Sermon on Romans 3:9-31, preached on Sunday, 9 Dec 2018.
Sermon Recording: Click HERE to Listen
Bible Readings: (OT) Isaiah 40:1-11 / (NT) Romans 3:9-31
I. The law of God – God’s mirror that reflects man’s sinfulness
II. The righteousness of God – God’s gift to man through faith
III. The law of faith – Believer’s joy of upholding the law
This morning’s message is the last one in this series on the first three chapters of Romans. I pray that, with the messages delivered to you from these chapters, the Lord may deepen everyone’s faith in the Lord Jesus and strengthen our knees in prayer to Him our Lord, seeking His grace so that we may walk with Him now and more so in the days coming. I pray especially for the Lord’s strength because we all need an undespairing spirit in perseverance in the spiritual climate of the present generation. The Apostle Paul must’ve pictured in his mind the same need for his fellow Christians in Rome to whom this letter was originally written. I believe that’s why we read in these first three chapters a vivid picture of all humanity in sin and their need of Jesus who alone is the Saviour.
In this sense, these first three chapters of Romans are loved by innumerable Christians over two millennia. Some people dislike this section, accusing and even rejecting its verdict of universal sinfulness as too harsh and so on. Unlike them, we love every word in these chapters because of one simple reason – that is, it mirrors our sinfulness and shows how Jesus saves us by making us righteous in His blood! In a word, this is like a good doctor’s perfect diagnosis and perfect cure for us. If you’ve had an experience of medical recovery, you’d know what a good doctor’s perfect diagnosis and cure means. Your memory of such an experience never goes away, but clear in your mind always and you appreciate it in every moment. Likewise and more so, numerous forgiven, thus, saved sinners like us love these chapters of Romans.
In these verses of Rom. 3, the apostle concludes his message by reemphasising the universal sinfulness alongside God’s righteousness revealed to us through Jesus Christ. He uses a few terms to do this, like ‘the law’ and ‘God’s righteousness,’ then, most unusually ‘the law of faith.’ So, let us consider the apostle’s conclusion of this delighted section of God’s word and let us be encouraged by rediscovering the joy in the gospel of Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord.
I. THE LAW OF GOD: GOD’S MIRROR THAT REFLECTS MAN’S SINFULNESS
The first point of the apostle is the universal sinfulness and how it is known to us. In a word, he teaches us that God’s law, the law of God, opened our eyes to see our sinfulness. Not only that, but also God’s law made us realise that everyone since Adam is sinful. There’s no hope in men. People naturally feel their sinfulness and hopelessness, but, their reflection is rather vague and momentary than clear and thorough. But this universal sinfulness is so vividly testified in the law of God. Rarely, people like Xunzi, a Chinese philosopher in the 3rd C BC, recognised the evil human nature. But his view on man is not like the teaching of the Bible, seeing that education could make man good. General people’s thought about human nature is morally neutral or, if evil, potential to become good.
The Bible, however, is completely different. God’s word teaches that men are completely fallen in sin, their nature is depraved in sin and nothing good can come out of this evil nature. The apostle backs this up with the teaching of the OT in vs. 10-18 of our text passage. We’re given here a complete picture of this verdict on man’s sinfulness in vs. 10-12. Expressions like ‘none is righteous’ and ‘all have become worthless, not even one’ are used. Then, some fragments of this picture are given to make the whole picture vivider, and those fragments are man’s ‘throat’ in v. 13 portrayed as ‘an open grave’ and our ‘lips’ as ‘the venom of asps’ and so on.
All of these examples given to describe our sinful nature are connected to death as a terminal, irrevocable destruction. Think about the venom of asps. The famous Egyptian queen, Cleopatra, is known as a victim of this venom. And picture this venom under the human lips! It’s so true to say that as it is proven through human history – so many uncountable lives have been lost by this venom found under the human lips! In addition to this venom, human feet are swift to shed blood, says v. 15, and our paths are nothing but ruin and misery. So, whether any man dislikes it or not, this is an incisive true diagnosis of human nature.
The point our dear apostle makes here is this, and this is the point we must remember – that is, the law of God shows us what we are; God’s word brings to us this knowledge of sin and our fallenness in sin. Without God’s law, no one could ever see it – this is the point.
