A Message for Sinners Only: Romans 3.19-25

sinners_edwards.jpegThe passage before us is an indictment of the sin of Jew and Greek in the Roman church. The Greek who felt justified before God before they didn’t know about the One true God were judged guilty. The law was written on their hearts. They knew there was a God. They suppressed knowledge of the Almighty in order to conceal their sins. The Jews felt justified before God because they had the Law. But the Law they had condemned them for they sinned in spite of their knowledge. They corrupted the knowledge of God to cover their sins.
That pretty much leaves no one out. So, I have no other option but to say that this message is a message for sinners only. All others may now leave. I will give you that opportunity right now. You may leave. We will wait for just a second to re settle. Now. For the rest of us, let us give attention to what God wants to say to us this morning.

This is the very Word of God:

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. Romans 3.19 For by works of the law no human being* will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. 20
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— Romans 3.21 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 22 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 23 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 24 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s right-eousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 25

Let us seek God in prayer.

Father, without your light we cannot see light. Grant then that the light of Your Word will penetrate our darkness, confusion, hesitancy, backsliding, secret sins, pettiness and pride, to bring us out into the iridescent beauty of your presence. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.


bogus-remedies.jpgI am learning a lot from our new young pastors. For instance, in a leadership training day this week, something came up about Chuck Norris jokes. Apparently, Church Norris’ acting and stunts in Walker Texas Ranger, have become parody for late night comedian. Apparently they are considered retro, over the top, B grade and unrealistic. So, today I will refer to a more classic, serious show that has some qualities that will help to open up this message. I refer to that more philosophically deep and mind stretching comedy called The Beverly Hillbillies. In one particular episode Granny desires to market her special Mountain remedy to her new Beverly Hills neighbors and friends. As it turns out Granny’s remedy, apparently concocted in a home made still, gets into the hands of their next door neighbor Mrs. Dreysdale, the wife of their over protective and money hungry banker, Mr. Dreysdale. And, well let us say, the remedy creates a whole new set of problems.

The reason I refer to Granny’s remedy is that it reminds me of human relig-ion. All religion, concocted in the home made still of man’s fallen faculties acknowledges the cosmic challenges of life, but the remedy is worse than the disease! Do this holy day of obligation, prostrate yourself three times per day in the direction of this city, just think happy thoughts, or just deny the obvious presence of God and all will be better. When your doctor tells you that you have cancer, when your business fails or when you face death. you can end up looking as silly or as pathetic as Mrs. Drysdale on Granny’s potion. I say this not to demean other religions, but to say that God has graciously broken into this episode of life and given us something better. For the faith called The Way, faith in the Nazarene, departs from the stills of man to give us the elixir of heaven: a remedy that will provide not just care but cure, not just purpose but position as a son or daughter of Almighty God.

Now in Romans, God gives us this remedy, through the writing of Paul in Romans. We might call this the divine diagnosis to the human condition.

And there are parts of this divine diagnosis.

First: Romans teaches us that Sin is a power that kills

Sin is, basically, cosmic rebellion against the king issuing forth from a rebel nature. It is, as the Catechism puts it, “any want of or transgression of the law of God.” We know that breaking the Ten Commandments is sin. And Jesus showed that we break it with our hearts, our motives, our intents, as well as with our actions. And we have broken one we are guilty of all.

Now, specifically, there are two things about sin that we should know from Romans chapter three:

First, the power of sin is universal

Paul has indicted the Gentiles and the Jews. They are both guilty. Those who religion and those without. Those with some knowledge of God and those without. Those who have been raised in church and those who have not. The word all pointed not just to Jews and Greeks, but the whole human race. If there was any doubt about that Paul clears it up in verse 19:
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. Romans 3.19

Yesterday in the paper (Chattanooga Times Free-Press), Clint Cooper had an excellent article about pornography and how it is devastating our people. And perhaps you read as Clint interviewed folks like Harvest Ministries, a ministry we support that reaches out to those in sexual sin, that this afflicts people in the church and out.

And the Bible says what we find in reality. Those who are in sin and not just sinning, they are “under” sin—they are under the power of sin. The pathology of our condition is not just that we are sinners because we sin, but that we sin because we are sinners. Look at verse 9:

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, Romans 3.9

It is a Satanic vice grip on the soul that presses harder and harder the older we get. And religion and good works and good intentions and even honest homemade remedies simply cannot loosen the grip of this power.

Note this; that…

Second, the power of sin is total

We are not just sinners, but totally so. The fist point in the five points of Calvinism, actually answering five points made by Arminius against the Pro-testant faith, may sound too hard for our ears: “Total Depravity.” But that is exactly what this passage is teaching. If it were something that could be remedied by education or health care of social engineering then Paul would not have used such language as he did here. Look at it:

“None is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (V. 10).

