The Gospel: Rom. 3:21-26

I don’t watch the show Undercover Boss on a regular basis, but one particular day about a year and a half ago, I decided to watch a handful of episodes. The show’s entertainment value stems from the dramatic irony that viewers are fully aware the featured company’s CEO/boss is pretending to be a new employee in order to see how his or her company is run on a day-to-day basis, but the other employees and managers are clueless.

My favorite part of the show is at the end, when the boss reveals himself or herself, and sits down with employees featured on the show. Reactions are often priceless, for a variety of reasons.

One story stuck with me, and brought me to tears. An employee had, through no fault of her own, encountered tremendous debt. Working double shifts and earning low wages, she was doing her best to provide for herself and her children, but there was no way she could ever pay off all of her debt. Through all of her struggles, she kept her head up and worked hard. He complimented her work ethic and told her she was now debt-free. Though he had no obligation to do so, this boss paid this woman’s debts, and an incredible burden was off of her back.

By now, you may have guessed why I share that story to start this post. Yes, what that boss did is a small reflection of what Jesus does for us. Yet, while the man’s actions are commendable, it doesn’t hold a candle to what Jesus did for us.

Join me in God’s Word:

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”–Rom. 3:21-26

This is the situation we all face, which Paul has previously written about: God is righteous, and we are not. God is holy, and we are not. In order to stand before a perfectly holy God, we must also be perfect. The bad news is none of us are perfect. We all sin and “fall short,” as Paul writes here.

We all hate admitting we are not perfect. No one likes being weak. No one likes being wrong. No one likes admitting their faults to people and we do our best to present a view of ourselves that emphasizes our strengths and minimizes our weaknesses.

But God isn’t fooled. He doesn’t have to go undercover in your life to know how messed up and sinful you are, how you rebel against Him. And He’s not motivated to forgive your sin because you’re “trying really hard.” The demand is perfection, and we don’t have it. Unlike the woman on Undercover Boss, we have incurred debt through our own sinful actions. Our sinfulness is our fault, and there is nothing redeeming about us when we stand before God.

That’s not comforting at all, but if you want to be comforted about yourself, Christianity isn’t going to help you. In order to get to the good news of the gospel, we must fully understand this bad news of our sin and God’s perfect righteousness.

But there is good news. Someone, outside of ourselves, has come to save us.

“But” — The word “but” never sounds sweeter than it does in Rom. 3:21 and in Eph. 2:4. If Paul had ended his letter to the Romans after verse 20, we would be driven to despair, with no hope for ever being forgiven and restored to right relationship with God. This one little word provides incredible, life-changing hope that while sin has wrecked us and wrecked this world, it does not have the final word.

While we cannot be saved by the law, Paul reveals that we can be saved “apart” from it. In fact, the law and the prophets, Paul says, bear witness to this truth: The law makes it clear we aren’t good enough, and the prophets constantly remind Israel, and us: God is holy, we are not and we need a Savior.

Psalm 24: 3-4 asks, Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.”

None of us fulfill those qualifications. But Jesus does. Jesus, the only one with clean hands and a pure heart, ascended the hill of Calvary and died in the place of us with unclean hands and impure hearts, who constantly lift their souls up to what is false and who swear deceitfully, so that we can appear before the throne of God, not as condemned sinners, but as forgiven, righteous, loved and adopted children of God.

Because Jesus lived perfectly in our place, we can, through faith in Him, stand perfect before the Father, counted as righteous and obedient by His obedience. Because He died, bearing the penalty of our sin and the wrath of God, which we deserved, we can be forgiven of our sin. Because He conquered death, if we trust Him, we too will conquer death. Because of the finished work of Christ, we don’t have to die in our sin and we can be reconciled to God and spend eternity with Him.

This reconciliation is possible, not just because God loves us, but because God is just. God had previously let sin go unpunished, not because He didn’t care, and not because He loved His people, but because He knew one day, Jesus would take sin upon Himself. The wrath of God, all of His anger toward sin, was poured out on Jesus. The penalty of death was taken by Jesus. This is not divine child abuse; this is amazing grace, that Jesus voluntarily took our place so we could be saved, allowing the Father to both save sinners and satisfy His righteousness by punishing sin. As is often said, the cross is where God’s justice and love meet.

This is good news for us. Not only can we be assured of God’s love for us, but we can rest knowing that God is completely just to save us through Christ. He does not say to us, “I love you so much, I don’t care about your sin.” Instead, He says, “I love you so much, I’m willing to sacrifice my own Son, put your sin on Him, remove it from you and adopt you as my own.” The God of the universe made a way to both satisfy His justice and save and adopt the sinners He loves. This is the best news ever. This is the gospel.

Jesus stands ready to save you if you don’t know Him. Your sin can be covered by His blood. You don’t have to die for your sin because of what He’s done. But you must receive Him. You must trust Him, and you must turn from your sins, willing to follow Him and walk in the new life He so graciously offers. What are you waiting for?