In a word, God’s law is like a mirror that reflects and shows our true face. Without God’s law, no one can ever realise his/her true shape. The end of v. 20 tells us this: “through the law comes knowledge of sin.” Rom. 7:7 makes this even clearer by saying, “if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin,” meaning, without looking into this mirror God has brought before me, before us, we would not have seen and found how an awful and deadly situation we were in. Talking about mirror, it is a great gift to us from God. Imagine that you dress up or put up makeup without a mirror or drive your car without those room and side mirrors. It would be disastrous. Do you know that even military jet fighters and spacecrafts have mirrors? People’s life is so entangled with mirror.
So is the function of God’s law. If anyone doesn’t like what the law of God directs, he/she is like a person who rejects mirror in their life; if any one sees God’s law unnecessary, he is a person who turns his eyes away from the only mirror that reflects man’s soul. This is why the apostle says in v. 31 which is the last verse of this whole section that we ‘uphold the law.’ Upholding the law has more meaning and we’ll come back to that in a moment. So, the Bible’s urge for Christians to open and read God’s word and meditate on it is because of this reason – ‘look at the mirror of your God and see what it reflects over your relationship with Him, your Saviour and Lord; then, seeing it, seek the Lord’s mercy to embrace you and guide you to walk His path.’ The law of God is the blessed mirror that reflects our relationship with our Lord and Saviour.
II. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD: GOD’S GIFT TO MAN THROUGH FAITH
Having said, the apostle continues with his second point, that is, man’s act of looking at this mirror of God and observing what this law demands cannot save a sinner because no one can keep the law without breaking any of it or satisfying its requirements. This is what the apostle explains in vs. 9-18. No one can change his nature and turn the asp’s venom on his lips to anything sweet. Instead, a sinner is saved only by Jesus Christ, God’s Son. This Son God the Father sent to the world saves, not man’s keeping the law of God. This Jesus who saves came and died on the cross in place of sinners so that His righteousness may be granted to sinners, God’s elect, through faith. This is the apostle’s second point explained in this passage.
The apostle also tells us that Jesus’ death for the sinners is the manifestation, display of God’s righteousness. In other words, the death of Jesus proves two things, that is, first, God is righteous in all His works and, second, He is gracious and merciful toward men, His creatures.
How does Jesus’ death prove God’s righteousness? In this way that God told Adam that he would surely die if he ate the fruit of a specific tree in the garden. Sadly, the father of all in mankind did eat the fruit and die. This death is not only physical, but also spiritual; this death means damnation in hell for eternity. So, all children of Adam inherit this sin of our common father and die. In this way, God is righteous – in other words, God means what He says and never lies, and whatever He says and does is altogether righteous. He warned Adam and He administers what He said.
Let me diverse a little at this point and deal with some people’s, in fact, many people’s objection to the validity of our inheritance of Adam’s sin, so-called the original sin. People question its validity based on the biblical principle presented in Dt. 24:16 which limits each one’s responsibility to his own sin. The principle is this – no father shall be put to death because of his child, likewise, no child shall die because of his father. Then, says the rest of Dt. 24:16, “Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.” But, this principle cannot be the proof text for some people’s disapproval of the original sin because a sin an individual commits is solely that person’s responsibility; it’s not transferable. But, Adam’s sin is different. He is the head or representative of all humanity and, because of his headship, his sin has become all men’s sin. We all were in him when he sinned against God, so we all participated in his sin.
It is like how a sport event in the Olympic Games works. An Australian athlete competes on behalf of all Australians. No matter how many people are indifferent to that event or give no personal support to that athlete, this contestant represents all Australian men and women in that event. If he wins, all Australians win; if he loses, we all lose. Likewise, Adam was the head of all men and women who would be born from him. He fell in sin, so we inherit that same sin; his spirit died when he fell in sin, so we are born with a dead spirit. So, in man’s original sin, God’s righteousness is at work.
Jesus’ coming in flesh and death on the cross displays God’s righteousness so vividly because His death means no man can save himself or anyone else. The death of the Son of God in place of sinners means that every human being is destined to eternal damnation in hell, unless God intervenes in a special way.
