Unity In Times of DisagreementWhen we began our study of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome I told you that this letter has been used by God to transform countless lives and spark revivals across the globe. One of the revivals, or maybe I should say, “reformations,” that came about because of the letter to the Romans is the transformation of Martin Luther which led to what we know today as The Protestant Reformation. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Martin Luther, let me tell you his story.
Martin Luther was the son of a poor miner. His father had a great desire for Martin to get a good education so he sent his son to school at an early age. A wealthy woman, who felt compassion for Martin, took him under her wing and provided financial support for him as he pursued his studies. When Martin entered the University at Erfurt, Germany, in 1501, his father financially supported him on his meager income.
Martin’s father was supportive of his son’s desire to pursue his law degree. Martin showed great promise in his studies, but he was greatly troubled in his soul. Luther was troubled because he could not get out of his mind the thought that one day he would have to stand before a holy and righteous God and give an account of his life, a life that he knew was not holy or righteous. During Luther’s college days, two of his closest friends died and this drove home the thought that his day to stand before God was coming as well. One day he would die, he knew not when, but he knew that he would stand before God and be judged.
On August 17, 1505, Luther suddenly left the university and entered the monastery of the Augustinians at Erfurt. He was twenty-one years old when he entered the monastery. Luther said that he entered the monastery, “Not to study theology, but to save his soul.”
Luther threw himself into the practices of the monks. He fasted and prayed. He devoted himself to menial tasks in service to God. He would go to confession each day and confess his sins, every single sin that he could recall, for hours on end. Luther’s confessions became the talk of the other monks. Luther wrote about his strict devotion by saying,
I was indeed a pious monk and followed the rules of my order more strictly than I can express. If ever a monk could obtain heaven by his monkish works, I should certainly have been entitled to it. Of this all the friars who have known me can testify. If it had continued much longer, I should have carried my mortification even to death, by means of my watchings, prayers, reading, and other labors. (D’Augigne, J.H. Merle, The Life and Times of Martin Luther, trans. H. White (Chicago: Moody Press, 1958), p. 31.)
The leaders of the monastery taught Martin that he was to satisfy God’s demand for righteousness by doing good works. Luther thought to himself, “What good works? What works can come from a heart like mine? How can I stand before the holiness of my Judge with works polluted in their very source?” Luther knew all too well the sin of his own life and the holiness of God. He knew that the two could never co-exist and that led him to despair. James Montgomery Boice writes,
Luther was aware that Jesus exhibited a perfect righteousness and that this was a standard of character rightly demanded from all human beings by God. But he did not have this righteousness. In fact, the more he tried to achieve this righteousness, the more elusive it became. It was Luther’s very piety that created the problem. He wanted to be righteous. He wanted to please God. But the more he worked at pleasing God, the more he knew that pleasing God involved more than merely doing certain things and refusing to do others. He knew that pleasing God involved even the very attitudes in which he did or did not do these things. Basically he needed to love God, and he knew he did not love God. He actually hated God for making the standard of righteousness so impossible. Luther wrote, ‘I had no love for that holy and just God who punishes sinners. I was filled with secret anger against him.’ (Boice, J.M. An Expositional Commentary: Romans Vol. 1 p. 107)
Luther was overwhelmed with the righteousness of God and his inability to escape his sin. It almost drove him insane. God led Martin to a godly mentor while he was in the monastery, a man named, John Staupitz. Luther confessed his anxiety and the terror he felt as he contemplated the divine justice of God. Staupitz said,
Why do you torment yourself with all these speculations and these high thoughts?…Look to the wounds of Jesus Christ, to the blood that he has shed for you; it is there that the grace of God will appear to you. Instead of torturing yourself on account of your sins, throw yourself into the Redeemer’s arms. Trust in Him, in the righteousness of his life, and in the atonement of His death. (D’Augigne, J.H. Merle, The Life and Times of Martin Luther, trans. H. White (Chicago: Moody Press, 1958), pp. 37-38.)
Luther thought about what he had heard, but he continued to struggle with the righteousness of God and his own sin. He was lecturing in the year 1514 on the Psalms when his lecture focused on Psalm 71:2 which says,
2 Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me. (Psalm 71:2 NIV)
Luther was struck by the verse. He could not get it off of his mind. The verse was so contrary to Luther’s view of righteousness, a righteousness that centered on his own deeds instead of on God’s righteousness. This verse led to further study by Luther and in time he discovered the powerful verse in Romans, “The just shall live by faith.” This was the beginning of The Protestant Reformation. It wasn’t until October 31, 1517 that Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the door at Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, but the real reformation had begun in the heart of a young man named Martin Luther.
This is my prayer for each of us this morning. A prayer that God will ignite a reformation, a conversion, in each of our hearts this morning from our study of Romans 1:16-17. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for this morning.
16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17 NIV)
As we come to the sixteenth and seventeenth verses of Romans we come to what many Bible teachers call the “theme” or “heart” of Paul’s letter. I believe that we can go even further than this and say that the teaching that is contained here is the very heart of the teaching of God’s Word and our faith. The reason I say this is because, it is here, in these two little verses, that we learn how we can be made right with God.
