Sunday, October 29, 2006

Faith In A Promise -- Romans 4:9-25
by Pastor Lee Hemen
October 29, 2006

Fred Bowlby, owner of a west London pub, The Pig and the Whistle, had become famous for his Doomsday Chair. It was an old cane chair with gold cushions, chained to a fixture in the pub. Any who dared to sit in this chair were offered free liquor. A city slicker had accepted the challenge and allegedly died on the spot. A town drunk unknowingly sat in the “killer chair” and his body was later found in the river. Father Duddleswell maintained that the absence of faith leads to superstition, and so he was challenged by the pub’s owner to sit in the chair. Bowing to public pressure and the offer of 100 pounds, the priest agreed to sit in the chair every day for a week at a designated time. When the week was over the father proudly took the chair home and displayed it in his study. Later, the father confessed that he had found an identical chair in a local antique shop, and with the help of the pub owner’s wife, had switched the two chairs. The real chair was buried in his garden. However, the pub owner came to the father to make a confession as well. “As you know, father, that is not the Doomsday Chair,” he said, pointing to the chair displayed in his study. “You see, father, after Charlie Skinner drowned I found an identical chair at the local antique shop and replaced the killer chair, for fear someone else might die.”

“And what did you do with the real chair?” the father inquired. “Well, I would have buried it in my garden, but my wife being a keen gardener, I knew she’d find it. So I took the real chair back to the antique store and told them I must return it since it didn’t suit the decor of my place.” The owner commended the faith of the priest, for even though it was not the real killer chair, he had acted with courage in accepting the challenge of the pub owner. When he left the priest collapsed into his armchair, ashen-faced. Quickly he instructed his associate to dig another hole in the garden! – (Adapted from ‘The Doomsday Chair’ by Neil Boyd, Reader’s Digest, April, 1978, pp. 100-104.) Faith that is motivated by works, ritual, or a faulty ideal that regulations can save you is mere superstition.

Last week I shared how Paul masterfully argues that works could never save a person. However, the Jews with whom he was arguing would immediately begin to try and pick apart his argument by retorting, “Well then, what about the rituals we were given to follow? What about God’s law given to us to live by? And what about the promise God has given only to the Jews?” Paul responds by relating each argument and putting it to rest with both logic and Scriptural examples. He reminds us that our salvation is based on faith in a promise. That promise has not changed. Let’s discover what he means this morning…

READ: Romans 4:9-25

Did you ever sing the children’s ditty, “Step on a crack and break your mother’s back?” Or there are those who think that breaking a mirror brings about seven years of bad luck. Recently, we saw a Friday the 13th, which fell in October this year, come and go. Sadly, there are those who place a great amount of superstition on these kinds of things. In fact, there are those who will go through great rituals in order to get rid of any kind of “bad luck” they may have acquired. Paul relates that the Jewish law was just mere ritual now. His faith was squarely placed in a promise. It was…

I. By faith not ritual (4:9-12)

1. Abraham’s age when he was declared righteous (Genesis 15:6) is not stated. However, later when Hagar bore him Ishmael, he was 86 (Gen. 16:16). After that, God instructed Abraham to perform the rite of circumcision on all his male descendants as a sign of God’s covenant with him; this was done when Abraham was 99 (Gen. 17:24). Therefore the ritual of circumcision of Abraham followed his justification by faith by more than 13 years! Paul’s argument is that circumcision was a seal of Abraham’s being declared righteous because of his faith which he received while he was still uncircumcised. Circumcision, as a “sign” or “seal,” was an outward token of the justification Abraham had already received. Technically, then, Abraham was saved as a Gentile, and not as a Jew, for he did not enter Judaism by the ritual of circumcision, nor did he have the Law to keep. God’s purpose was that Abraham be the father of all who believe and are thereby justified. This included both the uncircumcised Gentiles and the circumcised Jews. Jews must do more than follow a mere ritual of circumcision in order to be right with God. They must walk in the “footsteps of faith,” like Abraham did. Obviously, then, the rite of circumcision, which many Jews rely on for salvation, contributes in no way to one’s status before God. It gives them no special standing before Him because they must be declared righteous on the basis of faith in God. Paul teaches us that the promise is by faith not ritual!

