What We Hate to Hear: Sin (Part 3)
If we follow Paul’s explanation of sin, and see its deadly effects on our life, we see the fatal reality that awaits us. We have been separated from can only await his judgment. Yet, at our very best, we may want to repair the breach. We may see our sin and say, ‘But does it have to be that way?’ and try hard to show God our sorrow for sin and desire to earn his forgiveness. The problem is that sin is so pervasive we will never be able to earn God’s forgiveness.
In Romans 3:19-20, Paul says, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
Now, what is he talking about here? How does the Jews’ possession of the law lead to condemnation for them as well as the world? It goes back to the argument Paul has been making over the last three chapters of Romans. In chapter 1, he lays out the case that everyone—including Gentiles who have never heard of God are still condemned in sin. He says, “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Rom 1:19-21).
But the Jews, who may think they are better off and are actually able to earn forgiveness because they have the Law of God, are also mistaken, because Paul is clear by quoting from the Old Testament itself, which says no one is righteous, that even those under the Law are not righteous. Why? Because the Law can’t make you righteous. If you were to be able to keep it fully, then yes, you’d have earned righteousness. But the problem is that you have a sinful heart. So, all the law winds up doing is exposing that sin more and more, proving on a daily basis that you are not fundamentally good, but evil. Thus, if they who have the Law are not able to earn righteousness, then no one will be able to earn it. Thus, every mouth—Jews and Gentile—will be stopped.
Ultimately, Paul is again taking his readers to the reality of their sin, and not letting go until they come to grips with it. Likewise, as we read it today, Paul is doing the same. And it’s important that we listen to him, because our natural inclination is to try to fix our problems. Sometimes the fix is to blame someone else for them—we claim to be a victim of our lack of self-esteem, or the way in which we were brought up, or the lack of help we’ve had from society and government. But even, then we can’t fix the problem by ignoring it or passing it off as someone else’s problem. Our sin is our problem, and Paul is clear that no matter how hard we try to work at it, we can never solve the problem of our sin. In fact, just the opposite, Paul says that all our sin earns us is death (Rom 6:23).
But the good news is that we don’t have to, because God has worked to solve this problem for us. Paul goes on in chapter 3 to say, “21But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
God sent his perfect Son, Christ, to do what we could not do: earn righteousness before God. Christ didn’t earn this righteousness for himself, but for his people—for those who would trust in him to their savior, and not trust themselves. More than that, this perfect Savior not only provided his people with the righteousness they need to stand before God, he also took the judgment they deserve for their sins. Thus, in every way, Christ alone makes it possible for our problem of sin to be remedied. Christ alone makes it possible for us to be right with God.
So, for those who trust in Christ to be their savior, we can sing with the old hymn-writer—
Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood, From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure; Save from wrath and make me pure.
Not the labor of my hands Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know, Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and Thou alone.
Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to the cross I cling;
We can be brought low because of our sin, but we can also have hope in Christ. Sin is that all-pervasive diseases that stains the life and soul over every person, and for which we can concoct no cure. But God himself has provided the cure in Jesus. To this, our response is simple. Receive Jesus by faith. Trust him to be our Savior. Then rejoice in the double-cure of forgiveness and righteousness that God has given. And in love and thankfulness for Christ, we tell others of the cure for the sickness that still runs through their veins, consigning them further and further to hell with each passing breath. Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to the cross I cling.