Romans 3:21-28 (Reformation Day—Observed)
“The Righteousness of God”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
October 28, 2018
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The text for Reformation Sunday is from Romans 3:
21But now, apart from the Law, a righteousness of God has been made known and is now out in the open, having been witnessed to by the Law and the Prophets, 22that is, a righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ into all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23for all sinned and are lacking the glory of God, 24while being declared righteous undeservedly by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God set forth publicly as an atoning sacrifice, through the faith, in His blood for proof of His righteousness on account of the passing over of the sins which had occurred previously and were yet unpaid 26in the delaying of God, toward the proof of His righteousness in the present appointed time, with the result that He is righteous and declares righteous the one from faith in Jesus. 27Then where is boasting? It was shut out. Through what kind of Law? Of works? No, but through the Law of faith. 28For we conclude that a person is being declared righteous by faith apart from works of the Law.
Who wants to go to heaven and live with the one, Triune God forever in the new creation that He will make on the Last Day? Looks like all of you! How can you be sure that you’ll get there? Wouldn’t you have to be certain that you are in a good standing with God? Of course. You have to be certain that there is nothing that would hinder or pollute or prevent you from being in God’s holy presence, certain that you yourself are righteous.
God’s expectation of all people is that they be perfect and holy just as He is. God said to the people of Israel through Moses, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2). Christ says the same in the Sermon on the Mount, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). There’s really no wiggle room here, is there? No loopholes to go through. Be holy; be perfect, just as God Himself is holy and perfect.
“Holy” means “set apart.” God is set apart in that He is without sin, corruption, or evil of any kind. The one, Triune God is perfect, completely righteous, right, and just. He is perfect love and mercy. Can the same be said of us? Let’s examine ourselves in light of God’s perfect standard in His Word.
Do we always fear, love, and trust in God above all else? Is the Lord’s Word always evident in our everyday talk and conduct, or do we curse, speak carelessly, or misuse God’s name? Do we sometimes despise God’s Word by paying little or no attention to it when it is read and preached? Do we always honor father and mother, teachers, employers, supervisors, government leaders, and pastors, receiving them as gifts that God has put in authority over us? Do always we treat our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit or do we hurt or harm them by gluttony, chemical addiction, or other abuse? Do we never hate another and never injure another by our words or deeds? Do we perfectly lead sexually pure and decent lives in what we say and do? Do we sometimes cheat or not take care of what we have? Do we always respect other people’s things? Is gossip something that has never passed through our lips? Do we always defend others against false accusations? Do we sometimes crave something better, different, or more than what God has given us? Have we done all that we can to mend or strengthen broken relationships? In other words, is there anything in us or in our speaking, thinking, acting, or desiring that is less than holy, righteous, and perfect?
Yes! There are things that are far less than holy, righteous, and perfect in us and in our words, desires, thoughts, and actions. “All have sinned and lack the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Each of us has missed the mark of perfection. We have fallen short of righteousness and have not hit the target of perfection. We are forced by the Word of Truth to admit that we are sinners who are not righteous, perfect, or holy in God’s sight.
Are we able to change that about ourselves? Can we alter our status before the perfect, holy, and righteous God by just doing the best we can? Trying harder? Getting it mostly right? Do we really have to be 100% holy and perfect and righteous to be with the Lord in eternity? Yes, we do. And you and I will not get to perfect righteousness and holiness on our own by just doing our best, trying harder, or getting it mostly right. “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (Isa. 64:6 ESV).
This is a huge, insurmountable problem for us! What cannot dwell in the presence of God? Anything less than holy, righteous, and perfect. Psalm 5, “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers” (Ps. 5:4-5 ESV). 1 Corinthians 6, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10 ESV).
