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We come now to the study of the Word of God and to one of the most marvelous, profound portions in all of Holy Scripture. It's found in Romans chapter 3, verses 21 through verse 25, Romans chapter 3 verses 21 to 25.
Let me read for you, if I might, from the twenty-first verse through the first part of verse 25. Paul writes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is manifest, being witnessed by the law and the prophets: even the righteousness of God which is by faith in Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God hath set forth to be a covering through faith in His blood.”
And we'll stop there. So much is said in those few verses that all of the sermons of all of the ages may not be able to exhaust all of the truth and its ramifications that are therein. But the major message that comes out of this portion could be titled: “How to Be Right with God.” “How to Be Right with God.”
Job asked that question, the most important question that any person could ever ask. In the ninth chapter of Job and the second verse, Job said: "How should a man be right before God?" And having asked that question, he then pens these words, listen carefully.
"Though one wished to dispute with Him, he could not answer Him one time out of a thousand. His wisdom is profound, His power is vast. Who has resisted Him and come out unscathed? He moves mountains without their knowing it, and overturns them in His anger. He shakes the earth from its place and makes its pillars tremble. He speaks to the sun and it doesn't shine. He seals off the light of the stars. He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea. He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the constellations of the south. He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be numbered. When He passes me, I cannot see Him. When He goes by, I cannot perceive Him. If He snatches away, who can stop Him? Who can say to Him, 'What are You doing?' God does not restrain His anger. Even the cohorts of Rahab cowered at His feet. How then can I dispute with Him? How can I find words to argue with Him? Though I were innocent, I could not answer Him. I could only plead with my Judge for mercy. And even if I summoned Him and He responded, I do not believe He would give me a hearing. He would crush me with a storm and multiply my wounds for no reason. He would not let me regain my breath but would overwhelm me with misery. If it is a matter of strength, He is mighty. And if it is a matter of justice, who will summon Him? Even if I were innocent my mouth would condemn me, if I were blameless it would pronounce me guilty."
Amazing statements. What Job is saying is that because God is the kind of God He is, how can I ever approach Him? How can I ever be right with Him? How can I ever get an audience with Him? How can I ever have a relationship with such a God so mighty, so holy, so powerful? That's the question. Can a man be right with a God like that? Can a man have a right relationship with that holy, infinite, mighty God? And that is the question answered by our text and the answer is yes. Yes.
All throughout human history men have asked themselves that same question. That is why religion exists, because man seeks to be right with the God he believes to be God. How else can a man escape a sense of lostness, a sense of guilt, a sense of cosmic loneliness, a sense of emptiness, a sense of meaningless? How else can he eliminate the fear of death, the dread of punishment from a holy God? You see, every religion in the world offers an answer to that question. Every religion in the world suggests to man how he can be right with God. And the religions of the world tell him he can be right with God if he does certain things based upon his human effort. It is always the religion of human achievement. It is always the religion of works, the religion of self, the religion of human activity.
But the Bible clearly demonstrates that a man can be right with God, but not on the basis of anything that man does. And in that, Christianity stands distinct from every other religion in the world. In fact, there are only two religions in the whole world: the religion of human achievement and that encompasses every human religion, they're all the same; and the religion of divine accomplishment, and that alone is Christianity.
Now, the Bible says a man can be right with God, but he cannot be right with God on his own terms. He can't make himself right with God from his end. If men are to be right with God, it's going to have to happen at God's end. Men must find a way; there must be a way to be right with God. And Paul gives it to us here.
Now, if you've been with us in our prior studies in Romans, you know that we're now in the third chapter and the twenty-first verse and you might be wondering what's been going on for three chapters and twenty verses. And I'll tell you briefly. Basically, for the first part of Paul's epistle, he has shown that nobody can be right with God on the basis of his own human effort, nobody. In fact, if you look back at verse 9 in chapter 3, it says: "What then? Are we better than they?" That is, are Jews better than Greeks? "No, in no way, for we have before proven both Jews and Greeks that they are all under (What?) sin." So, all are under sin. If you go back to chapter 1 verse 18, you find out the consequence of this. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness." So, Paul shows that all men are under sin and therefore God will judge them all.
Then if you look at chapter 2 verses 2 and 3, it tells us that when God does judge, He will judge according to the facts. We are assured that the judgment of God is according to truth, against them who commit such things. “And thinkest thou this, 0 man that judgest them who do such things and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?" In other words, he says God is going to judge all men, all men are sinners, and God's going to judge on the basis of the facts and everybody's going to get judged because even the man who's condemning someone else winds up condemning himself because he does the same things. So whether you're irreligious or religious, you wind up in the same situation.
