Romans 3:21-31 – 8 Words That Can Change Your Life

cross of christ

“But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because… he himself is righteous and he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.” (NRSV)

500 years is a long time.  It was that long ago when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the Wittenberg Church door.  It sparked the flame of Reformation, a legacy we still live with today.  Protestant Christians have a rich spiritual heritage in acknowledging and affirming the veracity of Holy Scripture and its central message of Christ’s good news of salvation.

8 words changed Martin Luther’s life, changed the course of history and Christianity, and can change our lives, too.

1. Law

The role of the law is not to save nor to sanctify, but to reveal the true state of our hearts.  The law can only condemn; it cannot save you.  Obedience is important yet cannot be done by sheer willpower.  Deliverance does not come by turning over a new leaf; that approach only gets you caught in cycle of regret, promising not to do it again, and returning to it.  Law makes us feel the great weight of our darkness.  We need to feel and know what that darkness really is….

2. Sin

Sin means missing the mark, falling short.  We must agree with God about what sin really is, without sugar-coating it.  We tend to think of sin as some terrible action like assault or murder, yet sin is primarily thought of in Scripture as not giving God his due – of de-godding God and replacing him with something else.  You and I need to be realistic about the bad news of sin before we can ever receive the good news of forgiveness.  You can’t be forgiven unless you can admit that you have done, or not done, something that warrants needing to be forgiven.  Moving forward in hope can only happen when we possess…

3. Righteousness

Righteousness means right relationships; unrighteousness means broken relationships.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for right relationships.  Like illegal aliens who cannot make themselves citizens, God grants us spiritual amnesty because we can’t make ourselves legal or righteous.  Through righteousness God has made it possible for us to live in harmony.  Holding onto bad relationships is like a dog returning to its vomit; there is no need for it because God has given us…

4. Justification

This term is a picture of the court of law.  It communicates for us that righteousness comes because God justified us, that is, he did for us what the law could not do – he sent his Son to be a substitute for us.  You can’t justify yourself by obeying the law or simply by being sorry.  Without the next word, we will wallow in our guilt because we need this for our justification to really live….

5. Faith

Faith is a gift given by God.  We do not generate faith within ourselves because sin estranges us from God.  We need God to act.  God’s righteousness can only become operative through faith.  You must hold out your hands and receive a gift to possess it.  You must come to the end of yourself to exercise faith.  You need to see that your sin is bad enough to have made your life unmanageable and that you have dug yourself in a hole too deep to get out of yourself.  If you think you can handle it, you are going back to the law, living in denial and not by faith.  We also need…

6. Grace

Faith must have an object, and that object is the cross of Christ.  It’s grace which gives faith and saves us.  Our denial is so great about our sin that we can’t reach out to God unless God acts.  Even while we were sinners, Christ died for us.  Opening the gift given to us, we find that we are given…

7. Redemption

Redemption is a word referring to a slave market.  We are slaves to sin.  We need someone to purchase our freedom.  The blood of Christ paid for my sin.  He bought me through his death.  Jesus has taken care of the sin issue through…

8. Propitiation

“Sacrifice of atonement” is the meaning of propitiation.  It is the satisfaction of God’s wrath against sin.  Because God loves, God has wrath; he is not okay with sin running amok in this world.  We are forgiven through the blood of Christ.  We are free to live into the gracious joyous life of God in Christ.  Yet, not all of us do so.  For example:

If the institution that gave me my car loan came along and forgave or satisfied the debt I have on my car, it would be weird if I kept making loan payments.  But that is what many people keep doing with their lives because they don’t really believe they are forgiven and loved by God.  We think God is constantly upset or, at least, agitated with us since we screw-up so often.  So, we live by law hoping that God will applaud our sincerity and our effort, wishing that everything will be okay.  But everything won’t be okay with that approach because God wants our faith, not our promises to be better.  His question to us is:

Do you trust me?  Do you trust me to deliver you from your sin?  Do you trust me to work out the situation that you’ve made a mess of on your own?  Do you trust me to provide for you everything you need? 