EXAMPLE: The other night as I watched the World Series I saw several batters enter the batter’s box, only to cross themselves, lift one leg each time, or swing their bat exactly the same number of times before taking their stance. What I was observing was ritual. Each of these men thought that by doing certain things, the same way each time, they would have a better chance in hitting the baseball. Nothing could be further from the truth. People may also face a certain direction when they pray, genuflect to an alter, whisper set prayers over beads, or burn incense all in an attempt to follow ritual rather than faith. Some try to justify their actions by saying it is an outward act of their inner faith. Then why do any of them at all if you have faith? Ritual never saved anyone. Heightened religious activity does not necessarily honor the Lord. In fact, it can mean you are only out to please yourself! We confuse our selfish ritual with sacrifice. There is no sacrifice that any man can do that would grant salvation, except that of Jesus Christ. In fact, Paul would say that the promise is by faith not ritual.

We all know that ignorance of the law is no excuse, but did you know that on the very last day when President Clinton left office he signed into effect 30,000 pages of new laws we are all supposed to know! Paul would cringe, as we all do, when faced with such a daunting task of trying to follow every manmade rule and regulation. This is what he tries to tell his readers as well. Paul relates that the promise is…

II. By faith not the Law (4:13-17)

1. The Jews considered the Mosaic Law, a special revelation of God’s standards for human conduct, as the basis for their special standing before God. They had the law, no one else did. Yet Paul bluntly relates that faith that saved a person “was not through Law!” God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 preceded the giving of the Law by several centuries! God has imputed righteousness, Paul repeats again, by faith! Paul makes it plain that just as justification is attained by faith, so are the promises of God realized by faith. In fact, Paul boldly states that “if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless!” Why? “Because,” Paul explains, the “law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression!” We learned that no one can keep the entire law. It is impossible to do so. The law was not given to be kept but rather as a means to make us aware of our sin! Make us aware we are lawbreakers! People were to live by the law not as a means of keeping score of being good, but by living a godly life! This is why Paul relates that “the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.” For Paul it is the object of our faith that makes all the difference between heaven and hell: It is “God who gives life to the dead (because of faith) and calls things that are not as though they were.” Paul teaches us that the promise is by faith not the law!

EXAMPLE: We all try to push the limits of the law. We travel just over the speed limit in order to get a few extra seconds of time shaved off our travel. We may even run a yellow light or two, knowing that it could change to red any moment and that the law really states that you are to always slow down before entering any intersection, even if the light is green. If the light is yellow before you enter the intersection, you are supposed to stop. It’s kind of like the story of the young salesman who approached a farmer and excitedly told him about the great book he was selling. He said it had all the information he needed to run a profitable farm: when to sow, when to reap, how to predict the weather, how to care for livestock—everything that would make any farmer a success. Patiently the farmer listened and then replied, "I know everything that's in your book. My problem is doing it." Paul is saying basically the same thing here. Our problem with the law is doing it, and the law was never meant for that purpose anyway! For Paul the promise is by faith not the law!

I read several years ago about a woman who hurriedly purchased 50 Christmas cards without looking at the message inside. She quickly signed and addressed all but one, and then dropped them in a mailbox. Just imagine her dismay when later she glanced inside the one unmailed card and read these words: This card is just to say… A little gift is on the way. No doubt there were a lot of people wondering what happened to their presents! Paul related to his readers that the promise was…

III. By faith in God’s promise (4:18-25)

1. Abraham may have thought his linage was “dead,” but with faith in God, all things are possible. Though humanly there was no hope of ever having a child, the old patriarch believed God’s Word. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed. God honored his faith, and he became the father (ancestor) of many nations. In spite of the humanly impossible situation, Abraham did not waver through unbelief. He was old, his wife was old, and what hope did they have? The hope of God’s promise! The patriarch was strengthened in his faith (lit., “was empowered)! God, responding to Abraham’s faith, empowered him and Sarah physically to generate the child of promise. Also he gave glory to God, that is, he praised God by exalting or exclaiming His attributes. Abraham was fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised. What confidence in God this spiritual forefather possessed! He “in hope believed” (Rom. 4:18); he was not weak in faith despite insuperable odds (v. 19); he was not divided in his thinking by unbelief (v. 20a); he was empowered by faith (v. 20b); and he was fully persuaded God had the ability to do what He had said! This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness!” The words “it was credited to him,” Paul relates “were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead!” It is by faith in God’s promise realized in Jesus Christ that we are saved! Praise the Lord!

