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Unashamed! - Part 2

Tom Pennington • Romans 1:16-17

  • 2009-11-22 AM
  • Sermons


As I mentioned to you last week, I decided for a couple of Sundays, here, leading up to Thanksgiving, to take a break from our study of the book of Ephesians and to look, instead, at Romans, chapter 1. Romans, chapter 1, verses 16 and 17. I think by the time we're done today you will see that this passage is, in fact, a very appropriate one for Thanksgiving as we anticipate what lies before us this week.

It was in these two verses, Romans 1:16 and 17, was the cause for the change in the life of a young monk named Martin Luther. In fact, these two verses were responsible, not only for the change in his own life, but they sparked a spiritual revolution: the Reformation.

When Luther began university as a young man, it was in the field that his father wanted him to pursue and that was law. He wanted him to become an attorney. Luther excelled as a student, in fact, it looked like he would have a successful career ahead of him. But from boyhood, there was a thought that deeply troubled Luther. It was the reality that someday he would have to stand before God, his maker, and give an account of his life. That sense of apprehension was only heightened by the fact that, during his college days, two of his closest friends died and Luther's soul became even more troubled. That was the context for one of the most famous occurrences in his life.

It was in the summer of 1505, Luther was riding his horse and was caught in the middle of a severe thunderstorm. And lightning struck very near to him, in fact, so near to him that it literally knocked him off of his horse. And in the midst of that terror he cried out, "Saint Anne save me and I'll become a monk." And believing that, in fact, she had delivered him, he kept his promise.

In August, much to his father's dismay, in August of 1505, Luther joined an Augustinian monastery. And as he had been in university, he served as a monk in an exemplary way. He fasted and prayed constantly. He devoted himself to the menial tasks that were assigned to him. But above all Luther spent hours every day in confession. Now this became a great source of frustration to both his superiors and to his fellow monks. I mean, after all, how much trouble can you get into in a monastery? But he would spend hours and hours confessing his sin. Things like his desire to have his fellow monks' food. He saw in that an expression of his own sinfulness, longing for what God had not allowed him to have. Finally, his superiors became so frustrated with him that they commanded him to stop going to the confessional until he had something legitimate to confess.

Through all of those spiritual exercises however, Luther found no peace for his soul. In fact, he writes of that period of his life, "I had no love for that holy and just God who punishes sinners. I was filled with secret anger against Him." In God's providence, there in the monastery, his spiritual father was a man that I believe we'll meet in heaven, a man who understood the gospel of grace, a man named John Stahlputz. This is what Stahlputz told Luther, his young son in the faith, "More than a thousand times I have sworn to our holy God to live piously and I have never kept my vows. Now I swear no longer for I know that I cannot keep my solemn promises. If God will not be merciful toward me for the love of Christ and grant me a happy departure when I must leave this world, I shall never with the aid of all of my vows and all my good works, stand before Him. I must perish." Stahlputz said to Luther, "Look at the wounds of Jesus Christ, to the blood that He has shed for you. It is there that the grace of God will appear to you. Instead of torturing yourself on account of your sins, throw yourself in the Redeemer's arms. Trust in Him, in the righteousness of His life and in the atonement of His death." That was wonderful advice. And Stahlputz told Luther to study the scripture.

That is when Luther first began to study the Bible. Eventually, Luther began to give a series of lectures on Paul's letter to the Romans. And shortly of course, he came to Chapter 1, verses 16 and 17. Luther later wrote that when he came to that text, he misunderstood it. He believed it to be describing the righteousness by which God condemns sinners and he hated God all the more for it. But he says, "I labored diligently and anxiously to understand Paul's word in Romans 1:17 where he said that the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel." And he says, "At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words. And I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. That it is the passive righteousness with which the merciful God justifies us by faith, and here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates." Luther later wrote, "As I had formerly hated the expression, "the righteousness of God," I now began to regard it as my dearest and most comforting word, so that this expression of Paul's became to me in every truth, a gate to paradise."

It was in this text that we're studying together that Luther's soul found true liberty. Let me read it for you again. It really begins in verse 15 of Romans 1, as Paul says, "I'm 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 (that is in the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'But the righteous shall live by faith.'"

