Romans, Part 9: The Grand Finale and the Great Turn (Romans 3:9-26)

Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, Alabama

March 13, 2022

Today is an exciting day! We have been talking about the wrath of God for about nine weeks now. And it’s been HEAVY! And so today, as we follow our outline through the book of Romans, remember that the overall theme is established in Romans 1:16-17, especially verse 17

In the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed. That’s the whole book.

So today, we move from focusing on the WRATH of God to talking about the GRACE of God. Finally! We are going to talk about what makes the good news the actual, really and truly good news. But before we get to it, Paul is going to summarize what makes the bad news so bad. And by the time he’s done, you are going to feel the need for the gospel so deeply in your bones that it’s going to make you cry out like they did on the day of Pentecost, “Brothers, what must we do to be saved?” (Acts 2:37)

How many of you have ever seen a fireworks show? Of course you have. Pretty much everyone has seen a fireworks show at some point in their life. Now, what happens at the end of a fireworks show? That’s right. The Grand Finale. No matter how long the whole show is, or how elaborate, there comes a point in the last few minute of the show when they just pull out all the stops. Whatever is left over at the end of the show, it’s like they light them all at once, and at the end, it is just a constant barrage of explosions. At when it’s all over, as the last explosions are echoing, and there’s nothing but smoke hanging in the air, and you look around at the people you’re with, and you’re like—That. Was. AWESOME!

And they’re like, “What? Where’s a possum?” Because your ears are still ringing from all the bombs that just got dropped.

Well, that’s kind of what is happening in Romans 3:9-18. Only it’s not awesome. It’s awful. See, from ever since Romans 1:18, Paul’s been setting off these truth bombs, all with the intent of establishing that we are all guilty, we’ve all turned away from the truth, we all stand condemned before God. Whether Jew or Gentile, circumcised or not, every single one of us is under the wrath of God.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

We get a brief reprieve in at the beginning of Chapter 3, when Paul pauses to talk about how the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God. But it’s really not a reprieve at all. There’s a reason Paul pauses to talk about the Old Testament being the very words of God, because he’s gearing up for his grand finale—where he will prove, once and for all,—FROM God’s Word, FROM the Old Testament, EVERYTHING he’s been saying up to this point.

It’s like that scene in Gladiator, where General Maximus looks at his archers lined up against the barbarians, every one of them with a flaming arrow nocked and drawn back, and he says, “Unleash hell.”

See, I can say that because we started kids worship this morning!

Look at Romans 3, starting at verse 9 with me:

What then? Are we Jews[a] any better off?[b] No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one;


11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”


13 “Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

This is Paul, lighting every firework he has left. I want you to notice a couple of things. First, every one of these truth bombs comes straight from the word of God. Do you notice all the quotation marks? That’s the translators telling you that every one of these verses is a quotation from the Old Testament. So Paul quotes from

  • Psalm 14:1,
  • Psalm 14:2-3.
  • Psalm 5:9.
  • Psalm 140:3
  • Psalm 10:7
  • Isaiah 59:7-8

Paul is spitting Scripture faster than Lafayette in Hamilton. And he’s doing it all from memory. He didn’t have the Bible app on his phone! You really get an insight here into just how much the Jews revered the word of God, and why Paul, as a Jew,

paused at the beginning of Chapter 3 to remind the Jews that they had been entrusted with the oracles of God.

They revered God’s Word. They treasured God’s Word. They just didn’t apply what God’s Word said about them. But here it is. If Paul was a lawyer, then this is his 14  count indictment against the defendant.

But second, not only is it straight from God’s Word, but it’s also all encompassing. It’s universal. There isn’t one human being that is righteous. None is righteous. No one. No one understands. No one seeks God.

And there’s not an aspect of human life that isn’t tainted by sin. Look closely.

Paul says first that we are corrupt in our character. Verses 10-12: We aren’t righteous. We don’t understand. We don’t seek God.

