Over a hundred years ago The Times newspaper of London posed a question to its readers, “What is wrong with the world today?” and promised to publish the best answers that it received. In response to the invitation, English writer and philosopher G K Chesterton wrote one of the shortest letters to the Editor ever printed. He wrote,
Yours, G. K. Chesterton.
What is wrong with the world today? I am. I am what is wrong with the world today. And you are. We all are. In our small, insignificant and well-meaning ways we contribute to the core problems facing the planet today. Who invaded Ukraine? Human beings did. Who pollutes the atmosphere and our water ways? Human beings do. And we are human. The same fears, the same desires that fuel these destructive behaviour lurk within us all. Some of us just control them or hide them better than others. We are part of the problem.
The good news is that because we are part of the problem we can be part of the solution. That is why our message today offers hope to all. Hope to me. Hope to you. Hope to all of us. As the apostle Paul wrote in Romans chapter 3 verses 23 and 24.
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.
In our last two messages on Paul’s letter to the Romans we’ve looked at the problem in the world. And if you’ve been away the last few Sundays I have good news. There are three verses in today’s reading that provide a good summary of what I’ve been trying to say. So you haven’t missed a thing.
Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.
There is no one righteous, not even one.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
In Romans chapter 1 we looked at the kind of sins that Gentiles commit. They worship created things rather than the creator. They exchange natural sexual relations for unnatural ones and burn in passion for each other. They sink into all kinds of perversions and depravity. Paul concludes in chapter 1 verse 31,
They are senseless, faithless, heartless, and ruthless.
But in chapter 2 Paul goes on to consider the sins that religious people commit. In this context, Paul names his own people the Jews, but the things mentioned here are not restricted to them. They pass judgment. They blame others. They point out the mistakes that other people make. And yet they do the same sort of things. It’s hypocrisy. Having 20/20 vision when it comes to the faults that other people have, but turning a blind eye to their own faults.
These are the mistakes that good people make. These are the sins that religious people commit. They want to be good and they want to look good so they hide or deny what is bad in themselves.
The end result is that whether we are Jews or non-Jews, whether we are good or bad, whether we are religious or not, we are all human. What is wrong with the world isn’t out there. It can’t be quarantined from the rest of the community. It can’t be put in prison and left to rot there. What is wrong with the world is in here. In the human heart. In my heart, because I too am human. Every person is under the condemnation of sin.
There is no one righteous, not even one.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Now at first glance this might seem like bad news. But it isn’t. It only makes us feel bad because it hurts our pride. We want to hear that we aren’t part of the problem. We want to hear that we can solve everything by excluding the riff raff in the community or by stopping the boat people or by getting rid of all the rich people and taking their money. We want to know that the problem with the world can be easily solved by recycling our plastic containers and by being nice to people.
It hurts our pride that we are part of the problem and that hurt confirms the diagnosis. Like a physio gently pressing to find what part of our body has been injured, our hurt pride shows that our pride is part of the problem.
It sounds like bad news, but it isn’t. It is the truth. And if it is true then it is good news. It will point us in the right direction to discover how we can solve the problem.
All have sinned. We fall short of the glory of God.
We do not fulfil the purpose for which God made us which is to know him and to love him and to serve him, both now and forever more.
And are justified,
meaning made just, made right with God and before God. It is not something we do. We cannot justify our choices or our actions. No good that we do can undo the wrong that we have done. Our thoughtless words, our careless actions, are like leaves thrown to the wind that we cannot ever rake up or put back where they came from. We do not justify ourselves by our well-intended motives or by our mitigating circumstances or by our heartfelt apologies or by our remorseful and extravagant sacrifices. We are justified. All are justified. The sinners. Those who have fallen short. It is not a prize they have won. It is not an award they have achieved. It is something that has been done for them, like being rescued, plucked from certain death to safety.
This notion of being justified fits nicely with the theme of the whole passage. Paul has been concerned about showing how a righteousness from God is revealed in the gospel. He has warned about judging others and so bringing condemnation upon ourselves when we do the same things. He has declared that God’s judgment is based on the truth and not just on appearance or on favouritism. He has promised that our consciences will accuse us or perhaps defend us on the day when God’s judges our secrets. He has concluded that no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the law, for even if they have the law they cannot keep it.
The dilemma we face is that there is no hope in ourselves to escape God’s penetrating judgment. How can we stand before God when our secrets are exposed and live? Not by our own righteousness. But by the righteousness that comes from God, that is ours through faith. By our own efforts we are not right and not in the right before God. But we are made right, we are justified and declared innocent before God.
In this way, to be justified is just a different way of saying that we are forgiven. That we have done wrong, but that our wrong is not held against us. Instead, we are saved from the consequences of our sin. To be justified is to be treated “just as if I’d never sinned”. The only difference is that forgiveness focusses on the bad things we have been saved from, from being found guilty, from being excluded from God’s presence of blessing, from experiencing eternal death rather than God’s eternal life. Whereas to be justified focusses on the good things we have been saved for. Being declared innocent. Being included into God’s blessing. Standing right before our creator and judge.
This happens freely, by God’s grace. It is an act of mercy, rescuing us from the death that we deserve. It is an act of grace, granting to us the life that we do not deserve, but that God chooses to give us to fulfil his purpose in us. Not because of anything good we have done. Not even because of our faith, as if it is the only one good thing we have to do to undo all the wrong that we have done. But because of the good that Jesus has done. Through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
We are redeemed. Purchased out of slavery to sin and hell and death and judgment and set free for life and love and fellowship with God and with others. Bought and paid for by the price of the blood shed by Jesus on his cross.
Jesus died both as our representative and as our substitute. He died for us and instead of us. The sentence of death that should have been ours, the hell of suffering that we had chosen became his. The wrath of God was poured out on him and not on us. It was an act of love. It was a willing choice of service. So that it comes to us free of charge. A gift of grace that redeems us and all the wrong that we have done or will ever do. Enough not only for your life in your time, but for every life in every time.
All have sinned and are justified freely.
God has done this and he has done it this way to save us without compromising the demands of his justice.
God presented him, Jesus, as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
Indeed, as Paul says it not only does not compromise God’s justice, but it demonstrates his justice. In the death of Jesus, God’s own precious Son, we see God, our creator, take responsibility for his world. He is not guilty of our sin. He can’t sin, because he cannot act in a way contrary to his character. And he can’t make us sin. He is not guilty, but it is his world. It is our mess, but he has made it his mess to clean.
In the death of Jesus we see the sinfulness of sin. The injustice, the cruelty, the indifference that lies in the human heart. In the death of Jesus we see the penalty for sin. Sin creates chaos, disorder. It ruins, harms, destroys. It kills. And by God’s justice it is put to death. It was what we deserve for rejecting God’s life. And in the death of Jesus we see our forgiveness, the price paid for our redemption, the curse which passes over us and onto him.
And in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead we see the victory of God over every power that opposes him and that claims us. Sin and death and hell and condemnation. In order to establish his kingdom of peace and justice, bringing us love and faith and hope.
By faith we receive this gift. By faith Jesus receives our death and we receive his life. By faith we are justified, saved from our sin for God. God did this and he did it this way
so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
Not just in condemning us. But just in forgiving us.
This is our hope. And it is for all of us. All who have sinned. All who fall short may be justified. All who need it are welcome to it. The gift is offered freely. It only needs to be received. It is not what we deserve but it is what we were made for. God has done it for us and for sake of his own holy name.
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.
It is hope for all. It is hope for me. It is hope for you. Receive that hope by faith.