It sums up in chapter 2 verse 11: "There's no respect of persons with God." That is, He doesn't prefer one over the other. "As many as have sinned without the law shall perish without the Law, as many as have sinned in the Law shall be judged by the Law." So, Jew and Gentile, those who know and those who don't know, all are sinful, all will be judged, all will be judged by the facts whether they had the law or didn't have the law.
We come back into chapter 3 verse 10 and what do we read? "There is none (What?)righteous, no, not one. There's none that understandeth. There's none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way; they are altogether become unprofitable." It means they've gone sour. "There is none that doeth good, no, not one." And then he describes them. "Their throat is an open sepulcher, with their tongues they've used deceit, the poison of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their ways. And the way of peace have they not known." And the bottom line, "There's no fear of God before their eyes." So this is a characterization of sinful man.
It comes to a climax in verse 19, at the end of the verse: "Every mouth is stopped." What does that mean? There's no defense, there's nothing to say. And all the world is guilty before God. You say, "Well, what about the people who do good things?" That's verse 20: "By the deeds of the Law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight." You see, a man cannot be right with God from his own end. All men are sinners. All men are under condemnation. Whether they're religious or irreligious, they will be judged according to the facts of their unrighteousness and they cannot be right with God on their own. And so Paul has been three chapters condemning man. He has brought men to the judgment bar of God and they have given all of their defenses, and when they're all out, every mouth is stopped, dead silence, nothing more to say.
Now, this is particularly a devastating truth to religious people who like to think that they can get right with God on their own terms, by some kind of spiritual activity. The Jews were like this. They believed that they could be right with God by meticulous attention to the Law. But they had to face the fact they couldn't keep the Law. And people always ask the question, “Well then, what is the law of God for if you can't keep it?” Very simple, it's for showing you you can't keep it. That's what it's for. You see, you wouldn't know you were a sinner unless you knew you couldn't keep the standard, so you have to know the standard. Paul said, "When the law came I knew I was sinful," Romans 7. You see, when I saw the law, I saw my sin as against the Law. And God has given the law, that is the revealed Law in the Word of God as well as the law of conscience. God has given the Law, not so that men can live up to it and be righteous, but so that men can know they can't live up to it and seek a righteousness they can't generate on their own. That's the whole point.
So, the way to God is not by human effort. You can't get there that way. It's impossible. And this was true in the Old Testament, too. People think the Old Testament men and women got right with God because they did sacrifices and because they did other things and because they carried out rituals. No, that wasn't true. That was just the activity of faith. That was the result of their already being right with God, or else it was pure hypocrisy and unacceptable to God. Micah says this in chapter 6: "With what shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before a high God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings and calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams or ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"
In other words, the prophet says: What am I going to do to be right with God? Bring Him what He says in the Old Testament is the prescription for sacrifice? Or, bring Him ten thousand sacrifices? Or, even give my son and offer my son on the altar and burn him up? What am I going to do to be right with God? And the implied answer is nothing; you can't do anything. You can't do anything. All sinners are under judgment. And all sinners are equally unable and incapable of making things right with God and avoiding that judgment. Every mouth is stopped; there is none righteous, no not one. And that simply means nobody's right with God, no... nobody, nobody. So the plight of man is dark and dismal and despairing. He's bound for hell and there's no remedy in his world.
You see, this is why we so hate religions that espouse human achievement. This is why we so despise the false doctrine that men with religious activity can reach God, because it is such a damning lie. And it provides such false security for people. And so, as you come to verse 21 of chapter 3, you're really in the dark. I mean, the lights are out. There is no escape. Man is backed into a corner in a dark room, in a state of frenzy because he can't solve the problems of his life, much less the problems of his death and eternal destiny. And no sooner does he get locked in a corner where all he can learn from the Law of God is how rotten he is, than the light breaks in, verse 21. It, by the way, flickered in chapter 1 verses 16 and 17. It flickered when Paul said he was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it was the power of God unto salvation. He already gave us a little glimpse that there was a way, that there was a salvation and that the just shall live by (What?)faith. He gave us a little flicker of it, but now the light really breaks through and the key phrase there at the beginning of verse 21 is a welcome phrase: "But now.” But now. "But" being an adversative, as: Over against that darkness comes this. And the word "now" takes us into a welcome present tense. Now, says Paul, the light has dawned, now the darkness is dispelled. And by the time you get to chapter 3 verse 21, you frankly have had more of the ugliness than you can stand. You've had more of the discussion about sin than you think you'll ever hope to have again. And it's just time for the dawn of hope, it's time for the light to break, it's time to find a solution, a way out, an escape.
