Romans Lesson 45 - But . . . Now!
Paul tells us in Romans 3 that we were lost, helpless and hopeless apart from Christ, but now, through Christ, we have been found! No wonder they call the Gospel the "Good News!" Let's join Stephen again in this study to discover anew just how amazing God's grace really is.
“But . . . Now!”
I will never forget standing in a beautiful park in the city of Geneva Switzerland. The park was known as Reformation Park, even though so many people who lived in the city had forgotten what it represented and why it was preserved. My wife and I had decided we wanted to see this park that commemorated the lives and ministries of reformers like John Calvin who pastored near that park and others like Martin Luther and Zwingli. We asked the hotel clerk how to get to the part and he’d never heard of it. . .we caught a taxi and tried to explain what we wanted to see. Reformation Park – we said as French as we could possibly say it. “Ah,” he said, “Reformation?” “Yes, that’s it.” And we were off. Moments later we pulled up to Reformation Mall. We tried again . . . “Calvin . . . Luther . . . Reformation.” He scratched his head, looked at his map of tourist spots and said, “Ah. . .” and we were off again. This time he pulled up to the gate of an old park . . . this was it. We walked into the park and soon saw the memorial. It was a wall some 50 feet high – with statues carved in stone that stood nearly as high as the wall – statues of John Calvin, Martin Luther, Zwingli and Beza and other men who brought the church out of the dark ages with the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Chiseled into the stone of that wall were the Latin words, which translated meant, “After the darkness . . . light!”
One of the key doctrines that had been all but lost by the corrupt Roman church was resurrected. It was fanned into flame and it indeed ended a period of darkness in church history . . . the doctrine of Sola Fide.
It would be this doctrine that would birth the Protestant Church and to this very day, separate false religion from the truth. Sola Fide means, faith alone and it refers to the issue of justification . . . and it answers the questions, “How can a person can be right with God . . . how can you know whether or not you’re going to heaven, and by what right do you claim entrance into heaven.
Martin Luther wrote in the mid 1500’s, “Sola Fide is the article with and by which the church stands . . . without which it falls.” He went on to write, “The doctrine of justification is the master and prince over all doctrines; it raises up our conscience before God. Without this article the world is utter death and darkness.” R. C. Sproul, Faith Alone (Baker Books, 1995) p. 67
John Calvin wrote, “Unless you understand the doctrine of justification, you have no foundation on which your salvation can be laid.”
J. I. Packer illustrated the importance of Sola Fide this way, “The doctrine of justification by faith is like Atlas; it bears a world on its shoulders . . . the entire knowledge of saving grace. And when Atlas falls down, everything that rested on his shoulders comes crashing down too.”
Ibid, p. 69
Is it any wonder then, that this next paragraph, in Romans chapter 3 where the Apostle Paul explains the doctrine of justification, is considered to be so incredibly important.
One man called this paragraph the center and heart of the whole Book of Romans. Another evangelical scholar went even further by saying that this was the most important theological segment of the entire New Testament. Still another dared to suggest that this paragraph in the Book of Romans may be the most important single paragraph ever written.
How could such claims be made? Why would pastors and theologians like Barnhouse and McClain write that if they had to choose a few verses from the entire Bible to have a copy of, they would choose these verses.
Why? Could it be because these verse reveal the atlas of our faith. The right we have to heaven. The basis for our life and hope in Christ. The satisfaction of our sin before a holy God. The key that unlocks eternal paradise. Ladies and Gentlemen, this paragraph explains, Sola Fide.
And Paul begins it with an incredible choice of words . . . Romans chapter 3, verse 21 begins with the words, “But now!”
We could spend all morning here!
But . . . we won’t! What a difference that little contrastive conjunction makes in life. What a difference it reveals in communication.
- How many parents have heard, “I was planning on doing my homework, but…”
- How many husbands have heard their wives say, “I was really driving very carefully, but…”
- How many guys have had a girl say to them, “Well, I like you a lot and you’re really nice, but…”
- How many have heard their boss say, “I really liked that idea, but…”
- I liked everything about your resume, but…”
“But” is a conjunction that can make all the difference in the world! And I just gave you a number of bad differences.
What about the good ones.
- When the doctor says to you, “I was afraid at first when you described our symptoms that this was a serious problem, but…”
- Or the coach, “Listen, I didn’t think we had room on the team for you, but…”
- Here’s a good one, “When I first met you I didn’t think you were all that special, but...”
- Here’s another really wonderful, insightful, spiritually mature one, “It makes me really mad when you forget our anniversary and valentine’s day and Mother’s day, but...I love you anyway!” I just thought I’d toss that one out there to help some of you guys.
- “We’ve been struggling without a job for nearly a year, but…”
- “We didn’t think we could ever have children, and that’s what we were told, but...”
- “Then, the doctors said we shouldn’t expect our child to live, but…”
- “My parents have always resisted the gospel message, but…”
- “Most of my life I ran from God, but…”
What a wonderful word. What a life changing, perspective altering, hope giving word.
