Good News: A Review Back to all sermons
Date: September 7, 2012
Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen
Scripture: Romans 1:1–8:14
Schools across the UAE are resuming this month. As I remember my own school days, the first days back were usually spent in reviewing things learned the previous year. There were two reasons for this. One was the assumption that after a break of 2 or 3 months, students may have forgotten some of what they learned the previous year. Memory had faded and needed to be refreshed. The second reason for the review was that there were students who were new to the school. They needed to be brought up to speed in content and skills, so that the whole class could move forward together.
We spent all of last year here at ECC in a study of Romans. We made it only half way through, to the end of chapter 8. This year, we are going to complete the study of the second half of the book. Before we do that, though, I think there is need for review, for the same two reasons I have just mentioned: to refresh memory which may have faded, and to build a common foundation of knowledge for those of you who are new to ECC this year.
This is especially important in the study of a book like Romans. Romans is a letter, written with a very tightly constructed line of logic and argument. Any attempt to understand the second half of Romans which is not built firmly and squarely on the logic and reasoning of the first half will take us far off target. So I have set myself a very difficult task today. We spent 8 months and 24 messages covering the first 8 chapters of Romans. I am going to try to capture the essence of that in less than 30 minutes. So fasten your seat belts! Before we begin, I do offer a word of reassurance. If I move too fast today, or say something you don’t understand, or skip over something you want more detail on, the messages from the first half of Romans are all on the church website, both in written and recorded content, so you can go back and review them at your leisure.
So, let’s get started.
Paul introduces himself in the opening verse as: Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
The “gospel of God”, the message of good news from God is the message which Paul sets out to expound in this letter, written to believers in Rome, the capital of the empire.
In a sweeping opening paragraph, he gives us some clues as to the essence of his message in verses 16-17:
16 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. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Let me highlight two words in Paul’s vocabulary here which are fundamental to understanding the Book of Romans. One is “righteousness”. For Paul, this is first and foremost a legal term. It is about our legal standing in the court of heaven; God’s court. The Gospel is addressing the question; How can a person achieve right standing or “righteousness” before God?
The second key word here is “faith”. Here I would point out that in the Greek language, the words “believe” and “faith” are the same. One is a verb, the other is a noun, but the root word and the concept are identical. To achieve the same effect in English, we would speak of “believe” and “belief”. This gospel is the power of God to everyone who believes, and “the righteous shall live by belief.” It is “by belief from first to last.” So, the good news of the Gospel is that right standing with God can be attained by belief.
In the next major section of Romans, which runs from 1:18 to 3:20, Paul addresses the question: Who Needs the Gospel? Who needs the message of a right standing with God which is based on belief? Here we need to start with a basic assumption that anyone who has their own righteousness and is able to satisfy God’s righteous standard on their own merits and by their own efforts does not need the Gospel. They do not need a righteousness which comes by faith. So, who needs the Gospel? The court of heaven is assembled, and Paul, as the prosecuting attorney summons three different kinds of people before the court.
The first person Paul brings before the court is someone we might refer to as an irreligious or pagan person. He lives an openly corrupt and sinful life style and if he has a religion, he is a worshipper of idols and false gods. We might also be quick to join in the chorus of those who would condemn such a person. But wait. He has one line of defense, one excuse. “I didn’t know any better! I was ignorant! God cannot prosecute me for failing to obey a law of which I was ignorant.”
Here is Paul’s answer to such a plea.
18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him.
Here is Paul’s answer to the pagan man. He is not ignorant. There are two primary sources of knowledge about God available to all: the created world and the internal sense of right and wrong which we call conscience. The pagan and the idol worshipper, we are told, is not ignorant. Rather he has suppressed the truth of God by his own unrighteousness, so he is without excuse. He turned away from the truth about God which was available to him.
