A God of Salvation
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed-a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
Paul in this letter is writing to Roman believers a synopsis of his beliefs, and to church leaders in Jerusalem where he would have to make an adequate explanation of himself. The language and concepts shared in these passages are that the Gospel of God is that salvation is for all who believe; righteousness of God; universality of both salvation and judgment; and that salvation and righteousness are available through faith. The adversative “But” in Romans 3:21 heralds the solution, but the text in between these verses highlights humanity’s unrighteousness and need of God’s righteousness.
1. The Problem
“All have sinned” (Romans.3:23). Our inherent sinful nature of unrighteousness comes to all mankind from the first rebellion against God by Adam. To be with God eternally we need to be declared righteous, for unrighteousness cannot enter the holy and righteous presence of God. So for humanity, created in God’s image (Genesis.1:26) to re-enter God’s presence, each person needs to be declared righteous and thereby justified. Justification is the transformation from a condemned criminal to that of an heir awaiting a majestic legacy. If God doesn’t punish unrighteousness, then God would have to destroy not only us, but also Himself. Holiness is an absolute attribute of God, which requires the punishment of any impurity or unrighteousness (that is sin), and if unrighteousness remained unpunished, God would cease to be God and we would cease to be human. Ergo, since the first rebellion God has had a Gospel plan to restore righteousness to man.
2. Initial Questions
2a. What is the Gospel plan?
The Gospel is one, which Paul is separated to according to his own words in Romans.1:1. Paul announces it is the power of God for the salvation of all in Romans 1:16. The Gospel is the good news that God has provided the means for rebellious humanity to be rescued from His wrath and judgment. The Gospel is a two-fold message: it is deliverance from the final judgment resulting from God’s anger against sin and a crediting of righteousness upon sinful man. Not only will humanity be saved, but has been saved. This Gospel creates faith (Romans.1:16-17); brings life (Romans.1:16) and judgment (Romans.2:16)
2b. What is wrath?
When we think of wrath, it is usually of an uncontrollable rage or temper tantrum. God’s wrath does not portray the human weaknesses of vindictiveness, or an uncontrolled pique. We can dismiss such ideas, since due to His forbearance, God’s anger and judgment has been smouldering since the first rebellion of Adam and Eve. God’s wrath invokes justice (Romans.2:5).
2c. What is righteousness?
There are three meanings to this key phrase of Paul’s: “righteousness of God”. Firstly, righteousness is an immutable characteristic of God, in that whether it is a righteousness that judges or a righteousness that saves, it is still God’s righteousness. Secondly, that His righteousness demands God actively keeps the promises He has made. Thirdly, that His righteousness makes us righteous. So, who needs this righteousness?
3. God’s Judgment
When we describe God’s judgment, similarly there are three aspects to it, all of which give a total and clear picture. For God’s judgment to only have one or two of these characteristics, would mean it was not the judgment of a holy God. God’s judgment is inescapable, righteous and impartial.
We are inherently self-righteously hypercritical of others. Paul tells us that this makes us hypocritical and we have no right to stand in condemnation over people, as what is common in all humanity is a universal sinfulness or separation from God (Romans.2:1). We set unachievable high standards for others and yet remarkably low standard for ourselves.
God will judge according to what each person has done (Romans.2:6). While we may be justified and declared righteous by faith, we will be judged based on the works we do, to earn rewards. Our faith is to be supported by good works (Galatians.5:6; James.2:18). Paul here shows two destinies. Eternal life, glory, honour, peace and immortality for those who enduringly desire to perform good works (Romans.2:7,10). Juxtaposed to this are the self-indulgent and disobedient who shall incur God’s indignation, wrath and righteous judgment (Romans.2:8-9).
God shows no favouritism (Romans.2:11), so whether Jew or Gentile, both can be saved and be declared righteous. God is eternally just and righteous. It is a reflection of His mercy, that nobody can claim God is unfair.