Paul says that he is “not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” The question has to be asked, “What do we need to be saved from?” If you were to go to the mall and ask people that question they would probably answer something like this: “I need to be saved from the bill collectors that keep hounding me.” Someone else might answer, “I need to be saved from my ex-husband who keeps bugging me.” Still another might add, “I need to be saved from my addictions. I just can’t seem to shake them.”
I understand all of these answers. If you left the mall and went to a local church and asked the same question you might hear answers like these: “I need to be saved from my sin. I need to be saved from my flesh. It is always leading me astray.” I understand those answers as well, but there is a more fundamental problem that we are facing. Paul writes in Romans 1:18-19,
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. (Romans 1:18-19 NIV)
We are people who have been given life and every advantage by Almighty God. He has revealed Himself to us, but we have rejected Him. We, who are dearly loved and have been lavished by His glorious grace, have turned away and rejected Him. Paul alludes to this in the next chapter of Romans where he writes,
4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? 5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. (Romans 2:4-5 NIV)
Do we honestly believe that we can show contempt for God’s gracious kindness, His tolerance and patience with us, and expect no consequences for our actions? There are consequences for our apathy towards the kindness of God. There are consequences for our resistance to His offer of grace and mercy. There are consequences for our wickedness and the hardness of our hearts. The consequences for our actions are the judgment of God.
We know about consequences regarding the choices we make don’t we? Sure we do. We’ve all suffered consequences because of decisions we have made in the past. There are prisons all over America that are full of people who are paying their debt to society. They are suffering the consequences for the choices they’ve made to break the law. There are students in every school across Oklahoma City who will be sweating it out this semester if they do not study for their tests because they know that there will be consequences for not studying–the consequences will be a poor grade and Summer school. There are husbands and wives who feel the weight of the consequences they are suffering for not being faithful to their mate. The list goes on and on and on. Consequences are real.
God has given us life. His Word tells us that He has “knit us together in our mother’s womb.” He has demonstrated His power, majesty, glory, and grace to us in manifold ways. If we choose to turn away from God’s graciousness and reject His offer of mercy and grace then we will face His judgment.
Many in our society believe that they can please God by simply trying to live a good life. This is the predominant belief in our society today. Do good and you get heaven. The problem with this mindset is that what you deem “good” maybe totally different than what the person next to you sees as “doing good.” Even the loftiest goals of being good falls far short of God”s standard of goodness and righteousness. He tells us in Isaiah 64:6,
6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6 NIV)
Where does this leave us? Well, if left to ourselves to figure out our predicament then we are the most hopeless of all people because we can’t do one thing to remedy our situation. It is like trying to get pure water out of a polluted spring–it is impossible. Praise God, we are not left to ourselves. Paul tells us that God has intervened. It is “His” righteousness and not ours that is our solution. No wonder Paul is not ashamed of the good news, the gospel, of Jesus Christ! Let’s take a look at that statement of Paul’s for just a moment. Paul says in verse 16,
16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. (Romans 1:16 NIV)
Why would Paul even need to mention that he was not ashamed of the gospel? Well, that’s a good question. The answer is this: there were many who were ashamed and there was the constant temptation to be ashamed of the gospel. The gospel is contrary to the natural thinking of people. The world is opposed to God’s message of salvation. It is opposed to this message in our day and it was opposed to it in Paul’s day. Robert Haldane has written,
By the pagans it was branded as atheism, and by the Jews it was abhorred as subverting the law and tending to licentiousness, while both Jews and Gentiles united in denouncing the Christians as disturbers of the public peace, who, in their pride and presumption, separated themselves from the rest of mankind. Besides, a crucified Savior was to the one a stumbling block and to the other foolishness. (Haldane, Robert. An Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans. MacDill AFB: MacDonald Publishing, 1958. p. 45).
If what you believe is what the majority of the population holds to be foolish then you would have a tendency, a temptation, to just be quiet. Don’t let anyone know what you believe and that way you will avoid ridicule and the scorn of others. The followers of Jesus do not have this as an option. Jesus told His disciples,
8 “I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. 9 But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God. (Luke 12:8-9 NIV)
The Apostle Paul was not ashamed of the gospel, but he had seen those that he knew withdraw from situations and opportunities to share the gospel because they were afraid of how others would react. Paul wrote to his young protege, Timothy, and said,
7 For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. 8 So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. (2 Timothy 1:7-8 NIV)
The greatest news in the history of the world had been revealed to Paul and he wanted the world to know that God had come to rescue those who would believe in His Son, Jesus. Paul was not immune to the threats and ridicule of others. Quite the contrary, he had suffered greatly because of his unapologetic stance, his passionate belief that Jesus, and Jesus alone, was God’s gift of salvation. John MacArthur writes,
Paul was imprisoned in Philippi, chased out of Thessalonica, smuggled out of Damascus and Berea, laughed at in Athens, considered a fool in Corinth, and declared a blasphemer and lawbreaker in Jerusalem. He was stoned and left for dead at Lystra. Some pagans of Paul’s day branded Christianity as atheism because it believed in only one God and as being cannibalistic because of a misunderstanding of the Lord’s Supper. But the Jewish religious leaders of Jerusalem did not intimidate Paul, nor did the learned and influential pagans at Ephesus, Athens, and Corinth. The apostle was eager now to preach and teach the gospel in Rome, the capital of the pagan empire that ruled virtually all the known world. He was never deterred by opposition, never disheartened by criticism, and never ashamed, for any reason, of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Although that gospel was then, and still is today, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, it is the only way God has provided for the salvation of men, and Paul was both overjoyed and emboldened by the privilege of proclaiming its truth and power wherever he went. (MacArthur, John. MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary: Romans 1-8, Moody Press, Chicago, IL.)