And that phrase "but now" means "at this present time." Paul says at this crucial moment in redemptive history, in this which is called by Paul in Galatians the fullness of time, God has revealed a righteousness. Look back at verse 21. "Now, the righteousness of God apart from the law is manifested." That's what man had to have and that's what he couldn't generate on his own. People often ask the question: What does righteousness mean? It simply means to be right with God, to be right, to have things right, to have things the way they ought to be. And so, we find here in verse 21 that there is a righteousness. But would you notice something? It is not the righteousness of man; it is the righteousness (Of what?) of God that is so important. It is the righteousness of God manifested because the righteousness of man doesn't make it. For Isaiah said: "All the righteousness of man is as (What?)filthy rags." The original Hebrew means "menstrual rags," filthy. That's the best that men can do. The righteousness of men can't do it. So, we are introduced to the righteousness of God.
So, man can't be right with God if he approaches it from the human side. It has to be approached from God's side. The light comes from above, not up from beneath. It's like you saw in the old cowboy movies, it's God to the rescue, finding man in an impossible situation and bringing deliverance.
The Bible talks about the light of the glorious gospel that shines in the darkness. When Jesus was born, they talked about a light coming into the world unto the Gentiles. In John it says He was the light that lights every man that comes into the world. In John chapter 8 He said: "I am the light of the world, he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life." And the light came. And it was God to the rescue in the midst of man's darkness.
The Roman poet Horace was laying down some guidelines for people who were writing tragedies in his day. They used to be big in writing tragedies and Horace criticized the people who wrote these very complex plots. And they got the hero and the heroine into such deep straits that they had to have a god come into the picture because there was no human way out. And so they would write these incredible stories, tragedies and the only escape would be a god who would come to their rescue. And Horace said: "Do not bring a god onto the stage unless the problem is one that deserves a god to solve it."
Martin Luther found those words of Horace and took them up and applied them to the forgiveness of sin and he said: "Here is where you've got to bring God on the stage because you've got a problem that takes a God to solve it." Man can't solve it.
Now, you'll notice the term "righteousness" and the "righteousness of God." This differs from any other kind of righteousness. This kind of being right — the word "righteousness" means "to be right,” to be righteous, to be good as over against evil, to be holy as over against unholy, to be pure as over against to be dirty and filthy — it's to be right before God, right with God. And this is a righteousness that comes from God that's different than any other kind of righteousness. Let me tell you how it's different. First of all, it's different because of its author. In Isaiah 45:8 it says: "Drop down, ye heavens, from above and let the skies pour down righteousness. Let the earth open and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together. I, the Lord, have created it." Created what? Righteousness. Why is this righteousness different? Because God made it. It's very different than anything ever created by men.
Not only is the author different, but the nature is different. It's a different righteousness by nature. What do you mean by that? Well, it's a comprehensive kind of righteousness. This kind of righteousness fulfilled both the precept and the penalty of the law. Now think with me. Jesus came as the utter fulfillment of God's righteousness. He was right with God, wasn't He? Totally, absolutely perfect, always did the Father's will, always spoke the Father's Word, never violated the Father, never moved against the Father's will, never sinned a sin or thought an evil thought or said an evil word of any kind, absolutely without sin and therefore He had a righteousness which perfectly fulfilled the law. Why? It followed all of its precepts. He kept every law of God in perfection. Now that in itself makes this a righteousness beyond any righteousness generated by men, right? Because they could never do that. That's why Jesus said in Matthew 5 verse 20: "Your righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees if you're going to be in My kingdom." They had a righteousness. There is a righteousness of men. It just doesn't get them anywhere. But this righteousness is the kind which was demonstrated in an ability to fulfill the whole law without a flaw.
Secondly, this righteousness died in perfection, fulfilling the penalty of the law. When Jesus went to the cross, He again fulfilled righteousness. You see, because God was right and because God was holy He had to punish sin. And He not only did it but He came out the other side of the grave having conquered death and hell and Satan and sin and rose from the dead. So, this righteousness is different due to its author and it's different due to its very nature. It is that kind of righteousness which can perfectly keep the Law and perfectly satisfy the law.