EXAMPLE: The Radio Bible Class tells us that “Promises are the hope of our heart. A child's security depends on a parent's promise to keep him or her safe. A spouse can live with confidence because of a mate's promise of fidelity, loyalty, and love. Businesses depend on promises from employees, vendors, and clients. Countries remain safe when neighbors keep their promise to honor their borders. Unfortunately, hearts and relationships are broken in all of those situations by unkept promises. There is one Promise-Maker, though, who can be trusted completely and without fear. That one is God. Paul reminds us that if anyone had reason to wonder if God could or would keep His promises, it was Abraham. But "contrary to hope, in hope [Abraham] believed" (Romans 4:18). We know that what God had promised him—that he and his wife would have a child when they were both past 90 years old—could not have happened without divine intervention.” Abraham believed (had faith in) that promise and it was credited to him as righteousness! In fact, Paul tells us that “The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us… who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” For Paul the promise is by faith in God’s promise!

Paul teaches us that our righteousness is by faith not ritual, by faith not the law, and by faith in God’s promise! Do you live by faith?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Faith, Not by Works– Romans 4:1-8
October 22, 2006
by Pastor Lee Hemen

I can remember my father standing over me as I slowly came out of my self-induced semi-conscious state. What happened was I had this really great idea to jump off the roof while holding several big pieces of cardboard. Now do not think I was stupid, I did duct tape them onto my arms first! The sky was blue, the birds were soaring in the white fluffy clouds, and I was soon going to join them. I knew something immediately went wrong when the ground came hurling up at me in a green and brown blur. Well, you know the rest. My father stood over me asking me, “What in the world do you think you were doing?” My thought was, “Why do you ask such silly questions of your son who is lying there, in pain, slowing dying? I was trying to FLY!” Just because I thought I could fly with cardboard taped to my arms did not mean that I could master the intricacies of aerodynamics. Faith did not equal works, so-to-speak.

Interestingly, Paul makes similar observation in his letter to the Roman church. Here’s what I mean: Just because a very young boy dreams of flying, it does not mean that just because you wish it makes it so. The same is true for our saying we are “Christian,” but depending upon our good deeds to make it true. Paul would say it is “Faith, Not by Works!” We learn this as we look at these verses of Paul’s and ask ourselves several questions. The Jews would go straight to their founder and so should we by asking…

I. What can we say about Abraham (vv. 1-3)?

1. Basically, Paul is asking a blunt question of his readers about the Jew’s reliance on Abraham’s example. They placed a lot of stock in Abraham and saw him as their spiritual father and physical ancestor. And rightly so. Therefore, Paul plainly asks, “What made Abraham right before God, faith or works?” What had this patriarch of patriarchs discovered in this matter? What did their spiritual and physical ancestor say? What lesson could Paul’s religious readers learn from the biblical record of “Father” Abraham’s experience? Paul knew that Abraham was declared righteous by believing God, apart from works, just as Genesis 15:6 testifies to. If Abraham was declared righteous by works he could boast, but Paul relates, not before God! So, what can we say about Abraham? Paul would retort, “What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’” Abraham’s righteousness came about because of his faith, not the good works he did. In fact, there was no law of Moses yet! Abraham’s faith brought about his righteousness!

EXAMPLE: We have all heard the old phrase: “Seeing is believing.” But the biblical truth is: “Believing is trusting.” In the TV show “Heroes,” there is a guy who thinks he can fly. He has visions about it, and constantly views himself flying. He finally confronts his brother about it and while they are arguing, he begins to walk toward his brother and floats in midair without realizing it. He literally takes a step into the air. Abraham was that kind of guy as well. He could have read books about God and how to walk with Him, but never experienced it himself until he took that step of faith. If all Abraham did was try to visualize himself being good, or tried to be good, he would have died in Ur of the Caldeans and we would not be reading about him or Paul. What can we say about Abraham? His righteousness came about because of his faith, not good works. He had to take that first step into the unknown and trust God with his life just as we are all called to do.