Verse 16 introduces the theme of the letter of Romans, it's the gospel. And in verse 17, Paul summarizes the gospel. The gospel is simply the message about the righteousness from God, that is the righteousness that comes from God that God gives to sinners, by grace, based on the life and death of Christ and is received by the sinner by faith alone. These two verses then are really the theme or thesis of the entire book and the rest of the letter is an exposition of them.

Now notice how Paul begins, as I pointed out last time, this brief statement of his thesis with a negative: "I am not ashamed." In the historical context of the New Testament, shame was something more than a feeling. Shame was an objective loss of status. To shame someone in the New Testament world was to publicly humiliate them and then the person who had been publicly humiliated, who had lost their dignity, lost their reputation, felt an accompanying sense of inferiority and embarrassment. When Paul says he is not ashamed of the gospel he is admitting to us that Christians often suffer the loss of status in the community because of the gospel message. Unbelievers look down on us. We lose a sense of dignity and reputation because we embrace such a foolish message. Remember, it is foolishness, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1, to those who are perishing. So we lose objective status in the eyes of the people around us and, as a result, we are constantly tempted to be ashamed of, to be embarrassed by, the message that brings that loss of status. Because of Paul's message the outside world, both Jews and Greeks, had labeled him as a fool, as a shameful man, with no sense of honor, deserving of no respect. But in spite of all of that Paul says he's unashamed.

Now what rationale did Paul give for ignoring all the public shame that came with this message and being, instead, proud of that message or boasting in that message? Well, as he explains his own lack of shame, Paul provides us with several reasons that as Christians we should never be ashamed of the good news, the gospel.

Last Sunday morning, we looked at the first three reasons we should never be ashamed that are in this text. Number one, because it is good news. The word "gospel," by definition, means glad tidings, good news, wonderful news. We shouldn't be ashamed because it's wonderful news. Secondly, we shouldn't be ashamed because it is God's power. It is the power of God. In the gospel is the very power of God, Himself. And then, we shouldn't be ashamed because it produces salvation. It is the power of God for or unto salvation. It is the instrument God uses to spiritually rescue sinners from His own wrath. So we should never be ashamed of it for those reasons.

Now today we come to the fourth reason that Paul was not and we should not be ashamed of the gospel. Reason number four, it is appropriate for every person. It's appropriate for every person. Look at verse 16, "I'm not ashamed of the gospel for it's the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." Paul says there's nobody left out. This message, this good news, is for everyone.

Notice the categories of people in this first chapter that Paul says can benefit from the gospel. Look back in verse 13; he introduces us to the Gentiles at the end of verse 13. And then in verse 14, he divides all the Gentiles into two basic categories. Notice verse 14, "I'm under obligation both to the Greeks and to the barbarians," there's one category, "both to the wise and to the foolish," there's the second category.

Look at the first one: "Greeks vs. barbarians." The word "barbarian" is an onomatopoetic word, that is, it's a word that sounds like what it means. For example, in English we have a word "buzz." The word means what it sounds like. Or the word "cuckoo" is another English word that essentially means what it sounds like. That's what this word is in Greek, the word "barbarian." It mocks the way foreign languages sounded to the Greek ear. To the Greek who had this sophisticated language, all the foreign language that the barbarians spoke sounded like: bar, bar, bar, bar – that's not to be confused with the Beach Boys song by the way. So Paul here then is probably contrasting the sophisticated and the cultured with the unsophisticated and the uncultured. He's saying on the one hand, the Greeks can benefit from this good news, those who are sophisticated and cultured. On the other hand, those who are unsophisticated, those whose language sounds like "bar, bar, bar," who don't have any sense of culture at all, and are unsophisticated, the gospel is for both.

Look at the second category in verse 14: "to the wise and to the foolish." Paul frequently used the word wise to describe those who prided themselves on their knowledge. So, wise and foolish here probably is talking about those who are the intelligentsia, the intellectuals of the culture and those who were at the opposite end, who are simple and foolish in comparison to the elite intellectuals in the culture. The gospel is for, on the one hand, the cultured intelligent, elite and it is, on the other hand, for the unsophisticated, the unlearned, the foolish. It's for everyone.

"All the Gentiles," he says in verse 14. But then in verse 16, Paul moves beyond the Gentiles and he talks about everybody in the whole world, the entire world, "Jew and Greek." In this context, Greek refers to everybody who isn't Jewish. So, it includes all the people he's talked about so far: the Greeks, the barbarians, the wise and the unwise, every Gentile is included.

