20th August 2023

The Righteousness of God and the Gospel Part 1

Passage: 2 Timothy 2:8, Genesis 18:25, Romans 3:21-26, 1:16-17
Service Type:

Automatically Generated Transcript

Well, just like this morning we actually had the message part of our service in two halves, two parts, and it worked very well. If you were here this morning, I'm sure you'll agree with me. It was a wonderful service. And likewise tonight, with Heaven Communion, I see my part as giving the other half of the sermon. But because this morning there was only a half on the topic to do with the Beatitudes, and particularly the one in verse 6, in Matthew 5, verse 6, blessed is the one who hungers and thirsts after righteousness, for they shall be filled. And the idea that there's a righteousness that Jesus said that we should hunger and thirst after, and that's one of the conditions of actually getting it in the end. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, or some translations have after righteousness, chasing righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. And tonight I thought maybe to add the other half of the message, and to talk about what is the righteousness of God. And it's actually a far more tricky question to answer.

One thing for certain, the Bible all through it, Old Testament and New Testament, has righteousness as a chief theme, and the person who mostly is righteous is God himself. There are others who follow him and are helped by him, and are rewarded for their righteousness. And so you can say that righteousness is both a characteristic or an attribute, that's a theological word meaning a characteristic, an attribute of God that he has. And what it's actually about is that God is always seeking to act and to do according to his character, because he is righteous. And you actually can't define righteousness very easily just without God. But when you have God, and you know, and you're instructed, you read in the scriptures how he acts, you're getting a picture of righteousness. And God always acts according to his character, which is what righteousness is. But it's also true that the Bible presents the fact that God is the rewarder of righteousness. And if a person seeks to behave as God would have them, to be like God, to follow his way, God is the rewarder of righteousness as well. Now, what I wanted to do tonight is to tie the concept of this righteousness, which is an attribute of God, to tie it to the gospel.

Why I would do that is because the Old Testament ties it to the law, and shows that the law is actually given by God in order to point out to humanity the righteousness they don't have. And the law actually was in God's hands an instrument to convict us of sin and show us our failures. And sure enough, the storyline of the Old Testament, and through the giving of Moses, giving the law, and all to do with the history of Israel, is one of failure after failure after failure. But with a provision by God of forgiveness and forgiveness and forgiveness. Sometimes punishment. And so this is a picture from the Old Testament, but when we come to the New Testament, we discover that there's been a development. None of that has changed, but there has been a development of what God is revealing to us. And so if you were to turn to a Bible verse of the New Testament to, let me see, well first of all I'm going to take you through a few more of these definitional things to 2 Timothy chapter 2 verse 8. And 2 Timothy, I don't know how that's come to be the verse I'm quoting. Let me just check that I've got the right thing. I think we'll go to 2 Timothy chapter 4. That's a good verse. It's relevant too, because in the Gospel that Paul gave his life to be a proclaimer of, he preached the Gospel, and he's owning it to be how he preached the Gospel. But chapter 4 and verse 8 is the one that I'm chasing. And that verse says, Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.

A crown of righteousness. And this crown of righteousness is the completion of our Christian journey. So not only does righteousness belong to God, and his righteousness will he give to us, which is what the Gospel is telling us, but there's also a development once we respond to the Gospel and we become Christians, that we then go through a program of God, not program as in here's the textbook step by step, but a process of God which we call sanctification. And sanctification is whereby he has the agenda to continually increase our righteousness. But that righteousness that we have more and more of, and that was what I was talking about this morning, is a righteousness that God loves to reward. And at the end of our days when we go to glory, then we can be like the Apostle Paul, and he says, Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, not only to me but also to those who love his appearing, his second return. Now notice in the middle it says the righteous judge, and one of the things about the Gospel is not only that it's talking about God wanting to give us his righteousness, but it's also underlining that he is the righteous judge.