As I lay there on the ground, I hoped that my mother would not come out of the house. Too late, she did. Her first response was not concern for her broken and bleeding boy, but rather, “Just look at what you did to your clothes!” Then of course her focus did zero in on me when she declared, “What do you have to say about yourself this time young man?” Paul kind of does the same thing when he considers faith, not by works. He asks…

II. What can we say about ourselves (vv. 4-5)?

1. The apostle then discusses the significance of his Scriptural example because the idea of “credited” applies to a day’s earnings or the wages received for work given. Paul teaches us though that God’s righteousness is credited as a gift, apart from works, otherwise it would be as an obligation. God is not obligated to anyone. The one who works receives pay, does so not according to grace, but according to a contractual commitment. You work for me, I will pay you for the time you worked and the job you did. However, Paul throws in a surprising argument when he goes on to state that the one who does not work, but believes in the God, his faith is credited as righteousness as well! The Jews had no problem with the teaching that Abraham was justified not because he worked for it but because he trusted God. Yet, were those who were considered “sinners,” or worse: “gentiles,” justified as well in the same manner? Paul says, “Yes!” What does this say about us? Well, even the “wicked” unwashed gentile was saved by their faith and not their good deeds! What can we say about ourselves? Not much! But we can say we are saved by faith, not works!

EXAMPLE: Most people do not like to talk about themselves. They consider it bragging or at least kind of an evasion of their privacy to do so. Yet when we take a close look at ourselves we often come away with a picture we do not want to see. That is why professional photographers who shoot portraits often “airbrush” them. Although it is called “Photoshopping” them because it refers to the popular digital photo rendering software that many use now with their digital photography. Try as hard as we might, we can never physically or spiritually “Photoshop” ™ ourselves into something we are not. I realized that while falling to earth from the rooftop. What I wished right at that moment was to be somewhere else or at least someone else. Especially when my parents found me lying mangled on the front yard. Yet Paul asks the tough question, like my mother did, of “What do you have to say about yourself?” We have to face reality when we do. We are not perfect, in fact, we are sinners by nature and by choice. Only our faith in Christ can save us.

I know, I know, I should have called in the experts on aviation. No, not Orville and Wilber Wright, but Greg and Johnny my best pals who lived down the street! They surly would have been able to give me some sort of scientific consideration that I perhaps had overlooked in my endeavor to soar with the eagles. Perhaps one of the astronauts like Allan Shepard or Buzz Aldrin would have come on over and lent me a hand in my flight principles? That’s it! I should have called in an expert on the subject! Like Paul did concerning faith, not by works. Paul asks…

III. What does David say about it all (vv. 6-8)?

1. Paul would say that David agrees that righteousness is a gift, apart from works, and that it includes complete and irreversible forgiveness. David speaks in the Scripture about righteousness apart from works. In fact he wrote in Psalm 32:1-2 that “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one against whom the Lord will never count sin.” I believe David wrote these words because David often learned what they meant firsthand, not only in his relationship with Saul, but later in life as well when he sinned with Bathsheba. David agrees with Paul or rather Paul agrees with David who agrees with God. What does David say about it all? A person, like David, like you and I, to whom God credits righteousness apart from works, is indeed blessed! Such a person’s sins are forgiven and covered. And instead of his sin inventoried and billed to his account, God credits righteousness to him because of His mercy and grace. How wonderful to know this truth!

EXAMPLE: We often wonder what other people say about us behind our backs. We want to know how others view our lives. I know that as the neighbors looked out their windows, wandered over, and phoned my folks concerning their unusual son taking a flying leap off their roof, I wondered. I bet they would be surprised to see me standing here today! Not just because I am alive and well, but because I am a Baptist preacher. None of them would have guessed that for my life, I bet. The Jews would have not only wanted to know what Abraham thought but what David, their favorite king and hero, would have wondered about Paul’s notion of faith, not works. I bet they were surprised too!


It does not matter who says what concerning their faith if it is not founded in their trust of Jesus Christ. You can never be good enough, do enough things, or live right in order to be saved. As Paul teaches us, it is faith, not by works.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Faith Baby, It’s Faith!– Romans 3:19-31
October 15, 2006
by Pastor Lee Hemen

It is interesting to note that if we decided to make up a religion that people would adhere to, we could sit down and devise such a scheme quite easily. In fact, it has been done before. Several colleges have experimented with the concept. The Satirist Online has a whimsical web page that looks at the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Cult Leaders” and gives suggestions on such things as personal grooming, time management, and conceptualizing your cult. Then there are other sad attempts from those who have a rather odd sense of humor. However, the basis for any such attempt usually follows the pattern whereby devotees are told that unless they follow a certain set of guidelines, then they are doomed. Cults play on people’s personal insecurities. When God gave the Hebrew people His commandments, He intended that they would guide people into faith, trust, and devotion to Him and show them a better way of living. They were not intended to keep people in line nor for a spiritual kind of mind-control or heavenly law enforcement. In fact, God would tell us that true worship begins in faith and awe, not from fear and strict adherence.