Look at how God recoils in horror at that man. He’s an adulterer, sexually immoral. He doesn’t fear, love, and trust in the One, Triune God. He has other “gods” like His money, possessions, popularity, and power. He’s a thief and a cheat, a drunk, a gossip, a liar. He’s a hater, a murderer. He’s absolutely the greatest sinner ever and God is repulsed. He forsakes Him, turns His back on Him, abandons Him, completely allowing His wrath, anger, and punishment against sin to fall squarely on this man’s shoulders. Those shoulders are beaten and bruised, the marks of the scourging still fresh. The flesh tender and bloody. Those shoulders are pulled back and up as His hands and feet have been nailed to a Roman cross. He is thirsty, hungry. He’s in such a hopeless situation and even God abandons Him as He bleeds and slowly suffocates to death under the torture of crucifixion. The sins of the world have been completely charged to Him and to Him alone.
In disgust, in judgment, in wrath, God the Father must forsake and remove Himself from His One-of-a-Kind Son, Jesus. Jesus, bearing all the sins of every time and every place, was condemned to endure death and hell itself because, on the cross, He had given up His holiness, His righteousness, and His perfection in exchange for our sin, our evil, our unholiness. The holy, sinless Son of God became sin for you, suffering the very curse of sin and the complete wrath and punishment of God in your place. Look at how God recoils in horror at the God-Man, Jesus Christ, as He bears the sins of the world in His body on the tree (1 Pet. 2:24).
In His dying breath, Jesus cried out, “It is finished,” and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. The wrath of God against all sin is forever satisfied. The full and total punishment for every sinner from Adam and Eve throughout time stands complete. The punishment of death and hell was served by Jesus on the cross and His blood was shed to atone for your sins and mine. There is nothing left to be done. There is no punishment for sin that remains to be endured by you. As Johann Heermann, the most important and prolific hymnwriter in the time following Luther’s death, wrote, “The sinless Son of God must die in sadness; The sinful child of man may live in gladness; Man forfeited his life and is acquitted; God is committed” (LSB 439:5). God is committed to giving to you by grace through faith Jesus’ perfect righteousness and holiness that bestows on you the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. “For we conclude that a person is being declared righteous by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom. 3:24, 28).
So let’s think about this again. Who wants to go to heaven and live with the one, Triune God forever in the new creation that He will make on the Last Day? Again, it looks like all of you! How can you be sure that you’ll get there? You have to be certain that you are in a good standing with God. You have to be certain that there is nothing that would hinder or pollute or prevent you from being in God’s holy presence, certain that you are righteous. And the Good News of the Gospel is that you are indeed righteous and holy because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has given to you His own righteousness and perfection.
Jesus did everything God the Father commands of people and He completed it perfectly on your behalf. By grace through faith and trust in Jesus, you are credited with that perfect completion of God’s commands. By grace through faith and trust in Jesus, you are credited with Jesus’ righteousness that declares you not guilty of sin. You are forgiven because He suffered, died, and served your punishment in full! Since you have been given saving faith in Christ by Baptism and through the Gospel Word, you can be absolutely 100% certain that you are in a good standing with the Lord. You are covered in the saving blood of Jesus. You are united to His death and resurrection in Baptismal waters so that you wear the robe of Christ’s righteousness that covers your sins. That means that there is now nothing that hinders, pollutes, or prevents you from being with the one, Triune God forever in heaven and in His new creation. Your sins are forgiven. You have eternal life.
That’s the Gospel message that we are overjoyed to share in our world today. As Lutheran Christians, we are not shy to say that God’s righteousness, forgiveness, and salvation are available only through faith in Christ as a gift of God, not by works. But we are equally not shy about proclaiming that this righteousness, forgiveness, and salvation are available to anyone who has saving faith in Jesus. And what is it that people need in our community and world today? The gifts of God in Christ—forgiveness of sins and eternal life. What do people need in our neighborhoods, state, and nation? The gifts of God in Christ—your love and mercy and care in the name of Jesus. What needs do people have that you can see everywhere? The gifts of God in Christ—your compassion, empathy, and walking alongside them in their needs with Christ and His Gospel.
What you have been given—Christ’s own righteousness, the forgiveness of sins, eternal life—has been given to you so that it might be shared. It’s an eternal Gospel, Good News for all the hurting, the sorrowing, the broken-hearted, the down-trodden, and the fearful. So then, “Let ev’ry race and ev’ry language tell Of Him who saves our lives from death and hell. Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim Till all the world adore His sacred name” (LSB 837:5).
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.