And thirdly, it's distinct from any other righteousness because of its duration, it is everlasting righteousness. Daniel 9:24 talks about God's everlasting righteousness. Psalm 119:142 talks about God's everlasting righteousness. It is a forever righteousness. In fact, in Hebrews 9:12 it talks about an eternal redemption provided for us. It says in Hebrews 10:14 that He's perfected forever them that are sanctified by the offering of Christ on the cross.
So God is saying, here is manifest a righteousness but it's not like man's. The author is God. He created it. Jesus Christ demonstrated that it is a kind of righteousness that can fulfill God's Law in utter perfection by keeping all the laws and by even satisfying the law in terms of its penalty. And thirdly, it is a righteousness that lasts forever. Once it exists it exists forever. Forever.
So, what are we learning? God manifests, then, a righteousness - marvelous thought — that He creates. And may I suggest to you that anything God creates is as perfect as the one who created it? And it gives the capability of utter and total obedience and it lasts (How long?) forever. So if you ever receive this, or if I am ever to receive this, it means that I will have the capability to fulfill the whole law of God in utter perfection, and it means that once I've received it I have it forever. Now that's the kind of righteousness I'd like to get, wouldn't you? That's the righteousness of God.
Now what amazes me as I look at this passage is the love of God to grant this because God didn't have to do that, but He did. Now the key term in the passage is righteousness, in one form or another, the root translated "righteousness," or "just" or "justifier" or "justified," it's all from the same root, is used nine times in this brief passage. And it's used, by the way — are you ready for this? — over 60 times in Romans. So if you want to know the key word in Romans it's "righteousness." Romans is all about how you get right with God. That's what the whole thing's about, how to be right with God. It means to make right. I think the word "justified" basically means the same thing, to make right, to make people right with God.
Now, when Paul says "the righteousness of God is manifest" he is saying that the deepest most profound question in the human heart has an answer. Can a man be right with God? Paul says yes. How can a man be right with God? Paul says here's how: The righteousness of God is revealed from heaven. And God, then, can take any man — because all men basically are evil to begin with so there's not a lot of variation — and make him right with Himself. Paul loves to talk about how God justifies the ungodly, how God in mercy makes men right with Himself. And that's exactly what he's talking about right here.
Now, let's look specifically at the text and you follow along in your outline and we'll start through those key points which interpret for us the righteousness of God. First of all, the righteousness of God is apart from legalism. Now you'll see that in verse 21, it's apart from the law. And may I just give you a little word of warning as you study the apostle Paul? Whenever you see the Greek word nomos or "law," you want to be very careful how you interpret it because Paul uses it in a lot of different ways. Sometimes it refers to legalism, sometimes it refers to the ceremonial law of God, sometimes it refers to the moral law of God, sometimes it refers to the Old Testament Scripture, sometimes it refers to a principle, like a general law, and he'll use it in different ways. In fact, he uses it in two ways in this one verse. Because first of all he says, "This righteousness is apart from the law," and then he says, "But it is witnessed by the law." And he uses law in two different ways.
Let's look at the first one. He says this righteousness is apart from the law and I believe very clearly he uses the word there in the sense of legalism. It is apart from any man-made human effort. And by the way, the verse reads in the Greek: "But now apart from the law, the righteousness of God is manifested," which puts "the apart from the law" in the emphatic position. The Greeks stuck the important stuff at the beginning. And so this righteousness is apart from the law. What do you mean? It's apart from man's effort to keep a system of rules. It doesn't happen that way. We don't gain this righteousness by the things that we are able to do in our own strength. And there are a lot of people who don't understand that. There are people who light candles and crawl on their knees and there are people who try to live up to certain rules and certain standards. There are people who want to make sure they part their hair the right way and wear the right thing and walk up the steps the right way and do the right rigmarole and crisscross themselves the right way and carry on the right way throughout the ritual and the routine and the supposed rules of their system and in process of doing that they think they're earning the righteousness they need to be right with God, and it isn't the case.
The law of God only works wrath. Mark that somewhere in your mind. All the law of God does is give God the right to condemn people. That's all it does. The law of God is only good to condemn people because nobody can keep it. And so it justifies God's wrath. That's Romans 4:15, the law works wrath. The Law works wrath. In other words, it just shows that God has a right to be angry because you can't keep it. So you want to spend your life trying to make yourself right with God from your end and all you're going to do is justify God's wrath because you can't keep the Law, you can't live up to the law.