The second person Paul brings before the court in the first half of chapter 2 is someone we might call “the moral man”. The moral man is one who assumes he can stand before God on his own merits. He can stand before God because he is better than other people. He is certainly better than the pagan man whom Paul has just described. The moral man bases his self perception on several things. He is a person with high standards. He has good intentions. He has a good public image. And he has good connections – he hangs out with other “good people”. But Paul points out in this section that God will not base his judgment on our high standards, or our good intentions, or even on our public image. God’s judgment will be based on truth. It will be based on actual deeds. Not what we intended to do, but what we actually do. And his judgment will not be based on our public image. Listen to these sobering words from Romans 2:16: on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. “Secrets” can be translated “the hidden things”. If you intend to stand before God’s court on your own merits, remember, all those “hidden things” in your life will be revealed. Will you stand the test?
The third case study; the third person Paul brings before the court in the second half of chapter 2 could be called “the religious man”. This is the man who is preparing to base his standing before God on his religious credentials. He belongs to the “right religious group”; in this case he states: “I am a Jew.” And as a member of this religious group, he has observed the right religious symbols or rituals: “I have been circumcised.” The actual religious claims may vary, but the logic remains the same. “I will be saved by my religious performance. I am a Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Anglican…and I have been dedicated, sprinkled, baptized, confirmed, ordained…you fill in the blank.
To all such claims, Paul’s words are stark:
28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
Here is the bottom line. In God’s courtroom he will not be checking church membership letters or baptism certificates. He’ll be examining hearts. Outward religious observance, symbols or membership are no substitute for heart obedience.
So here is Paul’s closing argument and conclusion to the matter, found in Romans 3:23: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Who needs the Gospel? Who needs a righteous standing before God which comes by believing? I do. You do. Everyone does. No one is able to stand before God on their own merits. As verse 20 tells us: For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight. We all fall short and we are all without excuse.
This is bad news. But, you say, the Gospel is supposed to be good news. It is! But here is the reality. We will never understand the good news of the Gospel until we come face to face with the reality of the bad news of the human heart. We are all sinners and we all stand condemned before God’s court.
So what is the answer to our dilemma? Let’s keep reading in Romans 3:24:
and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.
This is the heart of the Gospel, the good news from God. Let’s examine it more closely. Let’s look first at this word “justified”. It comes from the same root as “righteousness.” Remember, righteousness in this context refers to our legal standing before God’s courtroom. Justify is also a legal term and it means “to declare someone righteous,” or to “declare a defendant’s legal status as righteous before the court.” To justify is to declare someone innocent and is the opposite of to condemn, which means to declare someone guilty.
There are then three descriptive words or phrases to explain the basis upon which we are declared righteous before God’s court. The first is the phrase, “by his grace.” This is God’s grace. God is the judge, and he is showing us kindness, mercy, unmerited generosity. How much does this grace cost us? Absolutely nothing: “as a gift.” We are justified “without cost, as a free gift, without paying.” On what basis? “Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood.” The word “redemption” means to set someone free, with the implication of the paying of a price or fee. Here we once again find ourselves in the courtroom. There are two ways a defendant can be justified in a court of law. He can be justified by being found innocent of the charges against him. Or he can be justified through the paying of the penalty the law has assessed against him for his crimes. Either way, the court declares that the defendant can walk out a free man. In our case, someone else has paid our penalty. That someone is Jesus Christ. And what was the price he paid to set us free? He died in our place. He shed his own blood to pay the penalty for our sins. “We owed a debt we could not pay. Jesus paid a debt he did not owe so that we could go free.” That is redemption. This is propitiation. That is the basis on which we can be justified, or declared righteous in God’s court. And what must we do to receive this free gift? We must simply receive it by faith. By belief. This is the Gospel.
This is the foundational truth upon which everything Paul says in the rest of the letter is based. One of my primary responsibilities as a teacher and preacher will be to bring us back repeatedly to this cornerstone and make sure that every other brick in the building which is the Book of Romans is lined up with this fundamental truth.
