God is the Gauge of Grace

The Gospel in Romans  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  33:26
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God is the Gauge of Grace

God is the Gauge of Grace

I chose this title partly because I wanted to be alliterative; and couldn’t quite find the word I wanted to fit into the title, in order to say, We Cannot Force the Hand of God for Our Justification and Salvation. Even when we do our very best to use the very law he has given through Moses, the law expanded in the Old Testament, the Law as it is refined in the New Testament, or whatever law we expect to use to tell God he has to let us into his eternal glory because of what we have done.
OK, that’s the goal of religion, to end up where God is. That’s why we have our Bibles, teachers, and preachers, so we can gain the prize ourselves. Sometimes we make it too easy, and sometimes we make it too hard.
Paul was wishing his Jewish brethren were not trying to do it on their own, through the practice of and obedience to the Law of Moses, because Jesus Christ had already gained the end result for us, the justification of our souls, so that we can stand before the throne of God guiltless.

We Try to Decide What God Expects of Us

That’s not true for all of us, but probably most of us.
But being an expert in the Law, in practice and observance, is really beyond most of us.
Do you have any idea what it takes to become a lawyer?
What does it take to graduate with a JD degree and become a lawyer?
Well, it starts when you are young. You take school very seriously. You learn to do your work as it is assigned, and don’t miss any steps. If you are really good at it, maybe you can manage to have top grades. You move from elementary school into Jr High or Middle school or maybe right to High School, and you keep up the good work at every stage.
When you are still 2 years from completing High School, you start to choose the college you want to attend. You start to make inquiries, start to look for scholarships and ways to finance college, and then start to research what you need to apply to the school you want to attend. When you are about though your 11th grade of school, still at a “Junior” level in High School, you take a couple standard achievement tests, not just the state tests to graduate your grade, but the ACT or SAT or some such test that the bright people always brag about and the common student simply dreads. Then you sent in your applications, test scores, High School transcripts, and a plug of money for each application, and wait and pray.
If you get into the college you want, you still are a long way from that JD degree, which comes from the Latin words for “Doctor of Laws”. You have to continue to do well in college. You have to take a bunch of classes that are different from an art student or a mathematician or teacher. You have a different goal. So as you near your graduation with a Bachelor of Arts degree in an appropriate field, you start looking for the Law School you will attend as a post-graduate student. You begin to pray you will be able to pay off your college and law school loans before you die, even while to make applications to one or two law schools.
Then, as you graduate your 4-year college, you apply yourself to prepare to take something called the “LSAT”, or Law School Admission Test, which is required to enter a law school program. This test is offered only a few times a year in your area. And worse, if you don’t pass it, you may not begin your law school this year. And you can only take it a maximum of 5 times in 5 years. And if you are determined to be a lawyer but just don’t have the right stuff, you can keep on trying to pass the LSAT, but you are only allowed to take it 7 times IN YOUR LIFETIME.
Ah, but when you pass it, you enter the law school you were accepted into, and it is almost as if most of your college classes don’t matter any more, and you better like to read, as you digest the volumes and volumes of law books in your chosen specialty. As you learn, and apply, and debate, and are graded, evaluated and your advisors read your papers and chart your progress and future prospects, you may be granted the degree of Jusris Doctorate, a degree earned by long hours in library and writing.
Then, once the Juris Doctorate is complete, the graduate is ready to sit for their state bar exam and receive their license to practice law. Now, they don’t just go out and hang out a shingle and open a law office. They spend years learning the ropes and legal researchers and assistants, and perhaps junior partners in someone else’s law practice first.
You and I have both met or heard of a lot of pretty good attorneys. And a lot of poor attorneys, or unethical attorneys, or just plain sloppy ones. And some of them become Judges. It’s a good thing that State Bar Associations made up of many lawyers are generally interested in improving the reputation of lawyers in our country.
Whew! Now, after I’ve rattled on a while and haven’t even read scripture, here’s my point: If it takes that much just to become and expert in one area of the law of man, what do you think it will take to become an expert at practicing and obeying God’s law for all your life?
That’s why Paul needs to remind us,

The Law of God is Not Our Way Into Heaven.

I know, I know, we have been given this incredible book we call the Bible. And it really is incredible. Bible in English comes from a Greek word biblia—which means ‘little scrolls’. Our canon of 66 ‘little scrolls’ or books written by mostly men, as they were inspired by the Holy Spirit of God, is our Bible. It’s an incredible book for so many reasons.
It is the record of God’s interaction with mankind.
It claims 2 things at once: it is written by men and it is written by God—or literally, “God-breathed” into the various writers.
The 5 books of Moses, known as the “Torah” or Law, start with creation but were only written down during the 40 years between Moses’ encounter with God on Sinai and when the Israelites were on their way into Canaan, for us, Palestine, about 13 centuries before Jesus the Messiah, and Joshua in the next half-century.
The wisdom writings of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes were added from about 1000-800 years before Jesus, then the books of the Prophets from about 800-400 years before Jesus’ birth.
But think about it: by the time of Jesus, with all the enemies of Israel and even the Exile into Babylon, the sacking of the Temple and the massacre of the priests, the Law of God had been preserved, treasured, and recopied by the people of Israel for 40 generations or so in a mostly pre-literate society. No wonder it was called Sacred Scripture. Scripture, by the way, just means “writings”. But in the context of religion, we usually know what is and isn’t Scripture.
As incredible as this is, the Law of God, knowing the law of God, practicing the law of God, obeying the law of God will never earn your justification and salvation by itself. As Paul found out, the good Law of God showed him his sin, not his saintliness. You see, the Law of God is only the minimum standard for living as the people of the Holy God, creator of the universe. And if you are guilty of once failing that law, you are not righteous and you have failed to earn the right to be in the same heavenly space as the Holy God. That cannot come by the Law, but by Faith.
In Romans 9 and 10, Paul the Apostle is lamenting this problem as he thinks about his fellow Jews. What is the problem? and what is the solution?