Look at verse 28 of chapter 3 and this is a major New Testament principle. "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified, by faith.” And what's the next line? “Apart from (What?) the deeds of the law." It's the same thought again. Men do not get right with God by something they do. Chapter 4 verse 6, it says David describes the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputes righteousness apart from works. It's apart from anything man does.
Now Galatians. And by the way, if Romans is the mind of Paul on the righteousness of God, Galatians is the heart of Paul on it, a more impassioned plea. But in Galatians 2:16 it says this: "Knowing that a man is not made right with God (justified) by the works of the law." Same idea, not by the works of the law. That won't do it. Verse 21: "I do not make void the grace of God. For if righteousness came by the law then Christ is dead in vain." Isn't that important? If you could make yourself right with God without Christ dying on the cross then Christ wasted His time.
The third chapter of Galatians and the tenth verse: "As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse." All those people who try to get to God by their works, try to get to God by their own self-righteousness, all they do is keep themselves under the curse. Why? Because cursed is everyone that continues not in all things written in the book of the law to do them. So if you try to live by the law you're just going to get cursed because you're going to come short of the whole law. And so verse 11 says: "No man is made right with God by the law," that is by legalism, by doing certain things.
In Ephesians chapter 2, and I want to show you how this is the heart of the whole New Testament teaching. In Ephesians 2 verse 8, it says this: "For by grace are you saved through faith.” And what's the next line? That not of...what? “That not of yourself." I mean, it couldn't be any more clear, could it? It's not anything you do to get saved. It's not anything you do. It is not of yourselves. “It is the (What?) gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast for we are His workmanship.”
Look at 2 Timothy chapter 1. It says that God, verse 9, has saved us and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, not according to our works, “but according to His own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but is now made (And here we go.) manifest.” And how did God make His righteousness manifest? By the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ. You see, when Christ came, God's
righteousness was manifest. And that's what the "but now" means. But now at this marvelous time in redemptive history when Christ has come, God's righteousness is made abundantly clear.
In Titus chapter 3 verse 5, it talks about God our Savior who has appeared and His love and kindness with Him. Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us. According to His mercy He saved us.
The last little scripture I want to give you, just a brief verse, Philippians 3:9, it says that Paul desires to win Christ and then this, "And be found in Him." Now listen to this line: "Not having mine own righteousness." Why? That won't get him anywhere. Because it is of the law and no man can keep the Law, you only get cursed by it. But that righteousness which is through the faith of Christ. The righteousness which is of God by faith. Do you see that? Over and over and over. There is a righteousness that can make us right with God but it isn't the righteousness of men, it's the righteousness of God. It doesn't rise from below, it comes down from above. It is authored by God. Its very nature is perfection. And its duration is eternal.
It's not like man's righteousness. Man's righteousness comes up from man, it is not perfect, it cannot keep the whole law and it doesn't last very long even when it's giving its best shot. And it falls infinitely short. We are to be right with God on God's terms. This righteousness is unlike any other righteousness. And you see, the greatest error of religion in the world, the single greatest error of religion, is that it allows a place for the effort of people in making them right with God and there is no place for that, none, no place for that.
Now, having affirmed then that the righteousness of God is apart from legalism, let's look at the second point. It is not only apart from legalism, it is built on revelation. Somebody immediately, you can just hear this coming in this conversation as a Jew would read this, and he would say, "Wait a minute, this guy's introducing something new here, how can you say righteousness is apart from the law? We are the people who hold the Law, we are the ones who love the law (in fact, they practically worshiped the law), we're the ones who strive with all of our might to keep the law and now he comes along and says it's apart from the law. Is this something new?" Look what he says, "No, it is witnessed to by the law and the prophets." That, by the way, is a euphemism for the Old Testament, that simply means the Old Testament, the law and the prophets. That was a Jewish phrase to describe the Old Testament.
