For Jesus' Sake
by James Lincoln on Sunday, May 28, 2006
This morning I want us to return to our studies in Paul's letter to the Romans. I want us to think about Romans 9-11 within the larger context and purpose of this fascinating letter. Why did Paul include these chapters about Israel and her objections and rejection of the gospel? Why did he mention Israel in a letter about the revelation of God's righteousness? Here's what I think. He does so because Israel rejected the righteousness of God that comes by faith. Also she claimed that the gospel makes God unrighteous and unfaithful (cf. 9:6 & 9:14-30). Here's how the accusation went. If Israel (His people) rejected her Messiah then God's promises to Abraham failed. They failed because God made promises to His people (the Jews) of universal blessing, prominence, and prosperity. If His people stand under judgment and not blessing which God promised that would make Him unfaithful to His promise. Paul's answer to this charge is stunning. He redefined their understanding of who a Jew is. In Rom. 2:28, "For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly...but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter..." (cf. Rom.4:14ff & Gal.3:29, "If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.") Paul argued that the Bible always taught that the true heirs of the promise to Abraham and the true children of Abraham are not those of the flesh (pedigree) but those who believe God like Abraham did. So, Paul redefined Israel and who is a Jew.
Israel charged the gospel as making God unjust (9:30). Why? It makes Him unjust for saving sinners (the bad people: Gentiles) and not saving the righteous people (the good people: Israel)1. Both accusations make God out to be unrighteous.
I think this charge against the gospel (that it makes God unjust or unrighteous) motivated Paul to declare the truth of God's righteousness in the gospel and it gave him a new opportunity to once again declare the righteousness that comes by faith so that anyone who hears it could honor God by receiving this glorious and gracious gift. And, beloved, the gift of His righteousness is more glorious than you and I could ever imagine.
Paul has another motive for these three chapters. Soon after Paul made the church at Antioch a home base for his missionary efforts in the East the church began to treat Gentile believers as inherently inferior. They began to require Gentiles to become Jews before they could become Christians. Peter joined them in this racism and at one point wouldn't even eat with Gentile Christians. Think about this. You come to church and the pastors of the church won't eat with you because you're not Jewish. Think of the future of the church if Paul let this stand. So, Paul challenged Peter about this and brought him back to the gospel of righteousness by faith and not by one's ethnic DNA.
Paul planned to use Rome as a home base of mission to the West. He didn't want the same thing to happen in reverse in Rome where the church was predominantly Gentile. So, in Romans eleven Paul sets out to stop any ethnic bias a predominantly Gentile church might have against Jews.
All of this reminds us of a deep internal tendency we have to privilege ourselves merely because we are of our race or nationality as if any of those facts makes us innately more righteous than others. Jesus and Paul come against this with as much force as possible. When Jesus was told that His mother and brothers had come to take him by force because they thought He was insane...He said, "My mother and brothers are those who do the will of my heavenly Father." Righteousness is not a matter of pedigree, gene pool or nationality. In 1:17 Paul says that the gospel is "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes..."
So, Romans 9-11 is written against the backdrop of this deep seated idea that God's favor is on us (Jews) because of our nationality or ethnicity and we can produce righteousness of our own making that God will accept.
These deep seated and false convictions of the human heart prevail until our hearts are changed by the gospel. Against all of this Paul sets out to show that the only basis upon which we can claim any righteousness is the gift and miracle of His grace or as he says in 1 Cor. 1:30-31:
"But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness... as it is written, "Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord."
Now, let's review some points Paul makes in chapter one. I want us to think about these verses keeping chapters 9-11 in mind.
Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles, for His name's sake, 6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; 7 to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Rom 1:1-7 NAS
Paul: Servant of Jesus. Notice that Paul teaches only what Jesus called him to teach. Do you believe this? I find a number of people who try to escape the force of Paul's statements by making Paul and Jesus adversaries. Paul won't have it. He's a bond servant and an apostle of Jesus. As such, he represents Jesus faithfully. So when Paul says unpopular things it won't to dismiss him with, "Well, you know that was just Paul.." Paul was an apostle and bond servant of Jesus.