And he says in verse 16, "to the Jew first." Now, why does Paul say the gospel is for the Jews first? It's interesting because Paul is writing as an apostle to the Gentiles, writing to a church in Rome composed primarily of Gentiles. And yet he says the gospel is first for the Jew, why? Well, he uses that expression in two senses in his writings. In one sense he means in reference to time or chronology, the gospel came first to the Jewish people. Jesus was after all, what? Jewish. And He was in Palestine. They were exposed to the gospel first. You see this back in Acts, chapter 13, on Paul's first missionary journey. He's in Antioch of Pisidia, and in Acts 13, verse 46, Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly when they were basically refused by the Jews. They spoke out boldly and said, "It is necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles." And then verse 47, they quote from Isaiah to show that the gospel was supposed to go to the Gentiles. So, it went to the Jew first in terms of time or chronology.

It also went to the Jew first in the sense that the promise was initially made to the descendants of Abraham and then we as Gentiles join them in receiving the promise. Remember what Paul talks about in Romans 9 through 11? He talks about the fact that we, as Gentiles, are grafted into the original plant. So they were first in those ways. But, he says back in Romans, chapter 1, they have may have been first in time, first in receiving the promise, but it's also to the Greek, that is to the Gentiles, to everyone else.

This is all encompassing. By including all of these groups, Paul intends to show that the gospel doesn't discriminate. It is appropriate for every single person. Look at Romans, chapter 10. Paul comes to this very point in Romans 10, verse 11, "For the scripture says, 'Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.' For there is no distinction between Jew or Greek,(that is Gentile) for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him; for 'Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be spiritually rescued.'" There's no distinction. The gospel is for everyone.

You know, I think if we're honest with ourselves, we have to admit that there are groups that we tend to think are or should be beyond the reach of the grace of God. Think for a moment in your own mind. Are there certain people groups that you just think ought to be excluded? This was a temptation for Jonah. You remember Jonah? He ran when God told him to go to Nineveh to the Assyrian capital because he didn't think the Assyrians ought to enjoy God's grace. That's why he ran. He wasn't scared. He didn't want God to show them grace. In fact, in chapter 4 of Jonah, you remember, when God finally does forgive the people and relent on His judgment? Jonah pouts. And Jonah says, See, this is exactly why I didn't want to come. Because I knew you were gracious and compassionate, you showed mercy on those who would repent and here we are, you've done it. These people don't deserve your grace.

And we can be tempted to think the same thing. We can look at gross sinners in the world around us. Maybe terrorists, abortionists, homosexuals, prostitutes, drug addicts, pedophiles. Or maybe we look in the other direction. Maybe we look at the elite and the powerful and the educated. Or maybe we look at the self-righteous, religious people, Muslims, Roman Catholics. Listen, if we're honest we all have a tendency to ignore those who are different than we are. But the gospel, Paul says, is appropriate for everyone. There is no one excluded.

You know there's another application of Paul's point here. Perhaps you're here this morning and you believe that you are beyond the reach of the grace of God. Maybe you think back to some sin, or sins that are in your past or perhaps a pattern of sin that's in your life today and you think God would never extend good news to me. Paul says it's for everyone.

Isaiah puts it like this in Isaiah 55:6-7:

Seek the Lord while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way And the unrighteous man his thoughts And let him return to the Lord, And He will have compassion on him And to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.

Peter in his sermon in Acts 2, says, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." There are no exceptions. You genuinely come to God, He will genuinely offer the gospel, the good news and its benefits.

In Revelation, the very end of the Bible, Revelation 22:17 you read this invitation, "Whoever is thirsty, let him come. Whoever wishes let him take of the free gift of the water of life." The gospel is appropriate for everyone.

Paul is saying he is not ashamed of the gospel because it is suited to every person regardless of their background, regardless of their past, regardless of their situation. We should never be ashamed of the gospel because it's good news, because it's God's power, because it produces salvation, and because it's appropriate for every single person who hears it.

The fifth reason that Paul gives that we should never be ashamed is that it requires no human merit or work. It requires no human merit or work. Look again at verse 16 of Romans 1, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, it's the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes." Now you have to know Paul to understand what he means there. He always contrasts faith with work or merit. On the one side is faith, on the other side is work or personal merit.