Live into your spiritual heritage. Don’t return to the law. Bask in the gracious gift of your freedom in Christ.  Live and enjoy Jesus because you have been made righteous, justified, and redeemed through the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

Galatians 3:15-22

              If the Apostle Paul were living in our day, I’m pretty sure he could have his own reality show if he wanted.  Paul is a terribly interesting man.  His adventures are legendary in church circles.  One of the most interesting things about Paul is his piercing intellect and flawless rhetoric.  Today’s New Testament lesson has Paul taking on a Galatian heresy.  Maybe we could call it “Law and Grace:  SFU (Special Faith Unit).”  
             The folks who were holding to the law were reminded by Paul that the promise to Abraham was a contract or covenant made by God that was binding, permanent, and divinely ratified.  The law, on the other hand, was not – it was designed to be in effect for a specific amount of time, temporary, and only bound the people of God until the promise was fulfilled in Christ.
             So, why in the world was there a law to begin with if it is no longer in effect?  Paul said, “It was added because of transgressions.”  So there we have it.  It was as if the Israelites were precocious and disobedient little children who needed some firm boundaries and rules in order to keep them safe and lead them to the time when they would grow to maturity.  Once adulthood arrived there was no longer any need for the law.
             The law was never designed to be permanent.  So, when Christians cling to a rules-based faith they are showing their gross immaturity and need to grow up and embrace the permanent reality of living in the Spirit.  Grace is the permanent and pervasive reality that governs everything Christians are to do and say.  It cannot be earned, only accepted, not achieved, but only given by God.  Until we can grasp this fundamental truth of Christianity, the Christian life will never make sense.  Only until we release our expectations of rules and let go of our orienting around law will we discover the liberation of a grace-filled existence.
             Gracious God, you saved me through Christ alone by faith alone.  Now help me to live by grace alone as the highest and greatest truth operative in the universe and in the kingdom of God.  Amen.

Deuteronomy 9:6-14

            Significant things happen on mountains in the Bible.  In anticipation of a glorious mountain top experience of Christ’s transfiguration this Sunday, today’s Old Testament lesson reminds us of a great mountain event, and it was not all bunnies and butterflies.  The book of Deuteronomy is a restatement of the law, and a recounting of Israel’s history as they were about to enter the Promised Land.  “Remember and do not forget…” is the constant theme of Moses’ address to God’s people.  The positive remembrance was that God graciously met with Moses on the mountain and gave him the Ten Words (Ten Commandments).  On the other hand, the ugly remembrance was that while on the mountain meeting with God the people became impatient, insolent, and rebellious; they degenerated into a chaotic mass of people who quickly worshiped an idol.  This was not Israel’s best moment.
             But Moses wanted the people to remember that event in all of its foulness and degradation.  It was important for them to not forget how stubborn and pig-headed their parents and grandparents were in running from the true God to a false god.  The people needed to avoid the sins of the previous generation so that they could enjoy God and thrive in the new land he was giving them.
             It does no one any good to whitewash the past or to altogether ignore it.  Whether it is one’s personal past, a previous generation, or even a national history, we must face the sins of our forebears, to remember and not forget.  We must neither be so extremely individualistic that we disconnect ourselves from our generational moorings, nor be dismissive of past sins, as if they have no influence upon us today.  Mountain experiences can either be glorious, turn very dark, or a bit of both.  We are meant to learn from them all, to remember and not forget.
             God of history, your sovereign reign and rule extends to all creation and has existed for all time.  You know the sins of my past, the heart of my present, and the soul of my future.  Do not let me forget my sins, not because you hold them over my head, but because your grace has saved me from them all through Jesus Christ, my Savior.  Amen.

Jeremiah 31:31-34

            The past few weeks, the Lectionary readings have brought us a steady admonition of passing on to future generations the necessity of covenant, faith, and law.  Obedience is the key to it all.  But the problem entered that Israel was not faithful to God’s commands; they kept disobeying and following other gods. God always had a faithful remnant of people devoted to him, but the nation as a whole simply did not follow through with the teaching given to them.
            But where Israel failed in obeying the covenant stipulations and passing them on to their progeny, God forgives.  God’s answer to repeated human failings was not just to pronounce a judgment, but to rectify the problem altogether through the establishment of a new covenant.  God will put his law in their hearts, and they will know him in a direct and immediate kind of way. “For they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD.  For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
            From a New Testament (that is, New Covenant) perspective, Jesus is the fulfillment of all God’s good covenant promises to his people.  And God’s Holy Spirit serves as the continuing presence of Jesus within us, teaching us and guiding us in the ways of God.  Our only task, then, is to live into those promises – to know them, claim them, and bank on them.  We are most obedient when we believe the promises of God and place all our hope in them.
            Lord God, thank you for your promise of a new covenant.  Thank you for Jesus.  Establish his presence so firmly in my heart by means of your Spirit that obedience is always my default mode of living.  Amen.