Unifying Element #2: We’re All Saved (Rom. 3-5).
Again, another rather obvious one. Now, you know I’m just talking about the church here, right? Not everyone in the world is saved—as we saw last week there’s a slight problem with that…we’re all sinners! But those who are true members of the church—the body of Christ—have all received salvation from sin. What does that mean? Again, it’s an overused buzzword. It seems to have lost its meaning in English. We’re saved, but what’s the big deal? Well, I hope I demonstrate in this post that salvation is not just a big deal—it’s mind-numbing, all-surpassing glory! Paul certainly thought so…
Returning to our sports analogy, don’t you love it when the tide turns in a game? Now, I’m not talking about that “crimson tide”—sorry, Bama fans. I’m talking about when a game is really stinking for one team, but then after pulling themselves out of the gutter during the second half—or even the second half of the second half of the second half—that team turns around and wins it all. It’s some great stuff—stuff of sports legend. I’m talking about times like the 2005 UEFA Champions League Final with Liverpool (or as some call them, “Loserpool”) playing AC Milan (that’s an Italian team—it has nothing to do with a Disney movie). This is real football, gents. The world’s game.
AC Milan was slaughtering Liverpool like chopped liver by halftime. Three to zip. But then…then came the comeback. After halftime Liverpool switched some players up and went at it full steam. In a surprising six minutes, they had scored three goals—unheard of in football. The game went into overtime (they call it “extra time”), with penalty shots becoming the deciding factor. Here, after a remarkable save, Liverpool sealed AC Milan out and won the day. It’s since been called “the Miracle in Istanbul.”
Turn-arounds don’t happen every day. Life-changers, comebacks, defining moments—those are the things that capture your attention. I like to call them “But Now” Moments. Things had been going very poorly. Things were looking dark. But that was then and this is now. BUT NOW things are different, and I can turn around and change it all.
The greatest comeback in recorded history is yours. Reread last week’s post if you don’t believe me. You were dead. We all were. All a bunch of corpses—the Walking Dead, if you will. With no hope of change. There’s nothing we could do to change ourselves or make ourselves better. Even our best was nothing to God. He required perfection—and that’s something we could never hope to achieve.
BUT NOW. Where do I get those words from? From the same chapter that says, “None is righteous, no, not one.” From the same chapter that says we’re all “under sin.” From the same chapter that says there’s no hope, ‘cause not even the “works of the law” could justify us—make us righteous.
BUT NOW it comes. Verse 21. In what one author has called, “The Heart of the Gospel.” I’ll quote it and the following verses here:
“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 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.”
If that doesn’t move you…reread it. Read it over and over until you get it. Until you see the comeback. Look up the whole chapter and notice the spin-around starting in verse 21. We often quote verse 23 to show that everyone’s a sinner, and well we should. But don’t take it out of context. Keep reading! Yes, everybody’s sinned, but all are justified. Who is this all? Verse 22 says “all who believe.” Chapter 4 will give an Old Testament example for the Jews in the church—Abraham believed God’s promises. He had faith, and God justified him for it. All it takes is simple belief—acceptance as truth.
What does justification mean? Well, think of it as “just-as-if-I-never-sinned.” It means to “declare righteous.” Not as in, “I do declare!” But more like a judge making a declaration of “not guilty.” We have been declared, not only “not guilty,” but also “righteous.” When God looks at us, He sees all the righteous deeds of His Son, not our sinful deeds. Think about that. Read that again. It’s not cliché—it’s cleansing! When God looks at you as His child, He sees you as if you had healed that blind man or touched the leper or kept all the Law perfectly or never been unkind, lustful, or selfish. Wow!
So when God looked at you before, He saw detestable things. Things He hated. Sin upon sin. When God looks at you now He sees nothing but righteousness! Talk about a comeback! As chapter 5, verse one puts it: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And he goes on to describe how we should respond to that—full of hope and joy! Then, just in case you’re a little slow, He describes it again—“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Some of my favorite verses. Christ died for you!
But not just for you. You’re not the only person with a great turn-around. Look around and you’ll see a congregation full of saved sinners. And Paul puts this phrase right in the middle of discussing all the wonders of salvation—“there is no distinction” (3:22). In the way God sees us, there’s no difference, for those who have believed on Christ. How is that the case? I mean, some of the Gentiles in that church had likely murdered someone, yet God saw them the same way He saw the Jew who kept the law pretty well since he was a child? You mean God sees me the same way, having grown up in church and memorized all the verses, the same way He sees the drunken, tattooed man who just came to Christ? That doesn’t make much sense! How can God do that?
Because of verse 23—“for all have sinned.” And also verse 24—“and are justified freely by his grace.” We’re all sinners. We’re all saved. How convenient—those are our first two unifying elements! Paul would be happy, I think.
You’re different than you used to be—you may not smoke pot or have sex like you did before Christ. You’ve changed. And not just physically—God sees you different now too. He sees you as He sees His perfect Son. You’ve made a great comeback, kid! But so has that kid down the pew who never smoked a day in his life and doesn’t know half the words you know. He wears glasses and is studying his Greek New Testament now. Probably homeschooled to top it all off! But you’re both saved—justified. And you can revel in that mystery together—grace enough for all your sins put together!
So slide down the pew and talk to the guy. Because you’ll be spending all eternity together—maybe you should start getting along now.