Paul, in fact, relates for us exactly what the law was intended to do, where true holiness comes from, and that anyone can uphold the law of God by faith. He would tell us that it is faith baby, it’s faith! Let’s discover what Paul teaches us this morning about God’s law and our faith.

READ: Romans 3:19-31

Paul relates that…

I. The law can never make anyone right with God – it only condemns us (vv. 19-20)!

1. Following a regulation only makes one “law abiding,” not holy! We could follow a set of rules until kingdom come, and never be made righteous. The purpose and ministry of the law of God could never make anyone holy. The law was made to silence people regarding their own ability to come to God. Instead, they became accountable for what they knew. The Law’s ministry was so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world made accountable to God. No one can argue in his own defense that he is not under sin. The Law points out God’s standards and illustrates people’s inability to live up to them. No following a set of rules could ever make a person holy. Instead, the Law was given so that through it we become conscious of our sin. Ignorance of the law is no excuse because people were aware of it through God’s creative work around them! Instead they began to worship and serve creation instead of God! They began to make their own rules for living a holy life. God’s law showed them something else. The Mosaic law condemns us.

EXAMPLE: The other day our new little puppy Molly had to learn a tough lesson: Not everything in the house is hers to chew on. I picked her up in my arms and spoke very gently to her telling her that those things were not hers they were ours and that she should be a “good girl” and not chew on anything that does not have her name on it. Do you think my “talk” worked? NO! Of course it didn’t. The law was in place and I even made Molly aware of it, but just hearing it does not make her aware of it. She had to understand the consequences of her actions. So what I really did was use a rolled up newspaper, smacked my hands real loud with it, and scolded her in a stern loud voice. I told her in no uncertain terms she was a “bad girl.” Smacked the paper real loud near her again and she got the idea real quick. She ran to her bed and tried to hide. I pulled her out and did it again. Do you think she will get the idea now? You see if I had just told her about the problem, she would never change. She has to be “condemned” so-to-speak. She has to face the consequences for her actions. The law of Moses did just that. It can never make anyone right with God, it only condemns them.

The law condemning us is of no value as far as making God’s people holy. It might make us better for a time, but it can never make us truly righteous. It can never change us eternally. Paul teaches us that…

II. Our faith does something the law could never do (vv. 21-26)!

1. Righteousness is achieved for us already! Paul had just made it plain that “no one will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by observing the law, But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been” shown to the whole world and the “Law and the Prophets (Old Testament) testify” to the fact! It is a “righteousness from God” that “comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” By faith we are saved, not through the law. God did this for several reasons: 1) all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 2) God “did this to demonstrate His justice” in the past “because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished, and 3) God “did it to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just” to us right now as well. Jesus’ death demonstrated God’s impartiality to all people, not just the Jews. God’s divine plan satisfied His own righteous requirement and His wrath against sinful man. At the same time it also demonstrated His love, mercy, and restorative grace to all rebellious and alienated people. The solution therefore was the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, His incarnate Son, and the acceptance by faith by individual sinners. Our faith does something the law could never do! It makes us completely righteous and it saves us completely!

EXAMPLE: The other day Denise made the best dinner ever. It was fried chicken, mashed potatoes, fresh corn on the cob, and homemade apple pie for dessert. I know it was good, even though I have not tasted it yet. I decided to just put mine in the refrigerator for safe keeping. I have plenty of time to eat it. I will just save it for later, when I really want to eat it. I think it will still be okay, after all it has only been in the fridge for a couple of weeks now. Perhaps I will go home and warm it up in the microwave this afternoon. Now most of you who know me know that this scenario would never happen in a million years, especially if there was homemade apple pie involved! Why? Because when you get a great meal like that, you don’t wait several weeks to eat it. You partake of it right away! The same should be true when we hear that we no longer have to follow a lot of laws and guidelines. We are saved by faith in Jesus because of Jesus! Our faith does something the law could never do!