Second, notice that his message is consistent with the sacred Scriptures and what they say about the gospel." ...set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son,"( 1b & 2) It was Israel not Jesus who distorted and twisted the concept of righteousness and turned it into something they could achieve or God's favor on Israel. Jesus and Paul drew everyone's attention to the righteousness that comes by faith. This had always been the way anyone could ever expect to be considered righteous before God. In v. 17 Paul says, "In it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith." Then he quotes Habakkuk to show this has always been the case. Isaiah was stronger. Isaiah said, "our righteousness is as filthy rags in God's eyes."
But, Israel rejected this fundamental teaching of her own Scriptures. David said in Ps. 14 that, "no one is righteous.." by the record of his own merit. Israel rejected the gospel as a miracle of grace and instead pursued a righteousness of her own making. Paul makes this clear in Romans 9:31. "Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. 32. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works." Now she didn't reject righteousness by faith because she never heard it. In 10:18 Paul writes that she did hear and in v. 21 he writes that God "held out His hands all day long to a disobedient and defiant people." Her rejection wasn't an accident; it wasn't based on ignorance. It was a flat out rejection of the gospel preached before hand to Abraham that the only way you can be considered righteous before God is if you accept it as a gift of faith. Now, did Jesus teach these things? Was Paul a faithful servant of Jesus?
The Sermon on the Mount and John 6
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said that our righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and the Pharisees. But who could do that? In terms of moral behavior none were more righteous than the Pharisees. So Jesus went on to teach that if you lust after another you have committed adultery in your heart. Every man on the hill was thinking "If that's the case I might not be so innocent." Jesus said, "If you get angry with your brother you are guilty of murder." Jesus said, "If you call your neighbor a fool you are guilty enough to go to hell." So, on the basis of Jesus' lessons on righteousness who could ever be considered righteous? The answer is "NO ONE!" That's His point! You're way over confident and living in denial if you think you can be considered righteous on the basis of your moral record. Righteousness is just as much a matter of deep seated motivations as it is behavior. And when we begin to peel back the layers of our heart we all find ourselves deeply selfish and desirous of all manner of inappropriate things: most significantly the desire to be a god to ourselves.
After Jesus did the miracle of the loaves and fishes and fed thousands the crowds grew and they followed him around the lake to Capernaum. But as Jesus began to teach he didn't reinforce their political and economic ideas about the kingdom of God. His lessons were irrelevant to their concerns. Their enthusiasm began to fade and they began to turn away. What did He say that created such a turn around and rejection?
Well, He said in v. 26,
"Look, you're following Me because I filled your stomachs with food. Don't work for the food that perishes but for the food that endures to eternal life that I give for the Father has set His seal on Me. They said, "OK what shall we do that we may work the works of God?"
Now, this was a great opportunity for Jesus to talk about all the works of generosity, sacrifice, compassion necessary to meet the needs of this hurting and unjust world...right? But notice what He says in vs. 29 He says, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent." That's it? You mean there is nothing in the record of my righteousness that I can point to that can earn me God's favor? Are you saying that what we need to do is to put our faith in You, come to You, believe that You have been sent here by the Father, taste and see that You are good, ruminate on Your words and life, chew on who you are and digest your words and that will merit for us eternal life? I can't appeal to the record of my righteousness as a sufficient ground for me to be right with God?" Jesus said,
"You must abandon every thought that your works or effort can make you right with God. And instead believe in Me, come to Me; be satisfied in Me, call on Me to fill you up and satisfy your hunger for favor with God. I am the bread which comes down from heaven. Take and eat and be filled up with Me. Come and buy food that you didn't work for. Believe and trust in Me."
They didn't want to hear this. Instead they asked for more signs. Jesus went on to say, "I am the bread of Life." Then at the end of v. 61 He said,
"Does this offend you? 62 What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 THE SPIRIT GIVES LIFE; THE FLESH COUNTS FOR NOTHING..."