I will just touch very lightly, then, on the content of chapters 4-8. Having laid down the central message of the Gospel, Paul continues to develop his theme. Was this truth of “justification by faith” something new? No. In chapter 4, Paul goes back into the Old Testament Scriptures, to the story of Abraham, to show that he too was justified by faith.
Chapter 5 begins with the words: Therefore, since we have been justified by faith…and begins to elaborate some of the “gifts within a gift” that we receive when we put our faith in Christ. We have peace with God instead of the old enmity which was the result of our sin and rebellion. We have a certain hope for the future. We are even able to rejoice in our earthly sufferings. And we have God’s love flooding our hearts.
In Chapter 6 and 7, Paul embarks on the first of his lengthy detours. Paul anticipates questions or objections to the Gospel of grace and takes time to address them. We don’t have time to explore these chapters in this brief review, but just to highlight them: In chapter 6, Paul addresses the question, “Does the doctrine of justification by faith encourage people to take sin lightly and to continue in a life of sin?” His answer is “Not at all.” But I’ll leave it to you to explore his reasoning.
In chapter 7, Paul takes up the subject of the Law of God. If we are saved by faith apart from the law, how shall we view the law? Again, we don’t have time to explore the subject in detail, but I simply give you three summary statements of Paul’s thoughts. The law is not the problem. There is nothing wrong with the law. Sin is the problem; the sin that lives inside each one of us as Adam’s descendants. But while the law is not the problem, neither is the law the solution, because the law is not able to deal with the root problem of the sin in our hearts. That is why there had to be another solution; the solution of justification by faith.
That brings us to chapter 8, one of the most glorious chapters in all of the Bible. I am not going to say much about it this morning, as we will come back to it in review from time to time as we work our way through the second half of Romans. But just to give a very brief summary, the chapter opens with a wonderful summary of the truth of our justification in verse 1: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
In the rest of the chapter, Paul begins to expound on another great doctrine of the Gospel, the Christian faith. That is the doctrine of our sanctification. If justification can be defined as being declared righteous, sanctification can be defined as being made righteous. Sanctification is the process by which God progressively molds us into the image of Christ, so we actually become like Christ in thought, word and action. The foundational truth that Paul introduces in this chapter is the reality that everyone who has trusted in Christ as Savior and has been justified, at that moment is indwelt by the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit. It is his task to lead us, shape us and mold us into the image of Christ. If I could capture the truth of our sanctification in a single phrase, it would be from Romans 8:26: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.
Much of what we have to say in the second half of Romans, particularly in chapter 12-16, will come back to the practical outworking of that statement.
Well, that is our very brief review and overview. You may feel like you have been drinking from a fire hydrant! But in contrast, I want to close by offering you a refreshing glass of spiritual truth; a distillation of truth from these chapters of sometimes heavy doctrine. They are the words of Romans 5:6-8:
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
This is the Gospel in its simplest, purest and most personal form. It is a message of God’s love – God showed us his love at Calvary. It is a message of God’s grace – while we were still sinners. It is a message of redemption and propitiation – Christ died for us.
This is a declaration of the Gospel; God’s good news. And now the simple question upon which all else hinges: Do you believe it?
Remember where we began in chapter 1: The gospel…is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
Share something you learned or which stood out to you from Pastor Cam’s sermons on Romans 1-8.
Why is the preaching of “bad news” (Romans 1-3) necessary to a proper understanding of the Gospel (God’s good news). Discuss the implications of your answer to contemporary evangelistic methods and strategies.
In your opinion, which of the 3 categories (pagan person, moral person, religious person) do the majority of people you know or work with fall into? Explain your answer. How might you use the relevant section of Romans to witness to these people?
Read carefully Romans 3:21-31. Review the key words and key definitions from this section. Why do you think it is essential to keep the “cornerstone” of gospel truth central in our minds as we study the rest of Romans?