Romans 3:21-26 by Revd Alex Pease
What do you think would make any of us happy, contented, fulfilled?
Maybe that pay increase; if we could get a bit thinner; maybe if we had a more beautiful house, or a smarter car, or if our children would only come home, or lift the phone, or if our husband or wife would only stop…or start…
As a society, we seem to be getting less happy
in 2005 the BBC reported that the proportion of people in the UK saying they are “very happy” had fallen from 52% in 1957 to just 36% when the survey was conducted. And I expect the trend has continued.
We have, since the Enlightenment, thought that we can achieve sustained happiness by changing our circumstances, by increasing our wealth and educating our people. But it doesn’t seem to have worked…
That’s because the only way to achieve sustained happiness contentment, joy is by being right with our Creator, God
‘Human history’ wrote CS Lewis in his book Mere Christianity ‘is the long terrible story of man trying to find something, other than God, which will make him happy’
It seems to me entirely unsurprising that the decline in happiness of our people has also been mirrored by a decline in church attendance.
But the difficulty is getting right with God or being, in theological language: ‘righteous’.
Why is it necessary to get right with God?
It works like this: God has an unchanging eternal character which has always been
and always will be the same. And in the Bible, both Old and New Testament, he reveals to us what that character is. And reveals how humanity is created to relate to him and to each other. This is called the covenant.
But because he loves us He gives us free will to do whatever we want. Sometimes, what we want prevents us from getting right with God.
In the Bible, we are told about ‘sin’ which are thoughts, actions or omissions which break that covenant; which contaminate us; which make us unable to get right with God; which prevent us from being righteous.
Jesus said that sin can be boiled down to two issues:
Firstly, Failing to love God with our whole heart, mind and spirit
And, Secondly, failing to love our neighbour as ourselves
But the two issues are really just one: failing to love God by replacing him, replacing God, with other things in our lives: worshipping things other than God; making created things, little gods to worship and giving them priority in our lives over their Creator…
It might be our career, our house, or our background, or our reputation, what people think of us, or our bodies, our lifestyle, or our sport or our recreation or maybe even our children or grandchildren…
Whatever it is that we put as top in our lives,the one thing which wins out
in a conflict of priorities, means that we make a god out of it.
So we need ask ourselves what are we making a god in our lives; what trumps everything else including God in our conflict of priorities. We all have a tendency to do this…
GK Chesterton wrote: “when we cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing, we worship anything.”
We can tell when we are doing this, when we are putting the little god we have made ahead of our Creator, because often the effect is that we fail to love our neighbours as ourselves,either by acts or omissions: Perhaps by not having time
to be there for them, when they need us, because we have prioritised something else.
As well as more obvious cases of simply being unpleasant to another human being
made in God’s image.
A breach of the first commandment can often cause a breach of the second
To my shame I have done this with our children from time to time.
On one occasion I found myself getting unreasonably cross with their primary school headmaster. I won’t go into the details and it doesn’t matter that the daughter concerned was being treated unfairly.
I put her success ahead of treating the headmaster with the respect to which he was entitled.
I was making a little god out of her
Head teachers get a lot of this by the way, even in the Valley
If we make our children or other things of ours, little gods we cannot relate properly to the Creator God. We are, effectively, making a god out of ourselves and this prevents us from getting right with the real God.
Its like with a couple of magnets. If you imagine that this magnet ABOVE is God
And the other magnet BELOW is Man. The north side of one magnet cannot bind with the north side of another magnet. It just won’t work…
Its the same with God we cannot bind with him, as we are designed to do, if we are making ourselves or what is ours, into a god. God cannot be God, If we want to be god as well, or if we want to put something first other than him.
Two norths cannot bind together. The stronger magnet will repel the weaker one
Actually repel is not a strong enough word, and this is where the magnet analogy
rather breaks down.
Our Creator God won’t have anything to do with us when we have other gods in our lives. When we have been created to have him only as our God.
