Romans 3:21-31

But now, irrespective of 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 in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a family who decided to invite their pastor over for dinner. They had a great dinner talking about religion and how it helped with their daily lives. After dinner when the pastor left, the wife came back to the table to find out that one of their silver spoons was missing. The wife asked her husband if it might be the pastor, but the husband said that it couldn’t be as he was a righteous man. The wife decided to let it go. The following year they decided to invite the pastor for dinner again. This time as the pastor sat down at the table, the wife couldn’t help herself but ask if the pastor had taken their spoon last year. The pastor looked at her and said, “I left it between the pages of your bible.”

Not necessarily a funny one this week, more of a commentary. That wife was more determined to judge the righteousness of her pastor than to wrestle with her own righteousness by seeking the wisdom of scripture. Fairly common thing for people to do. It’s often easier to judge the character flaws of other than to build up one’s own character or the character of others. It’s easier to tear down than to build up and heaven knows we are in the habit of seeking out the easiest thing to do in any given situation. Yes, building character can be hard, living righteously can be hard…to always do the right thing takes courage and sacrifice. Some people have that courage, a lot of people don’t. It doesn’t mean God loves them any less. It just means God will use them less. God uses the courageous to do some pretty amazing things in this world. But perhaps we’re getting away from our reading…

I’m sorry we’re jumping into this 4-week sermon series on the book of Roman with the 3rd chapter. Thank you for letting me get out of town last week to be with family over the Memorial Day weekend. Hopefully I gave you some meat to chew on concerning some popular patriotic songs. Thank you to those who helped as readers. Nonetheless, we should have started our sermon series on Romans last week by looking at the 1st chapter. Most of the opening verses are a standard Pauline greeting to the believers of Rome. Not a particular congregation in Rome like his letters but the general community of believers in Rome. Paul wrote his letter to the Roman community of believers late in his career after 20 years of establishing churches throughout the Mediterranean region. As such, his reflections are very developed and dense. Don’t be surprised if you find his reflections a little abstract, even repetitious at times. Paul had mulled over his thoughts and words for 20 years! Of course, his words are developed and dense! But they are a product of countless hours of deep reflection and resolving congregational conflicts. And they are terribly useful words for establishing and nurturing our Christian faith, so they are quite invaluable words. As Luther himself notes, “this epistle (letter) is really the chief part of the New Testament, and is truly the purest gospel…it is a bright light, almost sufficient to illuminate the entire Holy Scriptures.” (“Basic Theological Writings”) Which is all to say, just hang with Paul these 3 weeks as he really lays out his theology!

At the close of our passage from the 1st chapter, we would have reflected on a powerful verse: “For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith.’” (vs. 17) Paul raises this notion of “righteousness” that gets carried over to our passage in ch. 3. What is righteousness and why is it important to reflect on? The dictionary defines righteousness as “the quality of being morally right or justifiable.” So why does anyone need to be morally right or justifiable? Because we live in a world with limited resources and decisions must be made on how to adequately allocate the resources. Because we live in a world with other people and shouldn’t hurt them lest they turn around and hurt us. Both reasons justify our existence in this world: to ease the suffering of others and to exist together. Righteousness is important if we are to live together and thrive in this world.

Now then, resources aren’t adequately allocated, and people are hurt in this world. We aren’t righteous and thus don’t deserve to live in this world. How do we justify our existence in this world? Well, lucky for us, God did the hard work and sent the Son to us, and we are made righteous through him. Jesus took our sins upon him into death so that we are no longer slaves to sin. We can love and serve each other the way God wants us to. We don’t have to fight for resources, we can share them. Sure, there are limited resources but there are also more than enough for all of us. But we have to have trust in each other. We have to have trust in God. Faith is about trust, trust that God will provide as He promised He would. And God has always delivered on that promise, God has always provided. We have to put our faith and trust in Jesus and when we do, we are made righteous before God.

Too often we attribute the whole battle against works righteousness to Luther but really Luther was simply getting his cue from Paul in passages like Romans ch. 3. As Paul explains, “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.” Justified by grace through faith. Not by works but by belief in Jesus we are justified. And this is important because it helps us know how to be in right relationship with God. None of us is an island unto ourselves. We were all created with a specific purpose by our gracious God and our righteousness is found in Christ alone. It’s ironic that Jesus tells us, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matt. 5:6) He may as well have said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for ME, for they will be filled,” for those who seek him out will undoubtedly be satisfied.

Paul’s teaching on righteousness and justification are important help us to be in right relationship with God and each other. We live in a big with a lot of people and we need to know how to live in it fruitfully. Let us give thanks for Paul’s words of wisdom and clarity. Thanks be to God!