Second, we’re corrupt in our conversation. Verses 13-14: Our throats are open graves. We use our tongues to deceive. When Paul says “the venom of asps is under their lips,” that’s actually a really accurate description of how a snake releases its poison. There’s a poison sac inside the mouth of a snake. When it strikes, its fangs pierce the sac, and poison flows through the hollow fangs and into the wound of the snakebite.

And that’s how the apostle Paul describes human beings. Our mouths drip poison. They are full of curses and bitterness.

Third, we are corrupt in our conduct. We are quick to shed blood. We spread fear and misery. We don’t know how to live in peace. We have no fear of God before our eyes.

Now, this is the point where we are tempted to say, “Come on, Paul! You’re being too harsh. I know lots of good, nice, moral people. They may not know Jesus, but they do some great things. You don’t have to know Jesus to do good in the world.

Listen—Paul is not saying that every person is as sinful as every other person. There are indeed a lot of “good” kind, moral people. People who give to charity and volunteer at the food bank and help old ladies across the street.

And, yes, people who have grown up in church. They may even be regular attenders.

Paul isn’t saying every person is equally sinful. He is saying that every person is equally lost.

Let’s say three people decided they were going to swim from California to Hawaii. The first person doesn’t know how to swim. As soon as she gets over her head, she drowns.

The second person is a weak swimmer. He goes for maybe sixty yards, and then he drowns.

The third one is an Ironman triathlete. He’s conditioned to be able to swim a mile, maybe even two or three miles. But Hawaii is over two thousand miles from California. Ironman may make it ten, fifteen, even twenty miles. But eventually, he sinks. He drowns.

Is Ironman any less dead than the person who can’t swim at all? No. And that’s what Paul is saying in his grand finale. Whether we are a good, moral, upstanding person, or whether we are Vladimir Putin, we are all. Equally. Sunk. That’s why Paul starts with verse 9:

What 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.

But you might still be saying, Well, hold up, Paul. How can you say,  ‘No one seeks God?’ Lots of people aren’t Christians, but they pray, and they study, and they are searching for the truth. What about all those people in other religions? You don’t think they are seeking God? After all, I was a seeker once, and I found God.”

Here’s the truth: Apart from God seeking us, no one is going to seek God because of their own decision making and acting in their own ability. If you are truly seeking God, it’s because God’s spirit has begun a work in you. You didn’t get there because of your own intellectual ability or your own seeking heart.

So, boom. Truth bomb, mic drop. We’re all guilty. There is none righteous.

And for most people, the human response is, “Well, I don’t want to hear that. This is why I stopped going to church after I moved out on my own and my parents couldn’t make me go anymore. I was tired of feeling guilty.

Our culture works overtime to keep people from feeling guilty. A 2008 article in Psychology Today calls Guilt a wasted emotion that only results in self-stigmatization[1]

Here’s what it says:

So, why is guilt a wasted emotion? Same old song and dance – if you are guilty, it is because you are attached to judgment, and that judgment is coming from outside of you. You are going outside of yourself to define who you are and, by association, how you behave, rather than relying on your internal mechanisms of decision making and self-regulation.

What this author doesn’t realize is that he is basically quoting the serpent tempting Eve in the Garden. The serpent said, you don’t need God to define right and wrong for you. Eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and you’ll develop your own internal mechanism of decision making and self regulation!

Can I pause for just a minute and point out that the psychologist who wrote this article is named Michael Formica? That is just too good not to talk about. Formica is fake granite. This is not a real foundation to build your life on.

I spent a little time this week Googling the phrase “How to Stop Feeling Guilty.” I found several sites and lots of articles about how to stop feeling guilty. Here’s some of the advice I read:

  • Change your perspective—maybe you just think you did something wrong. You may need to physically change your surroundings. Take a trip. Rearrange your house. Move.
  • Reflect on lessons that you learned
  • Do something good for someone else
  • Do something for yourself that makes you feel good inside.
  • Self Medicate: Numb the guilty feelings with prescription drugs or alcohol.

What’s missing from the list? Repent!

People feel guilty because they are guilty.