In fact, turn over to Romans 4. As Paul wants to illustrate the reality of justification by faith alone and he wants to show that it's not new with him, he goes back into the Old Testament and he chooses two examples. He chooses David from Psalm 32 and he chooses Abraham from Genesis 15.

Now notice what he says about Abraham, Chapter 4, verse 1, So what was it Abraham found? Verse 2, "if Abraham was justified by works" – that is by something he did, by some merit of his own, then he would be able to boast before God – but Paul says, that's impossible, no one can boast before God. "For what does the scripture say," verse 3, quoting Genesis 15:6, "Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness." Now he's going to make this – this obvious contrast, verse 4, on the one hand there's the one who works, who extends effort. "Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor (or as grace) but what is due." You work a job, you put in your hours, you get a paycheck. That paycheck is not grace. You know I've seen a few people work where maybe it was grace, but by and large, it's not grace. You earned it, you worked for it. If you work for it then you've earned it, it's not grace.

On the other hand, verse 5 says – "But to the one who does not work (who has no effort of his own contributing) but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness." So, you have on the one hand, the one who through his own work, his own effort, his own merit, is trying to earn a place with God and what he gets then won't be grace, it'll be what he earns. On the other hand, you have the one who doesn't work, who has no effort of his own that's contributing, but believes. So to believe is the opposite of work or personal merit.

Now in the New Testament, this Greek noun that's translated "faith" here and its verb form "believed" are each used about 240 times in the New Testament. This is a key concept. When the New Testament uses these words, they're essentially three elements of true saving faith. Now these are logical elements, it comes as a package, you can't separate them, where there's true faith all three of these will be present, but there are these three elements.

First of all there is knowledge. Often the Bible will say something like this: you must believe that, and then there's some information, some piece of knowledge; so true faith includes knowledge. You cannot believe or have faith in what you do not know.

A second part of saving faith is assent. Not only do you know it but you assent to it. You are convinced that that knowledge you have is in fact true and it's desirable, it's what you need.

And then the third element of faith is trust. This is often used with the expression, you must "believe in" Jesus or "believe into" Jesus. This isn't just knowledge, this isn't just assent, this is the heart of faith, this means you transfer every bit of your reliance away from yourself, away from your own efforts and to Christ and Him alone. Resting on Christ alone for salvation.

Now to help illustrate this, James Montgomery Boice, who's now with the Lord, used to illustrate it like this. He said it's like the love between a man and a woman. Some of you are married and when you were getting to know your spouse, when you were dating or involved in courtship, that's like the knowledge phase of faith. You were gathering information. You were learning about their background and who they were and what they liked and didn't like. You were filing all that away, you were gathering knowledge and knowledge is essential, but it's not all there is to a relationship.

As your relationship continued to grow, your heart moved out toward that person, you began to love them. Boice said that's like the assent element of faith. This is where you began to find that person attractive and want to be with them. That happens in the pursuit of Christ as well. Not only do we learn the facts about Him, but our hearts are drawn out toward Him, but it's still not saving faith. In the case of the, the couple, they're still not married. So what has to happen?

There has to be a third part of that relationship. That man and that woman have to stand on a stage like this one in front of witnesses and God and say "I will" or "I do" and they commit to each other. Boice said that's like the third element of faith, trust. Not only do you know the facts, not only do you find that Christ attractive, but you commit yourself to Him, I will, I do. That's saving faith.

Now two important warnings. Saving faith, true biblical saving faith is not natural faith. You know we often use illustrations like this, we'll say, you know, faith is like sitting on that pew you're sitting on this morning. You know you didn't build it, you didn't know much about it but you sat on it, that's faith. Or the airplane you got on recently. You got on that airplane not knowing the pilot, not knowing all the things it was constructed of, not understanding it, that's faith.

Well, in one sense perhaps that's true but not really. Because the fact that you're sitting on that pew this morning isn't really faith, it is mathematical probability. You know based on your own experience, the experience of others, that more likely than not that pew is going to hold you up when you sat down, and so you sat down. With that mathematical probability calculated in your mind, you exercised a choice to sit on that pew. Biblical saving faith is not about mathematical probabilities. Biblical saving faith, Ephesians 2 says, is a supernatural gift that God gives. You can't conjure it up. You can't come up with it out of your own heart.

