The Path To Glory

Sermon Text – 08.18.2019
[Romans 3]
          There’s a man named Robert Coleman who tells a story in his book “Written In Blood” about a little boy whose sister needed a blood transfusion. The doctor sat down and explained to the little boy that she had the same disease that he had recovered from two years ago. Her only chance for recovery was a transfusion from someone who had beaten the disease – just like he did. The boy had the same rare blood type, and so the boy was the ideal donor. The doctor asked the little boy, “Would you give your blood to your sister, Mary?” Johnny, the little boy, hesitated. His lower lip started to tremble, he took a deep breath and then he smiled and said, “Sure, for my sister.” Soon the two children were wheeled into the hospital room – the little girl Mary, looking pale and thin, and Johnny looking robust and healthy. Neither spoke, but when their eyes met, Johnny grinned at his little sister reassuringly. As the nurse inserted the needle into his arm, Johnny’s smile faded. He watched the blood flow through the tube. When it was almost over, the little boy asked, his voice slightly shaky, “Doctor, when do I die?” Only then did the doctor realize why Johnny had hesitated, why his lip had trembled. He thought that giving his blood to his sister meant that he would die. It took that little boy all of five seconds to decide that he would die for his sister. Fortunately, that’s not how blood transfusions work – and they both pulled through. But there is something beautiful to learn about the love of God if we pay attention to our children.

          There was another story about a small boy who was always late coming home from school. His parents warned him one day that he MUST be home on time that afternoon, but of course – he arrived later than ever. His mother met him at the door and said nothing. At dinner that night, the boy looked at his plate. There was only a slice of bread and a glass of water on the plate, nothing else. He looked over at his father’s plate which was full, even piled high with delicious food. The boy looked at his father’s plate, then at his father, but his father remained silent. The boy was crushed. The father waited for the full impact of this unpleasant dinner to sink in, and then he quietly reached over, took the boy’s plate and placed it in front of himself. He took his own plate of meat and potatoes, put it in front of the boy, and smiled at his son. When that boy grew to be a man, he said, “All my life I’ve known what God is like by what my father did that night.”

     Today is the third sermon in our series, Road to Rome, Part I. This whole month we have been reading through the book of Romans, one chapter at a time. Eventually we will read the whole book, but we’re taking it one four chapter segment at a time. Part I, the first four chapters of the book, is all about the glory of God. Couple weeks ago we looked at chapter one and saw just how incredible the actual God of the universe is. We saw the difference between the God that is out there and the God we create in our minds to make ourselves happy. Last week we took a look at the issue of judgment – because when broken people stand in the light, we see the shadow side of glory. When good is really good, when light is really light – darkness is not safe. It’s not fun news, but it is very good news. We talked about the light of God’s glory, and the shadow that comes with it – but now it is time to talk about how we get from one to the other. How do we move from darkness into the light? How do we move from brokenness to healing and wholeness? How do we move from judgment to forgiveness? Chapter three will show us – let’s take a look.

          Basically all of chapter three of Romans is trying to answer one question: How to be awesome. The guy who wrote it, Paul, the first half of the chapter is just him exploring wrong answers, before he gets to the right answer. We’ve just read two chapters about God’s glory and how awesome God is – so, now we ask, “How can we be awesome?” The first suggestion is “hey, try being Jewish.” Verse one and two, Paul says, “maybe there is an advantage of being part of God’s chosen people.” Verse three starts, [read 3-4]. The best way to be awesome is to be Jewish, except if you look at the history of God and the Jewish people – God was awesome, the jewish people, not so much. God was always faithful, humans – not so much. SO that argument sort of fell through. Verse 1 he says, [read it], and then by verse nine he says, [read it]. Jewish people and not Jewish people – we’re all broken humans, no advantage. Being Jewish is not the answer to how to be awesome.