And he not only is the person who gives righteousness to the people who are coming to Christ, but also he's going to sanctify them through their Christian journey with the purpose of you at last arriving at heaven, and if you've allowed the Lord to do that process, there'll be a crown of righteousness that you will receive. In some sense you can say that every Christian arriving at heaven's doors is going to have their sanctification completed, and so they'll be in for this crown of righteousness as well. Although the Bible also teaches that there'll be rewards, other types of rewards, according to how we've run. So it's a very big topic about this righteousness of God. It's an attribute of God, it's something that is connected to who he is and his character, and it's also connected to the Gospel. And so the topic tonight that I was really aiming, I wrote in the top of my notes I gave myself is, what is righteousness and how does it connect to the Christian Gospel? So that's what we're chasing down tonight and seeking to see where it leads us. We'll go to another verse which is Genesis 18.25. I've only got four of these Bible verses, so it's not a long sermon. But Genesis 18.25, and hopefully I got the one correct. Yep.

Far be it from you to do such a thing as a certain incident in the Old Testament, to put the righteous to death with the wicked. Now even though I've said that righteousness is something that God gives us, he nonetheless distinguishes the difference between those who are righteous and those who are wicked. And God is not going to let up the distinction and call everybody righteous when they're not. If you're not wicked, you'll be someone who's righteous, and God isn't going to punish you along with the rest. That's why they'll be going to hell and you'll be going to heaven. So that the righteous fare as the wicked, if God were to treat them both the same. So it's not just a case of God is such a nice person that he's going to have everybody go to heaven, and there is no such thing as hell. There are people who, for the sake of that being a nicer thought to have in their minds, try and deny the existence of hell. The only trouble with that is the person who spoke most vividly about the reality of hell is Jesus. And God has another reason why Jesus spoke like so. It is that in all that he does to bring us to heaven and give us a crown of righteousness, he's going to do that righteously. God is going to do it without doing the wrong thing.

You know that in human circles, often there's favouritism to give to someone to let them off the hook because they're a good friend. God is not like that. If he was going to save people, he had to find a way to do it, which was a righteous way to do it. Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is just? And this is one of the guarantees God gives that when that judgement day comes, because of how righteous God is, he's not going to make any mistakes, and he's not going to have people rewarded for what they were not. It brings up a bit of a question about, at the judgement, will it be a case of God having all these sinners come, and he's put a sticker on the back of their head or on the back of their shirt of each one, righteous? And all the angels be watching , saying, oh, we know they're not. But the people who are entered into heaven are going to actually be righteous. God couldn't do any different. That's what it means.

Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is just? And part of what the gospel message, this message that Jesus championed, that he made the Sermon on the Mount to really be about in a way that most people miss when they just read the blessed is this and blessed is that, is that God is going to be righteous in how he allows people to be given a gift of righteousness and then have their lives worked on so they develop in righteousness. And so when they get to heaven, God will have been just in the whole process. Let me elaborate a bit more on this idea of the gospels, not only about a matter of showing us how we can become righteous, but it's also that God will do it in a way that he is shown to be righteous doing it. So let's turn to another Bible verse in Romans chapter 3 and the verses 21 to 26. Romans chapter 3 and verses 21 to 26. And this is very interesting because, you know, I always get surprised at how many people I meet who had no idea that the gospel was about the righteousness, listen, coming from heaven. Not only does the righteousness come from heaven, but the gospel also makes clear God's anger at sin.

The revelation of the wrath of God is something that the gospel also reveals. But now the righteousness of God has been made clear, manifested, apart from the law. Here's another thing a lot of people haven't understood, that if you have a sense of being righteous because you've kept all of God's decrees, you've let yourself be sucked in by legalism. No, the gospel's about a message where God reveals, apart from the law, the righteousness of God. That's what that verse 21 is saying, but now the righteousness of God has been manifested, demonstrated, set out, offered, manifested apart from the law. And you have to be careful that you don't let yourself get trapped in what is a law way to understand the gospel. There's an entire letter in the New Testament called the Book of Galatians, which is written by the apostle Paul, to give warning not to get trapped in law way, but to understand that it's always a gift, the righteousness of God, that God gives. Why does he have to so give this? Because we have failed, and what the law actually achieves in doing is shining the torchlight on our failures to be able to keep the law. Some people might set their lives so they keep some of them, but none of us can stop the sinfulness that the whole human race gained at the fall of the human race, that we will never be able to get in the door of righteousness by how we keep the law.

