This morning, I found a hidden treasure in the book of Romans.
Romans 3:20-24 "Therefore, no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now, a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."
As a little kid, I attended AWANA at our church. I still stand by the belief that AWANA is probably the best thing your young child could be involved in. But, that's beside the point right now. Anyway, AWANA places a strong emphasis on scripture memory, even for its littlest "members" (pre-school age children). Do 3 and 4 year olds know what "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" really means? Though they may be able to tell you that God is perfect and they are not, they don't really grasp the deep meaning and implication such scripture holds. (Hey, do any of us really ever attain full knowledge of scripture? we might as well be 3 year olds compared to what God knows.) At the same time, these kids are hiding God's word in their hearts from a very young age - and the Psalmist says that is the key for living a pure life. "How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word... I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you." (Psalm 119:9, 11)
At some point in AWANA, I learned Romans 3:23 "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Today, however, the verses leading up to Romans 3:23 jumped out at me, making all the more sense of that verse I had memorized as a child.
Breaking it down - vs. 20 - "no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law." In other words, the best person you know won't even come close to getting into heaven simply through his or her "good" works. Andy Stanley in How Good is Good Enough? presents the following logic to the person who says "well, sure, I believe in God, but I just think you need to be a good person to get to heaven." Stanley suggests that "good enough" doesn't make sense because if "good" is never defined objectively and presented to all mankind, then that system is inherently unfair. After all, it leaves you wondering - well I think I'm good enough, but what if... And, what if "good" in one person's culture means running your planes into buildings on enemy soil. "Well of course, I would never do that..." but that person genuinely thought it was good. Stanley's argument is more eloquent, so you should probably just get the book at Borders (since so many are closing and everything is on sale) and read it yourself :)
vs. 20(b) "rather, through the law, we become conscious of sin" - with God's standard of perfect demonstrated in the law given through the Old Testament, it becomes clear that sin is unavoidable.
vs. 21 "BUT NOW a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known." I love Paul's dramatic writing here (Paul is the author of Romans). The pastor at the church I grew up at used to joke that "there are a lot of big buts in the bible..." and this is huge. Through chapter 3, Paul was explaining to the Jews, look, I know you thought you had it made because you are God's chosen people and whatnot, but that's not gonna cut it. The law was only created to show you how much you don't deserve God on your own, regardless of how fabulously religious and Jewish you are, so "no one will be declared righteous in his [God's] sight by observing the law." This was a colossal disappointment to the recipients of this letter, which makes the "BUT NOW" so great. If you were a Jewish member of the church in Rome and someone was reading this letter to hundreds of people and you heard "But Now, a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known," you would be thinking that this guy reading the letter could not spit the next part out fast enough... what is it!?!?!?
vs. 22-23 "This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. there is no difference for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." Did you catch it? The little verse I learned in AWANA sandwiched between all that great news... Paul goes on to explain, in a rather systematic way, what all that entails and how it works. But, for today, we can end there. We can end with "There is a righteousness from God that comes through faith in Jesus Christ to anyone who believes." Anyone. Me, you, that murderer in prison, that prostitute, that self righteous fundamentalist, .... There go I but for the grace of God.
1 John 1:9 says "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."
So, do you...? Believe?