Paul was “not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentiles.” Paul lets his readers know that the Jews hold a very special place in God’s design for history. The gospel first came to the Jews. Jesus came into this world as a Jew who lived out His life and died in Israel, all the while proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God. After Jesus was raised from the grave He told His followers to take the gospel into all the world, but to begin in Jerusalem. (Acts 1:8)
The gospel is not just for the Jews–it is for all nations, all people, who will believe. The gospel is the “power of God,” the only power in the universe that is able to save us from the just punishment that we all deserve and set us in right relationship with Almighty God. The word for “power” that Paul uses here is the Greek word, “dunamis” and it means, “strength power, or ability.” People yearn for power. We are jealous of those who possess power, but the most powerful among us is still unable to save themselves. I have attended hundreds of funerals. I’ve been to the funerals of those who were very wealthy, educated, powerful people, but none of them were able to write a check to prevent their death, they weren’t able to call upon their power to extend their life, or to call on someone even more powerful than themselves to give them a pass from death.
If you want to live, have everlasting life, and escape the judgment of God then I have some advice for you–look to the One who has all power in His right hand, the One who loves you so much that He has given His Son as the payment for every offense you have ever committed. In verse 17 Paul writes about his gospel.
17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:17 NIV)
The uniqueness of the gospel is that righteousness is from God, not from something that we have done. The Greek word for “righteousness” literally means, “right-relationship.” The idea behind the word really originated in the Hebrew Bible with the word, “tsedeq” and “tsedaqah.” The word means, “justice, rightness, righteousness, right-relationship, or that which is right or just.” It is the same word that is used in Genesis 15:6.
6 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6 NIV)
It is also the same word that is found in the Psalm that Martin Luther was reading when his understanding of “righteousness” began to be transformed. In Psalm 71:2 we read.
2 Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me. (Psalm 71:2 NIV)
Paul tells us that a righteousness from God is revealed in the gospel. What is revealed in the gospel is the righteousness of Jesus. Over and over in Scripture we are reminded of the sinless, perfect life that Jesus lived. Jesus said of Himself in John 8:29,
29 The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” (John 8:29 NIV)
The teachers of the law, the Scribes and Pharisees, were always trying to get at Jesus, trying to test Jesus, trying to find something about Him that they could use to bring Him down. On one occasion Jesus asked them,
46 Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? (John 8:46 NIV)
They couldn’t answer Him. They couldn’t produce one shred of evidence that He was guilty of sin. Why not? Because He wasn’t guilty of any sin. He was the spotless Lamb of God who lived a sinless life for sinners like you and me. Jesus lived a sinless life and therefore is qualified to offer His life for yours.
Paul says that God has come to you and me with a righteousness not of our own to make us right with Himself. The Sinless come to sinners. The Perfect come to the imperfect. The Offended come to the offenders. How do we receive this gracious gift of God? Paul says it is by “faith.” “Faith alone” the reformers would cry out in days gone by and forever it will be “faith alone.” It is not faith plus anything. It is faith alone that makes you right with God–faith in what God has done on your behalf.
The last phrase I want us to look at before we close out our study for this morning is the last section of verse 17 where Paul writes that this righteousness is “a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:17b NIV) When Paul says, “just as it is written,” what follows is a quote from Habakkuk 2:4, “but the righteous will live by his faith.”
There have been so many different interpretations of the phrase, “by faith from first to last.” John Calvin believed that what Paul intended to say was, “from weak faith to stronger faith.” Some believe Paul meant from the faith of the Old Testament to the faith of the New Testament. Others believe it means, “from the faith of the law to the faith of the gospel.” You can make your case for all of these arguments, but I think there is an underlying truth in all of these statements that we need to focus on.
We are dependent upon the righteousness of God from first to last. Our right-relationship with God was initiated by God, it is being sustained by God, and it will be completed one glorious day by the grace of God. You are I are to live in obedience to what the Lord is doing in our lives, but we must always be mindful of the fact that it is God working in us, on us, around us, and through us. What a glorious truth this is to know.
I want to encourage you this morning to consider the things I have shared with you. I want to ask you to lay down your striving after some unobtainable righteousness, some goodness that you think you can achieve by trying to be good. I want to urge you to be more than good–I want to urge you to be God’s. Allow Him to clothe in the righteousness of His glorious, sinless Son and make you right this very morning. Won’t you ask Jesus into your heart at this time?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
March 26, 2013