There's another danger and that's thinking that your faith is why God accepts you. Thinking that because I believe, therefore God accepts me. Listen, God does not decide in the absence of real personal righteousness to accept your faith as a substitute. It's true, believing is something you do, it's a human activity. But the capacity to believe God's word is a gift from God.

I've often used the illustration of it, it's as if you were caught in the desert and I happened to come along. You were at a point of death because you needed water desperately. I have water in my car and plenty of water for you. I see you there, you're dying of thirst and I offer you water but you have nothing to catch the water in. You have no cup, no glass and so I fish around in the back of my trunk and I find an old cup there and I take that cup that's mine, I fill it with the water that's mine and I give you that cup with the water and you drink the water. The water saves your life. That cup didn't earn you the water I gave you. And, in fact, I gave you the cup!

It's the same thing with true saving faith. It simply is the vehicle that God uses to deliver the saving water of the gospel to our souls and the cup, He gives us. Our faith in Christ is our righteousness. That is Christ is our righteousness and not our faith. It is merely the channel or the instrument through which I receive the gift of Christ.

You know, perhaps you're here this morning and your heart is literally crushed under a load of personal guilt. You went to bed last night with that guilty conscience weighing on your soul when you're alone and nothing else is going on, you feel the weight of that conscience. You woke up this morning with it. You know you stand guilty before God and you would do absolutely anything to gain a right standing before God. The good news is, you don't have to do anything. In fact, you can't do anything, only believe in the One who has. Believe in Him, who because of grace alone declares ungodly sinners to be right with Him solely based on the life and death of Jesus Christ.

No wonder Paul wasn't ashamed to declare this wonderful message. The gospel is good news. It is God's power. Thirdly, it provides salvation. Number four, it is appropriate for everyone. And number 5, it requires no human merit or effort. It is received by faith alone.

The final reason that Paul gives us as to why we should never be ashamed of the gospel is that it promises righteousness. It promises righteousness. Look back at Romans 1, verse 17, "In it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'the righteous shall live by faith.'" This explains the final reason Paul's not ashamed of the gospel, and it is the specific content of the gospel message. It is a righteousness that comes from God and is credited to the sinner.

You know there are many contemporary presentations of the gospel that are very man-centered. Something like, God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Listen, the gospel is first and foremost about righteousness. The gospel is the answer to Job's century-old question in Job 25:4, "How then can a man be right with God? How can he be clean who is born of a woman?" The central purpose of the gospel is to enable us to stand righteous in the presence of a holy God. How can that happen? We're sinners. We're ungodly. Well, look back at verse 17. In the gospel is revealed, or literally uncovered or unveiled, the righteousness of God. Literally, it says, the righteousness from God. In the good news, in the gospel, is uncovered or unveiled the righteousness which comes from God. The righteousness which God gives us. In fact, I want you to see this. Look over in Romans 5, verse 17. Notice, here, how Paul describes it. The middle of the verse, it's called the "gift" of righteousness. God gives as a gift, righteousness. That is a right standing before Him. Here he's not talking about a moral quality but a legal standing. How do I know that? Because it's contrasted with condemned. On the one hand is condemn, on the other hand is justify. That's what a judge does. Someone stands before him and he either condemns him as guilty or he justifies him as not guilty. So this is describing our status or standing before God and God gives us, gives the believing sinner a right standing in the courtroom of His justice. You see the gospel at its heart is what Paul calls justification. The end of Romans 4, being justified. This is the gospel. It is that act of God as a judge whereby He declares the believing sinner right, because of the merit of Christ's righteousness and death, and He credits that to the sinner by faith and faith alone.

You see, in justification God does several things. Let me just briefly encapsulate the doctrine of justification for you. This is so important and if you've been here any time at all you know this is one of my favorite doctrines, because this is the gospel. When Paul gets to Romans 3 and explains the gospel, this is what he explains. Here's what happens: In justification, God does three things. Two of them are accounting functions and one of them is a legal function.

First of all, God credits in justification, when the sinner believes, God credits our sin to Christ. The word "credit" is a financial term. It literally means to post to a ledger, to deposit something in someone's account. So God, as the judge, in justification, takes my sin, every sin I have ever or will ever commit, and He credits that sin to Jesus Christ. And on the cross, God then treats Jesus as if He had committed every single one of those sins I committed. That's the first thing God does. That's explained in 2 Corinthians 5:19, "…not counting their trespasses against them"; verse 21, instead God made Christ to be sin for us. He took our sins and He credited them to Christ. That's what Isaiah 53 talks about, isn't it? He was wounded for what? Our transgressions. So God credits our sin to Christ and He treats Christ as if He had lived our lives, on the cross, He treats Him that way.