4. All have sinned and need God’s righteousness
4a. The Gentile is in need
Gentiles, non-Jews, require this righteousness of God. Unrighteousness is universally endemic as all humankind has rebelled, “fallen short of God’s glory” (Romans.3:23) which has been passed down since the original sin in Genesis. Whilst God has given the Jew the Law, how has God revealed Himself to the Gentile? He has revealed Himself and His invisible attributes, fully to all humanity through their individual conscience (Romans.1:19) and His creation (Romans.1:20).
In Christ, God has now revealed Himself fully in visible form (Colossians.1:15-17) so that humanity has even less of an excuse not to worship God, follow Him and be obedient to Him. Whether it is through ignorance they did not glorify Him (Romans.1:21); through foolish wisdom (Romans.1:22) or self-indulgence (Romans.1:25); God allowed man free will and gave them over to their desires (Romans.1:26, 28).
This is viewed in non-heterosexual practices (Romans.1:26-27) being viewed as an abasement and denial of God. It is noticeable also through idolatrous attitudes and actions. Humanity began as creations’ pinnacle but ended up beneath creation when man started worshipping creation instead of the Creator (Romans.1:23). Gentiles are without excuse (Romans.1:20) and their actions decree their eternal destiny. Having suppressed God, God thereby debased man’s mind to all kinds of wickedness (Romans.1:28) so that humankinds temporal pleasure may be appeased, and of which, are still in evidence today.
4b. The Jew is in need
Jews had the Law and boasted in it (Romans.2:23). However, possession of the Law was of no consequence to God and Paul claims it is practicing the Law, which matters. Their religion was an external action but not an internal attitude. Jesus’ regular denunciation of the Pharisees reflects this. Adultery, robbery and idolatry (Romans.2:21) were perfectly possible for a Jew to commit secretly according to the Sermon on the Mount. Instead of being God’s light to the nations, Jews were dishonouring God (Romans.2:24; Isaiah.52:5). Packer in his book “Knowing God” reflects: “The Law cannot save us, for its only effect is to stimulate sin and shows us how far short we fall from God’s righteousness.”
If not the Law, then surely through circumcision a Jew will be declared righteous! After all, the circumcision is the mark of God’s covenant with Israel (Genesis.17). Again, Paul says no. Circumcision avails nothing if the Law is not kept (Romans.2:25). An uncircumcised Gentile who keeps the law is more acceptable to God than a circumcised Jew who breaks the Law. A Jew is one who inwardly experiences God, not one who exhibits external worship alone (Romans.2:28-29).
Paul continues. All humanity has rebelled against God, both Jew and Gentile. Paul cites Old Testament verses to back his claims that all men are unrighteous before God’s wrath (Romans.3:10-18). There are no excuses. Just like the excuses we come up for when caught speeding in our cars.
5. Salvation for all
5a. Revealed for all who believe by faith
All people are under God’s wrath and are therefore condemned. This wrath, Carson writes is brough forth by universal human wickedness”. We are in need both of rescue and to be justified before God. Paul, continuing with the adversative “But now” (Romans.3:21), explains that God has also provided us with a righteousness that is available immediately so that we may be saved from His wrath. The Law as we have seen condemns any who do not keep it. Yet combined with the Prophets, the Law bears witness to this righteousness. How do we achieve this justification?
Faith, succinctly described by JI Packer in “Knowing God”, reminds us, “is a self-abandoning trust in the person and work of Jesus.” By exhibiting faith in Jesus, as it is due to him, we have been declared righteous and have a legal status of being justified, if we choose it. Can we earn it? We have seen how both Gentile and Jew have failed in trying to achieve salvation (Romans.3:23). Nevertheless, we need to believe in order to receive the righteousness we have asked for. This grace (Romans.3:24) declares believers “righteous at the beginning of their course, not at the end of it”. This gift, which is free, enables believers to be justified through the act of redemption (Romans.3:24).
5b. God’s Wrath Propitiated through Redemption.