       The next answer that Paul tries out should be super familiar to all of us: How can we be awesome? Paul second answer: try following lots of rules! The answer is the law! I feel like this is the method so many churches try to use. I don’t know when it was specifically that we stopped pushing people to Jesus and starting pushing people to the rules -but for a long time that’s what we taught – You just gotta follow the rules and then God will love you and you will be awesome and glorious, just like God. Just follow the law. But the response to this suggestion is basically eight full verses about how terrible humans are. And guys, it’s bad. Like if you saw any of this stuff listed in an online dating profile you’d immediately think, “hard pass”  – quick, swipe left! Is that how it works, left is bad? Is “swipe right” good? I don’t know the answer, I don’t have that app – you shouldn’t know the answer either. (if teens respond: darn teenagers gonna make my hair go grey) But seriously, listen to this stuff. [read v.13-18]. Yikes. Actually, when I was prepping for this sermon the phrase “their throats are open graves” stuck out to me, and I’m sitting there wondering – what? What on earth could that possibly mean? Throats are open graves, and so I did a little research, and one of the commentaries pointed this out – and I missed it. Verse 13 says, throats are open graves, tongues practice deceit and the poison of vipers is on their lips. Do you see it? It’s like a three step process of words leaving our mouth. This verse is describing word vomit – negative, toxic poisonous things that come regurgitating up from our broken hearts to hurt people around us. How can we be awesome? Try being Jewish – nope, doesn’t work. Well then try following rules – double nope – definitely doesn’t work.
      Verse 20 continues, [read it]. Here’s where a lot of people get mixed up. The function of the law, the rules we are given to live God’s way in the world, the function of the law is NOT to give us a path to glory. The law is not a method for being awesome. Rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. When we read the law, when we look at God’s rules for living life – it shows us how far away from God’s glory we are. It helps us understand that we are far away from God. Even when we try to follow the rules, we try to live perfect lives the way God intends – when it fails it shows us even more how far away we are from God.  Here’s the best analogy I can come up with – the law is like a bathroom scale. Standing on a bathroom scale – it will not help you lose weight or gain weight or whatever you need to be healthy. Standing on the scale simply shows us where you are. It helps, but you need more than a bathroom scale to be healthy. We need more than the law to be a good person. The law of God will not make you awesome. It just shows you where you are at compared to where you need to be. In fact, when you try to follow all the rules and you fail – it’s a reminder that you can’t do this by yourself – you need God. The function of the law is very important – it is not a path to Glory, rather through the law we become conscious of our sin.  
     Then, finally, we get to verse 21. Twenty verses in and we get to the good stuff – how to actually be awesome. Verse 21 [read it] – basically this is saying that the righteousness of God, the good stuff is out there – but the law doesn’t get you there. It points you to it, but it doesn’t get you there. Verse 22 [read 22-24]. That’s the whole thing right there. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, and all are justified freely because of Jesus Christ. Through FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST. It’s not about being Jewish, or circumcision, it’s not about following rules – it’s about loving and believing in Jesus Christ, son of God, savior of the world – that’s how we become awesome. That’s the path to Glory, that’s the way we participate in God’s untouchable glory. Faith in Jesus. Verse 27, [read it]. Paul lays it out there – how can we be awesome? On our own.. WE don’t! Only through God, which removes any and all bragging. We come as equal people, broken in front of God asking for the same forgiveness. You ask for God’s forgiveness same as the worst sinner, same as the greatest super-awesome person you’ve ever known. None of us make it on our own, Pauls like, “what, you gonna brag about it? I don’t think so.”
     Then there’s one last thing in verse 31, [read it]. Paul ends his chapter with a reminder that just because it’s God who saves us – does not mean that what we do doesn’t matter. Admit it, when I said you and the best person and the worst sinner are all forgiven in the same way – we are all equal in front of God, some of you were thinking… well, maybe I can do a little more sinning. I mean, if God is picking up the tab, why not order another round? Now, we’re going to talk about this more in a bit – but Paul shuts down that line of thought right away. We should not show contempt for the forgiveness of God by disrespecting the gift when we keep sinning. We don’t nullify the law, we will uphold it. Just because the bathroom scale doesn’t magically make you lose weight all by itself, doesn’t mean you throw it away. It is still useful, an important part of the process, it’s just not enough by itself. Does our faith nullify the law? Paul says, “not at all! Rather, we uphold the law!”

