Romans 3:19-28 (NIV) 19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. 21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 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. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. 27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.
The boys next to my parent’s home were practicing shooting bow and arrow toward a target something like this one on this bag. It looked very interesting. They graciously asked if I would like to give it a try. It didn’t look all that difficult. With great self-confidence I put the arrow into the bow, drew it back all the way, and let it fly. Plop, flop, it landing on the ground right next to my foot. What looked like it was a piece of cake turned out to be totally impossible. Needless to say, I didn’t boast in anyway of my arrow not only not hitting the bull’s eye with a perfect shot, but of missing the whole target altogether. Well, God sets a target before us and our hearts and lives. He demands that we hit the bull’s eye with a perfect shot every moment of every day. Can we do it? The apostle Paul wrote about that in his letter to the Romans in the epistle reading we heard a few moments ago. In it he really summarizes the whole of Christianity, the true way of salvation for lost sinners like you and me. Let me share some highlights of what we might call Christianity 101. (Read verses 20, 21, 22, 28) So this question looms large as we continue our series, “The lies we believe”, HOW DO WE HIT GOD’S BULLS-EYE OF PERFECTION? I. We don’t. II. Jesus did it in our place.
Paul wrote to these Christians in Rome, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those under the law…” That includes everyone. All people, whether they agree or not, are subject to God’s moral law summarized in the Ten Commandments. Then there is also the natural law God placed in every person which assures everyone there is a God, whether they think so or not, and that God demands holiness and perfection. Sometimes self-righteous people like the Pharisees at Jesus’ time even add laws to God’s to which the subject themselves in order for them to feel a bit closer to the perfection God demands. All are under law and its demands of perfection.
And what does that law, especially God’s moral law, reveal or mirror back at us when we look into it? Well, after Jesus’ in-depth look at some of God’s commandments in his Sermon on the Mount he says, “Be perfect, as you heavenly Father is perfect.” That is the righteousness, perfection, holiness God’s law commands. Now realize what Jesus had said to lead up to that command. For example, the fifth commandment does not just insist on not murdering anyone, but not even calling anyone, like a brother of sister, a hateful name. The sixth commandment does not only forbid a sexual relationship with someone other than your spouse, but even looking at some else whether in person or in picture lustfully. So all under the law have a major problem, right? Who has kept the law perfectly? Rather what God’s law reflects back at us is what Paul wrote right before this is what many of the psalms say, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. “All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one…” And God does not just look the other way and pretend this is not so of all people by nature. No, Paul asserts that all are held accountable before God for the debt of sin owed. And the law does not offer any way for sinners to hit the bulls-eye of God’s demand of perfection. As Paul made clear, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” Conclusion? To use Paul’s inspired words, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Interestingly, the word “sin” has the very thought from archery of missing the mark, missing the bulls-eye, in fact, missing the whole target.
Unfortunately, “all” obviously includes you and me, by nature. We not only come close to shooting ourselves in the foot, we do exactly that every time we sin in thought, word and deed. Hit the bulls-eye of the perfection God demands? We don’t even hit the target. But then comes the lie Satan places in us, or our own sinful self-deception places in us. “Oh, of course I’m not perfect” and then comes the big, bold BUT… “BUT I’m not as bad as my neighbor who cusses a blue streak. BUT I’m not as bad as my cousin who never sets foot in a church. BUT I try my best to follow the Ten Commandments. Surely, that earns some credit with God.” And the list goes on. All lies. It is not the law’s fault. That is good and holy. And as Scripture says, if we could hit God’s bulls-eye of perfection all day, every day, we could stand righteous and holy in God’s sight by keeping the law. But the mirror of the law clearly reflects we don’t, can’t and won’t. So what do we do? Despair? Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we will be in hell as we deserve? No we listen to the rest of the story, God’s awesome story of how Jesus did it all in our place.
Yes, all have sinned and fall short of God’s approval and commendation, “and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” The law knocks us down, only to have God’s awesome Gospel pick us up and revive us once again. You just have to stand back, read this again, and go, “Wow!” All stand righteous and holy in God’s sight because his Son, our Savior, Christ Jesus hit God’s bulls-eye of perfection in the place of all lost sinners, like you and me. Let’s take a closer look at this awesome truth, not fake news or a deceiving lie. All are justified by what Jesus did. Guilty sinners are declared not guilty by God because Jesus took all guilt on himself on the cross. All are recipients of the redemption he won with his perfect life, innocent death and victorious resurrection. Redeem has the thought of paying a ransom to buy back a slave and set him or her free. All are slaves to sin, death and hell by nature, but all have been set free by the ransom price of Christ’s holy, precious blood. When Christ hit God’s bulls-eye of perfection with all he did in all sinners place, the blessings of justification before God and redemption from sin and death stood offered to all.
The hand that receives it and makes it one’s own is faith, trust in Jesus and all that he did. Paul wrote, “This righteousness from God comes though faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” But even that faith is not the product of human volition. It is a gift of God by the gracious working of the Holy Spirit. All freely given as a gift of God’s grace, his undeserved love for lost souls. It is the perfect gift that truly keeps on giving. Elsewhere Paul wrote, “No one can say Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Spirit.” And again he wrote to the Ephesians, “For it is by grace you are saved, through faith; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” Here also Paul concludes that there is no boasting for what any person does or does not do to hit the target of God’s bulls-eye of perfection. From beginning to end, it is all God’s doing, all grace as Paul wraps it all up in the beautiful package of verse 28, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”
It is when that spiritual light bulb went on for Martin Luther instead of the lies he had been taught that somehow he had to contribute to his righteousness before God that he could sleep at peace at night and he could no longer dread coming before God. Righteousness, hitting God’s bulls-eye of perfection was no longer something God demanded from him, but it came from God for him in the person and work of his Savior. That is not wishful thinking, or a self-deceiving lie, but the very truth of God’s wonderful Gospel. What comfort and peace it affords us. Jesus did it all in our place. That is why we can live in such confidence that all sins are forgiven and we are God’s precious possession now and forever. That is why we live not to serve ourselves or the world’s pleasures and treasures, but to serve our Lord and other people. That is why we pull back the bow of our hearts and lives not in self-confidence, but in Jesus confidence. That is why when we shoot ourselves in the foot every time we sin, we do not give up, but shoot again toward the bulls-eye. That is why we look forward to the archer we will be in heaven where we will hit God’s bulls-eye of perfection with every shot. Amen.