Message Notes from Sunday, July 16th, 2017
Are you alright?
21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness/right-ness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness/right-ness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—
26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness/right-ness at the present time, so as to be just/legit and the one who justifies/legitimizes those who have faith in Jesus.
27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified/legitimized by faith apart from the works of the law.
29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify/legitimize the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
All forms of the word justice and the word righteousness come from the greek root word “dike.” So Paul weaves different forms of this word all throughout this section. He is connecting these concepts intentionally.
The Jews of the day had both the written code of Moses that was 613 laws that were given by God to help people in relationship with him. Then since that time, men who were in charge added their own few hundred laws to add on to those laws and so the Jewish people were known for their laws. If they were known for anything it was their laws. And they prided themselves in their laws. So here Paul is trying to recalibrate their thinking a new standard, which is actually the way God always had in mind.
On the surface, it’s easy to live your life by laws. What’s a lot harder to do is to see the way that God sees, underneath the surface, to the un-measurables, the un-quantifiables. To judge things by the Spirit.
We have so much information in our “information age.” We have so many quantifiables, but we have little understanding. And so we latch on to the information we have as a false sense of security. And when Paul is talking to the religious Jews of the day, they did the same thing we do, except they did it with the letter of their law. We do it with other types of “law.”
Remember Adam and Eve in the garden after they sinned and realized they were naked? What did they grab to cover themselves with? They grabbed fig leaves. Fig leaves gave them a false sense of security, right? Jews in Paul’s day latched on to scrolls of the law to make them feel good about themselves, to cover over their nakedness. Well we do something similar, except we grab pages in a book, or articles we read online, and we act all smart, but what it does is it really covers over the fact that we don’t understand, that we aren’t connecting to God. We worship the letter and the pages rather than the writer of the letter, who is God.
It’s easier to follow a manual than to interpret a love letter. But it’s not nearly as fun. And it’s not nearly as life changing.
God never wrote the law as a substitute for himself. He never intended for the manual to replace the love letter.
When someone gives you a new kitchen appliance, do you go to the user manual for cooking inspiration? No, you glance over the manual, but you never expect the manual to make you a good cook. You know you need the manual to let you know if the appliance is operating correctly, but it would be a mistake to over-rely on it.
So, when we commonly think about righteousness, we think too small. We think we are “righteous” if we know how to operate something by the manual, but righteousness is so much more.
I tried the manual route for a period in my life. I struggled with other areas of perfectionism in my life where I would make sure I pushed myself and achieved at a high level in every area of my life while also making sure other people around me were happy about me too. It was exhausting and it was slowly killing me! But in my own eyes I was righteous, because I was not measuring righteousness by my connection with God. I was using it to support my fig leaves, my self-imposed “standards.”
I had bought into the lie that I could quantify myself into a successful life. I had no idea that success in life was about connection not quantification. That righteousness was more about right relationship than anything else. I was living according to the manual.
Let me tell you this: if you value anything over right relationship, you are on the wrong track.
Now David was more of a toss the manual kind of person with God. And it really bugged the heck out of some people. But David tapped into something that not many of his day did. Here’s one example in Psalm 18.
Psalm 18:20-24 “The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord; I am not guilty of turning from my God. All his laws are before me; I have not turned away from his decrees. I have been blameless before him and have kept myself from sin. The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.”
Audacious words from the mouth of David! I would venture to say that if any one of us would have prayed this prayer out loud in church, eyebrows would have been raised to say the least. There would have been no promoting this David guy to head usher in that church. This prayer came after David had been running from Saul for years. God had just given him a great victory. And this was part of his response. How can David say this when he knows good and well he sins just like everyone else?
Well, I don’t think David was deluded (or dehydrated) when he wrote this. I believe that David was a man with a revelation. He was utterly convinced that God had nothing left on his ledger but praise and high marks for David. He was so confident that God did not count his sins against him that he was completely detached from the guilt that sin causes. He was able to be free to see himself as the righteousness of God in Christ long that phrase was written into the Bible (2 Cor 5:21).
The human way to look at righteousness as simply avoiding demerits. But if we look at righteousness as in “right relationship” it takes it to a new level.
Think of it in terms of God saying, “I’m all right with you. And you’re all right with me.” If you know him, Jesus is more than “just” all right with you, he is totally and completely right with you. And he wants you to get a revelation of that today. Do you have to be completely mature to be right with him? No. God knows where you are and knows you still have growing to do, but you can be right with him at any stage of your walk with him.
Have you ever had a rift in a relationship and then you were able to clear up miscommunication and apologize and then it instantly repaired a relationship so you could become “right” with someone again, and maybe even have a better relationship than before?
Now think about the flip side: Have you ever known someone who won an argument and was technically in the “right” but it did not make the relationship right? When someone does that to you, do you feel as though the relationship is “fixed” or “right?” Not at all! In fact, someone else’s “being right” could make it worse for the relationship. What is really healing is coming to the truth together and then making the relationship right. It’s the right relationship that is the superior goal.
Sometimes we say as Christians, that we’re “covered by the blood.” And it’s not wrong to say that. But sometimes I think we get the idea that if we’re covered by the blood, that this implies that God’s too holy to look at us or touch us directly and maybe he doesn’t much like to look at us, but somehow if he can avert his eyes from us sinful human beings and only see the blood of his son who he really likes, that somehow he tolerates us because of that reason alone.