The second thing God does in justification is He credits Christ's righteousness, Christ's right life, perfect life, to us. He puts that in our account. He deposits Jesus' perfect life in my account. That's what 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." So now, God takes Jesus' perfect life, He puts it in my account and He treats me as if I had lived that life. That's what Paul means in Philippians 3:9 when he says, "I want a righteousness that's not my own, but a righteousness which comes by faith in Jesus Christ." As the reformers called it, it is an alien righteousness. The righteousness by which God declares me just in His presence isn't mine at all, it's simply credited to me. It belongs to somebody else. It belongs to Jesus and it becomes mine by a financial transaction.

The third thing that God does, is He then on the basis of crediting my sin to Christ and crediting Christ's perfect life to me, God forgives the sinner and declares him forever right before the courtroom of His justice. Forever, right! In verse 17, Paul is saying he could never be ashamed of the gospel because in it God has given man, sinners, a right standing before Him. Think of that for a moment. Every sin you have ever committed. I just want you to think of one sin you've committed this week that you know of. Every single sin you have ever committed, that I have ever committed, carries enough guilt to deserve God's eternal wrath and curse. That's what the Bible teaches. But if you have exercised biblical faith in Christ, God has once and for all, issued a legal decision about your case. Because of His grace, God has declared in the divine records, eternally written that you forever wear the verdict of righteous. As righteous as His own son. If you've embraced Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, there is nothing you will ever do that can improve your standing before God and there's nothing you can ever do that will ever change God's declaration of you as righteous. When He made that declaration, He knew all of your sins, past, present and future and He declared you forever right.

You know I think so many Christians fail to appreciate this. One of my favorite cartoons is a Herman cartoon, which a man is standing before the judge, you know those sort of distorted characters of Herman. And he's standing there before the judge awaiting the judge's verdict and the judge says this, "I find you not guilty but I'm going give you two years just to be on the safe side." You know, that's how a lot of Christians think about God. They think that's how God works. Maybe they've read too many – like I did when I was young – they've read too many of those cheap tracts you know that have Christians standing before the judgment and God playing back every filthy sin they've ever committed on a large screen for everybody to see. Listen, that's essentially true for unbelievers but it's never true for those who know Christ. You will never stand before God in judgment for your sin again. How do I know that? Later in Romans, Romans 8:1, Paul says, "There is therefore now," what? "No condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus." The word condemnation is used three times in the New Testament, always in the setting of a courtroom. It is the opposite of declaring innocent or righteous. There is no guilty verdict. There is no penalty for the one in Christ. In fact, Paul concludes his judicial argument in Romans 8 with these words, "Who will bring a charge against God's elect?" Who? Who can do that? "God is the one who justifies" – who has declared us righteous – "who is the one who can condemn us? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us."

Now folks this is an amazing truth, but understand this is not an excuse for sin. Several years ago, I had the horror of watching a woman who had won a reality show, the Survivor reality show, she'd won a million dollars and I watched the news the next morning and I happened to catch an interview of this woman. And she admitted on national news that she lied again and again in order to win the million dollars but she said, "You know, that's the wonderful thing about being a Christian, now that I have the million dollars I can just ask God to forgive me." Listen, if that's your reaction to the truth of justification then you probably are not a Christian at all. Because what does Paul say in Chapter 6, verse 1? "Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?" – God forbid – "may it never be."

So how do you come to enjoy this wonderful gift of a right standing before God? Notice the rest of verse 17, "from faith to faith," literally out of faith into faith. In other words, it starts with faith, it ends with faith. It's faith, nothing but faith, faith alone, that gives us the status of righteous before God. And then Paul drives home his argument as he closes with a quotation from the Old Testament, verse 17, "As it is written." This comes from Habakkuk 2, verse 4. This is really Paul's text and the rest of Romans is a sermon on that one verse. I love that. There's somebody else who does the same thing. Now the best translation of the end of verse 17 is this: the one that is righteous by means of faith shall live. He's quoting the prophet Habakkuk.

