Jack Graham - From Guilt to Grace to Glory
The title of this message is "From Guilt to Grace to Glory". And the passage that we're about to see and share is described as the core and essential passage of the Gospel in all of the Bible. Do I have your attention now? The passage that we are about to read is the core of the Christian faith. It is this ESSENTIAL GOSPEL that we've been talking about. It is the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and many have called it the most important passage in all the Bible. One that noted pastor on this passage of Scripture, something that you might even think about doing, drew a big heart around these verses, a big heart circling the circumference of these verses because here you have the heart of God, here you have the heart of the Gospel, here you have the heart of the entire Bible in the passage that we are going to review and reflect and expound today.
So I want us to read it and ask the Holy Spirit to use it in our lives, that we would love Jesus and share Jesus like never before. "But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation", or an atonement, "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. It 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. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by flesh and the uncircumcised by faith. Do we overthrow the law by faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law".
So there you have it! At the core, at the heart of everything the essential Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. And I want you to see in this guilt and in this grace and in this glory that is before us, that this Gospel is for you, and is for all who believe around the world.
There was a man by the name of John Newton. He lived in the 1600's. His mother was a godly woman who taught him the Scripture as a child, but his father was a vile and wicked man who was gone at sea, lost at sea, if you will, most of his life. He barely knew his father. But his mother taught him, this man, John Newton of the grace of God and the goodness of Jesus. His mother died right before he reached the age of 7. And unfortunately, as he grew up and began spending more time around his father, John Newton also became a vile and wicked man. Debauched, drunken, the baddest of the bad. He became a seaman himself. And ultimately a slave trader, trafficking in the souls of men.
One day after a storm at sea when he was shaken to the core, he found himself at the end of himself. He came to faith in Jesus Christ. He remembered the words... Oh, the influence of a parent in a child’s life! He remembered the words of his mother and of God’s Word, and received the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. He became a pastor, as well as the songwriter of the hymn you know as Amazing Grace. No wonder this man, so broken and vile in his sin would write "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found; was blind but now I see". So when you read a passage like this one, the core of our faith, you realize that we have moved from guilt and judgment to grace and justification. And glory to Jesus. It’s all right here.
Let’s talk first of all about guilt and judgment. The Apostle Paul is making a point, like a prosecuting attorney in first portion, the first 3 chapters almost of Romans. He is like an attorney who is making the case for Christ. He is demonstrating that everyone in the world born of man, born of woman, is lost in sin and facing judgment. That all are guilty before God! Whether they be Gentiles or Jews, religionists or pagan. He speaks first of the pagan and concludes that everyone in the pagan world, the lost world, needs Jesus. He then speaks of the religious world and the Jewish congregation and all the Jews need Jesus. For he said, "I'm not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Greeks".
So Jews need Jesus; and Gentiles need Jesus; everybody needs Jesus! Why? Because we are all guilty as we have sinned and broken the commandments of God. We've been dealing with this virus now for a while, COVID-19. We know the power of a virus, that it can be deadly, it can be devastating. It can shut down cities and businesses and the impact of this has been significant, as people have been infected by a germ and exposed to this germ. We can only imagine as we read the book of Revelation what it will be like in the end times when bacteria warfare will be engaged across the earth, and we see that in the Bible. We've gotten just a taste of that as we've seen how a virus like this could shutdown the world. But there is another virus that is more deadly and more lethal than any other virus and it’s called sin! It is the virus of sin, and every human being has been exposed.
We all have an underlying condition and that is we have been born to a propensity to sin. All of us not only have the potential to sin, but we all sin! That’s why the Scripture says in verse 23: "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God". We all fail. Some fail more than others, but we all fail. Think of going to the Grand Canyon. There's a big hole in the ground, and it's magnificent, one of the wonders of creation. But when you stand at the Grand Canyon someone says, "All right, jump to the other side". Jump to the other side? Okay, give it a go. So here's a guy with a two inch vertical who says, "I'll be first". And he jumps and he makes it about 3 feet, and down he goes. Here comes an Olympic athlete, a broad-jumper, a long-jumper, a high-jumper. Tremendous! And he takes a full-throttle run at the Grand Canyon and jumps, 15-20 feet, and down. Clearly, the point is, the Grand Canyon is a chasm too wide for anyone to cross by jumping it.
The separation that exists between holy God and sinful humanity is a chasm great and long, and impossible to hurdle on our own. That is the whole point of this case for Christ and the Gospel that we're making here. That this is essential. That everyone needs Jesus because no matter how far you jump, no matter how well you live, no matter how beautifully you perform, no matter how many services you attend, or how many rituals or how many mantras you express, or how much you meditate or how many verses you memorize. That none of us can jump the distance between sinful humanity and a holy God. Earlier in this same passage, the Scripture says, Romans 3:10, "There is none righteous; no, not one"! Not one of the human race; all have sinned. "Life is short; death is sure; sin is the cost and Christ is the cure". The Bible describes sin as disease; also, a disobedience to God. Because we’ve all broken God’s commandments.