John 6:61-63 NIV
Why is this so offensive? Why did His words, "The flesh counts for nothing" offend them? I can think of two reasons: First, it meant that they were not favored with righteousness because of their race. Their connection to Abraham (by way of the flesh or DNA) contributed nothing to their acceptance with God. They were banking on the idea that they were privileged with God's favor by virtue of their Jewishness. But Jesus says, "You are not inherently better than anyone else because your nationality or race."
How many wars (including our own civil war) would have ended before they began if Jesus' words had been honored? Think about the early wars of the Middle Ages...think about WW2, Bosnia, Serbia, Cambodia, Rawanda, Sudan, Iraq and Darfur. How much brutality and genocide has been justified on the false idea that one race is inherently superior to another? This deep seated racism between the Jew and the Gentile in the early church would have easily destroyed it had it not been for the grace of God through Paul who pointed these things out. Peter would have capitulated and he would have kept the Gentile Christians out. In Romans 1-3 Paul says, "There is no distinction. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. "
The phrase "the flesh profits nothing..." also meant that that outside of a miracle of grace no one can make themselves good enough to be right with God. All our efforts to cleanse ourselves or to become righteous severed from the redeeming grace of Jesus will fail. Did you hear that? It's a treadmill that we'll never get off. The only way possible is through faith in Jesus where you trust that His righteousness comes to you as a gift. Jesus said, "This is the work of God that you believe in Him whom the Father has sent." In Rom. 3:11, "There is none righteous and none who understand and none who seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become useless; there is none who does good there is not even one." Yes, people seek gods of their own making; that's the history of religion. But no one outside of the grace of God seeks Jehovah God as He is. And, yes, people do relative good but no one does good as God defines goodness or is able on the basis of their perceived goodness to merit God's favor.
Now if those words of Jesus didn't drive them off the next ones probably did. In v. 37 He speaks of God's purposes in election.
"All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away..."
Jesus says that the one who comes to Him doesn't come to Him because of self determination but rather because God Himself has chosen to give a people to Jesus (cf. Ps. 2:8). God's purposes in election appear to be was the straw that broke the camel's back. Look at v. 65...
"And He was saying, "For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father."
Notice the outcome...in the next verse...
"66...As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew, and were not walking with Him anymore. 67 Jesus said therefore to the twelve, "You do not want to go away also, do you?"
Paul reiterates this in Romans 9:16, "So then it depends not on human will or the one who runs (exertion)...but on God who has mercy." (cf. Jn.1:13).
Why did people find Jesus' words so offensive and leave Him. He said, "You can't even come to Him in faith unless the Father grants it. " Even coming to Jesus is a gift from the Father and not a result of our own self determination. What did Jesus do that got Him in trouble? Three things: He took away any confidence of God's favor or being right with God in their race. He took away any confidence in the record of their own righteousness or their works to ensure that they were right with God. He took away any confidence in their capacity of self determination to ensure that they were right with God. He made being right with God a matter of God's gracious and merciful gift that could only be received by faith.
Jesus and Paul both said that this gift of righteousness was for any and all who would believe in Jesus. Paul, in Rom. 1:16, "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 to the Greek. And that left them with only one place to stand. That place is the miracle of God's grace and the mercy of God to give us a righteousness that qualifies us to become members of His kingdom. And as a result of this many of His disciples cut bait and ran and no longer walked with Him anymore.
Paul's letter to the Romans and specifically in Roman 9-11 rehearses Jesus' teachings.
Here's what I think Paul and Jesus were saying...RIGHTEOUSNESS MUST BE A STARTING POINT IN OUR WALK WITH GOD NOT MERELY A DESTINATION. RIGHTEOUSNESS IS A POINT OF DEPARTURE BEFORE IT IS AN OUTCOME IN YOUR LIFE...IT'S THE PLATFORM UPON WHICH WE ARE PLACED BY THE GRACE OF GOD FROM WHICH WE LEARN TO LIVE RIGHTEOUSLY...ALWAYS BY FAITH.