Changing your perspective will not change the fact that your sin separates you from Holy God. God’s wrath against sin is settled. For crying out loud, we’ve spent two months talking about it so far!

The indictment has been read. The verdict is in. The judge has spoken. We are guilty on all counts.

Which brings us to the Great Turn.

The next two words of the Bible are arguably the two most important words in the Bible.

BUT NOW

Look at verse 21:

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 

And we’re like, let’s camp out there. Did we really have to spend the last two months on the wrath of God before we get to this?

And the answer is, yes.

You see, until that truth that all of us are guilty and condemned before God settles into our soul, verse 21 isn’t going to resonate with us for the wonder that it is.

I had a friend that was the area director for Young Life camps, and he told me that when they did camp, the first night they ended with this truth. You are guilty. You are a sinner, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Now go to bed.

And there was just this feeling of shell shock going through the camp. Kids were afraid to go to sleep that night—what if I don’t wake up? They’re still dealing with the reality the next morning when they come in to worship. Only this time, the sun is up and its streaming through the windows of the worship center. And the speaker gets up, and says the first two words of Romans 3:21: 

BUT NOW…

There is none righteous, no, not one… BUT NOW…

No one seeks God… BUT NOW

Together they have become worthless… BUT NOW

Verse 19: “the whole world may be accountable to God…” BUT NOW

Verse 20: By works no human being will be justified in his sight…” BUT NOW

Here’s the whole thought:

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 

Notice what Paul says here. The righteousness of God has been manifested. What does that mean? Well, to manifest something means to make something clear or evident to the eyes.

So, CLUE NUMBER ONE:  Paul says the righteousness of God has become clear or evident to the eyes. How has the righteousness of God become evident to the eyes?

CLUE NUMBER TWO: Paul says that this has happened—the righteousness of God has been manifested—apart from the Law. This means that it’s become clear or evident to the eyes, but not by keeping the Old Testament Law.

CLUE NUMBER THREE: “The Law and the Prophets bear witness to it.” So, even though this manifested righteousness is apart from the Law, it is testified to by the law and the Prophets.

Put it all together:

What did God make evident to the eyes… that couldn’t have been revealed through the Old Testament law or prophets… and yet is borne witness to by the law and the prophets. 

The answer? Look at verse 22:

22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. 

We are going to stop here this week, because there is absolutely no way we can get to these huge doctrines of justification, redemption, and propitiation in the time we have left.

But I need you to understand that our righteousness isn’t going to come from within. Our guilt isn’t going to go away by any internal mechanisms and self-regulations.

You can clean house, plan a vacation, and self-medicate all you want, but none of that will remove your guilt before God.

The righteousness of God comes to us in one way and one way only. By grace, Through faith in Jesus Christ.

And if you are trying to get there in any other way, you are sunk.


[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/enlightened-living/200807/guilt-is-wasted-emotion

You’re the Man, and So Am I (Romans 2:1-16)

Preached February 12, 2022, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, Alabama.

Click to download Sermon Manuscript

Does God Give Up on People? (Romans 1:24-32)

Click here for sermon manuscript

Corrections: Harvard was founded in 1636, not 1836. Also, someone pointed out to me that the Colosseum wasn’t built until after Paul was dead. Sorry about that one.

Romans, Part 4: The Heart of a Missionary (Romans 15:14-21)

Note: As part of our Great Commission Sunday emphasis, we jumped ahead in our study to chapter 15. We will resume our study of Romans 1 in Part 5.


Click here for sermon manuscript

Romans, Part 3: The Power of the Gospel and the Wrath of God (Romans 1:16-25)

In order to truly understand the good news of the Gospel, we have to understand the bad news of the human condition.

Download sermon manuscript from sermoncentral.com

Romans 6 Recap

Job: Some Nerve!

Who did Job think he was, telling God he would “cling to his righteousness and never let it go”?

 

One of the most rewarding parts of my work week happens on Monday nights from 8:30-10:00, when a group of men gather together for a deep dive into the book of Romans. Some of us are trying to memorize the entire book. Others are memorizing the two or three verses that go along with each session. But all of us are benefiting from the intense, focused study on the book that launched the Reformation and is the foundation for arguably the most well-known gospel presentation, the Romans Road.