Who among us can say "I have always perfectly honored God"? "I’ve never built an idol; a human idol". How many of us would say, "I’ve always honored the name of God and never used the name of God casually"? How many of us would say, "I’ve always honored my parents"? "I’ve never once dishonored or disobeyed my parents"? Who among us would say, "I have always honored God’s day to worship and to please Him and to aim to live for Him"? Who among us would say, "I’ve never stolen anything or I’ve never lied, or I’ve never committed adultery"? Who among us would say "I’ve never wanted what somebody would have"? Either in substance or in spirit, we’ve all broken the commandments of God. And God's standard, Jesus said, "Be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect".
So if I break the law of God, which is a mirror that shows us ourselves. This is the school teacher that leads us to Christ. If I break the law of God, even in one point, the Scripture says I'm guilty of all. Think of ten chains, back to our chasm, back to the Grand Canyon. If you're hanging on a chain with ten links, how many links need to be broken for you to drop to your death? Just one, just one. "None righteous; no, not one". So to all of the performers out there, to all of you who think you can get to heaven, that you can be righteous in your self-righteousness, the Bible says that even "our righteousness is as filthy rags", the best that we can do is as filthy rags in the sight of a holy God! This guilt is... you know why we're guilty? Because we're guilty. We feel guilty because we are guilty. And if we don't do something about the guilt and the sin, along with that comes the shame and the pain and the breaking of our lives.
"The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus our Lord". The reason there's so much hurt and heartache and pain and struggle in the world, the reason that so many people now are taking their own lives. Suicide is off the charts! The reason that people are dying is because of guilt because of sin. And this cuts us off in the relationship with God and the righteousness of God. If the standard, and it is the standard, is the righteousness of God, the holiness of God, the purity of God, none of us measure up! Just like one preacher said, "I wouldn't trust the best 15 minutes of my life to get me to heaven". None of us! Guilt is a killer. We have sinned with our minds; we have sinned with our mouths; we've sinned with our morals. We have all sinned. There is guilt and judgment. Eternal separation from God which the Bible describes as hell.
But then, thank God, in the midst of this bad news regarding our guilt and judgment, and yes, when you die, you don't pull the grave over your face and hide from God. "It is appointed unto man once to die and then the judgment". You will be held accountable for your life, and most especially what you've done with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. So, the second thing is grace and justice. Now I want you to really listen hard right now. There are three big words and three little words that I want you to observe in the text that we’ve read. The first of the big words is a theological term, it’s a biblical word is the word justification. It’s used often in the New Testament, particularly by Paul here in the book of Romans. It’s used as a verb: justifying. It’s also used as a noun: to be justified.
What is this word justification? When we read that we have been justified by God’s grace. When we understand this justification, what does it mean? It means that we have received the grace of God; justified by grace. You know what grace is? It’s a five-letter word and it’s spelled J-E-S-U-S. Ha! If you want to know what this amazing grace is, it’s all wrapped up in Jesus! Grace! Salvation is not merit points; it’s not a merit badge with God; it is the gift of God! What is grace? It is undeserved and it is unlimited! In the face of guilt, God has given us grace. And no matter the depth of our sin and the depravity of our hearts, God’s grace is greater than our sin!
And this word justification means that in the sight of God... Now this is huge. Are you listening? Justification! To be justified means that in the sight of a holy God, number one, when we receive God's grace, the gift of eternal life through Jesus our Lord, we are justified in that all of our sins are forgiven! All of our sins: past, present and future - forgiven! By His cross, by His blood for the forgiveness of sin, the blood of Jesus Christ. We are forgiven! That's good news! With all this guilt and all this judgment.
Don’t go by this 90 miles and hour this morning! Sometimes we talk about this and we just speed by it! Well, I’m throwing up a little speed bump right here this morning! I want you to slow down; I want you to think of what God has done for you in making you His own. Justifying you! It’s been described as "just as I’ve never sinned". When God looks at your account, because of Jesus Christ, He sees righteousness, not your sin. He sees Jesus, not your sin. You are forgiven forever and fully and freely in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the essential Gospel! This is the core of everything! This is everything! How to be right with God! How to be righteous in the sight of a righteous God when we are sinful, when we are broken, when we are bad. It is by grace and this justification comes by faith. Putting our faith and trust completely and totally in Christ.
Justification means the forgiveness of sin. BUT there is more. It not only means the justification, therefore the forgiveness of our sins: past, present and future, but it also means that we have been given the righteousness of Christ. "We have been given the righteousness of God Himself who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity". You say, "How so"? Because when Christ died on the cross for us, He took our place. And when we receive Christ and His salvation in our lives, we take His place. We now are the righteousness of God. This is a legal term: justification. It is something that God does; it is something that God only declares. And so when He looks at you as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, He sees the righteousness of His own Son; of His own Self; the righteousness of God in Christ. That's justification. "The just shall live by faith". We receive this just act of God by faith in Jesus Christ. Justification.
