This is an exegetical sermon from Romans 3:21 titled, Righteousness From Without and considers the ultimate source of our righteousness before God. This sermon was originally preached by Pastor Duane Smets on November 5, 2005 at The Resolved Church in San Diego, CA. Audio unavailable.
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Sunday, November 5, 2005
“Righteousness From Without”
Romans 3:21 ESV But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it
- Tonight is going to be a little different than usual. Those of you who have been around a little bit know that it isn’t the usual Duane, to sit here in a stool and just talk…and don’t worry I’m still the preacher that you know me to be. There is nothing I love more than standing behind a pulpit and being gripped with the word of God and preaching my heart out. And don’t worry, I’m not going to just sit up here and tell stories and talk about myself. I personally give you the right to stone me if I ever do that. We are going to exegete the text for sure. I am just tired, physically and emotionally and I really don’t have it in me to stand up and rant and rave and cuss and threaten hellfire like I usually do. When we started this church, we made a commitment to be honest. that was easy when it was just a few of us in our apartment, but now that we are here and there is all of you, there is like this pressure to perform and to meet your expectations and have everything the same every week. But life really isn’t the same every week is it? Sometimes it is but other times stuff happens and life is hard. I’ll say a little bit more about that in a few minutes but we need to get into the text, so let’s read it again and we’ll start working with it.
- read text again.
- Nate preached an excellent sermon last week and if you weren’t here you should get online and download/listen to it. The only bad thing about his sermon is that he did such a good job with “but now” that he kind of stole my thunder. I can’t really improve on what he said but I am going to briefly revisit the context of this passage and say a couple of things about why we are going to spend a number of weeks on 3:21-26.
- The two words, “but now” mean that before the “now” there was something else, and “now” something has happened or something has changed. so the question is what was before the “but now” and what we find is that there is a theme that Paul has been talking about ever since the beginning of the book where he made a thesis statement, a proposal of what he believes to be true.
- This thesis statement was in Romans 1:16-17, “I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes; first for the Jew and then for the Gentile. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, “the just shall live by faith.”
- And ever since then we have not heard or read about the gospel or salvation. Right after this he launched into what is both an argument and a story at the same time. If we look at it as an argument, his argument, what he has presented to the court to defend is that all humanity is messed up deep inside the core of who they are and can do nothing to fix themselves. If we look at it as a story, his story is that since the beginning of human history mankind has been messed up and been trying to fix themselves but it has not worked, for as he concluded right before this “but now,” “no one is righteous, no not one.”
- so if you are wondering why we spent seven weeks on Romans 1:16-17 and why we are about to spend 7 weeks on 3:21-26, it is because these two passages hold within them the heart of what Christianity is all about, that is why Martin Luther said they were the two most important passages in all of the bible. 1:16-17 is important because it tells us that there is a righteousness that we can have that is not our own and 3:21-26 tells us how or why that can be.
- with the words, “but now” Paul follows his claim and his story that creation, conscience, and chosen people all demonstrate to us that humanity is messed up and hopeless. If we were to stop right here, or if Paul was just to close and end the book here, he would make a great nihilist. Him and Nietzsche could be best friends and agree that there is no reason or purpose to anything. Everything is just meaningless and there is no hope. Everything is just screwed up and that is the end of it.
- Instead, Paul follows with, yes, that is true, “but now” something has happened. God has done something in time and history. I’m sure that to the first readers those two words made everybody’s ears perk up. After three long, dark, depressing chapters, you feel almost ready to shoot yourself and then Paul says, “But now…!” (I guess, I am preaching a little tonight)
- But now what? Let’s look at what he says here. “The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it.”
- what I am going to do is revisit what we have said, righteousness is, what law and prophets are, then say some things about prophecy because of those words “bear witness” and then I am going to talk from my heart about how this illustrates gospel.
- Here are some of the things we have said about this word, dikaiosune. We have said that it is “right standing” before God. One of the pictures of what is going on in Romans is that of a courtroom and God is the judge and humanity is on trial and the question is how can we have a right standing, an innocent standing before him? So there is a strong legal sense to the word.
- But the legal sense is not everything. Righteousness at the same time has to with rightness. What is right and wrong. Morality. And we have talked about a universal morality, sense of right and wrong we all have and talked about where that comes from. It can’t just be animal instinct or we would never do anything good for anyone. It can’t come from another human person because that is just ridiculous, but it has to do with personal relationships. And to recognize that we learn it from our parents and/or society doesn’t really help us because they had to learn it from somewhere. And we have concluded that this morality must come from an eternal personal source who is totally good and upright, totally righteous. So righteousness is something that God is. It is even his name sometimes in the bible, “the righteous one.” All that is right or wrong flows, or emanates out of his being. He doesn’t not follow some moral law, he is morality itself. It is his being.