Paul is saying, look, this is that which was witnessed to in the Old Testament, this isn't anything revolutionary, this isn't anything brand new, this isn't anything that just dropped out of the sky. Even in the Old Testament we just read you in Micah 6, if I want to be right with God how many animals do I bring? How many gallons of oil do I bring? And we heard Job cry out in chapter 9, "How can I ever be right with that God?" And we hear God in the Old Testament in Amos saying, "I hate your feasts and I despise your sacrifices. Stop coming to Me and stop worshiping Me and stop singing your songs." And we hear the writer of the Hebrews tell us that by the blood of bulls and goats no one was ever justified. And the law was only given for one reason, Paul said, and that was to show us our sin. Even in the Old Testament, the law didn't make people righteous, it showed them how sinful they were and it threw them on the mercy of God. The whole point for a Jew was to look at the Law of God, realize he couldn't keep it and cry out for mercy and cry out for grace and believe that God would provide that. And people in the Old Testament were redeemed the same way as people in the New Testament or people today, they believed God and they knew they were sinful and they knew they needed a Savior and they went to God to be their Savior. Though they may not have fully understood Christ because He hadn't come, they knew they needed a Savior and they knew the sacrifices depicted that Savior who had to die for them.
And so, this is not something new. This is that which the Old Testament promised. There's no breach here. In fact, in chapter 4 in verse 3 it says, or verse 2, he used the illustration of Abraham, "For if Abraham were justified by works he had something of which to glory, but not before God." He wasn't justified by works. What does the Scripture say? What does it say in the Old Testament? "Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him for (What?) righteousness." Abraham was justified by (What?) faith. He believed God. It's always been the same, so that the Old Testament witnessed to the fact that in order to be made right with God it had to come from God's end. This isn't anything new, it was apart from legalism. All the law did was show them their sin. And David, he's another illustration in verse 7 and 8, and David says: "Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin." And he sees God's mercy, God's love and God's grace.
You see, the ceremonies of the Old Testament and the sacrifices of the Old Testament, they couldn't give life. They couldn't forgive sin. They couldn't make people right with God. People in the Old Testament were right with God when they believed God, when they acted in faith on His Word. You say, "How much of His Word?" As much as had been revealed. When they believed God and acted in faith in His Word, they were saved by God's grace and God's mercy and God's forgiveness. And then in obedience they carried out the ceremonies and the sacrifices which pictured their forgiveness. But the Old Testament saw the need for a sacrifice and a righteousness beyond that of man's ability.
So, the gospel of Jesus Christ, contrary to what a Jew might think, is not a subversion of the Old Testament. The Old Testament was simply the shadow and this is the substance.
Now, let me give you the third element of this righteousness of God. It is apart from legalism, it is built on revelation and it is acquired by faith. And this would be a good place for us to really pull our thoughts together. Verse 22: "Even the righteousness of God which is by faith in Jesus Christ." It comes by faith, just like Abraham, just like David, just like anyone else. He reemphasizes at the beginning of verse 22 the righteousness of God. It is not the righteousness of man, I say again. It came not through works. It is the righteousness of God and it comes through faith. It's simply a matter of believing.
Verse 5 of chapter 4, "But to him that worketh not but believeth on Him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." Isn't that marvelous? There's nothing for us to do but believe. Chapter 5 verse 1, "Therefore, being made right, or justified by faith. for by grace are you saved through (What?) faith." Faith is the only instrument. Faith is the hand that reaches out and takes the righteousness of God. It is simply by believing.
Go to verse 20 of chapter 4 and he's dealing with this illustration of Abraham. "He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief but he was strong in faith, giving glory to God and he was fully persuaded that what God promised He was able to perform and therefore it was imputed to him for (What?) righteousness." How did Abraham get right with God? He believed that what God said God would do. That's... That's the whole thing, by faith, by faith, by faith. How is a man made righteous? "It is a gift of God, not of works." Well, you say, what does he need to do? He needs to believe. He needs to have faith. Have faith in what? Faith in God. Faith in what about God? All that God said about Himself. And he says now, of course, more than He did then. In Abraham's time He hadn't revealed as much as we have today but we still have to believe all that God has said about Himself to be true. And when you believe by faith you're made righteous.
Now, I want to just add a note here. There is such a thing as false faith. Some people would make this faith so simplistic and so easy and just sort of say - Well, all you have to do is believe and that's it - but I just want you to note that there is a false faith and there is a true faith. In John chapter 8, a familiar text and one you have to go back to again and again because it's so poignant, listen to what it says. Verse 30, John 8: "And He spoke these words and many believed on Him." Many believed on Him. "But Jesus said to the Jews who believed on Him, ‘If you continue in My Word then are you My real disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.’" Now one thing we learn there about false faith is false faith tends to be momentary, whereas true faith tends to continue in obedience to the Word of God. There is such a thing as false faith, little question.