Paul used it often and he wrote to the Ephesian believers and said to them, “Remember that you were separate from Christ . . . having no hope and without God in the world . . . but now in Christ Jesus you have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:11-13)
Paul preached in Acts 13, “And when they had carried out all that was written concerning Him they took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb . . . but, God raised Him from the dead.” (Acts 13:29)
David said, “Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God. . .but thou oh Lord, art a shield about me.” (Psalm 3:2-3)
What comes after that little conjunction can mean all the difference in the world.
When the late Charles Evans Hughes served as Secretary of state, he attended a Pan-American Conference. He instructed his translator to make sure he kept up as well as he could with the translation of Spanish or Portuguese. But he said to his interpreter, “Listen, while a running translation is important, I want you to make sure that you give me every word after the speaker says “but” – because what follows “but” is what he really wanted to say.”
Adapted from V. Raymond Edman, But God! (Zondervan, 1962), p. 13
For nearly 3 entire chapters, the Apostle Paul has revealed the darkness of sin. The depth of human depravity. The righteous judgment of God on the whole world. The hopelessness of mankind to ever find God or please God or be related to God . . . no one is justified, no one is righteous, no one is acceptable, no one is suitable, no one is good enough, no one can ever hope to live with God in eternal bliss.
He ended verse 20 and 21 with the ultimate portrayal of sinful mankind – silent before a holy God. . .no excuse, no defense, no explanation and no hope. Only dark despair.
BUT . . . NOW!
This is the conjunction of Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death . . . but, the gift of God is eternal life.”
This is the conjunction of John chapter 9 where the man who was born blind was brought before the Jewish leaders to give an account of what happened.
They were upset that Jesus had gained such notoriety for the miracle of giving this man his sight – they interrogated the man . . . even calling his parents to validate that this was indeed their son who had been born blind. Finally, they said to him, “Listen, we know this Jesus is a sinner . . . how could He give you sight like this. . .” And the man answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, once I was blind, but now, I see.”
This is the incredible revelation of justification in Romans chapter 3. The truth of our hope swings on the hinge of that little conjunction. Paul says, in effect, “Listen, everything I’ve said about sin and mankind and hopelessness and judgment is true . . . but now!”
After the darkness . . . light!
The darkness of sin has been portrayed
But now . . .
The deliverance of salvation is pronounced
Paul writes in verse 21, “But now apart from the Law, the righteousness of God has been manifested.”
“But now apart from the Law – in other words, this salvation I’m about to describe to you has nothing to do with the keeping of the law.
The Greek word translated “apart from” is a very strong word in the Greek language. It could be translated, “absolutely apart from the law.” It’s the same word in Hebrews 4:15 where we learn that Jesus Christ was in all points tempted just like we are, yet without, or “apart from” sin.”
In other words, Jesus Christ had absolutely nothing in his life that was sinful. He was totally “apart from sin.”
Paul is describing justification as “apart from the law.” It has absolutely nothing to do with keeping the law.
That’s why a person who believes he is going to heaven because he’s been a pretty good person is deceived on two counts. He’s deceived on one count because he actually hasn’t kept the law and he just won’t admit it and so he’s deceived himself. But he’s also deceived on another count simply because he doesn’t realize that justification has nothing to do with being good.
It isn’t the righteousness of man that Paul says brings salvation, it is the righteousness of God. You had nothing to offer God but your sin. He has everything to give you, beginning with His righteousness.
Now Paul says, “This isn’t really something new! This message of the gospel is as old as Moses.” See what he says next in verse 21. . .”being witnessed by the Law . . .”
In other words, the truth of the gospel appeared in the Law (Pentateuch)
The nomos – a reference, I believe, to the Law of Moses – or the Books of Moses – the Pentateuch . . . Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy – the Books of the Law.
Where was the gospel revealed?
How about Genesis 22. Turn there.
Abraham was told by God to take his only son Isaac and go to the mountain ridge called Moriah and prepare to offer Isaac as a sacrifice to God. We’re told in the text that God did this to test Abraham’s faith in His promise to bring from Isaac a great nation.
Verse 7. Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8. Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.”
9. Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there, and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. Remember that Abraham is an old man by now . . . but Isaac allows him to tie him up and put him on top of the altar. I believe that Isaac probably climbed up there himself. I doubt Abraham, would have been able to lift his thirty year old son. By the way, would you note the submission of the son to his father, even unto death. What a picture of Jesus Christ who became obedient to the will of his father, even unto death. (Philippians 2:8)
10. And Abraham stretched out his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. 11. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12. And he said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” 13. Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son.
Here’s the prophetic announcement.
verse 14, And Abraham called the name of that place, Jehovah-Jireh (?), which is translated, The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.”
It’s future tense. This is the prophetic announcement of Abraham who says, One day God will provide the lamb. He didn’t here. He provided a ram. He will one day provide a lamb for the burnt offerings.
