Sermon by Pastor Tom Brown · Jul 19, 2020 · My Bible Year Series

On October 7th, 1969 every one of the 17 police stations in Montreal, Canada stood empty as thousands of officers gathered at the Paul Sauvé Arena for what they called “a day of study”. The police had called a strike to protest working conditions in a city plagued with violence, instigated by the Quebec Liberation Front – a group of paramilitary Marxist separatists.

Stephen Pinker, in his book, The Blank Slate, describes what happened that day in his city.

“As a young teenager in proudly peaceable Canada during the romantic 1960’s, I was a true believer in Bakunin’s anarchism. (Bakunin was an anti-Marxist anarchist who sought to replace national states with autonomous trade groups and communes.) I laughed off my parents’ argument that if the government ever laid down its arms all hell would break loose.

Our competing predictions were put to the test at 8:00 a.m. on October 7, 1969, when the Montreal police went on strike. By 11:20 am, the first bank was robbed. By noon, most of the downtown stores were closed because of looting. Within a few more hours, taxi drivers burned down the garage of a limousine service that competed with them for airport customers, a rooftop sniper killed a provincial police officer, rioters broke into several hotels and restaurants, and a doctor slew a burglar in his suburban home.

By the end of the day, six banks had been robbed, a hundred shops had been looted, twelve fires had been set, forty carloads of storefront glass had been broken, and three million dollars in property damage had been inflicted, before city authorities had to call in the army and, of course, the Mounties to restore order. This decisive empirical test left my politics in tatters.”

Why did that happen? Why do we have police? Why do we lock up our cars at night and deadbolt our doors? Why do we require contracts and signatures in our dealings with one another? Why is Twitter so evil?

This morning we are going to look at the Bible’s answer in the book of Romans. Let’s read chapter 3, verses 10-23.

We are in the book of Romans in our One Year Bible readings.

Renowned poet and literary critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge described the Epistle to the Romans as “the most profound work in existence.”

John Stott described the letter as “a timeless manifesto, a manifesto of freedom through Jesus Christ. It is the fullest, plainest and grandest statement of the gospel in the New Testament. Its message is not that ‘man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains’, as Rousseau put it at the beginning of The Social Contract; it is rather that human beings are born in sin and slavery, but that Jesus Christ came to set us free. For here is unfolded the good news of freedom, freedom from the holy wrath of God upon all ungodliness, freedom from alienation into reconciliation, freedom from the condemnation of God’s law, freedom from what Malcolm Muggeridge used to call ‘the dark little dungeon of our own ego’, freedom from the fear of death, freedom one day from the decay of the groaning creation into the glorious liberty of God’s children, and meanwhile freedom from ethnic conflict in the family of God, and freedom to give ourselves to the loving service of God and others.”

And J.I. Packer wrote that “All roads in the Bible lead to Romans, and all views afforded by the Bible are seen most clearly from Romans, and when the message of Romans gets into a person’s heart there is no telling what may happen.”

The book of Romans takes us to the glorious peaks of human liberty and the loving glory of God. But to get there, we first have to go through the dark valley of sin.

Chapters 1-3 in the book of Romans are written to lay the foundation of sin.

Paul was writing to an audience that did not want to hear the message they desperately needed to hear.  To help them see the truth of his claims, Paul drew from the incontrovertible well of Scripture. In verses 10-18, Paul quotes from 9 different passages in the Old Testament  – “as it is written.”

For the people of the book, this is the primary question, isn’t it?  What does the Bible say?

Let’s take a look.

First, the Bible tells us that

  1. None is righteous.

Righteousness is conformity to a standard, right standing and consequently right behavior within a community. Every moment we turn from the goodness, truth and holiness of God we fall sort of the standards of righteousness.

How often does this happen? How short are we? Let’s say we sin once a day, we lose our cool with our spouse, distort the truth, etc. once a day. And let’s say that goes on for 75 years.  At the end of that time, you would have accumulated a total of 27,000 acts of sin.

The reality is, most of us sin far more than once a day. If you and I had a device which kept record of every work we spoke and every action we commit how many hundreds of thousands of sins would we look back on?

And what if we had a device which revealed every thought which went through our minds on a screen hanging on our chests? What would be revealed to the world? Would any one of us like to experience that?

Second, the Scriptures tell us that

  1. There is no one who understands.

What does Paul mean? Understand what?

Paul is writing that there is no one who has a true understanding of reality.

Earlier in 1:21 Paul described this as a process of turning away from God:

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

The philosopher of religion William James observed that we believe what we want to believe.

Aldous Huxley, in his work Means and Ends, provides an autobiographical account of this principal. Writing about his embrace of atheistic naturalism, Huxley says, “I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; and consequently assumed that it had none.” His motives? Ethical freedom. Because he wanted sexual freedom, Huxley did not want to believe in God. Therefore he didn’t.

Third, we see that

  1. There is no one who seeks God

Really? No one? What about those times as young man when I prayed and asked God to show himself to me? Wasn’t I seeking God?

I think what Paul is saying is that there is no one who seeks God for God’s sake. We seek God when we need things from him. We cry out to God in moments of crisis. But to do we seek God just to know Him, on his terms?

Jesus tells us in John 6:44 that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.” What happened when I was asking God to show himself to me? According to Jesus, it was not me seeking God, but the other way around.

Fourth, we see that

  1. There is no one good

Again, this is difficult for us. Don’t we all know lot’s of good and decent people? What about my uncle Bobby who is a devoted husband and father?

Isaiah 64:6 gives us God’s perspective of our goodness: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.”

Pastor J.D. Greear provides an great illustration of this truth. Imagine you are on vacation and you see a happy couple arrive at your hotel. You notice that they are exceedingly kind to the staff. They tip generously and show kindness to everyone. They seem like good people. What if you learned that the couple is actually at the hotel to have an affair. They have lied to their spouses, claiming that they were on work trips so that they could be together.

They don’t seem as good now, do they? Their tips are like filthy rags.

The Bible tells us that all of us have are unfaithful to our creator. We have been given life and fulness in God, and yet each of us turns from God to other things for life. In light of our cosmic unfaithfulness, all of our good deeds appear like filthy rags.

When we have come with Paul to accept this hard truth, we are ready to receive what comes next.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

You and I are more sinful than we can begin to imagine. And yet. And yet we are more loved than we could ever dare to hope.  Jesus came, not for the righteous, but for sinners. He came to justify sinners by his gracious sacrifice on the cross.

What happens when we accept that? What does it do to someone to acknowledge the depth of their sin and receive unmerited grace in Jesus?

Romans 3:24

Romans 12-15 describes what happens. We feel a life-long debt of love and mercy. (Romans 13:8). We no longer pass judgment on one another. (14:13). We don’t seek our own good, but we make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. (14:19) We accept one another, even in moments of sin and failure, just as Christ accepted us. (15:7)

The doctrine of sin is hard, but it is the valley we must pass through to find the mountaintop views of grace and glory.

Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown