Faith and Righteousness

Hab 2:2-14; Ps 119:25-32; Romans 1: 8-17; Mark 6:30-34

INTRODUCTION (Bibles Rom 1:8-17 ESV)

Donna was telling me the other day about how our 8 year old twin grandchildren were fighting over something their mother said, disputing who was in the right and who in the wrong, like all of us they no doubt learned the crucial importance of being in the right from the arguments between mum and dad.

Global warming, refugees, abortion, homosexuality, Donald Trump activism is stoked by a desire to have a satisfied conscience about being in the right. People today long so much to feel good about themselves and to be free from accusation, blame, shame or guilt.

The foundational problem for our culture, and even across the Church, that after 500 years of resting on a message that proclaimed rightness with God through faith the gospel message is increasingly marginalised. Someone came back recently grieved from a cathedral service recently because the message was all about how to be a “good person”.

In other places you’re more likely to hear a sermon on leadership, ministry, gifting, prosperity etc. none of which is God’s good news. Youth suicide, self-harming in children, substance abuse, escalating anxiety and depression and a general groundlessness about life will keep growing without a recovery of the gospel.

No person, young or old, should ever have to live with the torment of being their own judge and jury. The biblical message of the righteousness of God is the remedy to this dread condition.

People may be well meaning but about the deeper matters of the human condition they are often foolish.

All these programmes being backed by government, just think “Question Time” shouting in parliament, programmes to stop bullying through social media, in the workplace etc., will fail because only Jesus is powerful enough to deal with sin, righteousness and judgement (John 16:8-10 ESV) Paul is passionate about God’s righteousness because by it the Lord has vindicated his own reputation (Rom 3:25-26 ESV) and liberated humanity from enslavement to evil powers?

Paul knew that the fledgling church in Rome needed the encouragement of this message, which dominates the first half of Romans (Rom 2:16 ESV).

The power of the gospel is that it puts us in the right with God/justified by faith (Rom 1:17 ESV).

The New Testament expounds we are right with God not by anything we contribute but by sharing in Jesus’ own righteousness (1 Cor 1:30 ESV; 2 Cor 5:21 ESV; 1 John 4:17 ESV; 1 Tim 3:16 ESV).

Knowing that we will stand before God the Judge (Rom 5:2 ESV; 1 Cor 15:1 ESV) blameless on the Day of Judgement (Eph 1:4 ESV; Phil 1:10 ESV; Col 1:22 ESV) means we can withstand the judgement of mere mortals, whether other people or our own faulty consciences (Heb 13:6 ESV; 1 John 3:20 ESV)!

EXPOSITION 

LETTER TO THE ROMANS

Romans 1:8-17 ESV:

vs.8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. vs.9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you vs.10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. vs.11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— vs.12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. vs.13 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. vs.14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. vs.15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

vs.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. vs.17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” 

He starts this section of the letter with joyful thanks to God (v.8) for the faith of the Roman Christians, and in so doing acknowledges faith is a gift from heaven (cf. Rom 10:17 ESV; Phil 1:29 ESV). He longs with his whole heart (vv.10) to visit the Church of Rome so that they may become spiritually stronger through his ministry.  This is a zeal (v.11) we should share (Acts 14:22 ESV; Acts 18:23 ESV).

The spiritual strength Paul has in mind isn’t measured by numbers but by an ability to faithfully obey God in all the circumstances of life (Rom 1:5; 16:26 ESV). Helping others grow in faith is always an encouragement among Christians (v.12).  

This leads to some sharp questions. “Is St Marks a ‘strong’ Church……?”; and are you praying for opportunities to help others grow in faith? Any inability to confidently answer the second question exposes a need to grow in the power of the gospel.

Paul’s “obligation” and “eagerness” to preach to the Romans (vv. 14-15) doesn’t make him like some of the preachers that frequent Hay St Mall or the young men in white shirts who knock uninvited on the front door to evangelise us. Since his gospel proclaims the free gift of guiltlessness before God he wasn’t motivated by guilt to tell people about Jesus.

His inner constraint to “preach the gospel(1 Cor 9:16 ESV cf. 2 Cor 5:14 ESV; Jer 20:9 ESV) comes because its message has so seized his heart that he couldn’t be keep silent about such great things (Phil 3:12 ESV; Col 1:28 ESV).  

Anyone without this inner compulsion of grateful love to share Jesus is either unconverted or a Christian who doesn’t understand the greatness of what it means to be right with God.

Hopefully our next two verses, which present the theme of Romans, will clarify where we stand.

vs.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 [everyone]. vs.17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.

We know that Paul was not “ashamed of the gospel” because everywhere he went he spoke it out. I love this quote from Charles Spurgeon, the greatest of all Baptist preachers, “Do you not know…what God’s estimate of the gospel is?  Do you not know that it has been the chief subject of His thoughts and acts from all eternity? 

He looks on it as the grandest of all His works.”  If God thinks his gospel is so great he can we be so quiet about the message of Jesus (Rom 1:1 ESV). In our hearts we already know the answer, guilt and shame silence us.

