truly merciful, willed to forgive them righteously, that is, without any way condoning their sin, purposed to direct against his very own Self in the person of his Son the full weight of that righteous wrath which they deserved.’
In summary:
God’s own great love propitiated his own holy wrath through the gift of his only son, who took our place, bore our sin and died our death.
Thus God himself gave himself to save us from himself.
(c) Thirdly the cross demonstrates God’s justice
In verses 25 and 26 we learn that in the cross of Christ God, through redemption and propitiation, has demonstrated his own justice. Both justice (the divine attribute) and justification (the divine activity) would be impossible without the cross.
To summarise what we have learned about the grounds of our justification:
What God has done in his grace is that he has redeemed us from slavery, propitiated his own wrath and demonstrated his own justice: tremendous mind boggling truths that all of us ought to understand.

4. The means of our Justification – faith

The means of our Justification is faith; one of the great catch cries of the Reformation was:
sola fide – by faith alone
Sometimes I talk to Christians who, when they're asked if they're Christians say, "I'm trying." It's like being pregnant: You either you are or you aren't! It's not a matter of trying to be a Christian; it's a matter of trusting in Jesus Christ. It's by faith.
There are two mistakes people make when it comes to faith in Christ.
1. They say "I don't have enough faith." It doesn't matter how much or how little you've got. It's not the amount. It's the object that you put it in. It's not the size of your faith; it's the size of your God. You don't have to have a lot of faith. Everybody has faith. You have faith when you sit down in a chair that it will hold you up. You have faith when you drive away in your car in the morning. You have faith when you eat your porridge that your wife didn't poison it! Everybody has faith, it's just what do you put it in?

2. The second mistake is putting faith in faith. They think their faith in their faith is going to get them to heaven. No, it's faith in a person. Your faith is only as good as the object you put it in.

Faith doesn't save you; Christ does. A famous pastor says: a lot of people are going to miss heaven by 18 inches -- they have a head knowledge but not a heart knowledge. Faith in Greek means to trust in, cling to, rely on, adhere to. For instance, I believe in Hitler, but I'm not a Nazi. But I believe in Jesus and I'm a Christian. Commitment is the difference. It's faith in the person Jesus Christ who is the means of your justification.

Faith is a simple open hearted attitude to God which takes him at his word and gratefully accepts his grace.
No other system, ideology or religion proclaims a free forgiveness and a new life to those who have done nothing to deserve it but a lot to deserve judgment instead. On the contrary all other systems teach some sort of self-salvation through good works or religion, righteousness or philanthropy.
Christianity, by contrast, is not in essence a religion at all; it is a gospel, the gospel, good news that’s God’s grace has turned away his wrath, that God’s son has died our death and borne our judgment, that God has mercy on the undeserving, and there is nothing left for us to do, or even contribute. Faiths only function is to receive what grace offers.

5. Contemplating the Cross of Christ
As you contemplate the meaning of the Cross of Christ each time you participate in communion you might find it helpful to recall the theological words and there meaning by remembering a simple mnemonic: wonderful theological words every time you participate in communion.

Real – R = Redemption
Justification = Pure – P = Propitiation
Joy – J = Justice

‘Faith apprehendeth nothing else but the precious jewel Christ Jesus’
(Martin Luther 1531)
1. What do these verses teach about “righteousness from God’?
2. Can you define ‘justification’?
3. What parallels can you identify between the picture of ‘redemption’ and our situation as sinners?
4. What does ‘propitiation’ mean?
5. Apart from redeeming sinners and propitiating God, what else does Paul identify here as achieved by the cross?
6. Why is it vital to affirm that there is nothing meritorious about faith?
7. What three words are helpful when we are contemplating the cross during the communion service?