Faith in the God of All
Grace & Fairview United Methodist Churches
June 22, 2014
Romans 1: 1-7, 14-17 & 3: 22b-30 (CEB)
From Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for God’s good news. 2-3God promised this good news about his Son ahead of time through his prophets in the holy scriptures. His Son was descended from David. 4He was publicly identified as God’s Son with power through his resurrection from the dead, which was based on the Spirit of holiness. This Son is Jesus Christ our Lord.5Through him we have received God’s grace and our appointment to be apostles. This was to bring all Gentiles to faithful obedience for his name’s sake. 6You who are called by Jesus Christ are also included among these Gentiles.
7To those in Rome who are dearly loved by God and called to be God’s people. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
14I have a responsibility both to Greeks and to those who don’t speak Greek, both to the wise and to the foolish.
15That’s why I’m ready to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome. 16I’m not ashamed of the gospel: it is God’s own power for salvation to all who have faith in God, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17God’s righteousness is being revealed in the gospel, from faithfulness for faith,as it is written, The righteous person will live by faith.
There’s no distinction. 23All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, 24but all are treated as righteous freely by his grace because of a ransom that was paid by Christ Jesus. 25Through his faithfulness, God displayed Jesus as the place of sacrifice where mercy is found by means of his blood. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness in passing over sins that happened before, 26during the time of God’s patient tolerance. He also did this to demonstrate that he is righteous in the present time, and to treat the one who has faith in Jesus as righteous.
27What happens to our bragging? It’s thrown out. With which law? With what we have accomplished under the Law? 28No, not at all, but through the law of faith. We consider that a person is treated as righteous by faith, apart from what is accomplished under the Law. 29Or is God the God of Jews only? Isn’t God the God of Gentiles also? Yes, God is also the God of Gentiles. 30Since God is one, then the one who makes the circumcised righteous by faith will also make the one who isn’t circumcised righteous through faith.\
Perhaps many of you have seen the billboards around advertising the Marines. One ad for the U.S. Marines pictures a sword, and beneath it the words: “Earned, never given.” If you want to become a Marine, you must be prepared to earn that name through sacrifice, hardship, and rigorous training. If you get it, you deserve it.
But if you want to become a Christian, you must have the exact opposite attitude. Because, you see, the message of the gospel is: “Given, never earned.” You cannot save your own soul. Nor will God save anyone who tries to earn her salvation. Instead, God saves those who humbly receive salvation as a gift through faith in Jesus Christ. If we get it, it’s certainly not because any of us deserve it.
This is the central message of Paul’s letter to the Romans, God’s free gift of salvation offered to all people without price. It is this core, gospel message, which will frame our discussion for the next eight weeks as we delve into a sermon series on Paul’s letter to the Romans. This letter is often called “Paul’s Masterpiece.” What’s interesting to note, though, is that unlike his letters to other Christian communities, at the point at which Paul wrote this letter, he had never visited the Christians in Rome. But, like so many of the other Christian communities of that time, the Christians in Rome were having some troubles, and Paul had an important message to share in light of what was going on there. You see, the Roman Christians were divided between Jews and Gentiles. Tensions rose so high that the Jewish Christians were actually expelled from the city for a time under Emperor Nero because there were so many uprisings. As a result, the Gentile Christians felt superior (because they were not exiled), and the Jewish Christians believed that Gentiles couldn’t actually be Christian unless they were circumcised and followed the Law of Moses. Sound familiar? This was a major problem in most early Christian communities…what exactly was required of a person to be called “Christian.”
It is into this context that Paul addresses his letter to the Romans. Because believers come from varied backgrounds and cultures, at times we are bound to disagree with each other, but that doesn’t mean we have to be divided. So Paul writes this letter to show that there is a power which can overcome all human weaknesses and divisions. That’s why, after his greeting, Paul declares, “…I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith…” Then, as you heard in the subsequent passages, he goes on to explain that the gospel of Christ is a free gift of grace generously offered to any and all who will receive it in faith. Does that sound like a message that is important for a community that is divided? I certainly think so!
Two-thousand years ago, the Christians were fighting about whether or not is was necessary to follow the law of Moses in order to be a Christian. Today, division among Christians continues, but the issues are a little different, aren’t they? Still, I think we are struggling with some of the same problems as the Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome. Because, you see, when Christians define themselves over and against those in the body who hold different beliefs, division occurs. And it goes without saying that when we are fighting that weakens the witness and work of the church. But when we can focus on what we agree on, it’s a lot easier to work together as the Body of Christ. That’s the approach Paul takes here. Sure, some may believe circumcision is necessary, and some may think that it is not, but whether it is or is not is irrelevant by Paul’s reasoning. All that is necessary is faith in Jesus Christ our Lord. And faith is all that is necessary precisely because of what Christ accomplished through his death and resurrection!