At this point, the most amazing work of God is done through Jesus, that is, God gives His righteousness to man as a gift. This means that sinners who believe are no longer condemned but blessed. To them who believe, God’s righteousness becomes His grace; God’s justice that exacted judgment is turned to His pardon for sins; God’s condemnation is replaced with His eternal blessing. Jesus Christ has brought this through His death and He gives this gift of life to all who believe in Him. That’s what v. 22 teaches in these words: “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”
So, only through believing in Jesus as one’s Saviour, only through depending on Him as his/her Mediator before God, only through following Him as one’s Lord, a sinner is saved! This is God’s righteousness – He requires life for sin, thus, Jesus Christ paid that life penalty for all who believe in Him! In this sense, God’s righteousness is His grace and His grace is His righteousness. It is given to all who believe as a gift!
III. THE LAW OF FAITH: BELIEVER’S JOY OF UPHOLDING THE LAW
Now, we have the apostle’s third and last point, that is, ‘believer’s joy of upholding God’s law.’ This joy of believer is portrayed in this term, ‘the law of faith,’ that appears in v. 27.
‘The law of faith’ is an interesting term. This appears only in this 27th verse of Rom. 3; nowhere else is this found in the rest of the Bible. At a glance, it looks quite strange because two concepts – law and faith – seem to contradict each other in this Letter to the Romans. Whereas ‘law’ increases the trespass, arouses sinful passions, thus, condemns sinners, ‘faith’ saves, bringing pardon for sins.
But this ‘law of faith’ describes the joy that is in the saved soul. What I mean is this; you’re saved through faith and this saving faith is God’s gift to you through Jesus. Being saved, you look at the law of God in a completely different way. Before your salvation, you looked at God’s law as an unbeliever, and the law was a great burden to you because you could never fulfil it, you could never satisfy its demand, like, for example, a grade-one student learning under a harsh and difficult teacher who requires of that child a perfect score, missing none in every exam. Like that child would, you hated it; you never wanted to do anything with the law of God.
But, as a Christian forgiven and saved through faith in God’s grace, looking at the law of God is a pure joy because you have fulfilled it all through Jesus! No longer, therefore, the law condemns you, but Christ declares victory on your behalf. I mean, the law demands you not to murder, in other words, not to hate your brother even in your mind. You cannot keep it; there are occasions again and again in your life that lead you to hating a brother or probably more than one brothers. But, you can come to Jesus and seek His forgiveness; then, if necessary, you can begin actual reconciliation with your brother in Christ. And your Saviour Jesus will receive you by forgiving your sin. So, in this sense, the law has lost its power to condemn you. In this way, the law no longer functions in you to condemn you but to lead you to Christ, reminding you of Jesus’ death to forgive you and to claim you as His own. In a word, looking at the law, you know how definitely you need Jesus and how much more you ought to depend on His grace in your life! So, God’s law deepens your faith and, through faith, the law is fulfilled gradually in your life by the grace of God and Jesus. This is what ‘the law of faith’ means; this is the joy you and I and all who believe in Jesus Christ have!
Having heard this, now you’ll surely see what the apostle means when he says in the very last verse of Rom. 3: “Do we overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” This is your joy and mine through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord; this is our joy in the gospel of Jesus!
Our conclusion for today’s message is this that we must remember how awesome our God is because He gave us a mirror in order for us to reflect ourselves onto it and know how deep we have fallen in sin. This mirror of God is His law, His word, the Bible. So, we must open and read it ourselves, and at the same time, let others – our families, friends and neighbours – see it too so that they could also reflect themselves onto it and find the only way of escape from their damnation, that is, Jesus Christ and through faith in Him.
Then, we must also remember God’s righteousness manifested through faith in Jesus Christ. This faith in the Lord Jesus is God’s gift for each of us, and by believing and trusting Jesus as our Saviour and Lord, we’re saved, we’re His now and forever. What a great and amazing gift freely given to you and me!
Lastly, we must remember that the law of God leads us to Christ, rather than condemns us, and the law also urges us to live our life for Christ, pursuing holiness, following Christ. Hearing the words of Phil. 4:8 is quite adequate in this sense which says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Then, in the following verse, the same apostle who wrote this Letter to the Romans says, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” May the God of peace be with us and help us in our walk with the Lord Jesus Christ! Amen. ***