Therefore, Paul’s conclusion is that…

III. Faith upholds the entire law of God (vv. 27-31)!

1. The question is not in following rules, it is: “Do you have enough faith to trust God?” After explaining God’s provided righteousness for sinners, Paul considered five questions in the Greek which he anticipated his readers might ask. Two are in verse 27, two in verse 29, and the other in verse 31. Could the Jews boast about the law? “It is excluded,” Paul says! Shut out! He literally asks then “By what principle of works? Paul answers “No, but on that of faith.” Doing good works is no reason for boasting about the law of God. It was not given for that purpose! Paul’s argument is that “we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” He then asks, “Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too?” And answers, “Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.” Faith upholds the entire law of God! And finally Paul asks, “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith?” His answer? “Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law!” The Jews isolated themselves from the world both in faith and in relationship and wanted God to be the God for only one people: Them. Paul used their basic teaching—only one God exists—to convince them God was just in saving all people everywhere by faith. For Paul, faith upholds the entire law of God!

EXAMPLE: People have a tough time accepting the fact that God did not send us a set of rules to follow in order for us to get it right, so that in some convoluted way we could possibly earn His love and thereby be safe for eternity. “If I am good enough, I might be okay.” If this were true, Jesus was stupid for dying on the cross for us! This is why Paul would later proclaim, “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering (Romans 8:3).” He would also say that “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).” And finally conclude that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).” For Paul, all people “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus (Romans 3:24).”


Are you trying to be good enough? Are you trying to follow some kind of guidelines? Paul would tell us that: The law can never make anyone right with God, it only condemns them. Our faith does something the law could never do! And for Paul, faith upholds the entire law of God!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

When Being Good Is Not Good Enough – Romans 3:1-18
by Pastor Lee Hemen
October 8, 2006

I have shared with you before about some of the vain attempts my folks made to us boys for us to be good. And like I have shared before we tried, we really did try. However there were times when being good was not good enough. You know, like the time I tried to wash the dog in the galvanized washtub in the front yard and he got away, rolled in the garden, and ran into the house. It started out as a good attempt at doing something quite good without being asked to, only to end in… well… tragedy. Our lives can be the same way when we try on our own to please God. Spiritually, we must learn when being good is not good enough.

The Apostle Paul was writing to his Jewish brothers in Rome that had become believers. He asks and then answers obvious questions that his argumentative style had no doubt raised in the minds of his readers. Remember, the Jews bragged about their relationship to God, yet their lifestyle blasphemed His name among the Gentiles. Also, they physically tried to obey the law of God, but were found guilty of breaking it themselves not just outwardly, but inwardly as well. Paul relates that depending upon a faulty relationship with God and trying to please God was not going to hack it spiritually. In fact, being good was not good enough for Paul. His argument directed at his Jewish readers rings true for us as Christians today. Let’s find out what Paul means, when being good is not good enough.

READ: Romans 3:1-18

Because of our wickedness and disobedience, humanity rejects God’s invitation. Human rejection suffers the penalty of God’s wrath. The Hebrews had an advantage in having God’s inspired teachings, but their unrighteousness brought a deserved guilty verdict. Let’s look at Paul’s arguments as having meaning for us this morning by inserting “Christian” where he writes “Jew.” I believe we will soon discover, like the Hebrews of Paul’s day, that we as believers in Christ cannot depend on just being good. We will find by reading Paul’s words that…