In Rom. 1:17, Paul quotes Habakkuk to show that true Israel or the true people of God have always been the community of those of faith not those who were Jews by their gene pool, ethnicity or self-determination. He said that the just shall live by faith. We live to God and are right with God by faith in the righteousness He grants as a gift.
This is the Paul's point in Romans. This glorious and gracious miracle of grace for sinners like us who could never achieve righteousness on our own has been given to us so that we can magnify, celebrates, brags on and elevates Jesus above all things.
This is my last point this morning. The aim of the gospel is not really about us at all. In a culture of narcissism this strikes us as strange because we're used to everyone making much to do about us all the time. But notice (v. 5) the aim or the purpose of the gospel is that Jesus' Name would be glorified.
By the way what is the chief end of man? "To glorify God and enjoy Him forever" We easily confuse means with ends. But the aim or the end or the purpose of the gospel is at the end of v. 5: "through Jesus we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles FOR HIS NAME'S SAKE." Beloved, that's not an incidental comment. It's the ultimate and glorious purpose of the gospel. That Jesus' name would be exalted. The fact that believers get saved in the process is wondrous! But not as wondrous as the elevation, magnification, exaltation, renown and spread of Jesus' beauty, grace, wisdom, righteousness, glory, mercy, goodness and power. Paul's commission is in v. 5 was to "bring about the obedience of faith ( the obedience that springs from faith) among the Gentiles for (the purpose clause) HIS NAME'S SAKE... v. 6 "among whom you also have been called of Jesus Christ to all who are beloved of God. Called saints or called RIGHTEOUS!"
Notice again that righteousness is a starting point...not something that you get gradually through a series of works that you merit over time. This gospel is the means by which God returns us to our purpose to glorify Him as His representatives and stewards of the earth. He says we do this for the purpose of His Name sake!
Beloved, the signature of the gospel should be obvious in each of our lives who believe this gospel. Anybody who gets to know us or bumps into us should be able to read that signature. What is it? That we belong to Jesus Christ; that we serve, in obedience, Jesus Christ. That we love Jesus who lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died and that He was raised for us so that we might serve Him, brag on Him, elevate Him and obey Him because He is the most wondrous, beautiful, wise, gentle, merciful, precious, and worthy treasure that can ever be praised and known. We belong to Jesus; consequently, we are here to fulfill His purposes and to be His witnesses to bear testimony to His greatness. The purpose is not primarily that we would be made happy (we will be that and more) It's so that He will be magnified through our obedience and worship.
Here's the application: This congregation will be a glorious success in the eyes of God if the tongues of the people in Newberg, Ladd Hill, Wilsonville, Canby or wherever we're from say, "Based on what I see and hear and notice in the lives of Christians, and the joy, hope, peace, courage, love they have for Jesus...Jesus must be a remarkable God." They may never say that willingly...But our calling is to represent that. We are called to be His witnesses to bear testimony regarding His greatness. And part of that is when we say, "By His grace and faith I'm free from condemnation and I'm free from sin's tyranny." God calls us to give glory to Jesus who has visited us with such awesome grace and power.
This is the purpose of the gospel. That through it the righteousness of God...the mercy of God...the grace of God...the wisdom of God...the purposes of God might be elevated and revealed through us.
So, if you want to be right with God you must first receive the free gift of His righteousness. You must transfer you hope away from your own record of righteousness and receive His. Then as you focus on His righteousness and His glory, His mercy, beauty and grace your heart begins to fill up with a gratitude and joy and wonder in how much you have been loved and as a result that love of God will constrain you to live for Him and His praise. So, look to Jesus and believe in Jesus and magnify Jesus in all that you do.
1Cf. Paul's argument in Rom. 3:9, 9:30-32 and in Rom.2 where he challenges the Jews' claim to righteousness or moral superiority to Gentiles.