That’s not it guys. Thankfully, that’s not it. It’s more like this. When a person is off kilter, when they miss the mark, their angle is off. They are no longer directed toward God, they are pointed another direction. (That is called “unrighteousness” or being in a state of sin.)
Jesus by his sacrifice, in essence did this, he created a right angle. Here’s God on this line, and here’s you on this other line. Jesus was so right with Father God, and so aligned with the Holy Spirit, that when you said yes to him by faith, you got into this magnetic field, you aligned yourself with truth (even if you didn’t understand it) and you too course corrected, you are now at a right angle with him. You are now “all right.”
Some of you have made that faith decision to be made right with God, but are still trying so hard to be all right. You don’t feel all right, you feel all wrong. I know because I did it too for many years. You made your first decision by faith, it also takes faith to be aware of the reality of your right standing with him. The Bible (1 John 3:20) says that our own consciences can lie to us and tell us that we are not all right when we really are. Take what Jesus says about you. And if you’re not right, you can be right by faith today.
That’s why we need something called a “breastplate of righteousness.” Putting it on reminds you that you have been made right by faith in Jesus. It’s that blessed assurance that Jesus’ blood truly did take care of it all. It protects your heart. It protects your connection with him.
We have to come to a deeper understanding that righteousness is not about the list, Righteousness is all about alignment. So, that’s why David could celebrate his righteousness, his right standing before God. Because God gave him a revelation of how he saw David. So that even when David technically broke one of the long list of rules that were there for the tabernacle and he broke the law and ate the consecrated bread. Oops. Well the reason he didn’t get toasted right there on the spot was because he was in right alignment relationally with God.
Consider the woman with the issue of blood that Jesus encountered in the gospels. She was unclean by the standards of the law. But when she touched Jesus, her “un-rightness” was corrected instantaneously in the presence of Jesus. Because his right-ness is enough to turn us right when we agree with it and come into alignment with it. In other words, he is so legit that he makes you legit when you take that step toward him. Nothing unclean can stay on you when you reach out for him.
Later on in Romans it goes on to talk about Abraham and I don’t want to steal Mark Drake’s thunder next week, but you’ll see that Abraham never started his relationship with God under the law. He started it by faith. So it just proves that God never ever intended to base everything off the law. He never intended for people to try to tally their good deeds and try to keep demerits off their record. In his mind, connection was always the goal.
No matter how many times we’ve heard this message of relationship over rules preached, I don’t think we have yet outgrown the need to ask ourselves questions like this: How have we have sunk to the level of rule ticking rather than relationship building? It happens all to easily in our Christian walk.
You know it when it happens in your marriage. When you start counting all the things you’ve done for your spouse and why he or she should be happy, uh oh. If you have to keep track, then you must be off track.
Here’s a bunch of questions to give you a litmus test of where you are today.
– Is your focus on your technical actions or your right relationship?
– Do you find yourself quantifying or connecting?
– Do you find yourself watching the clock or are you watching for impact?
– Are you focused on comparison or the course God’s given you to run?
– Are you checking off boxes or checking your alignment?
You see how questions like this do not get you away from doing what is right, but they call you up to a higher motivation? In other words, it doesn’t do away with the manual, but it breathes life in places where the manual could not.
The greatest tragedy today would be if you walked away thinking. “This is too good, and too simple. This cannot be true. Or this cannot be true for me.”
In the movie/musical Les Miserables. The villainous character Javert is met face to face with the main character of the story Jean Valjean. And they come face to face in a battle, and Valjean has the chance to kill his nemesis Javert, but he doesn’t do it. There is something in him that remembers how much he was forgiven, so he lets Javert go. He hopes that Javert will let this act of love and forgiveness change him. But Javert had spent a lifetime of living by the manual, so much so that he couldn’t believe that there was a greater reality. He believed that forgiveness really was too good to be true. He believed that he could never be made all right because of the things he had done. And so he ends his own life because he just couldn’t handle the guilt that he was under. He just couldn’t accept the radical idea that righteousness could be gained apart from the manual.
The thinking that this is too good to be true is deadly thinking. At worst it will keep us from eternal life in Jesus. At best it will keep us from living the abundant life we were meant to live as fully empowered believers.
For us as believers, righteousness is simply aligning yourself with what is right. You were made to live at a right angle. You were made to live with your affection on Him. You were made to operate by faith like Abraham and like David. To not pursue your book of rules, to not try to hide behind your fig leaves. But to come to him as you are.
I want you to close your eyes and focus on our Father, God. And I want you to ask him one simple question.
Am I all right with you?
And I just want you to stop and listen for his answer. If the answer was yes. I want you to repeat it in your mind, “I’m all right. I am the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus.” Let your anxiety go and hear him say over you, you’re all right.
And if you sense that no, you are not right. Ask him this: How can I be in right relationship with you right now? What truth do I need to align myself with right now?
Jesus, I confess that you have already paid for sin and that all I have to do is to align myself with you. This day I choose to align myself with you. I ask you to make me right. I confess that I have sinned and I ask you to now cleanse my conscience of any guilt and residual shame. And I now put on the helmet of salvation and the breastplate of righteousness. Thank you, Jesus, for making me truly righteous. I will choose to live my life from now on, aligned in relationship with you. Amen.