You spend your whole life banging on the door of heaven, beating your head against the iron bars, begging for one little strip of recognition from God. And it never seems to come. Why is that?
To understand we need one of the gifts of the Reformation. We need Law and Gospel. Today we will apply this beautiful distinction to Romans 3, and see what God is saying, how we can stop banging on the gates of heaven, and watch them open before our eyes.
The Law is completely inclusive. It applies to all people at all times and in all places. This is why Paul states that every mouth will be stopped and the whole world will be held accountable.
Earlier in this same letter Paul makes the point that all people have some knowledge of the Law. They know that there is a God and that He wants them to live their lives in a certain way. This is why, when you look at the laws of different nations and cultures you see that they are not all that different. Almost every nation under heaven has rules against murder, theft, adultery, lies, and even how you should treat your parents.
The Law of the Bible is not revolutionary in its content. The Ten Commandments are things that everyone should know already, and most do instinctively. And that is why, when we break it, we are condemned. There is no excuse.
So not only does the Law apply to all people, telling them what to do; it also equally condemns all people. It bars the gates of heaven for all people too. It is totally inclusive.
Those who have memorized the commandments of God and those who have had no formal religious education all stand accountable for keeping the law. No one can plead ignorance when it comes to this. We all know right from wrong, yet we find ourselves doing wrong.
Everyone does it. We are all in the same boat. And so we are all inclusively convicted and condemned by the Law of God apart from our Lord Jesus Christ.
If you have ever loved anything more than God, if you have misused His name, if you have despised or neglected His Word, if you have dishonored your parents or anyone in authority, if you have caused any physical harm, if you have committed adultery or fornication, if you have taken anything that is not yours, if you have lied or gossiped, or if you have ever even just wanted to do any of those things, then you stand with me right beside you condemned in the sight of God under the Law, outside the doors.
Ah, but we are not under the Law. We are under grace, under the Gospel. And the Gospel is completely exclusive. It is exclusively about Jesus Christ, what He has done for you.
There is no other positive actor in the Gospel. God does all of the good stuff. He acts alone to save condemned sinners from the justice of His wrath.
This is what Paul means when he says that the righteousness of God has been manifested. Jesus Christ has shown up not only to be God’s righteousness, but to give us God’s righteousness. He is the exclusive source of our salvation.
Notice the repetition that Paul uses in describing our justification before God “by His grace as a gift.” That is a little redundant. Of course grace is a gift, and a gift is grace. That should go without saying. Yet Paul wants to be clear: We are saved purely by the actions of God in Christ Jesus. God is exclusively at work in Jesus Christ for your salvation.
God put Jesus forward as the atoning sacrifice, the propitiation, for our sins. His blood pays the price for our evil deeds and desires. There is no more punishment for sin in God’s sight. He has already extinguished His wrath by placing it exclusively on the shoulders of Jesus. Because of the death of Jesus God’s anger over your sin is gone.
Now His resurrection calls us from the grave of sin and transgression to live a new life, a life that God delights in. We are not sinners in His sight, but righteous, justified. Because of Jesus, by faith in Jesus Christ, we are God’s saints.
You see, the Law is also exclusive in that it directs us to the only person who can completely fulfill the Law. Jesus is the only one who lives a good and right life in God’s sight. He has done what no others could do.
When we look at the Law, when we hear it, we not only see what it demands of us, but we see the person that Jesus is. He perfectly loves God above all things. And He graciously loves you as Himself.
And because He is so good, so righteous, so merciful, He makes His Gospel inclusive as well, so that it is for you-for all. There is not a soul on this planet, living or dead, whom Jesus did not die for. Although they may reject Him, there is not one who He rejects because of their sin.
Now the power of accusation, of guilt and shame, or fear and remorse is broken and buried. The Gospel in all of its exclusive glory covers us with the exclusive righteousness of God’s only Son. It opens the gates of heaven.
It is now, for Christians, in the doctrine of vocation that these two words of God come together most beautifully. Our vocation is our calling in life, whatever God has placed before us to do: husband and wife, child and parent, worker and employer.
The Law shows the husband, the mother, the manager, what their responsibilities are. And the Gospel assures us that the work we do there pleases God for Christ’s sake.
When God sees a father changing diapers, He is pleased in that work, even if it is not quite how mom would do it. When He sees a wife caring for her sick or injured husband, He delights in that, even if that means the house remains a mess. When He sees children who honor their parents, there is joy in heaven, even if the parents don’t quite see it.
So we can delight in our work because God does. We can receive great happiness and fulfillment in the duties we perform because we are already justified by faith. God has guaranteed that He is pleased with you for the sake of Jesus. He promises His unbreakable promise that He delights in all that you do according to His will.
Both Law and Gospel exclude the prospect of boasting before God. We do not claim anything before God, yet He takes pleasure in our deeds. Like a child bringing their colorful scribbles on a sheet of paper to their father, He not only patronizingly accepts them, but lovingly cherishes them.
C.S. Lewis once wrote that the promise of the Gospel is that the door we have been knocking on our entire lives has finally been opened. It means that God hears you. He sees you. He acknowledges you. He knows you. He is pleased with you…all for the sake of Christ.