- when we began Romans, one week when we were studying the thesis and we looked at Isaiah chapter 6 where there is this picture of God seated high in the heavens and angels call out holy holy holy unto him. In that passage we learn that God is perfect. His righteousness is a perfect purity. He is totally pure and right in all that he is and all that he does.
- righteousness is something God has and as Paul has shown in the last three chapters humans do not have it and can do nothing to earn it or make themselves have it. And that they don’t have it and do awful things out of their unrighteousness is a violation or an offense, a personal wronging against God who is righteousness. And that brings us to law and the prophets.
Law and the prophets
- I preached a number of weeks on Romans 2:25-29 and we dealt exhaustively with the law there. I summarized with an overview of the word “law” and gave five main ways that it is used. One way was as “torah” which is the first five books of the bible. That is the kind of law being referred to here. We know that because he says, “law and the prophets.” That “and the prophets” is an unquestioned reference to the “prophetic books or writings” of the Old Testament, there are 17 of them. I am going to say some things about prophecy as foretelling in a few minutes. But just as a side note, the “prophetic writings” consisted of both “forth telling” and “foretelling.” Forth telling being, just straight out telling it like it is, which is what most of the prophetic writings are. And then foretelling, where sometimes the prophets will predict things about the future. End of side note. The main thing here that we need to know is that “prophets” signifies to us that he as certain writings in mind. Thus, what he is saying is that there are passages from within the body of writings in the Hebrew bible known as “torah” and the body of writings known as “prophets” (kittivim) that both say something about this righteousness.
- So what do they say? Undoubtedly, Paul had certain passages in his head, but apparently, quoting right here was not significant. He has already quoted the law and the prophets several times here in the first three chapters. So perhaps he has those passages in mind, but more so it seems that Paul wants to say two really important things about the way righteousness relates to these documents.
- look at the words, “apart from.” That is the first way righteousness relates to these documents. It is “apart from” them. I take that to mean that righteousness cannot be earned or had or gotten by following the instructions found in these documents. in them there are many many rules, 637 to be exact, but I take the words, “apart from” to mean that if anyone follows them perfectly, that will not make them righteous. Here is why I say that…
- read vs.20 of Romans 3. The verse that comes right before the one we are studying tonight. “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight.” That word “justified” is dikaiothesetai, it is the same word as “righteousness” dikaiosune. The reason it is a different word in English, “justified” is because the word “righteousified” isn’t a word. 3:20 could be read, “For by works of the law no human being will be righteous in his sight.”
- So that is the first way righteousness relates to the law and the prophets. It is apart from them in that it does not come by doing the works that they call for.
Bear witness to it
- The second way righteousness relates to the documents of the law and the prophets is that they “bear witness to it.” Look at those words, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it.”
- So what does it mean? Here it what it means, those two words “bear witness” come from the one Greek word martureo which means “to give testimony” or “to give evidence” or “to bear witness.” It is another one of those courtroom words.
- just as today in a courtroom trial witnesses are called to the stand to give testimony of what they witnessed, here Paul claims that the law and the prophets give testimony to this righteousness of God than can be ours through no doing of our own.
- A couple of minutes ago when I said that the “but now” signified that something had happened, something in the story of human history happened that changed everything and makes righteousness for humans possible. That is what the law and the prophets bear witness to.
- In the next few verses we will be studying what happened over the next few weeks here at the resolved. And that is, namely, the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. If you have ever had questions about how you know if that really happened and even if it did what is so special about somebody getting beat up and crucified in the first century, when that happened to a lot of people in that time, then be here.
- but for tonight, since we are just dealing with this one verse I want to say some things about how the law and the prophets could bear witness to this historical event and then I want to share some things about the significance of this for us in our lives.
- So first, how can the law and the prophets bear witness to this historical event, the death of Jesus Christ on a cross? Let me make the problem a little clearer. The law, torah, was written up to potentially 1500 years before the death of Christ and the prophets, the last prophetic book being Malachi, was written about 200 years before the death of Christ. So here is the question, how could these writings provide evidence, or witness, or testimony about something before it happened? This is that foretelling kind of prophecy.
- at this point it is kind of difficult about where to go or what to say because he does not specifically reference any writing here and then there is also the question of why would anyone care? The second question is a little easier to answer so answer so I’ll deal with that first.
- Who cares whether the law and the prophets bear witness to this righteousness provided for by the death of Christ?
