Rick Hoyt is a severely disabled young man. He can’t walk, run, or swim. His cerebral palsy is so bad, he can’t talk, or even feed or dress himself.
Yet Rick Hoyt has completed 958 endurance events, including many triathlons. He’s completed 65 marathons, and six gruelling ultra-long distance Hawaiian Ironman triathlons.
How’s that possible you ask. The answer is because his Dad, Dick, CARRIED him. He TOWED him in an inflatable boat as he swam, he CARRIED him through the transition areas, he PEDALLED him through the cycle legs on a modified bicycle, and he PUSHED him in a wheelchair for the running sections.
And so Rick made it all the way to the finish line. A winner!
Why? What would make a father DO that for his son?
After their first fun run together, Rick said, “Dad, when I’m running, I don’t feel like I’m handicapped.” And that was enough for Dick to do WHATEVER HE COULD to help his son experience that freedom. That release..
What a father! Giving himself up in sacrifice for the one he loves. Carrying his helpless son all the way to the finish line!
And that’s the image Romans 3 gives us of God. Whether you like to hear it or not, we’re helpless, just as SPIRITUALLY handicapped as Rick Hoyt is PHYSICALLY handicapped. Incapable of doing anything on our own. Utterly HELPLESS.
But God, our heavenly Father, is faithful to the end. He carries us, doing everything we’re incapable of doing. Poured himself out. Making sure we make it to the finish line.
And just like we might ask the questions of Dick Hoyt, let’s ask the questions of GOD this morning.
What? What’s the problem? And what’s the SOLUTION? What’s THE OFFER of help God gives?
Who? Who’s done it?
How? How can we GET it?
Why? Why would God OFFER it?
And then finally the “SO WHAT” question. What DIFFERENCE does it make in what you think and how you live?
So, first, What? What’s our PROBLEM? And what’s God’s OFFER? Last week we saw our problem is SIN. All the way from chapter 1 v18 to chapter 3 v20, there’s ONE POINT. Everyone is GUILTY before God. Deserving his wrath and judgment. Doesn’t matter if they’re JEWS who HAVE the law. Or Gentiles who NEVER had the law. They were still aware of God from creation, and had a law of sorts written on their conscience.
Doesn’t matter what your background, your excuses, or your advantages. 100% of people have failed to meet God’s perfect standard. And rightly, JUSTLY, they deserve his condemnation, his punishment, his judgment. You can see Paul’s summary of his argument in v9 of ch 3.
9 What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. 10 As it is written:
“There is no one RIGHTEOUS, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
Again and again it says it. All the way down to verse 20.
You may not like to hear that. But the truth is every one of us has turned away from God. Chosen OUR way, instead of his. We haven’t even measured up to our OWN standard of morality all the time, let alone GOD’s. No one righteous. Not even one.
You may not like to hear it but, when it comes to meeting God’s standard, his perfect righteousness. You’re as handicapped, and incapable of getting there on your own, as Rick Hoyt is of completing the Hawaiian Ironman triathlon on his own.
What we need is a piggy back. We need a father to carry us.
(No one RIGHTEOUS, not even one. Verse 20 – No one will be DECLARED righteous in God’s sight by observing the law.) 3:21 BUT NOW!!!
21 But now A RIGHTEOUSNESS FROM GOD, apart from law, HAS BEEN MADE KNOWN,
We’ve got NOTHING. No one righteous. But God offers us RIGHTEOUSNESS.
You might remember a couple of weeks back, we talked about not being ashamed of the gospel because it’s the power of God to save people. And then 1:17 said
17 For in the gospel A RIGHTEOUSNESS FROM GOD IS REVEALED,
Our English version says righteousness FROM God. But it actually just says righteousness OF God. Or “God’s righteousness”. In the gospel GOD’S RIGHTEOUSNESS is revealed.
Which can be taken TWO WAYS.
The gospel shows us that GOD HIMSELF is righteous. That he’s always faithful and trustworthy and just.
And it shows us the OFFER of righteousness he makes US. The gift of RIGHT STANDING BEFORE him. Of INNOCENCE in place of guilt. Of ACQUITTAL in place of PUNISHMENT. Making us righteous, when no one IS.
And it’s the same thing here in 3:21. But now, GOD’S RIGHTEOUSNESS has been made known. And we can see the same two aspects of that. The character of God, and the gift of righteousness. First up, the offer of right standing before him.
Look at v22.
22 This God’s righteousness comes through faith in Jesus Christ to ALL who believe. There is no difference, 23 for ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his GRACE
What’s being offered? The declaration of right standing. Not something we can EARN, work for, save up for. 3:20 said, No one can be DECLARED righteous before God by observing the law. It’s impossible! The only way it’s going to come is if it’s given as a gift.
Which is what GRACE means there at the start of v24. Completely undeserved. That’s the “WHAT”.