          I kind of skipped over it earlier, but now I want to tell you the good news of this sermon and so I gotta go back to verse 25. It says, [read v.25-26]. God did all of this for his righteousness. His goodness, his character led him to do this for us. But the good news is that last phrase. He did all this so as to be just and the one who justifies. The good news this morning is that God is the source and the path. God is the source and the path to glory. God is the source of all the glory in the universe and is also at the same time the path to that glory.  God is the source and the path to righteousness. God is the source and the path to love. God is the source of all love, and at the same time God is the path to that love – he helps us get there. God is the source and the path to all good things. God is the source of justice and the path to get us there. The character of our God, found in his glory, is that our God is a God of justice. He is so eternally good that he cannot abide by sin. He cannot allow evil in his presence. Because God is good. That’s not an adjective, like it is when you say it about humans. Like JJ is good – because that’s only sometimes true. God is good. The noun. He is the good. Always and all the time. God is just. And yet, because of his righteousness, because of how much he loves you and how good he is – he also has become the justifier. He moves us out of darkness and into the light. God moves us from sinner to saint, from unfaithful to faithful. God is the source of all good, and God is the path to it. Like we saw earlier – how can we be awesome, the answer is not about who we are or what we do – it’s all about God. It is for his glory that he sent his Son to save you.

    So when we read this passage and we discover this beautiful, timeless truth about God’s amazing perfect character and what he has done for us because of how much he loves us – our response is to trust in God! Believe in his son Jesus and proclaim him as the Lord of your life. Have faith in who Jesus is, in who God is – because honestly? That’s the only thing worth trusting in. Don’t have faith in who you are – your nationality, whether you’re Jewish, or white or black or something else – don’t have faith in that – that’s not going to help you. Don’t have faith in what you do – the efforts of do-gooding and rule-following (you’re not that good at it anyways) – don’t have faith in that, it’s not going to help you. Have faith in God. Have faith in Jesus Christ who is both just and the one who justifies. Believe in Jesus and you will have access to the unfettered glory of God.

          There’s two quick pieces to the application and then we’re done. First, we need to learn to depend on God, not the other options. Paul’s words were written hundreds of years ago, and yet – I think we’re in the same situation in the modern world. We need to trust in God’s goodness – not who we are. Back then people were saying, “well, I’m Jewish – so I’ll be alright.” In the modern world we don’t say anything about being Jewish, instead we say, “well, I grew up in the church – so I’ll be alright.” Paul in verse one through eight says “No! that does not give you an advantage.” I was talking to this lady on the internet one time and she said, “I don’t go to church anymore, I went every Sunday for the first twenty years of my life, so I’m probably still ahead of most people.” And I just responded, “that’s not how it works! You can’t pour a bunch of water on a plant at the beginning and then never water it again! It’s not about who you are, or where you were raised – it’s about trusting in God’s goodness. Trust in God. We need to trust in God’s goodness – not who we are, and not what we do. Back then people were saying, “I’m circumcised – so I’ll be alright.” In the modern world, we spend a lot less time talking about circumcision, which I think is a good thing – but instead we say, “well I follow the ten commandments really well. Mostly.” Paul in verses 10 through 18 says “No! That does not give you an advantage – that does not turn out well.” Trust in the goodness of God, not your ability to follow rules. Depend on God, not the other options.

   The second part of the application for this morning is to heed Paul’s warning – the law still matters. Like I said at the beginning, this chapter is basically thirty one verses of Paul asking “how can we be awesome like God is awesome” – and he explores a bunch of wrong answers before we get to the right answer, but three separate times throughout the conversation Paul stops to clarify that faith does not mean we throw out the law. Verse 5, verse 7, verse 31 – he keeps asking the hypothetical question, “wait, does that mean I get to do whatever I want?” and then he gives the same answer, “Of course not!” But isn’t that terrible? That the first response we have to the gift of forgiveness, the first gut response to God’s glory covering our sin and making us right with God is to wonder if we get to sin more. Honestly it just shows us even more clearly how much we need Jesus. Rather than gratitude, or love or worship – the first objection he has to deal with is greedy sinfulness. How can I squeeze more sin into this forgiveness? Now, we’ll get into this more later in the book of Romans – but Paul is very clear our forgiveness comes COMPLETELY through faith, but that faith does not nullify the law. The law still matters. The bathroom scale will not make you lose weight, but you still need it to show you where you’re at.

          The whole book of Romans is like an introduction to theology – an introduction to the study of who and what God is. And I think there’s a huge temptation in the modern church, particularly in America – to make religion and church about us, about what we want, about we feel – rather than about God. The whole first chunk of the book of Romans is pointing us to one fact – it’s not supposed to be about you. All of this is about the incredible, loving, majestic, overwhelmingly glorious God that is out there. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you remember that God is the source of all good, the source of all love, the source of all glory. May you remember that God is also the path, the way, the method of moving into that good, moving into that love, into that glory. And no matter how much faith you have, may you never throw away the bathroom scale. Amen.          

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