David’s life provides a wonderful testimony about how God’s righteousness in forgiving sin breaks the power of the guilt and shame (cf. Ps 32:1 ESV). After committing adultery with Bathsheba and murdering her husband he called out desperately to the Lord; “Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.(Ps 51:14 ESV).

When the conscience stricken cry out to God he does graciously pardon and they do freely speak of his righteous ways in forgiving sin (Acts 4:20 ESV). Anyone liberated from sin’s guilt and shame spontaneously testifies of divine goodness.

This is the outworking of “the power of God for salvation”.

What’s the past sin whose dark memory you can’t get free of?

Cry out to the Lord (don’t be moderate) about your condition in the name of Jesus and he will cleanse you (cf. Isa 1:18 ESV).

How big is the salvation the gospel brings…?

Is there anyone here today who is partly saved; are some of us saved by the skin of our teeth?

Do you need to wait until you die to find out if you’re saved?

These are very human questions but they all deny the limitless measure of the righteous power of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor 1:18 ESV; Eph 1:19 ESV).

The salvation the gospel of Christ brings delivers us from the final power, penalty and pollution of sin and from the judgement and wrath of God (Rom 3:21-25 ESV; Rom 5:9 ESV).

The gospel saves us from our lost, hopeless state (Luke 19:10 ESV; 1 Cor 1:18 ESV; Eph 2:12 ESV) and by its power always changes lives for the better.

I was asked to give a testimony at a meeting on Tuesday night. Part of what I shared described how Jesus healed me from being a paranoid depressive suffering from a range of psychosomatic illnesses.

This powerful salvation, Paul tells us, if for all who “believe”. But what is faith?

First, what faith isn’t. “Faith” isn’t mere mental agreement to a set of ideas, James says of this sort of nominal faith, “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this…” (2:19).

True faith involves submission to the will of God; ““not what I will, but what you will.”” said Jesus in Gethsemane (Mark 14:36 ESV). Most basically faith is heartfelt trust in Jesus to be the Lord of your life (Rom 10:9 ESV). When I was a young believer I used to hear a lot of teaching about having more faith, but they never seemed to tell me how I could grow in faith.

This caused me a lot of anguish feelings of spiritual inferiority as I never seemed to measure up to the faith of the preachers. But I will never forget what my theological college lecturer used to say, in rather academic language, “Faith is conditioned by its object.

The reality of faith comes from who you put your faith in; a chair to support you, a friend to there for you or a spouse to love you to the end. The all sufficiency of Christian faith derives from the revelation of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The gospel revelation of “the righteousness of God” communicates what he has done to savingly bring us into a right relationship with himself (Mic 6:5 ESV; 7:9 ESV; Isaiah 46:13 ESV; Isaiah 51:5–8 ESV). It’s what he’s done in sending Jesus to die and be raised for us that our sins might be forgiven and we are justified in his sight (Rom 4:1-8 ESV).

The Father didn’t do the right thing by us in Christ and then leave us to work things out from there by our own intellectual comprehension. The good news of God’s righteousness “is revealed from faith for faith”. “Revelation” happens when God unveils to us his just saving plan (Gal 1:12 ESV).

All you need to do to be right with God is to believe the gospel.

Why only faith?

Why not faith plus good living? Because true faith is a heart level trust with brings with it the whole of a person’s life (Eph 2:8-10 ESV).

Paul ends with a quotation from Habakkuk 2:4 ESV about the radical graciousness of God’s righteous saving work; “as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” Those whose righteousness is expressed in faith find life in God, now and forever.

APPLICATION AND CONCLUSION

Everyone is already in a relationship with God; it’s just that the vast majority are in a wrong relationship with God.

In an age where the prevailing social conscience has been so corrupted as to call evil good and good evil (Isa 5:20 ESV) we desperately need an outbreak of the revelation of the righteousness of God.

Only by exposure to the inexpressibly wonderful truth of what God has done to save us in Christ can people realise that they have wrongfully rejected a relationship with the true God and placed themselves under his judgement (Rom 1:18-32 ESV).

The leading edge of the gospel is the marvellous death and resurrection of Jesus, but following it is the command to turn and have faith in God’s promises (Acts 2:38 ESV; 17:30-31 ESV).

A true response of faith excludes what the New Testament calls “works” as a basis for salvation.

In Paul’s time these “works” included circumcision, food laws and keeping the Sabbath (Rom 3:20 ESV; 27-28 ESV; 4:2 ESV ff. etc).

Today we must not think being good living, or going to church, or reading the Bible, evangelism, social justice etc. contribute to our salvation. “Faith plus” thinking denies the all sufficiency of the death and resurrection of Jesus and shows we urgently need a revelation of the unlimited justice of God in Christ.

To be converted and to keep growing as Christians we all need revelation of the righteousness of God in the gospel. As a practical response to this part of Romans we would be wise to act on the counsel of Martin Luther, “Ask God to work faith in you, or you will remain forever without faith, no matter what you wish, say or can do.

In the power of the gospel let us not be ashamed to ask God for faith – now! 

MESSAGE DELIVERED: 22nd July, 2018

Author: Dr. John Yates

MESSAGE YouTube or PODCAST: 22nd July, 2018 

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