The “Who” question is answered in v22 as well. This righteousness comes through faith IN JESUS CHRIST. He’s the means by which the gift comes.
To be declared righteous is a LEGAL term. A judge’s ruling. It’s actually the same word as JUSTIFIED there in v24. Declared righteous. Justified. Same word.
Or gain: Righteousness, Justification is the process of being declared righteous.
And v24 says we can be justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that CAME BY JESUS CHRIST. He’s the “WHO” that the “WHAT” comes through.
And there’s ANOTHER word used to describe Jesus does. REDEMPTION. If JUSTIFY comes from the LAW COURT, then REDEMPTION comes from the SLAVE MARKET. If someone had been forced into slavery because of their debts, a friend or relative could REDEEM them by paying off their debts. And they could be SET FREE.
Exodus talks about God REDEEMING Israel from the slavery they were under in Egypt.
These days we talk about REDEEMING your goods from a pawnbroker. Buying them back.
So Jesus has paid some sort of price to set US free.
And v25 describes what that price WAS.
25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.
A sacrifice of atonement is an idea from the TEMPLE. A sacrifice of atonement was the sacrifice made to SATISFY THE ANGER of God. To pay the punishment for sin. Atonement means the process of making two separated parties AT ONE.
God’s anger at our sin was SATISFIED, not by OUR death. But by JESUS’ death. IN OUR PLACE. That was the price he paid to redeem us. To buy us back.
That’s the “WHO”. Next up, the “HOW”? How can we MAKE USE of that payment? It’s no good it BEING there, if you don’t know how to ACCESS it.
Caron’s just finished our tax returns. And then she remembered something about Government Superannuation Co-contribution. A couple of years ago, the government matched what we’d contributed to our super. We don’t quite know how we got it, but we haven’t got it for a while. We think it’s still around. It’s a nice little extra. Very generous. But it’s no good if we don’t know how to GET it.
Same with the redemption Jesus offers. The gift of right standing before God. How do you GET it?
By TRUSTING it. There in v22.
22 This righteousness from God comes through FAITH in Jesus Christ.
Again in v25.
25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through FAITH IN HIS BLOOD.
The BLOOD picks up the sacrificial language. It was the blood of the animal that would be sprinkled around to wash away sin. And it’s by TRUSTING the sacrifice of Jesus that God declares us righteous.
Trusting that it does what God says it does. That it satisfies his justice. That it pacifies his anger. That it washes away sin and removes guilt.
Trusting the price Jesus paid means NOT TRYING to ADD to it. Trusting it, trusting JESUS, means accepting that he’s done everything we need.
When Caron asks, as we get into bed, if I’ve locked the cars, and I say YES. TRUSTING means Caron won’t get up and check the cars herself.
And Caron DOESN’T get up and check the cars. She makes ME do it instead.
Trusting someone’s WORK means not trying to ADD to it. And trusting Jesus means not trying to earn our way to God. It means recognising that we’re all Rick Hoyts. That we should just sit back and let our father push us all the way to the finish line. To do anything else, isn’t TRUST.
That’s the HOW. Next up, the “WHY”? Why would a Father DO that for us? Dick Hoyt did it for his son, because it set his son FREE. When he was racing he didn’t feel like he was handicapped anymore.
What about God? Why did God offer his Son to pay the price to set us free. To declare us righteous. To satisfy his own wrath?
And don’t misunderstand that! This was ALL GOD’S DOING. He wasn’t a cosmic passenger in the events that unfolded that first Easter. Hands tied. Helpless. It was all according to his plan. Evil men put Jesus to death, but Acts 2:23 says it was by GOD’S SET PURPOSE AND FOREKNOWLEDGE.
Isaiah 53:12 says that it was God’s WILL to crush his Son and cause him to suffer.
And in v25 of Romans 3 we read,
25 GOD presented him as a sacrifice of atonement
He presented Jesus to HIMSELF. To satisfy his own wrath.
And why did he do it? Read the next bit. It will blow your mind.
He did this TO DEMONSTRATE HIS JUSTICE, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished- 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
God caused Jesus to be killed to DEMONSTRATE his JUSTICE. It’s actually exactly the same word as RIGHTEOUSNESS in v22. He did it to demonstrate his RIGHTEOUSNESS.
God’s nature, his character, is to be JUST. Innocent people are acquitted. Guilty people are punished. It’s God’s character that’s behind the whole Old Testament law. Prov 17:15
15 Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent– the LORD DETESTS them both.
Or Exod 23:7
7 Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, FOR I WILL NOT ACQUIT THE GUILTY.
And yet, all the way through the Old Testament, that’s what God DOES. He forgives the sin of guilty people. He counts their FAITH as righteousness. He accepts their obedient sacrifices and turns from judgment. He makes sinners his friends, FORGIVNG THEIR SINS. That’s not far!
