Romans 3 v 21 – 26
Please turn with me in your Bibles to Romans and we’re going to chapter 3 this morning. We’re skipping ahead a little bit, because it’s Reformation Sunday, and I want to consider the topic of the Reformation together with you this morning. So please turn with me to Romans chapter 3. We’re going to read together from verse 9, but we’re going to expound only verses 21 through to verse 26.
9What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. 13Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. 14Their mouths is full of curses and bitterness.
15Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16in their paths are ruin and misery, 17and the way of peace they have not known. 18“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
19Now 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. 20For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
21But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it– 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom 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. 26It 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. (ESV)
I want to consider together with you this morning the Reformation. The Reformation: its principles, power and progress. And we want to look first of all at its power which has to do with its history. And as we do that, let me give you my 4 main points that I will be following this morning up ahead, so that you can follow along. We’re going to look at a great momentum to Reformation firstly, secondly a God-given moment of redemption, thirdly a Godly manifestation of righteousness and fourthly a glorious means of redemption. They’re very closely interlinked. We’re going to see a great momentum to Reformation. Why did that happen? It happened because there was a Godly manifestation; there was a God-given moment of redemption in history. That Reformation came – that power – that great momentum came because there was a God-given moment of redemption in history, centuries before that. And that God-given moment came because there was a Godly manifestation of righteousness. And that Godly manifestation of righteousness came, because at the very heart of everything there was a glorious means of redemption. So what happened in the Reformation was the fruit of this glorious means of redemption which we will look at.
- A Great Momentum to Reformation
Let’s look at the history of it a little bit. The Protestant Reformation was the 16th century Christian political intellectual and cultural upheaval that splintered Catholic Europe, setting in place the structures and beliefs that would define the continent – even up to the modern era in Northern and Central Europe. They were reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin and Henry the 8th in England – don’t forget about Henry the 8th either – that challenged papal authority and questioned the Catholic Church’s ability to define Christian practice and truth. We see that it’s necessary again – we now have a pope standing up in this week saying that homosexuals are people too and they have a right to a family too. Whoever thought that the Catholic Church would arrive at the point where it condones abortion – where it condones homosexuality – where it condones transsexuality? Whoever thought that would be possible? And it’s possible because it just happened. There’s more reason than that just the fact that Catholics dress their pastor like mother and call him father why I am not a Catholic. There are reasons of Truth and they are important. We need Reformation again. What happened is they argued – these men Calvin, Luther before him even – they argued and John Calvin and Henry the 8th – they challenged papal authority and questioned their ability to define Christian practice and truth. And they argued for a religious and political redistribution of power into the hands of Bible preaching and believing pastors and princes. And the disruption triggered wars, it triggered persecutions and the so-called counter-reformation within the Catholic Church – which was the Catholic Church’s delayed, but forceful response at the time to the Protestant Reformers. Now the Protestant Reformation, I think we can date back to 1517 with the publication of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, which he pinned to the door of the church in Wittenberg. Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk as most of you know, and he was a university lecturer in Wittenberg in Germany when he composed his 95 theses which protested the Pope’s sales of indulgences and from Penance also. And although he had hoped to spur renewal from within the church – that’s what Luther wanted – he never wanted to split the church – he wanted renewal within the church. That’s what Luther wanted. In 1521, he was summoned before what we call the diet of Worms – which is not something on a menu – and he was excommunicated. And he was sheltered by Friedrich, the elector of Saxony and then he translated the Bible into German and he continued his output of pamphlets to stir the people to reformation. And when German Peasants, inspired in part by Luther’s empowering priesthood of all believers, revolted in 1524, Luther sided with Germany’s princes, and by the Reformation’s end Lutheranism had become the state religion throughout much of Germany, Scandinavia and the Baltic states and then the Swiss Reformation began in 1519 with the sermons of Ulrich Zwingli, whose teachings largely paralleled those of Luther and – at least to a measure – independent of Luther, by simply reading the Scriptures. In 1541 John Calvin, a French Protestant who had spent the previous decade in exile, writing his ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’ – which I recommend you get a copy of. It is available in our book room – He was invited to settle in Geneva and he put his reformed Doctrine which stressed God’s power and humanity’s predestined fate into practice. And the result was a Theocratic regime of enforced and Biblical morality in Geneva. And it became a hotbed for Protestant Exiles and these doctrines quickly spread to Scotland, to France, to Transylvania, and the Low Countries were Dutch Calvinism became a religious and economic force for the next 400 years.