I. Just being a good Christian is not good enough (3:1-2)!
1. What advantage is there in bearing the name “Christian” (3:1)? Perhaps, Paul would ask us, “What advantage, then, is there in being a [Christian], or what value is there in [trying to be good]? Is there an advantage? None, if you just carry the name of being one of God’s people, “Christian,” but not the actual relationship of knowing Jesus Christ intimately. Just as the Hebrews had become confused and prideful, this is where many in our world today get confused and prideful. They think that by saying they are a Christian and by trying to be good, then they must be Christian and loved by God. Nothing could be further from the truth! Why would I say that? Let’s see how Paul answers his readers:
2. The advantage is that you have received the Word of God into your life (3:2)! For the Christian, just like the unrepentant Hebrew of Paul’s day, we have the advantage of the “Word made flesh,” Jesus Christ. They had the written Word of God handed down to the from generation to generation which pointed them to Jesus, but they refused to see it. We have an actual living relationship with God’s only Son, but many of us refuse to acknowledge Him as well! Therefore the words of Paul carry with them even more meaning for the believer: “Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.” However, remember that last week I related that carrying the name of Christ is a sacred trust, and it is. It was a sacred trust for the Hebrews to have the Word of God, but they misused that trust. So can the person who claims to know Christ, but does not have a personal relationship with Him misuse that trust? YES! Just saying so, does not make it so.
EXAMPLE: The Hebrews thought that by following a set of rules and regulations would make them acceptable to God. So much so that they had added to God’s original commandments by trying to interpret for God exactly what He desired. God never asked them to do so. In fact, He commanded them not to, but they just could not help themselves. It is kind of like when my mother used to tell my brother and I, “You are not to touch those cookies, while I am out.” We would immediately justify our sneaking a few to the reasoning that she did not say we could use something else, like metal tongs to “touch the cookies” and then share them unselfishly with each other, did she? It is kind of like Satan’s crafty argument to Eve: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1) He knew otherwise. We do as well, but we make excuses for our sin, then we think, like the Jews did, that by just being good we are okay with God. Paul relates that just being a good “Christian” is not good enough.

Paul’s opponents argued against his doctrine of wrath and judgment: if God is absolutely faithful to His human creations, then He must save all of them ultimately. Otherwise, it was not fair for Him to create them. If He elected the Jews to be His people, then He must save every one of them to be faithful to His elect. Paul proved them wrong. He would relate that…

II. We must understand God’s goodness and our wickedness (3:3-18)!
1. God is being good when He judges any ungodliness in anyone (3:3-4)! The Jews could and can rightfully point with pride to their place in the history of God’s work of salvation. They, however, cannot thereby avoid personal responsibility. God told them, “You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins (Amos 3:2).” God is more than gracious to provide a way of salvation for us at all! No person deserves salvation, can demand salvation, or accuse God of unfaithfulness in not providing salvation. In fact, God gave us freedom to return or reject His mercy and love. When we reject it, as we all do, we deserve death and His wrath. His faithfulness to His ultimate purposes demands He let us experience His wrath. His grace in offering salvation gives us an escape from that wrath if we accept it. Paul states therefore, “What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar.” God is “proven right” when He speaks His word and the judges us. This is why…
2. Our wickedness shows God’s goodness (3:5-8)! God is a just and consistent judge, Paul argues. He has the right to judge the world. Our sin is not to “prove” God’s ability but rather just how much we need God in our lives! God’s action in bringing mercy, forgiveness, and salvation to lost sinners like us is perfectly in keeping with His justice and righteousness. Humans have proved their inability to be righteous by meeting legal standards or by trying to be good enough. So God in Christ has provided a way for us to be right with Him apart from legal standards or our own efforts. Paul understood that “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God (v. 11).” In fact, so much so that “There is no fear of God before their eyes (v. 18).” Sounds like our day and age, right? Paul just proved for us that mankind has not changed in their sinfulness. We would like to think that things are far worse today than during past history. This is simply not true. We just have more people populating the earth and we get the news and results of sin faster than they did in Paul’s day. Paul wants us to understand God’s goodness and our wickedness.
EXAMPLE: Scripture, as well as human experience, point to the universality of sin. All people of all cultures throughout history have turned away from God, toward selfishness, and against their fellow humans. No evidence points to the goodness and growing perfection of human beings. All evidence points to the fact of our sinful nature. Oh, we would like to think that the new born baby we hold in our arms will never grow up disobeying us, but that is not reality. We love looking out at the rolling hills, high mountains or the raging ocean and yet we neglect to look closer at the decay, litter, death and destruction that exists all around us. It is kind of like buying a store bought pie. It looks good in the picture, but compared to the real thing of a well made home-cooked pie, it is a cheap nasty imitation at best. We want to think that mankind is basically good and that we can be good enough for God, but compared to the righteousness that God has planned for us, it is but a cheap tawdry fake. The Jews thought they knew the truth, like many of us, but they failed to understand God’s goodness and our wickedness.

Paul relates that just being a good Christian is not good enough and that we must understand God’s goodness and our wickedness. How then can we be good enough? By trusting God’s goodness as found in His Word, Jesus Christ.