Redemption implies ransom. It is the purchase of a slave, simply to set that slave free. It involves a ransom payment. God’s grace pays God’s justice on our behalf so that righteousness can be declared. God’s grace is the origin of our justification. This redemption, results from God the Father presenting Jesus Christ as a sacrifice to appease His wrath. Our redemption involved the death of Jesus as our payment. God’s righteous wrath now averted and appeased through this act of propitiation, means we are therefore liberated as a demonstration of His righteousness (Romans.3:25-26). All humanity are slaves or prisoners to sin (Romans.3:9), and it is from this slavery the Gospel declares we have been delivered. The full consequences of this redemption will not be experienced until we have overcome and persevered to gain our eternal inheritance (Romans.8:23-25).
Is there any difference today? People are still blasé and ignorant of God, having suppressed the truth. People still declare that the existence of God cannot be proven by rational science and advanced knowledge. People are still both hypercritical of others and therefore hypocrites. It is to this world, we are to apply our theology. This gospel of salvation, which justifies us in order to declare us righteous, thus sparing us from God’s condemnatory wrath, is the one we are to use to spread the good news, that God’s righteousness is free by faith, to all who humble themselves, admit their guilt and ‘lost-ness’ and ask God for forgiveness.
For those who would already call themselves a Christian, you are to tell others about this salvation and you are to serve Him, where ever you are and where ever you go! Jesus is the one you are following and its on His terms alone that you are His disciple. If you view Him as a superhero, somebody who you call upon only when you need something or even as your boyfriend, then beware: Jesus will not be mocked – He wants all aspects of your life to be submitted to Him!
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who defied Hitler, wrote these words “When Jesus Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. Discipleship is not an offer that man makes to Jesus Christ, nor is it hero worship, but intimacy with Christ.” Want to be intimate with Jesus Christ? Worship him alone and exhibit your faith to all you come into contact with! Too often Christians and churches side with the rights of the powerful and elite, while forgetting the poor, oppressed and marginalised. Too often Christians and churches neglect to feed the hungry, seek justice for the oppressed and help the poor. There are enough Christians and churches in the UK to make significant positive change to their local communities. Too often Christians sit around on their backsides discussing good theology while in that same community people die of loneliness & neglect.
You say you have faith in Jesus Christ and are dedicated to Him! Good! Then show it and this community will be transformed to the glory and praise of Jesus Christ! Go tell somebody this good news of Jesus Christ. Won’t you go tell somebody this very day, this week, this message of salvation? Salvation, as a free gift and available to all who ask, because nobody can earn it or buy it. The price has already been paid – by Jesus Christ alone on a Roman cross two thousand years ago. If you ever hear people say Dave Roberts has died, tell them that is false. Tell them Dave Roberts is now more alive than ever before.
For those who would not yet call themselves Christian, you need to bow your knee before Almighty God. If you want to turn to God there is no need for delay. He is ready and willing to take you as His own right now. You only have to ask Him to forgive you and to give you help on the journey ahead. It is a partnership between God and yourself. When you place your faith in Jesus, becoming utterly dependent upon Him, you turn to God. You don’t need to do or change anything to become a follower of Jesus!
However once you have made that decision, you leave behind your spiritual isolation and rebellion against Him. As you live each day, becoming more involved with Jesus day by day, you will find yourself changing. You will stop doing those things that separated you from Him. You will find yourself doing things that please Jesus and develop your relationship with Him. God asks that you accept his guidance and management of your life. His point of view and His strength become your point of view and your source of strength. You turn your mind, will and heart to Him for all you do.
If you want to become a Christian there are three simple steps to follow. Firstly, admit that you have done wrong against God and His ways. Secondly, believe and trust in Jesus. Call on Him, receive, trust, obey and worship Him, recognizing Him for who He is and what He has done. Lastly, confess Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. Once sin has been confessed, and Jesus is believed in and trusted as Saviour, then you are a Christian. Now you are ready as Peter writes in the Bible, “to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 7 Welcome to the family of God. God has chosen you; Jesus has paid for you and has put His mark within you through His Spirit. Come and talk to one of us after our final hymn! Lets pray.
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