It is colossally disappointing for him anger is not too strong a word. Not angry in the capricious bullying way, that we are angry. But in a settled and determined way. He totally rejects what we are doing, and he cannot not have us worshippers of other gods in his eternal new heaven and earth, in his eternal paradise.
So ultimately, unless something else intervenes, this will involve our destruction….
Trying to get across the monumental importance of this divide between a righteous God and sinful humanity is a challenge. Trying to explain what divides us from Him
is more difficult now than ever before particularly now that the word ‘sin’ has been discredited to such a level that people use it to describe late night consumption of chocolate…..
Paul uses words, in the passage we have just read (see below), which describe what is going on in three words, metaphors, appropriate to his time and the culture in which he lived, which I think help us to recognise the anguish we should feel on being separated from God by our sin, our worshipping of other gods.
Firstly, he uses the image of the law court: Where we are the prisoner accused of a really shameful crime of which we know we are guilty and we are up before the judge and our future entirely rests in his hands.
Secondly, he uses the image of the ancient market place, where we have failed to pay our debts and are about to be separated from our family and sold into slavery.
Thirdly, he uses the image of the temple where we are a community facing perhaps the immediate prospect of famine or invasion and see in this disaster the anger of God and are desperately trying, by sacrificing animals to appease him and stave off the impending catastrophe. But we fear he will not be appeased.
There is nothing we can do ourselves to get right with God, to become righteous.
And God cannot simply forgive us, just ignore that we have sinned; Not care that we have put other gods ahead of him, because of God’s unchanging character
throughout eternity, because he is a good god of justice, and the universe he has created is ultimately good and just in eternity. He cannot just disregard our sin
otherwise he would not be just…..
There is a consequence for our unrighteousness and it is our obliteration for eternity
Because of Jesus death on the Cross a victory is won over the dark forces behind the idols that we are inclined to worship.
By Jesus dying on the Cross, instead of us, the one who was without sin, taking the blame for all of us who have sinned, the covenant between God and Man is fulfilled. We are credited with a righteousness of and from God.
By Jesus dying on the cross taking the penalty which should be ours, in the example of the law court, We are declared justified, the case against us is set aside, as if it had never been brought, even though we were rightly accused.
By Jesus dying on the Cross, in the example of the market, the price is paid and we are redeemed so that we are released from slavery.
By Jesus dying on the Cross, in the example of the temple Jesus is the ultimate sacrificial lamb, to put aside the anger of God and atone for all humanity’s sins.
And in my own example of the magnets, by Jesus dying on the Cross, we are effectively turned round, reversing the polarity, so that we no longer see ourselves as god enabling us to bind with the one true God.
What divides us from God is bridged, not by what we do, our pathetic efforts to be righteous. But by what Jesus did…Not by our feeble efforts to be righteous. But by what Jesus has done.
Trusting what Jesus has done, is what is necessary, all that is necessary, to secure our righteousness with God. Trusting Jesus is what ‘faith’ in Jesus verse 22 means
Trusting God, trusting Jesus we find our burden released and we are flooded with joy..
Once we get this, once the penny drops, our lives are totally changed, we go from anguish at our situation to trust in the God. Who loves us and will provide for us for eternity.
And we find we are saved for a purpose: to work now towards God’s kingdom here on earth. To become, as Tom Wright puts it ‘genuinely human’, we find we receive the joy of being renewed in God’s image.
It happened to Martin Luther, when he understood the gift of righteousness from God. He writes that he felt as if ‘he had entered paradise through open gates’
It happened to John Wesley when he understood that the gift of righteousness was from God he felt he did trust in Christ, Christ alone for his salvation; And he writes that ‘an assurance was given to him that Jesus had taken away his sins, even his, and saved him from the law of sin and death’
Regardless of our circumstances by trusting Jesus, we can settle into
a deep and continuing happiness. And we find that we do love him..
And as with Martin Luther and John Wesley, the world can be changed
as a result
May that penny drop for us this Lent
21 But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; 26 it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.