- Jews. Remember the two main groups of people this letter was originally written to were Jews and gentiles, non-Jews. And for the Jew, the law and the prophets provided their whole paradigm for understanding reality. If it is not in the law and the prophets then they don’t and cannot believe it.
- Gentiles. The gentiles of the first century in Rome were Greco-roman. And if you grew up in public school you learned about these types of people when you talked about Greek mythology. The Greek gods…Zeus, … and Greeks were very interested in things that were “supernatural” or “mystical” and “miracles.”
- So I am guessing that this idea that writings from a couple hundred to a thousand years before could say something about a current event is something that both of these groups of people, Jews and gentiles, would be really interested in, though both for different reasons. And that answers the second question about why anyone would care.
- the first question, how to deal with this reference to foretelling prophecy since no specific writing referred to in some ways is a question about why this is significant to us here. If there was certain writings we could, in the scientific way of our culture, analyze them and then consider their merit. and there are passages in the bible that are like that, that you can do that with…things like foretelling prophecies about the place and time and way of Jesus’ death.
- But here we don’t have that. So what I am going to do is consider the potential for something like foretelling prophecy to be true because I think that for many of us that probably seems kind of far fetched. both because there are these wackos today, like bible code and left behind people and other freaks who are trying to predict the future, and also because we live in the western world where there is this sort of anti-supernatural, naturalistic culture that buys into empiricism wholeheartedly without even giving much thought to it. I know I just said a lot of big words. what I mean is that there is this sort of underlying notion that if I can’t see it, feel it, taste it, smell it, hear it…it is not and cannot be true. So God, and miracles, are just sort of mythology or wishful thinking.
- Now I know I just kind of created a mess for myself and we could spend a whole night talking about this. But here is what I want to say, I think there are amazing things about the world we live in. Science fascinates me in what it is continually discovering and how deep and intricate everything is. But I don’t thing that for anyone that settles reality for us. I can know that my body has DNA, and that there is a double-helix inside of it, and the ladder rungs have code, A, T, C, G, and that my cells have a flagellum that propels them around in my blood and on and on.
- But none of that answers the questions that all of us think about deep down. Like who am I? My person? What is reality and life really about? And I just can’t buy that there is just all this stuff and that is just it, there is no meaning or purpose in anything. I just can’t buy that. I think there are things like love and truth and meaning and none of those things are scientific. And those things are the things that are at the core of reality. They are at the core of how I see myself and the world. They are at the core of how I decide what I believe and what decisions I make.
- so if at the core of how I decide what is real and what is not are non-supernatural, non-material or physical things, then why would I ever rule out that something supernatural like foretelling prophecy, could not be true and perhaps be significant for my life? Because when I read this book, written 1900 years ago, and I read about not having righteousness. There is something deep in me that nods it head and is like, yeah I know that is true. And then when I hear that there is a righteousness that I can have, there is something in me that is like yeah, I need that and I want that. There is something about this book that resonates with my soul. And that is what I want to talk about for the rest of our time here, how this message resonates with my soul in how I experience the gospel.
Righteousness from without
- I titled my sermon “righteousness from without.” I titled it that because, when we look at just this verse. That is the main theme, the most significant thing he says. That righteousness comes “apart from.” It comes from without. I said in the beginning of my message tonight that I wanted to sit because I am worn out physically and emotionally. And it is weird because for me, it seems like I kind of go through different phases. I am sort of up and down. I don’t really know if that if it is the same for everybody, but that is how it is for me. And lately, God just seems pretty distant to me. Just sort of out there. Detached from this world and from me.
- I mean, I’ve studied all these things and I believe them to be true in my head. When I look at them on paper and I consider the arguments and think about them honestly, Christianity wins hands down. But the truth is I don’t feel like it is true much of the time, or at least lately. Sometimes life is really hard and really confusing and things just get all messed up in my head and I lose passion for everyone and everything. And I just feel like smoking myself to death or drinking a handle of whiskey just to make it all go away.
- the truth is I really did not feel like studying for this sermon or even preaching tonight because it is really hard for me when God feels so distant. But then I got to thinking that maybe that is sort of an illustration of this text. The point of this passage is that there is a righteousness that is apart from our experience. Apart from whether we follow the law and the prophets. Apart from anything we ever say or do or feel. It is a righteousness that God does and secures and grants unto us. And it is ours no matter what. And I think that is pretty awesome. That really does give me comfort and assurance and security, to know that the God of the universe cares about me. And that makes me love Him and makes me grateful. And I think that is the gospel. Gospel is good news and I think that is good news. That God gives us righteousness freely, based on the person and work of Jesus Christ, and that it is not based on anything we do and that it is fixed no matter how we ever feel.