The Bible, I guess you could say, is not very “seeker friendly.” God says that unless He does the seeking there will be no one found.

I read this week about something that happened a few years back to Chuck Colson, President of Prison Fellowship. Colson was invited to Harvard to speak on the topic, “Why Good People Do Bad Things.” But Colson refused and wanted them to change the title. He wanted them to know that the basic condition of humanity is not pristine and untainted, but bad.

Writing about the incident, Dr. Bill Boukright of Memphis wrote:

“Chuck held them to the biblical truth that people in their natural condition are not good.”

Modern secular humanists would like to believe that all people would become beautiful creatures if they had education, good diet, and a loving home. The Bible says that the problem goes deeper than that. Even a well-fed, educated, loved pagan is still a pagan, with a bent toward evil and a bias toward selfishness.”

That is the pathological condition of men without God.

I don’t know if this is popular with younger folks but my family and I really enjoy Dick Van Dyke in his show “Diagnosis Murder.” Well, the title is sug-gestive to me this morning. diagnosismurder.jpegFor our condition could be called “Diagnosis: Death!” For Jesus said that the sin is so severe that unless there is a radical rebirth your condition will kill you:

I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am [the one I claim to be], you will indeed die in your sins.” John 8.24

Jesus’ statement reminds me of the grave danger that our astronaughts face. There is said to be a 3 inch wound in a difficult-to-reach area on the Endeavor’s belly. Now we don’t know about this wound to the vehicle. But we do know that unless serious gashes are remedied, like the Columbia accident, the ship could experience severe penetration by hot gases and cause total failure.

This is exactly what sin does. Sin is a gash in the human soul. Upon passing through trials and challenges in life, dangerous things can cause the gash to let in even wose things into the human soul. Unless that gash is fixed, there will be personal catastrophe upon entering eternity.

Today is the day for a total repair of this universal, total sin. And there is only one patch that will work.

This fix is the other happy part of the “Divine Diagnoses of this book, for…

Second: Romans teaches us that Jesus is the power that cures

A lot of times we Presbyterians talk about position but not about power. It is true that our position with God is determined by the life and death of Jesus Christ. I want to talk about position and power.

Positionally, it is important that remember that Paul says that the righteousness of God, the thing that makes for a right relationship with Your Creator and which creates a more honest relationship with others, has been revealed apart from the law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it (v. 21). You see the Old Testament really is the New Testament concealed and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. There is absolute unity and continuity between the two. The error of the early church heretic Marcion was to create two distinct ways of saving, two ways of God’s relations to men, and in fact two Gods: the Old Testament God and the New Testament God. For that Marcion was condemned. But how often the Church and those who would follow Christ fall into this old heresy. There is one God. One way that He deals with mankind, Jew and Greek, and that is through a righteousness apart from our works which He reveals, first through the Law and Prophets by way of promise, and finally through His Son, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.
But we need to also remember that in Jesus there is power available to each and every one of you today to face the trials but yes to face the sin nature in your body and to dismantle the very sin in your life. I believe that pornography, for instance, can be destroyed through the power of Jesus. I believe that temper, filthy language, wicked thoughts, and behavior that is masking a deep hurt and pain in life can be destroyed by Jesus Christ. Satan knows the plan of salvation better than many of us do. I believe he believes the doctrines of grace more than some of us do. And I know he cannot stand against the power of our Jesus.
There are two things we need to receive and believe today about the power of Jesus.

One, Jesus’ power is revealed in His blood

He talked about one power: the power of sin. He now talks about another power: the power of Jesus. And that power comes, perhaps mysteriously to you, in His blood.
As a child I recall standing on the pine pew so I could see over the adults, and see Brother Duvall, in his denim overalls leading in “There is power, power, wonder working power in the blood of the lamb, there is power, power, wonder working power in the precious blood of the lamb.” I remem-ber that my bus drive, Osborn Tiller, was the most foul mouthed man I ever knew. And he was never happy. But I remember that someone brought him onetime to that old tabernacle and I recall that God found Osborn Tiller. And he was cleansed. He was washed in the blood of the lamb.

Now there is something I want you to see in this text that is the very power of the blood. It is that his blood is a “propitiations.” For we read that are justified through “propitiation by his blood to be received by faith.” The word propitiation speaks of a covering for sin, for yours and mine. It speaks of the righteous wrath of God against sin. And it speaks of how Jesus’ blood, the symbol of life, became the necessary sacrifice for sin.

There is an amazing story I came across this week.