Lord, may we never forget the gospel. May we never forget your mercy and the grace you’ve shown us in Jesus. May the cross move us to abandon our sin and our guilt at Jesus’ feet, trusting in Him for forgiveness, for righteousness and for grace to follow you in new life. May we share this gospel wherever you lead us.

God bless,

Neal E.

Vital Lessons: Rom. 1:8-17

“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you — that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.'”–Romans 1:8-17

During the past almost six months, I’ve been fortunate enough to have three of my stories picked up by the Associated Press and published in The Washington Times, a newspaper in D.C. It’s nothing terribly special, but it is nice to know someone thought I wrote a good story well enough to be read outside of our paper’s coverage area.

As nice as that is, I am struck by Paul’s first sentence to the Roman church in this passage. Their “faith is proclaimed in all the world.” My stories on a retiring sheriff, the state of small rural towns in an Arkansas county and one man’s work to remodel his dream home may have reached a handful of people online, but these people’s faith in the Lord Jesus is known around the world. That’s a heck of a lot better, and it is the first of three “vital lessons” we learn from Paul in this passage.

As I wrote in my previous Wednesday Wisdom post, the world is obsessed with a legacy, and that’s because it’s natural for us to want to make a difference. As Christians, though, we should strive for a legacy such as this…that our faith in the Lord Jesus would be known around the world. That our love for Him, and how that love pushes us out to share the gospel and live godly lives that benefit others around the world, would be known throughout the world should be our high aim as we seek to glorify God.

If we want to be known for something worthwhile, let it be our love for Jesus.

Next, Paul tells the church he wants to see them so he can “impart some spiritual gift” to them, which makes sense. Paul is the leading missionary in early church history and wrote 13 books of the New Testament. When Paul calls and says he wants to stop by, you get a room ready. But it’s what Paul says next that has always struck me about this passage:

that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.

While discussing this passage, a friend of mine once said that if anybody doesn’t need the help of other believers, it’s Paul. Paul, you would think, has it all together. Paul is the one who encourages others. And yet, we know that Paul struggles with sin like everyone else (Rom. 7), and that he is imprisoned for his faith (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon were all written from a jail cell), and that he faces critiques and accusations from the church at Corinth, where some draw attention to his perceived lack of boldness when he comes in person and others seemingly refuse to provide for their pastor’s needs. Paul certainly needs encouragement throughout his life.

We all need the encouragement of Christian brothers and sisters. During a six-month battle with depression in early 2014, words can’t explain how life-sustaining my brothers in Christ were. There were days where I wondered how I could just keep moving spiritually, how I was going to make it, but spending time with brothers in Christ, reflecting on spiritual things, talking about God’s Word, reminding each other of the promises in Christ, and just having friends to talk about what’s going on in life with, was vital. I would not have made it through that time, and wouldn’t have made it throughout my move to Jonesboro, without having godly friends.

You won’t survive the Christian life on your own. To not be connected to a church, to not have a group of fellow believers holding you accountable, praying for you, encouraging you, talking about God and His Word with you, is to take steps toward spiritual suicide. It is to refuse one of the greatest helps God gives us, a gift that He gave us with His blood, as the church is formed as a result of what Christ has done. If you aren’t connected to a body of believers and don’t have close Christian friends, you will not make it as a Christian. You will not endure to the end.

Lastly, Paul tells the Roman church why he is eager to see them. He is eager to see them because he is eager to preach the gospel. Paul recognizes the need for people in Rome to hear of Jesus, whether they be Greek or “barbarian,” or non-Greek, or whether they are wise or foolish. Paul is driven by the gospel; he’s not ashamed of the gospel, because he knows the power of the gospel.

The gospel, as Paul says, “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” It is more than just words, it is more than just a slogan, and it is more than a trend. The gospel is the only hope you and I have of standing before a holy and righteous God. It is the good news that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come and lived perfectly on our behalf and died in our place so we could be forgiven, made perfect and made new in Him. It is the news that makes the devil flee and our hearts rejoice. It is the song that we will sing forever. And as God wields it through the witness of His church, it has the power to raise people from the grave, to save lost sinners and to captivate the hearts of men and women, Jew and Gentile, from every tribe and tongue for all eternity. So how could we ever be ashamed of it?

It is the gospel that is “the power of God” for our salvation, not our works, not our church membership, not even our baptism. It is the gospel. We must cling to the gospel, more specifically, we must cling to the Christ revealed by the gospel. We live by faith, as Habakkuk found out. Each day, we trust and rest in the grace of God. We trust in the goodness of God as we seek to obey Him in love. We trust in the faithfulness of God no matter what life brings.

And as we live by faith, as we rest in Christ and enjoy Christ and live for Christ, our faith will be known the world over, and we will not hesitate to join together and encourage each other to “run the race” God has for us.

Lord, may we seek to have a faith that is known worldwide. May we seek to encourage one another in Christ as we all strive to follow you. May we keep the gospel at the center of our lives. May we not forget that we live by faith, not by works, not by sight, but by faith. May we be faithful to you as you have been so faithful to us.

God bless,

Neal E.