James describes it this way in chapter 2, he says: "Faith without works is (What?) dead." That's false faith. Faith that has no fruit is like rocky soil where there's no root or thorny ground where the seed is choked out by the world system. There is that kind of faith, no question about it, false faith. It may even look good at the beginning. There may be the joy, the immediate joy we see in the parable of Matthew 13. There may be that apparent germination we see in the parable also of the weedy or thorny soil. But it's false faith because it doesn't bear fruit and it doesn't continue in the Word. So we know there's true faith and false faith. We are saved by faith alone, but true faith. And true faith has some elements to it.
Tozer, and I've been listening to Tozer for the last couple of weeks. Somebody sent me about 16 sermons by Tozer that were used for the book The Knowledge of the Holy, and so I've been listening to them, marvelous experience. Tozer said this: "Something has happened to the doctrine of justification. The faith of Paul and Luther was a revolutionizing thing. It upset the whole life of the individual and made him into another person altogether. It laid hold on the life and brought it unto obedience to Christ. It took up its cross and followed along after Jesus with no intention of going back. It said goodbye to its old friends as certainly as Elijah when he stepped into the fiery chariot and went away in a whirlwind. It had a finality about it. It snapped shut on a man's heart like a trap. It captured the man and made him from that moment forward a happy love servant of his Lord." End quote. True faith.
And frankly, faith has for many people been sort of redefined to mean simply a passive agreement with facts about Jesus. But saving faith is not a passive agreement of the facts about Jesus. It is a placing of oneself totally in submission to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let me show you a Bible verse that might help to explain, and I'm not sure I can fully explain it because it's mysterious. But in Romans chapter 6 there is a verse, verse 17, that's helpful. And it isn't normally thought of in this perception but maybe you'll see what I saw here. "But God be thanked that whereas you were the servants of sin." Alright now, you used to be a servant of sin, the implication is now you're a Christian, now you're a servant of the Lord Jesus. Now how did that happen? Three elements: you obeyed from the heart the form of doctrine which was delivered unto you. Now there's a word there that's connected with salvation. It's the word "obedience" from the heart the doctrine delivered to you.
Now, let me just see if I can pull those elements apart. First of all, I see the will. True faith is an exercise of the will. "You have obeyed." There is an obedience of faith. You know, the Bible uses that phrase, doesn't it? Romans 1, the obedience of the faith. The will responds in obedience to the lordship of Christ. And then I see not only the will but I see the emotion as well. You obeyed (From the what?) from the heart. And I see that as not only the mind but embodying the emotions, the senses, awakened to sin, stirred by the Spirit of God. It rises from deep within a man. And I also see the intellect, because you obeyed from the heart the form of doctrine which was delivered to you, the facts.
Now, you can work backwards. First you heard the facts. Secondly, they stirred your mind and your heart. And you responded by (What) obedience in submission to Christ. That's the stuff of true faith. It's that deep commitment. You heard the true doctrine, the true understanding of the gospel, the form of doctrine properly declaring Jesus Christ. You internalized it in your mind and your heart, and your senses and emotions were awakened and they triggered your will and you acted in obedience, each one building on the other.
And so, the righteousness of God is made available by faith, true faith. Would you notice in verse 22 that it is faith in Jesus Christ? Not just faith in God, no vague attitude here. It is faith directed at the Lord Jesus Christ. True saving faith directed at the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the embodiment of righteousness. He is the one who by His death on the cross revealed God's righteousness to us. On the one hand He showed us God's righteousness by the demonstration of a perfect life. On the other hand He showed us God's righteousness by dying on the cross. God is so right that He has to punish sin. And when Christ died we saw how really righteous God was. We also saw how really loving God was.
So what do we learn then about the righteousness of God? This: It's apart from anything we do; it is not by our works, or legalism; it is that which the Old Testament taught all along; and it is ours by (What?) faith, not false faith, true faith. In whom? The Lord Jesus Christ.