“Dr. Samuel Weinstein is the chief of pediatric cardio-thoracic surgery for the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York. In May of 2006, he traveled to El Sal-vador with Heart Care International in order to provide life-saving operations for less-fortunate children. However, it would take more than his expertise and advanced equipment to save the life of 8-year-old Francisco Calderon Anthony Fernandez.
Dr. Weinstein and his team began operating on Francisco’s heart shortly before noon. Twelve hours later, the procedure took a deadly turn. “The surgery had been going well, everything was working great, but he was bleeding a lot and they didn’t have a lot of the medicines we would use to stop the bleeding,” Weinstein said. “After a while, they said they couldn’t give him blood because they were running out and he had a rare type.” In fact, Francisco’s blood type was B-negative, which—according to the American Red Cross—is present in only 2 percent of the population.

As it was, the only other person in the room with a blood type of B-negative was Dr. Weinstein. Knowing what he had to do, he stepped down from the operating table. As his colleagues continued their precision work, Dr. Weinstein set aside his scalpel, took off his gloves, and began washing his hands and forearm. Then, in the corner of an unfamiliar operating room, the prestigious doctor from one of the most advanced hospitals in the world sat down to give away his own blood.

When he had given his pint, Dr. Weinstein drank some bottled water and ate a Pop-Tart. Then—20 minutes after stepping away from the table—he rejoined his colleagues. After watching his own blood begin circulating into the boy’s small veins, Dr. Weinstein completed the operation that saved Francisco’s heart—and his life.”

On the cross, Jesus completed the operation that would save your life and mind. Not a surgeon, but the King of the Universe, gave his blood for you. Like Dr. Weinstein, Jesus did so to save you. And there is but one thing to do when the God of the universe offers you His blood. For if, one, sin’s power is to kill and Jesus’ power is to cure, we need to see, that His power is revealed in His blood and then…

Two, Jesus’ power is received by faith

His power is not received by magic, or by religious ritual. His power may be accessed through this Word preached, through the Word preached in the Sacraments, through Bible study or evangelism or fellowship with others, but it finally must be received personally in your life by faith in this Jesus.

Have you received Him by faith? Are you trusting Jesus and His power? Have you brought your sin nature to Him? Christian, have you brought the besetting sin to Him? Believer, are you growing in faith in Jesus? That is the way Jesus not only releases us—redeems us—from the death grip of Satan, but also cures the wounds from it.

That is God’s diagnoses: sin the power that kills and Jesus is the power that cures.


I have recently been reading the sermons of Frederick Buechner. In one of his messages he talks about an embarrassing scene. It is a man, a sort of street person, who is standing in the freezing cold of south side Chicago, on the corner of a street, near an inner city mission, with a sign that says, “Jesus Saves!” Buechner confessed that he winced as we all might do. For the scene is a bit embarrassing for those of us in the church. I mean, we believe it. But someone like that advertising the faith is not what we would normally want for the world to see. And if we are honest, we would rather have the sign say, “Christ saves.” “Jesus saves” sounds a bit, well, too familiar, let’s say. “Christ” would have some more theological significance. “But,” we think to ourselves, “such a sight of a tramp trying to teach Christianity with a poster board and a permanent marker is not only cheap but makes Christians look like a bunch of fools.”

Buechner went on to say that the picture was in fact the perfect picture of what Scripture says our condition is. We are as sinful or more so than the life of that street person—that rag man holding the sign. The scene points to our sin and our need of a Savior. And the Savior we get is “Christ” but He is “Christ Jesus.” He is a personal Savior. In fact, the picture of the Gospel is that just as we might wince at the scene in Chicago, we might wince at the truth of the Bible. We are all sinners. Our religion is all bankrupt.

When I read Buechner’s words I thought about something else. You see, I believe that the picture of the street person in the cold with a sign that says “Jesus Saves” is actually a portrait of God’s plan of salvation. It is Jesus holding the sign—the One you didn’t expect saving you the way that you would never figure. He exposes your cover, and makes you wince as you think about the strangeness of it all: a King born in a stable; a Savior with no place to rest His head; God on the cross; God dead in a tomb. And this God, this strange figure in history, blowing your cover by exposing, not His poverty, but yours. You are a sinner. And your religion, if it is respectable, is not Christianity. For our faith is better put simply: we are put right with God through the life and death of Jesus, a Carpenter’s adopted son from a small Middle Eastern occupied country in the first century—who just happened to be God in the flesh—who did not stay in the tomb but rose again to expel the sin He exposes.

He stands before you again today and His sign is no different: “Jesus Saves.”

Don’t just walk on by today. Stop and pick up a sign yourself.

About Michael A. Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D., MPA (University of Wales; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author.
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