So the new covenant that God arranged to do through Jesus was to provide the availability of righteousness apart from the law. Just note that, apart from the law. But then he does qualify, in case you misunderstand, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, because the Old Testament, often referred to as the law of the prophets, another way they sometimes talked about the Old Testament was the law of the prophets and the writings. But when sometimes they refer to just the law, but many times any of those three ways of saying, he's talking about the Old Testament, because at the centre of the Old Testament is the law, and at the centre of the world around it is the prophets, and the prophecies were about one day God coming in the person of his son to set up the means whereby we could have the righteousness of God as a gift. The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe, and the way that you become having this righteousness is simply putting your faith in God's method to make it a gift for you. It's interesting, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction in persons, no distinction at all.

For all have sinned and all fall short of the glory of God. And they're justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. And the gospel which narrates what Jesus had to do to achieve our redemption is how forgiveness and righteousness become a gift. Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood. Let me go on with the verse a bit later, but for the moment I want to dwell on that word propitiation. You may be aware that the scriptures use two words to talk about the effect of Jesus having died for our sins. One is expiation, which is used as part of what happened, and expiation is a lesser achievement. The word expiation is taking it out of the way of being a problem. Propitiation has to do with persons. And the person who needs to be propitiated is God. And propitiation is that something is put in between us and God whereby his wrath is turned away from us. The man in the, the sinner tax collector, I think he was in the temple in Jesus' story, where there was a Pharisee who was saying, I thank you, I'm not like the other people, I'm, you know, and he was rehearsing how he thought he was pretty good before God.

But then the tax collector doesn't even look up to heaven, he's so aware of his guilt. And he beats his chest and he says, God be, and the actual word used, God be propitiated for me. And propitiation is where you avert the wrath of God by someone or the wrath of anybody. You propitiate them. It's a personal relationship thing. Expiation is handling the problem. Propitiation is handling the person with whom you have the problem. Sometimes I look at it, at the fact that if I break the law with my car and sometimes you go through a red light, you shouldn't, but sometimes you might go through a red light, right? I try hard not to do that. But, and if for some reason the policeman has favour on me because he likes Mazdas and I've got a little red Mazda, and he just doesn't bother clicking the button or whatever it is, it would handle the issue. It doesn't exist anymore. Or if you had a friend who works within the system and they were in the office and you rang them up, you shouldn't do this, but you know, it's not good justice.

And you said, look, I think there's in my file, you know, a fine. And he said, oh, don't worry, Jim, you're a good mate. I'll go and get rid of it. And they go in the office and pull out the thing and it's disappeared. God does propitiate and he does expiate. And there are Bible verses where both of those words are used. However, the reason why he can handle the issue, which is expiate, is because Jesus has propitiated. And in the Old Testament, something that we're taught by the very fact of the law and the sacrificial system is that what there needs to be for us not to have to suffer the punishment for our sins is that there has to be a substitute. And the whole sacrificial system with the goats and the sheep and the birds and whatever who were sacrificed was that they got sacrificed as a substitute for the human being who did sin. And so propitiation is where somebody else has taken the crime and has borne its punishment.

And why the Gospel offers a propitiation, as this passage says, whom God put forward as Jesus, he put him forward as a propitiation by his blood. The mention of blood is talking about a violent sacrifice where the life is taken. And it is by Jesus giving his life and shedding his blood that propitiation is made before God and the Holy God sees the substitute that he's taken the punishment for you. And you may now receive that propitiation. Receiving Jesus is connected to Jesus. He is the substitute. And when you take him as your saviour, which means you trust his action on dying on the cross for your sins and standing before God then as the deal is all over in his resurrection, God accepts him at the resurrection because all sin is dealt with. When you accept Jesus as your personal saviour, then you are propitiated by his blood. Notice it says to be received by faith. There are some people who say, no, it's just something God does and he flicks his fingers and you're suddenly made born again without you doing anything. That's not true. It's certainly not by your doing something that would deserve forgiveness.

That's beyond our reach and beyond God's character to let you get away with some easy out. But when Jesus died for your sins and God was propitiated about your sins, then that's achieved it for you. But you must receive this propitiation, this step of faith by receiving it. In the home group where I go on Friday nights, we're going through the Gospel of John and one of the things that happens is in various chapters and whatever, Jesus is talking to the crowds. He doesn't use the same language about this gift of forgiveness. He doesn't always talk about receiving Christ, but at the beginning he does in chapter 1 where the Bible says that the world didn't receive Christ when he came to it, but to as many as did receive him, he gave them the right to become the children of God. Then it says, even to as many as believed in his name. Immediately you see there that two of the different ways through the Gospel of John you can find the idea of responding to what Christ has done. One way in John chapter 1 is receiving Christ. Another way later is by believing in his name. But there in that verse, John 1 verses 11 and 12, the two things are shown to be two ways of saying the same thing.