The entire message is a semester at school, but just remember, this word justification. It sounds like a big, long theological term maybe. "What does that have to do with me"? Everything in the world, because we're not saved by our good works; we're not saved by our deeds. There's two ways to go to heaven: human achievement or divine accomplishment. Human achievement is not enough. What is that? Behavior. How I behave, how I live, trying to get to heaven, trying to climb the spiritual ladder, trying to do the best I can, join the church, meditating, all those things. It's our effort. And as we pointed out, it always falls short. It's never enough, no matter how much you put into it.
You got a lot of performers out here; you got a lot of high-end entrepreneurs here listening to me right now. You're all about achievement; you're all about getting it done; you're all about building that business; you're all about accomplishing that goal in your life. But when it comes to salvation and Jesus Christ, no amount of human achievement will take into the presence of God! Human achievement is an epic failure! You're kind of hoping God's grading on the curve. "I'm better than somebody else. My grades higher than someone else". No, God doesn't grade on the curve; He grades on the cross! And His righteousness becomes our righteousness as we are forgiven and we are declared judicially, legally in the sight of God justified!
And it’s more even than just if I’d never sinned. It’s greater than that, because the fact is I have sinned! But God crushes at the cross my sin and He enables me to no longer live in sin, but to live in the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ! That is your new identity in Christ! That is who you are in Jesus! And it is this righteousness then lived out that enables you to live a godly life as you receive holiness in the fear of God. Another word right here, I only have time to mention it briefly. Such a big and important word but it is the word atonement. Or as described here in the ESV, it is propitiation. Atonement speaks of once again, the blood that was shed at the cross.
In the Jewish faith, Jewish tradition through the years there's the Mercy Seat in the temple in the tabernacle and once a year the priest would show up and would kill the lamb and sprinkle the blood on the Mercy Seat, signifying the forgiveness of God and the atonement that believers could receive. But did you know that all of shedding of the blood and the Mercy Seat and the giving of the lamb. That's all pointing to Jesus. It all is describing what Jesus has done for us. It is atonement by His blood! "What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus! What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus"! In that God as noted here becomes both the Just and the Justifier of all who believe. He's the Judge and the jury, the Supreme Court who at the cross and by the power of the resurrection, the Just is now the Justifier of all who believe, who all have faith in Jesus Christ.
So, there is guilt and there is judgment to all who live in sin and guilt. There's one other word and that is redemption. Redemption, which means to be delivered from bondage. It's a portrait of someone being a slave and then set free. All of us have been hopelessly trafficked by Satan himself. We are in the bondage and the power of sin. But redemption means I have been redeemed! I have been bought back! How? By God Himself who paid the price on the cross. Our righteousness comes from redemption, and with redemption comes reconciliation with God! Atonement, redemption, justification. Praise His holy name! There're three little words right here, and we'll land this plane. Three small words: prepositions, conjunctions.
In verse 22. Look at verse 22: "The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. (There it is; it's a conjunction.) from" "But now the righteousness of God". But, from. The righteousness that comes from God. This is God's doing! I repeat: All have sinned and broken the commandments of God. We are moral failures. We are messed up from the floor up! But God gives us His righteousness. "Through", there's our second little conjunction or preposition, "through". Big words, little words. "But God through". It comes through faith by grace, not good works, in Jesus Christ.
There's our next little word: "in Jesus Christ". We are saved because of Christ: His life, His death, His burial and His resurrection by His blood we are bought. We belong to Him! "And to all who believe". Everyone is included. No one is excluded. There is no distinction between any one of us, because all of us need Jesus! And that brings us to the last idea, and that is the glory in Jesus. The glory. I call it the glory because we boast only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. And what the Scripture says here in, let’s see, down about verse 27, "Then what becomes of our boasting"?
Is there anyone going to brag or boast in heaven and say, "I’m here because of me! I’m here because of what I did. I’m here because the church I belonged to. I’m here because I was a good parent. I’m here because I was a good person. I’m here because I made a lot of money. I’m here because I was successful". No boasting, strutting on the streets of glory! There will be no boasting in heaven because of our good works or our good deeds! No swag! It’s only Jesus. One day, one day soon when Christ comes again in His great glory, we will stand before God, faultless before the throne, and all the praise and all the glory will go to Jesus! It’s all about Him; it’s all for Him!
It is guilt and judgment. But by His justification, His atonement, His redemption it is now grace and justification, and it’s all the glory! That’s why we say we boast only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ! It is all for Him and by Him. And that’s why we love Him and that’s why we serve Him and that’s why we want to live godly lives in the power of His Spirit. This is why we want to share our faith, because all the glory goes to Jesus. Not my human effort, not my desire for approval or applause. But all for Jesus. The songwriter said it this way: "For I’ll cling to the old rugged cross for my trophy till at last I lay down I will cherish the old rugged cross and exchange it one day for a crown".