The dominant theme of the first three chapters of Romans is that none of us are righteous. Not one of us–no, not one–can stand before God with any shred of righteousness that comes from ourselves.

Which makes the book of Job such an enigma. You know the story. God and the devil make a wager over the life of Job. God gives Satan permission to mess with Job, taking away everything from Job except his life. Job’s friends come to console him, and wind up arguing with him for about 25 chapters. Basically, they all tell him that he is being punished because of some unconfessed sin. But Job’s not buying it. Which leads us to Job 27:3-6:

3 as long as my breath is still in me and the breath from God remains in my nostrils, 4 my lips will not speak unjustly, and my tongue will not utter deceit. 5 I will never affirm that you are right. I will maintain my integrity until I die. 6 I will cling to my righteousness and never let it go. My conscience will not accuse me as long as I live! [Job 27:3-6 HCSB]

Does anyone else look at this and think that Job sounds really full of himself? Humility is a Christian virtue. All of us have to admit we are sinners before we can trust Christ for our salvation, right?

So where does Job get off saying things like, “I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it?” Is this arrogance? Does it fly in the face of Paul’s teaching that “there is none righteous, no, not one?” (Romans 3:10) I don’t think so.

Job’s confidence is not in himself, but in the trustworthiness of God. Job believed in a God whose will and ways could be known. Other gods from other religions were fickle and capricious. You never knew what you might have done to displease the god of the rain when there was drought, so you danced and sacrificed and cut yourself until the blood flowed in an effort to get his attention (remember the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18?) A king wouldn’t know how to gain the favor of the gods so his army would prevail in battle, so he might sacrifice one of his own sons to Molech by throwing him in the flames (Jeremiah 32:35). Or think about the Greek gods we studied in high school. Mortals were constantly subject to the whims and jealousies of the gods. When Zeus and Hades were angry at each other, humans paid the price.

But Yahweh is different. He can be known. He has given us His laws and decrees. We know what pleases Him and what doesn’t. And this is the confidence Job was clinging to. No matter how many times his so-called friends argued, “well, you must have done something wrong to be suffering in this way,” Job stubbornly and steadfastly held on to the idea that he knew what it took to walk with God, and that he had done it. When Job says things like “I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live,” he was not expressing confidence in his own goodness, but in God’s justice.

I am so thankful that our God is predictable. He is not capricious, punishing humans on a whim or a lark (I admit, some would argue that’s the whole storyline of Job. I encourage you to watch this excellent animated walk-through of the book of Job from the fine folks at the Bible Project, and then let’s talk.). Don’t get me wrong. There is still none righteous. But Job teaches me that we can trust in God’s unchanging character. In every situation. In every place. For all time. Praise Him!

One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

Romans 5:14 says that Adam was “a pattern of the One who is to come.” How, exactly?

Every Monday night, I meet with a group of men for Bible study. We are in Week 8, and just finished up Romans 5. We are using Tommy Nelson’s Romans: The Letter that Changed the World as our starting point. If you are anywhere near Prattville, AL, we’d love you to join us.

Romans 5:14 says that Adam was “a pattern of the One who is to come.” But it’s almost as if Paul realizes that he’s just compared someone to Jesus–the One with Whom there is no comparison. Tommy Nelson makes the point that Jesus is a far, far better Savior than Adam was a sinner. So no sooner does Paul say that Adam is a pattern, or type, of the one to come, that Paul starts walking back the statement.

“The gift is not like the trespass”–How they are different

Tim Keller, in his Romans 1-7 For You commentary, identifies three primary ways what Jesus did to save us is different (read: “greater”) than what Adam did to condemn us:

The Motivation was different: 

Adam made a conscious decision to sin. The word “transgression” implies a deliberate decision to do what you know is wrong. So in Genesis 3, Adam bought in to the lie that the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would make him like God (Genesis 3:5-7). In other words, he bought in to the lie before he bit in to the fruit! His motivation was that he wanted to be like God.