In John Chapter 1 Verse 29, John the Baptist saw Jesus Christ coming toward him. And you know what he said? He said, “Behold, look, the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world!” He’s here. God lamb is about to be provided for the sins of the world.
But would you notice that Abraham also specifically prophesied that God would not only provide a lamb, but that, notice verse 14 again, God would provide the lamb in the mount of the Lord.”
Mt. Moriah was nothing more really than a ridge of small hills. Yet incredibly significant hills. On Mount Moriah, Solomon would later build the temple where the glory of God would descend. Later, it would be destroyed.
Just a stone’s throw from the temple a city would be built and inhabited off and on by Abraham’s descendants – a city called Jerusalem. By the time of Jesus Christ, the ridge nearest the city was no longer referred to as Moriah, but it had been given a slang Aramaic expression, because of the way it was shaped. It was now called Golgotha, the place of the skull.
Abraham’s prophecy would come true. The very place where Isaac was a picture of Christ, willing to be offered as a burnt offering for sin – it would be on that same ridge – and I believe the very same spot, where several thousand years later, Jesus Christ would hang from the cross. The burnt offering given up as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.
The prophetic gospel of Abraham had indeed come true. God had provided on that mount, the Lamb.
Paul goes on to say that the gospel – otherwise known as the righteousness of God – was not only witnessed in the Law, but also by the Prophets –
Like the prophet and King, David. Who in Psalm 22 prophesied of Christ’s crucifixion when he wrote with inspired precision, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within me. . .a band of evildoers have surrounded me; they pierced my hands and my feet, I can count all my bones. They look, they stare at me; they divide my garments among them and for my clothing they cast lots.”
This is why Paul could say, the gospel isn’t new – it’s old. God’s plan of redemption has been promised through the sacrifice of His son. The Law records it and the Prophets have preached it.
Romans 3:22 goes on to clarify, “even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe.”
The darkness of sin has been portrayed
The deliverance of salvation has been prophesied
Finally, the deliverer of sinners has been proclaimed
Here is the hope for mankind – Paul proclaims it – it is faith in Jesus Christ.
Peter preached the same gospel of faith in Christ and said, “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Acts 4:12
The first thing you need to understand about salvation is that it isn’t something you provide for God, it’s something God provided for you.
We have broken the law – we are without excuse – we cannot do enough good things to counterbalance the scales of our sinfulness – we are without a voice to object – we are condemned and in silence we stand before a holy God.
But now! But now there is hope for the hopeless, pardon for the sinful, grace for the guilty. How? Paul answers, through faith in Jesus Christ.
We have to stop here, but first, let me tell you about a story I read some time ago. A true story of an incident that occurred in a small village in Brazil. In a little hut with a dirt floor and a red tile roof lived Maria, the mother, with her daughter, Christina. Maria’s husband had died when Christina was just an infant and she had done her best to raise her daughter. Christina was now a pretty teenage girl. And the time came for her to seek out employment to help Maria’s job as a house cleaner. Maria’s job was enough to buy food and clothing but they barely eked out an existence. So now it was time for Christina to find a job. And Christina had this streak of independence in her. She often talked to her mother about fleeing this dusty little village and going to Rio de Janeiro, for opportunities in the big city. Her mother would react in fear and tell her daughter, “The streets are cruel.” Because her mother knew, if her daughter went there, she could not support herself, she knew what she would have to do for a living.
That’s why the morning that Maria found her daughter’s pallet empty, her heart broke because she knew where Maria had gone. She immediately gathered her clothing together and headed for the bus depot. When she arrived in Rio De Janeiro, she went to a little drug store. And she took all the money that she could possibly spare, she stepped into one of those photograph booths, closed the curtain and took all the pictures that she could. So, now armed with her bag of clothing and a purse full of little black and white photographs, she headed for the back streets. She knew that Christina had no skills for earning money. She also knew that when pride met hunger, there was no telling what a human beings would do to survive.
So she went to bars and hotels and nightclubs – the street corners where prostitutes gathered . . . she looked for her daughter. Wherever she went, she would tape her picture to a wall or a mirror or to a bulletin board. She went everywhere she possibly could. And on the back of each photograph was written the same message. Finally, she ran out of money and she ran out of photographs. She had not found Christina.
Tired, heart broken, she wept as she rode that rickety old bus back to her village. Several months later, Christina was descending the steps of a hotel that she looked across the lobby and she saw a familiar face taped to a mirror. She recognized it. Her eyes filling with tears and her throat burning, she ran across the lobby floor and she pulled the picture off the mirror and, sure enough, it was a picture of her mother. She stared at he mother’s face for a long time and then happened to turn the photograph over and when she did, she read the note that read, “Wherever you are, whatever you have become, I will forgive you. Please come home.” And Christina did.
Imagine, against the dark despair of sin . . . there is the light of forgiveness.
Sinful, wretched, hopeless . . . but now, forgiveness offered by faith in the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world.
Oh the joy of those words, “but now.” Put into poetic form by Mr. Newton, who never quite recovered from his conversion.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me,
I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.
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