I encourage you to read up on this history and to acquaint yourself with it. If there’s an era of history that you need to educate your children on, it is the history of the Reformation. No other history will make sense to them until you do, because it explains to us what the Word explains to us. It shows us how we ought to really live our lives as we read in Romans 3 and why we need to live our lives like that. But we see that this was just a great momentum to Reformation in the Reformation didn’t start with Luther. It started with Jerome and Huss and Wycliffe and others much earlier than that. But in this time the Lord gave to it a great momentum – in the time of Luther, and we praise Him for it. And may the Lord give us such a momentum again and may it begin this Reformation Sunday in every family; in every community. May the Lord bless us with that! Why did we experience that great momentum to Reformation? It’s because the reformers stood up against all the heresies and false practices of the Roman Catholic Church and reminded the Lord’s people the world over that there had been:
- A God-given Moment of Redemption
It was needed because of what we just read in verses 9 through to verse 18, because humanity found itself in this terrible, terrible state that is described for us in verses 11 through to 18. Does this describe the society we live in today – when you see what is happening the world over in almost every quarter? Where do we find it better described than in these verses 10 through to 18 of Romans chapter 3? None is righteous. No, not one. People walk around like bright sparks with all kinds of ideas, but the Word tells us no one understands. People walk around like little Gods, but the word tells us no one seeks for God. People think they’re on track to great happiness and joy and fulfilment in this world, but the Bible says all have turned aside together they have – and they walk around like the cat’s whiskers like they are God’s gift to humanity, but the Word tells us they have – become worthless. Everybody wants to be a goody two-shoes and mother and brother Teresa, but the Bible says no one does good – not even one! And as for the things they say: their throat is an open grave. They use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips, their mouths are full of curses and bitterness. What about what they go about doing? Their feet are swift to shed blood and in their paths are ruin and misery and the way of peace they have not known and worst of, all worst of all, in fact, all these other things happen because of the last thing that the Apostle says here, “there is no fear of God before their eyes”. And it’s because that is the state of humanity that God had to intervene. And that takes us to verse 21 – that God-given moment of redemption that I referred to. Two beautiful words in verse 21: ‘but now’ – but now! When you read those verses you kind of hope for but, but it will get better it will it will not stay that way – and praise God it didn’t! ‘But now’, what’s that moment – that God-given moment of redemption? What is it? When did it happen? It happened in history. It happened on the cross of Calvary – that’s where it happened! It’s a time in history. “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested” – now – it was a moment – a God-given moment of redemption and it was inaugurated through the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is that ‘but now’ moment! Drink it into your hearts and into your families and into your thoughts and your emotions what happened in that ‘but now’ moment. God intervened through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Why was that necessary? Because our sin is so bad and we stand so guilty before God that there is nothing that you and I can do. Without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness. And the blood that you and I can shed is contaminated blood. Sin pulses in every vein with every heartbeat, in every thought! Our blood just couldn’t do it! It took the blood of the Lamb without blemish, slain before the foundation of the world – the Son of God Himself! The only one with Holy Blood; with pure blood acceptable to God flowing and pumped out through the heartbeat of that Lamb without blemish; the Son of God in that ‘but now’ moment as He whimpered from those parched lips: “My God, My God! Why have You forsaken Me!?” That moment! And when He said: “It is finished” – a God-given moment of redemption is what eventually brought the great momentum to Reformation, because God will not let His people forget what happened on that cross. He will not let people dress it in the garb of men and women and in the plans and designs of men in His Name and let it be forgotten and think you can buy what you need from God with money and power. You need that blood that was shed in that ‘But Now’ moment. It was a God-given moment of redemption.
- A Godly Manifestation of Righteousness
Look what Paul says: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law.” What does that mean? Today we don’t like to use words that are what we call ambiguous – that can have more than one meaning, but in ancient times people weren’t afraid of that – to use a word with an ambiguous meaning so that it has a fuller meaning. It embraces more than just one meaning and that’s the case with righteousness. It refers to the morally right character of God that is clearly shown in His saving action by which human beings may stand in the right before God as our divine Judge. What is righteousness? It’s a very simple thing for human beings. It is to give to God and to your fellow human beings what is due to them. God always does that – He gives to Himself and to His creatures what is due to them. That’s His righteousness, but it’s not only what He does. It’s how He is. He does that from within His own unblemished Holiness; His perfect righteousness. There is nothing wrong in Him – not in His Creed – not in His Character – not in His Conduct is there anything blemished in the slightest. He always gives Himself what is due to Himself and that is all glory because He is the God without sin – perfect in all His Holiness and attributes. And He is right to demand worship from people. To human beings He gives His righteousness. Where does that leave us? Some while back, I said something from the pulpit that kindled a debate between me and another beloved brother – and I do love him. We always have good debates. Remember what I said that time? Let me remind you, I said: “Do you know that when God saves you, He does not give you justice and you ought to praise Him for that.” And the criticism that I got for that is that I said that God is not a God of Justice. That’s not what I said. I said when God saves you He does not meet out His Justice to you, because if God had a meet out His Justice to you, there’d be nothing left of you. Amen!? What would be left of me if God exercised His Justice towards me? If He opened me up in my true self and put me on display for the world and say ‘let Me give him his just desserts’ there would be nothing left of me. Not even a blotch! He does not give us Justice. He gives us Grace. The Justice He poured out in that ‘but now’ moment on His own Son. That’s the righteousness from God. He poured out His wrath upon that Lamb without blemish and manifested His righteousness apart from the law. Although the law and the prophets bear witness to it. “The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe for there is no distinction for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
I need to backtrack a little bit and point out two things to you about the Reformation. There are two principles underlying it. We call it the Material principle and the Formal principle. The formal principle is that salvation is by Scripture alone. That’s what forms the thinking – that’s the formal principle. The material principle is by Grace alone through Faith alone. And you see it in this text that we’re reading. The Five Sola’s of the Reformation, you know them well: Salvation is by Grace alone, through Faith alone, in Christ alone, according to the Scriptures alone, to the Glory of God alone. These are the dictae of the Reformation and they were all over this text. Where we are now looking at it in verse 21, the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law – that’s to the glory of God alone. Salvation is to the glory of God alone. Here’s the formal principle: It’s according to Scripture alone, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it. It’s by faith alone – the righteousness of God through faith. It’s in Christ alone – in Jesus Christ. Do you see the Sola’s of the Reformation all over this text? There they are! That people can stand with an open Bible before us and give us Catholicism boggles the mind! There was this God-given moment of redemption because of this Godly manifestation of righteousness to the Glory of God alone, according to the Scriptures alone, by Faith alone in Christ alone. He says again in verse 22 for all who believe! Not for all who pay indulgences – for all who believe! “For there is no distinction for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
And so what have we seen thus far? We’ve seen that there was a great momentum to Reformation because there was a God-given moment of redemption: ‘but now.’ And that was because there was a Godly manifestation of righteousness to the Glory of God alone, according to the Scriptures alone, by Faith alone and Grace alone, in Christ alone. And here it is: “The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law although the law and the prophets bear witness to it the righteousness of God through faith in Christ Jesus for all who believe for there is no distinction for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” You will never hear the Gospel more clearly than that by just reading it in your Bible. And he carries on and we see now it’s all because of:
- A Glorious Means of Redemption
What were the means by which God achieved and did this? It is Grace alone, Christ alone, Faith alone. Grace alone verse 24: “and are justified by His grace as a gift.” That’s the means – that’s where the means spring from – the Grace of God. It’s what I said to you earlier on: when God saves you He does not meet out His Justice. He gives you His Grace, because He meted out His Justice on Christ. That’s the Gospel. That’s a glorious means of redemption. Don’t you praise God that He doesn’t deal with you according to His Justice all the time, but that He gives you His Grace? If you own the Name of Christ and you seek His glory – justified by His grace as a gift. That’s the means of redemption.
Notice that it’s in Christ alone: “through the Redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood.” That’s the means. It’s In Christ alone. And it’s by Faith alone. He repeats if again as he had said it earlier in verse 25. How do you receive it? Okay, you say God gave us this Redemption. How do I receive it? He tells you to be received by faith – faith alone. Why did God do it that way? It was “to show His righteousness, because in His forbearance He passed over former sins.” Do you know why God didn’t Squash us all long ago? His forbearance – His forbearance! He had passed over former sins. 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. Do you have faith in Jesus this morning? Do you have faith in Him this morning? Do you trust in other things? Do you trust in indulgences? Do you trust in the good things you do, the tithes you pay, the things you refrain from doing? Or do you trust in the blood of Jesus alone for your Redemption?
On this Reformation Sunday you and I need to be reminded once again that there was a great momentum to Reformation, because there was a God-given moment of redemption. And there was a God-given moment of redemption, because there was a Godly manifestation of righteousness. And there was a Godly manifestation of righteousness, because there was a glorious means of redemption.
Salvation, we are reminded is by Grace alone. Let’s say it loud on this Reformation Sunday. Say it with me: by Grace alone, through Faith alone, in Christ alone, according to the Scriptures alone, to the Glory of God alone. That is our faith. Live it.