To understand what Paul means here, you have to understand a little bit about what was going on in Habakkuk. In Habakkuk chapter 2, Habakkuk the prophet was worried because God said, the Babylonians, a pagan people, are going to come and take captive the people of God. And Habakkuk's thinking about this and he's saying does this mean the end of the Jews? Does this mean the end of God's people? Is God getting rid of his people? And he says, no, absolutely not, the righteous by faith shall live. Here, he's talking about spiritual life, supernatural life, eternal life. Those who are righteous by faith shall live eternally with the life that God gives. You see, many of his people would die in the siege of their cities. Many of his people would die as the Babylonians force them to march to Babylon. But if those people are righteous by faith, they will go on living through all eternity. That's Habakkuk's point. And in quoting it, Paul wants us to know that this has always been God's plan. To declare ungodly, guilty sinners who believe in Christ, righteous solely by faith.

Listen, if you want to try on your own to gain that right standing before God, so that when you stand before God and God says why should I let you into my heaven, you say because of something I've done? Then you've got to meet the divine standard. First, you have to deal with the guilt and pollution you inherited from your parents. Then, you have to never once in your life put your own desires or interests ahead of that of others, but constantly love them, pursue only their good without a single moment of selfishness. And from the moment of birth to the second you die, you must love God with all of your heart, with all of your mind, with all of your strength, obeying Him perfectly in everything He's revealed. And if you ever sin once, your entire house of cards tumbles, because James says, "Whoever keeps the whole law and stumbles in one, he is guilty of all." Obviously you could never gain a right standing with God by your own efforts.

The good news is that there is another way. God will declare you legally right in the courtroom of His justice forever if you will believe in His son. Look at Romans chapter 3, verse 22. He says, I'm talking about "the righteousness from God that comes through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe."

Now, why did I choose to study this passage as we anticipate Thanksgiving this week? Do you remember Psalm 100? A Psalm we often quote in reference to Thanksgiving? Verse 4 says, "We are to enter His gates with" what? "thanksgiving. And into His courts with praise." When you come into God's presence, you come with thanksgiving. They did that in the Old Testament, we're to do that today spiritually. We're to offer the sacrifice of our lips, giving praise to His name, giving thanks to His name, the writer of Hebrews says.

But it's also true in the future. I want you to fast forward to the future and see what we will give God thanks for primarily throughout eternity. Let me show you the last time the word "thanksgiving" occurs in the Bible. It's in Revelation, chapter 7. Look at Revelation 7 as we finish our study this morning. In Revelation 7 there are these mighty witnesses of God that are sent out during the tribulation period, a 144,000 Jews and during the tribulation period, a huge multitude of people will come to genuine faith in Christ. Look at verse 9, Revelation 7:

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes (there's the picture of believers clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, we're talking about justification) and palm branches were in their hands and they cry out in a loud voice saying, "Salvation to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb. And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders [those are the believers] and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and they worshiped God (and notice what their worship is) 'Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.' Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, 'These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where do they come from?' I said to Him, 'My Lord, you know.' And He said to me, 'These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tent over them. They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore, nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne (I love this turn of phrase) the Lamb will be their shepherd and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.

What I want you to see, folks, is the very last time thanksgiving is mentioned in the Bible, it's in the scene of heaven gathered around God Himself, and what is the apex of their thanksgiving? It's the salvation that has come to them from God, the spiritual rescue that is theirs in God, and the white robes which symbolize that they have been declared righteous through the message of the gospel and the grace of God.

This week as you celebrate Thanksgiving, thank God for all the stuff of this life. We're commanded to, there's lots of examples in scripture, but don't stop there. The thing for which we should be most thankful, the thing for which we will be thankful throughout eternity in the presence of our God is the good news. That there is a way to have a right standing before God based solely on the righteousness of another, the gift of His righteousness to us.

Let's pray together. Our Father, we thank you for the gospel. Thank you that in it there's a righteousness from You which we receive as a gift credited to our account. The righteousness of another, the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ. Oh, God, give us truly grateful hearts for every blessing that's ours. But Father may the song that we sing the loudest, may the expression of thanksgiving that rings out most profoundly from our hearts, even this week, be the reality that you have given us the indescribable gift of a white robe, that is, of a right standing before You. The very righteousness of Christ. His perfect life credited to us. And that all eternity You will treat us as if we had lived that life. What an amazing gift. Our thanks is not enough. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.