You have to receive God's gift of grace, God's gift of righteousness, and wherein lies that righteousness but none other than in the person of Jesus. That's what happens when a person comes to God and receives the righteousness that Christ achieved. That is getting converted and becoming a Christian. That is the redemption process enacted out in you that you are redeemed. It's all in there in verse 24, justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Literally, you can't get forgiveness aside from Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith. I wanted to ask you the question, have you received the righteousness of God? It's always only a gift, not achievable any other way than it's being found in Christ. These are amazing things. The connection of righteousness that we get is that it's come from God. Let's go to one more verse, which is Romans 1. Here's the apostle right at the beginning of his Gospel. I believe that these verses mark out what the Gospel is all about that the rest of the book of Romans follows on to talk at depth.

For I'm not ashamed of the Gospel, the good news, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. That's why also we saw Paul writing to Timothy about the way that God has set out a Gospel that is apart from the law. It's not achieved by the law. The law only shows us our need of there being a salvation that comes from God. I'm not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. The Greeks didn't get in until the revelation of the Gospel, either through Jesus or through the apostles. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from heaven for faith as it is written, the righteous shall live by faith. Notice that bit about there, the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith. When you respond to the Gospel and receive this righteousness, it's by faith that you're getting to receive it, but it is for faith that you begin a life of faith. The sanctification that we've been talking about, that life of faith is where you go on to learn more of the righteousness of God and you learn to be more and you gradually get changed.

Where the Roman Catholics have a difference from us is because they don't think you ever become righteous right until the end of life and you get judged and then you can be called a saint. Not very many people actually get to be called saints and there's a bit of a test to see whether you've done miracles and whether you've had a life that demonstrates that you were of faith eventually. But we as Protestants believe that you become the saint the moment you receive the righteousness because that's actually what the word saint means, it means holy one. And when you have the righteousness of God, you have become a holy one and it happens the moment in prayer you ask Jesus to be your personal saviour. It's what in baptism people confess, they confess I have taken Jesus as my Lord and saviour and that confession is a part of how the miracle happens, it's the way to receive by faith when you take Jesus as your saviour.

And often where people get their assurance from is when you come to the place of them actually being led in prayer and believing it, that Christ, they're allowing him to be their personal saviour. And the assurance afterwards is amazing. And assurance of your being saved is actually something you ought to have or have the right to have because it's not done by anything you've achieved, it's done by your receiving of righteousness from God. That's why another verse, I haven't got it down, but no one says the righteousness of God is revealed from heaven. The righteousness of God is not just something we learn about as a mental thing, the righteousness of God is something that you receive. Until you receive the righteousness of God, you haven't got it yet.

And in our churches there are many people who are seeking by how they strive hard and often they do it by obeying the Bible, sometimes they do it by serving God, sometimes they go as missionaries, and I've seen missionaries come back at an old age, discover that they've never been in the door to start with, though they did lots of good things overseas. But it wasn't the good things that are the righteousness of God. The righteousness of God is that which he is always the author of. And those things that God does in you is the righteous acts that marks you out as a Christian. The righteous shall live by faith, and it's from faith for faith. Many of the people who write commentaries on the Book of Romans speak about these verses as the real central core of what the whole Book of Romans is about. And it is by your discovering how to have as a gift the righteousness of God. Let's have a prayer.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the facts that Jesus said, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. You don't intend there to be someone, no matter how deep and dark their sins may have been, to be stressed any more about them because they're aware they've received the righteousness from heaven, the righteousness of God, and that you intend to help them to undertake a behavioural change, not by their doing, but by your working out God's righteousness in their lives. What an assurance to have, what a joy. We see it in the Apostle Paul, who persecuted the church, who caused the death of Christians, who worked against the Christian gospel, but you gave him such an assurance and a calling to be the light to the nations, to take the gospel to the world. Oh, Father, what an amazing thing that this gift of righteousness can work. And my prayer is that every person listening to my voice this morning, this evening, may be alerted to whether or not they have the free gift. The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. We thank you. Amen.

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