And then we come to the New Testament, and we hear about this offer of FORGIVENESS. Of RIGHTEOUSNESS. Guilty people declared innocent. Set free. THAT’S not fair!
Where’s the JUSTICE in that?
That’s the cry from victims of crime. When judges set lenient sentences, or toss out prosecution cases on a technicality. Where’s the JUSTICE?
And God could be accused of the same thing. Just letting guilty people go. God CAN’T do that. His nature is ALWAYS justice, to ALWAYS act RIGHTLY. Sin has been committed. And there HAS to be punishment.
And we SEE that punishment. That justice. On the cross.
The cross represents LOTS of things. A price that buys back. A sacrifice that satisfies wrath. But in v25 and 26, it’s a DEMONSTRATION. A demonstration of JUSTICE. Of RIGHTEOUSNESS. Old Testament sins were left unpunished. Imperfect substitute sacrifices making do. Until the time when the PERFECT, ONCE-FOR-ALL sacrifice would come.
And pay for THOSE SINS BEFORE. And pay for OUR SINS NOW. And pay for EVERY OTHER SIN we WILL commit in THE FUTURE.
Paid in full. No further payment required. When we helped Dionne move in, I went to pick up a new fridge she’d already bought from the shop. And I didn’t have any money. Which didn’t matter because I had Dionne’s receipt. And stamped across it were these words, “Paid in full. No further payment required.” It was all I needed. The demonstration of full payment. I contributed NOTHING.
And so, at the cross, God is DEMONSTRATED (v26) as the One who is JUST, as well as the One who JUSTIFIES. The One who is RIGHTEOUS, as well as the One who DECLARES RIGHTEOUS.
If he just declared us righteous – just let us off – that wouldn’t be JUSTICE. If he was only JUST, without the cross, there could be no declaring righteous.
But BECAUSE of Jesus’ death, God is demonstrated as BOTH RIGHTEOUS, AND the one who DECLARES US righteous.
How incredible is that!!? That’s why this is the most important paragraph ever written!
Which brings us to the FINAL question. So? So what? What’s all this mean for YOU AND ME?
First, and most obviously. It means we NEED TO TRUST WHAT JESUS HAS DONE. If we’re helpless, spiritually handicapped. Incapable of travelling anywhere on our own. Of getting anywhere NEAR the righteousness God requires. Then we have to TRUST the price paid to DELIVER us. To buy us out of slavery.
We need to trust the sacrifice made on our behalf. That pays the penalty. That satisfies God’s perfect justice. And enables God to declare us INNOCENT. RIGHTEOUS. With NO CASE TO ANSWER.
Have YOU accepted that? Have you UNDERSTOOD that before? Maybe today is the first time it’s CLICKED like that for you.
Then trust the work of Jesus. Recognise your sin. Confess it to God. Thank him for the sacrifice of his Son that he presented to himself to satisfy his just anger against you. And commit yourself to live for Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.
Perhaps that’s something you’ve ALREADY done. Then thank God again. For his righteousness. His trustworthiness. For the confidence his character gives you to live without guilt, or shame, or uncertainty. He has DEMONSTRATED his justice. The price is paid. Paid in full. No further payment required. Christian who understand their sin, and God’s grace, live with a confidence no one else can experience.
And it means LIVING with that trust. It means recognising that we’re like Rick Hoyt in this life. That we’ve got NOTHING. We’re helpless. We need God’s help in everything. EVERYTHING. Not just the hard stuff. Or as a back stop when you FAIL. EVERYTHING!
That’s got to DRASTICALLY affect how you PRAY. Trusting God to carry you means PRAYING. Trying to do it yourself means NOT praying.
How IS your prayer?
And ANOTHER thing it means is that we shouldn’t BOAST. From v27. That’s where the rubber hits the road for the Christians in Rome. The Gentiles and the Jews sitting side by side in church. The Jews thought they deserved special consideration before God because they had the law. They knew what God expected.
But being declared righteous doesn’t COME from knowing the law. Because nobody can actually DO IT. Keep it perfectly. It’s a gift. And you can’t boast about a GIFT. Because you haven’t EARNED it. There’s nothing SPECIAL about people who receive a GIFT. A gift says only something about how special THE GIVER is.
So don’t BOAST. Don’t think you’re any better than the non-Christians you meet at work, or in your family. Don’t look down your noses at them, or judge them.
And don’t compare yourself to OTHER CHRISTIANS. Don’t set up little measuring sticks that flatter you. Bible memory verses, or church attendance. Or home group participation. Or how well you pray in public. Or how much you give.
Because that’s NOT trusting what Jesus has done. It’s trying to give him a helping hand.
Instead, live to make the GIVER of your gift SPECIAL. Humbly serve OTHERS. Gratefully honour Jesus. Trust him. Proclaim him. And live for him as your King and Saviour before a world who needs him.