I heard a great story a few months ago. It goes like this. An elderly gentleman went out one morning to get some groceries at a nearby store. His wife had recently passed away, and he was still adjusting to life as a widower. It took him some time in the store as he figured out exactly what he needed. He was rather distracted, even as he left the store to head home. Well, you know the sort of things that can happen when we are distracted. And sure enough, as he pulled out of the parking lot and back onto the main road, he placed himself right in the path of an oncoming car. There was no way the other driver could avoid hitting him. The old man got out of his car and he approached the other driver scared and apologetic. His nerves were rattled, he knew this accident was his fault, but he also knew funds were tight, especially with the recent funeral expenses for his wife, and there was no way he would be able to afford the costs that would surely come. He apologized again and again to the other driver, explaining that he knew he was in the wrong, but he didn’t know how he could pay for the man’s car.
Eventually, the police came, they filed the obligatory report, the two drivers exchanged insurance information, and then the cops told them their court date. Again, the older gentlemen got nervous, he knew the court would order him to pay the costs, but he just didn’t know how he could afford it. As the court date rapidly approached, the elderly man fretted about the impending ruling, and he scrounged every penny he could find. When the court date finally arrived, the old gentlemen approached the judge’s bench along with the other driver and the responding policeman. Between the three of them, they relayed the sequence of events that resulted in the accident. The old man began to cry when the judge spoke to him, “How do you plead?”
“Guilty,” the man said. “But your honor, I’m old and my wife just died, and I don’t know how I can pay for this!”
The judge looked at him with stern eyes and proceeded to order him to pay for the repairs of the other driver’s car, along with a substantial fine for reckless driving. The old man’s shoulders started to shake as this burden settled in. Then the judge banged the gavel to close the case. He dismissed the driver and the cop, but he said to the elderly man, “Stay here for a minute.” Then, the judge stood up, pushed his rob aside, pulled his wallet out of his pocket, extracted a wad of cash, laid it on the bench and said, “Sir, your debt has been paid. You are free to go.”
This is what Christ accomplished for us on the cross. Even though we were guilty and undeserving, Christ paid the price for our sins. There is nothing we can ever do to earn that gift. And that, my friends, is a great equalizer. For the Christians in Rome, in meant that the Jews weren’t better than the Gentiles because they followed the law; nor the Gentiles better than the Jews because they weren’t kicked out of the city. For Christians today, it means that: no person is better because they are not distracted. No person is better because they are younger or because they are a certain gender or race. No person is better because they haven’t sinned “as much” as some other person. No person is better because he has been a life-long Christian. No person is better because she knows all the “most-important” Bible passages by memory, and can sing all the hymns “on key.” No. No one can boast. There is not one single human being who is righteous apart from Christ himself. The only thing that makes us better people is faith in God in Christ Jesus, and the only judge of our faith is God himself, the God of us all!
Now, one word of caution here. Paul tells us that we cannot boast because we are justified only by faith, completely apart from any works that we might do. But this should also be a warning to us not to take this gift for granted. God has given us this amazing free gift of grace in Jesus Christ, and so we might be tempted to think to ourselves, “Well, if God has made this possible, then all I have to do is say, ‘I believe.’ And then just go on living as I always have.” But friends, you know that is not true. We cannot truly have faith in Christ without it changing our lives. Have you ever wronged someone and then asked for their forgiveness? It’s a really hard thing to do, isn’t it? It makes you never want to act in that way again, right? And it should be no different when we seek God’s grace in the face of our wrongdoings. Sure, it’s a free gift, but it’s a costly gift, too. We can never forget that!
So I say all of that, to say this. You are who you are because God made you that way. You are forgiven because God, in God’s infinite righteousness, has freely offered grace to you through Jesus Christ. That gift is offered to everyone equally; Jew and Gentile, sinner and saint, Northerner and Southerner, Vol and Gator, Methodist and Baptist, and on and on and on. There is nothing in this world, nothing, by which we are made greater than any other person. Do you hear me?
It is God who moves beyond all the distinctions that we humans create to make plain that God is God of ALL. Our response, our ONLY response…to have faith in God through Jesus Christ. With this, the door to salvation is graciously opened. Praise be to God and God alone!