Like Adam, Jesus made a conscious decision–not to sin, but to obey. Verse 18 calls this the “one act of righteousness.” In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus deliberately bent His will to the will of the Heavenly Father when He accepted the cross (Luke 22:42). What was His motivation? Well, first and foremost it was to bring glory to the Father. But through His obedience, we have access to the Father (Eph. 2:18). And ultimately, we will be like God, when we see Him as He is (1 John 3:2). So at the risk of oversimplification for the sake of a great Tweet, Adam bit the fruit so He could be like God. Jesus bore the Cross so we could be like God.

Adam bit the fruit so He could be like God. Jesus bore the Cross so we could be like God.

The Results were different: 

Tommy Nelson walks through four areas in which the gift of grace through Christ is different (and far better!) than the transgression of Adam:

  1. Our salvation is more certain than Adam’s sin. Verse 15: For if by the one man’s trespass the many died, how much more have the grace of God and the gift overflowed to the many by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ.
  2. Our forgiveness is more broad than Adam’s judgment. Verse 16: from one sin came the judgment, resulting in condemnation, but from many trespasses came the gift, resulting in justification.
  3. Our reward is more glorious than Adam’s punishment. Verse 17: Since by the one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive the overflow of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
  4. The obedience (of Christ) was more redemptive than the disobedience (of Adam) was destructive. Verse 19:  For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Adam’s sin kicked him out of the Garden. Christ’s righteousness ushers us into Heaven. Adam’s transgression made us slaves. Christ’s righteousness makes us heirs.

The Power was different:

Finally, the power of grace is so much greater than the power of sin. Not for nothing do we sing, “Grace that is greater than all our sin.” How does Paul show that the power of grace trumps the power of sin?

  1. Reigning in life is greater than the reign of death. Paul says in verse 17, “Since by the one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive the overflow of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” Don’t miss the change from “reign in life” to “reign of death.” The first is active: We who have been raised with Christ will reign with Christ. But the reign of death is passive. As Billy Crystal’s character says in The Princess Bride“with all dead there’s only one thing you can do–go through his pockets and look for loose change.”
  2. The abundance of grace is greater than the increase of sin. In verse 20, we read, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” The power of sin to kill is limited. When you are dead, you are dead. More sin doesn’t make you more dead, and less sin doesn’t make you less dead. But when Jesus makes us alive through His abundance of grace,

“For Just As…” How They are Similar

Even though it seems like Paul spends more time talking about how Adam and Christ are not alike, don’t lose sight of his original thesis in verse 14: Adam served as a pattern, or type, of the one to come. So let’s end this post by looking at how the two are alike:

  1. Both the gift and the trespass bring something (v. 16): The gift of grace brings justification. The transgression brings condemnation.
  2. Both the gift and the trespass cause something (v. 18): The result of Adam’s one transgression is condemnation for all men. The result of Christ’s one act of righteousness is the possibility of righteousness for all men (hold that thought– I’ll get back to that).
  3. Both the gift and the trespass make us  something (v. 19): The human race was made sinful by Adam’s disobedience. But the many will be made righteous through Christ’s obedience.

Conclusion: Is there any way the Trespass is Superior than the Gift?

Paul is clear. Grace is greater than sin. Christ is a far, far greater Savior than Adam is a sinner. Good triumphs over evil. The paradise we gain with Christ (see Revelation 22:1-5) is infinitely greater than the paradise we lost with Adam. At every turn, the power of what Jesus did is far superior to the power of what Adam did.

Well… at almost every turn. You may have already noticed it, but look again at verse 18:

18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.

Does that mean that all will be justified? It does not. The condemnation of the human race through Adam is universal. But the justification through Jesus Christ is limited. It is available only to “as many as receive Him” (John 1:12). Romans 5:18 shows us that justification is available to all, but John 1:12 emphasizes that it is limited to the ones who will receive Jesus.

Next week: Antinomianism and Sanctification

 

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