In the 1600s there was a man named Joseph Alleine and he wrote a book entitled An Alarm to Unconverted Sinners. Let me close our time with what he said:
"All of Christ is accepted by the sincere convert. He loves not only the wages, but the work of Christ, not only the benefits but the burden of Christ. He's willing not only to tread out the corn but to draw under the yoke. He takes up the command of Christ, yea, even the cross of Christ. The unsound man closes by halves with Christ. He's all for the salvation of Christ but he's not for sanctification. He is for the privileges but appropriates not the person of Christ. He divides the offices and benefits of Christ. This is an error in the foundation. Who so loveth life let him beware here. It is an undoing mistake of which you have been often warned and yet none is more common. Jesus is a sweet name, but men love not the Lord Jesus in sincerity. They divide what God has joined, the King and the Priest. Yea, they will not accept the salvation of Christ as He intends it. They divide it. Every man's vote is for salvation from suffering but they desire not to be saved from sinning. They would have their lives saved but withal would have their lusts. Yea, many divide here again. They would be content to have some of their sins destroyed but they cannot leave the lap of Delilah or divorce the beloved Herodias. They cannot be cruel to the right eye or right hand. The Lord must pardon them in this thing. 0 be careful here, your soul depends on it. The sound convert takes a whole Christ, takes Him for all intents and purposes, without exceptions, without limitations, without reserve. He's willing to have Christ upon any terms. He's willing to have the dominion of Christ as well as deliverance by Christ and he says with Paul, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" End quote.
And that's really it. True faith is an utter abandonment in believing confidence in Jesus Christ. And He alone can give to us the righteousness of God, which we must have if we're ever to be right with Him.
The great servant of God John Wesley went to heaven March 2, 1791. He was 88 years old. He preached the gospel for 65 years. Shortly before his death he said, "I will get up." And when he said that people wondered what he meant, but obviously he was talking about his getting up into glory. One of his biographers writes this: "While they arranged his clothes, he broke out singing and this is what he sang, 'I'll praise my Maker while I've breath and when my voice is lost in death praise shall employ my nobler powers. My days of praise shall ne'er be passed while life and thought and being last or immortality endures. Happy the man whose hopes rely on Israel's God. He made the sky and earth and seas with all their train. His truth forever stands secure. He saves the oppressed. He feeds the poor. And none shall find His promise vain.' And then he said, 'Farewell,' and it was the last word he ever spoke and his friends quietly arose and stood around his bed and sang, 'Waiting to receive Thy Spirit, Lo, the Savior stands above, shows the purpose of His merit, reaches out the crown of love."
That is the peace and that is the security in face of death of a man who is right with God. Let's bow in prayer.
How wondrous it is, 0 Lord, to talk about these great truths, so profound that the geniuses of the earth cannot plumb all the mystery of their depths, so simple that a little child can understand that we are desperately in need of being right with You. And how can we be right with You? Not on our own, not by keeping the law, all the law does is show us how evil we are and curse us even more. There must be revealed from heaven a righteousness that can be given to us and it is as we put our faith in Jesus Christ. Thank You for that super abounding love, that love that knows no height, no depth, no breadth, that love that is beyond us to comprehend, that Thou shouldest redeem us. Grant to us Thine own divine, infinite and eternal righteousness so that we are made fit for Your presence forever. May it be, our dear Lord, that those of us who have received the righteousness of God might this night go from here with grateful hearts to think long and worshipfully and thankfully and praisefully of such a gift so undeserved. And others, Lord, who are still trying to do it on their own, still playing the game with the scales, trying to balance off the bad with the good and hope it's enough, may they be jammed into that dark corner in despair and shown clearly that by their deeds they will not be justified, they will not be right with God, for that can only happen through faith in Jesus Christ. To that end we pray that all here might be right with You and in facing death may sing as Wesley sang, with confidence in the one who redeemed him.
While your heads are bowed in just a closing moment, as the little section that I read from Joseph Alleine suggested, people need to be warned because so many people in the world seek righteousness on their own grounds. Abandon that seeking. If you entertain for one moment that you please God and gain His favor by what you do on your own, in your own strength, you are a fool. And we'll see how much a fool next time as we go on in the passage. And now is the time for you to stop the effort and in faith accept a righteousness that comes as a gift by faith in Christ. If you want to receive that gift, just ask Jesus Christ right now. Say, I cease my effort. I place my faith in Christ. It is true faith. I've heard the facts. I've internalized them in my mind, and my emotions and my senses are alive and I want that honestly and genuinely. And if your will is moved in response, commit yourself to obey His lordship. That is the faith that saves.
And may I acknowledge this at this moment and we'll see more of it next week, even that faith you can't generate. It is a gift from God. But it awaits your taking by His grace.
Father, do Your work in every heart and we'll praise You in Christ's name. Amen.