Eighteenth Sunday After Trinity October 3, 1999
123, 324, 375, 39
But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God which is through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. So far our text.
In the name of God’s Son, who is Himself the currency with which our salvation has been purchased, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
One day a young man came to Jesus. To look at him, you’d have said he was a very nice young man. He dressed neatly. He obeyed his parents. He kept his nose clean, attended church regularly, and stayed out of trouble. In short, he was the kind of son every parent would love to have. Well, this young man had a question for Jesus: “Good teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”—He was assuming—wrongly, of course—that there was something he could do that would make him righteous enough to deserve heaven. Jesus tried to set him strait, by giving him an impossible task. “If you want to enter into life,” He said, “keep the commandments.” But the young man still didn’t get the message. “I have kept the commandments, ever since I was a child.” Jesus tried once more: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor.” At that, he went away sorrowing, because he was a very rich young man. Jesus finally made him realize that what God expected of him—was more than he could give!
Have you ever been troubled by that realization? It’s pretty common among Christians. Every so often you get this nagging suspicion that you’re just not making the grade. Especially when a particular sin is troubling your conscience, you begin to doubt whether you’ll really end up in heaven after all! Exactly how much righteousness does God require for salvation? Is there anyone who can measure up to God’s standard of righteousness? Let’s clear away the doubts. In our text for today, the Apostle Paul answers these questions in a plain and simple way. And I think you’ll find that his answers are very Good News! In the words of our theme:
Did you make any New Year’s resolutions this year? Most of us probably made a couple; at least mentally, if not out loud. Bad habits we wanted to get rid of, or good habits we wanted to cultivate. Well, we’re now ten months into the New Year—how well did you keep your resolutions? Not too well, perhaps? It’s a lot easier to make those resolutions than it is to keep them, isn’t it?
God’s Law is like that. If you skim over the Ten Commandments without thinking about them too deeply, it might almost seem like you could make a stab at keeping them all. But the deeper you dig into God’s Law, the more you realize that you really haven’t even come close to keeping God’s commandments. And believe me, you’ve got lot’s of company! Our text says that all people are alike in this one thing: “There is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Now, some reformed churches teach that all God requires of us is that we be as righteous as we can—that we give it the old college try. Do as many good deeds as possible, try and be a good person (they say), and God is sure to accept you. But that’s not what the Bible says. That’s not what God’s Law requires. In His Law, God demands a perfect righteousness. To fall short just a little bit—is to fail completely. Scripture says, “Whoever offends in one point—he is guilty of all!” In God’s eyes, the one who hates is as guilty as the one who murders; the one who has an impure thought is as guilty as the adulterer. If there is one sin in your background, then you’ve broken God’s Law, and you may as well give up any idea of getting into heaven that way. It simply won’t work. “By the deeds of the Law,” says Paul, “no flesh shall be justified!”
Don’t kid yourself! If you want to have eternal life, then you’ve got to have a perfect righteousness—the righteousness of God Himself. Nothing less will do! Because we’re sinners, there’s no way we can provide it ourselves. Only God can give it. The message of our text is that this righteousness of God, a righteousness apart from the Law, is available. But for whom? Who are the lucky ones who will get it? Whom has God chosen to receive this precious gift?
Did you watch that PBS docu-drama about Doctor Frederick Banting?—He won the 1921 Nobel prize for medicine when he developed insulin, which proved to be an immediate and absolute cure for diabetes. But insulin was very difficult to manufacture, and only a limited amount was available at first. That meant that, even though there was a life-saving cure for their illness, some patients still died—because there wasn’t enough of the precious liquid to go around. How terrible it would be if the cure for sin was like that! What if the righteousness required for salvation was only available in limited quantities, and only a few people could obtain it? But no—Paul tells us that the righteousness of God is for everyone. The Good News of our text is that, because of Christ’s redemption—everyone can have it!
Yes, admits Paul, all of us are sinners. And yes, we have fallen far short of God’s requirements. But now he shifts the focus from the Law to the Gospel. No longer do we hear the ringing commands of what we must do; now we hear only the sweet music of what the Lord has done for us. We are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
What a precious word is that word, “redemption”. The Greek verb meaning “redeem” was most commonly used of slaves and prisoners of war. A slave could buy his way to freedom if he or somebody else could come up with the money required to pay off the person who owned him. It was usually a large sum, quite beyond the ability of most slaves to pay. In wartime, a prisoner of war could be bought back from the enemy if a large enough ransom price was paid by his family. What a beautiful picture of what Jesus has done for us! We were the slaves of sin. We were the prisoners of Satan, bound inevitably to spend eternity in hell with him. But Jesus refused to let us languish in captivity. He paid the ransom price required to buy us back from sin and Satan and hell. That price was high, higher than any amount that could be paid in dollars and cents. Peter reminds us, “You were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold...but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”—1 Pet 1:18-19. On the cross of Calvary—that cursed Roman instrument of torture—the innocent Lamb of God offered His life in exchange for ours. “He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him!”
In Christ, the righteousness of God is available to everyone. No exceptions. The antidote for sin is there, for anyone who cares to have it. That includes you! Christ has paid the ransom price for you. All that remains for you to do is to bring your sins to Jesus, and receive His forgiveness by faith. And that’s what faith is, really: not some kind of good work that we do, but just a reaching out of the hand to receive the gift of God. Yes, we’re humble about it. Like Paul, we know that there’s nothing in ourselves to brag about. But also like Paul, we can and should brag all day long about our Savior. To the Galatians he said, “God forbid that I should glory...except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!”—Gal 6:14. Who can now accuse you of sin? Jesus Christ paid for our each of your sins on that cross! Who can tell you that your righteousness isn’t what it should be? Jesus Christ gives us perfect righteousness—and it’s that perfect righteousness, my Christian friend, that’s going to get you and me into heaven! Kick up your heels and rejoice! You have every right in the world to join the hymnist in exulting
Who can condemn me now, for surely
The Lord is nigh who justifies.
No hell I fear—and thus securely
With Jesus I to heaven rise!
There’s no doubt about it—in Christ, the righteousness of God is for everyone. And that includes you and me!
If you’re like me, you may have come out of the summer a little lean in the bank account, or with a little more debt on the credit cards that you’d like. Wouldn’t it be nice to magically get out from under that debt? What if someone paid off every debt you owe—your home mortgage, your car loan, your credit cards? And what if that same person promised to keep on paying your debts for the rest of your life? “Why, it’s a dream,” you’d say. “Too good to be real!” Well, would you agree with me that our sins are the worst debts that we have? Then listen to what the Bible says to you: “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”—Col 2:13-14. A dream? Perhaps. But if it is, then this is one dream which, in Christ, has already come true! AMEN.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.