Some Have Attained Righteousness

Jesus was born, lived, died, and ascended into heaven as a Jew. He is the Messiah the Jewish nation had been waiting for since the last days of Moses. The one they hoped would make their little nation once again the earth-shaker that it was when they marched out of Egypt for the Promised Land after God had disgraced Pharaoh.
At first the Jews had mostly missed Jesus. But when his words scandalized them, called them on the carpet for kowtowing down to their Roman oppressors, turning the Temple into a marketplace and their religion just a ritual instead of a relationship with God, they decided to get rid of him.
It’s not so easy to be rid of the Son of God, though. He rose from the dead, inspired his disciples, and changed the hearts and lives of all who would believe on him for their forgiveness, justification, and salvation—which would get them into heaven.
Paul wasn’t on Jesus side. He was with the self-preserving Jews, until Jesus knocked him off his horse on the way to Damascus to arrest some believing Jews. It was while he was recovering that God told him he would be the one to bring the news of God’s Son, the Savior of the Whole World, to the people who weren’t Jewish. The Gentiles.
You see, the Jews of Jesus’ day had forgotten that God’s promises to Abraham, the Grandfather of Israel, said,
Genesis 12:2–3 CSB
2 I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, I will curse anyone who treats you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.
Genesis 18:18 CSB
18 Abraham is to become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him.
The promise of God’s blessing is for all families of the earth in (or through) Abraham. All the families or nations of the earth to be blessed in Abraham’s descendants.
But the Israelites were still focused on their own survival. And that made anyone else, the Gentiles, their enemies, not deserving of what God had given to them. So they turned back to the Law, which God had given to them, and no one else, and guarded it, built a wall around it, and kept it from others.
Then Jesus came. Let them know they were wrong.
Then Jesus came to Paul, and let him know he was wrong.
Now Paul is writing to the Roman church about his Jewish brothers, and wish they had believed the good news that Jesus of Nazareth is their hope for heaven. A who lot of Gentiles had believed by now. Why weren’t the Jews flocking to Jesus?
Paul writes,
Romans 9:30–31 ESV
30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law.
So, here we are. The Gentiles weren’t looking for a Jewish Messiah. They weren’t following the Jewish Scriptures. They didn’t understand about the One True God. But now, after hearing the good news of Jesus, that God loves them so much he has given them a way to live in eternity with the Holy God instead of the eternity of dying in Hell because they were not righteous, everyone, it seems wanted in. Except the Jews who had rejected Jesus.
The Israelites has tried to make it by following the law, every piece and particle; but they made a mistake in putting the Law at the center of their religion instead of putting God at the center of their lives. They didn’t succeed.

Faith is the Only Way to Righteousness

Romans 9:32–33 CSB
32 Why is that? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. 33 As it is written, Look, I am putting a stone in Zion to stumble over and a rock to trip over, and the one who believes on him will not be put to shame.
If you trust that following the Law will get you into heaven, that means you trust what you can do yourself. That means you could do it by your own effort.
Who needs faith in God? We have faith in his Law. In this book, right here! If we follow it, he has to let us in. Right?
Well, that’s the deception that legalism brings you. It says you can pretty much tell God what to do about your eternal soul, because you deserve heaven.
That’s the offense of Jesus; that’s the stumbling stone of the law. You think you’ve got this one handled. You have the handbook. You have the Torah. Do what it says, you’re good.
But Paul knows now that you need the rest of the story, the story of God’s son who died with the words “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” on his lips.
Knowing and believing the rest of the story means that by your belief, by your faith in the saving power of the son of God, Jesus the Christ, you shall be saved (Romans 10:13).
By faith. That’s what’s right. That’s what works salvation.

It’s Not Like They Weren’t Trying

By the time of Paul, there were many Jews who were trying to get Israel back on track. Call Israel back from the brink of totally rejecting God for the sake of what they thought they were doing to save their nation. While the Sadducees were telling the people to just keep going through the motions and don’t upset Caesar, the Pharisees were trying to turn everyone into legalists so that God would be pleased. That was Paul’s own mistake, and for a time, he was pretty sure that was what every Israeli should do. Until Grace slapped him in the face and took him by the shoulders and shook him out of his spiritual blindness to see God at work through Jesus Christ to save people, Jews and Gentiles, from their sins. Even as he speaks of his heart for Israel to be saved, he knows of a fervor that is currently misplaced:
Romans 10:1–2 CSB
1 Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God concerning them is for their salvation. 2 I can testify about them that they have zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.
Paul’s wanting the salvation of Israel became Paul’s praying for the salvation of Israel. He put his deep desire into God’s lap. He himself was a zealous Jew, with a zeal for God that was ignorant of God’s saving grace. He was lured by the movement that told him that only by the law could a human bridge the gap between earth and heaven. He used to wake up every morning with prayers and incantations on his lips, the Law of God in his mind, and the peace of God always out of reach. Until he discovered it wasn’t His reaching for God, but God reaching for him that really mattered. That was the knowledge that his fellow Jewish religious zealots lacked. Been there, done that. It wasn’t enough. Salvation by my own merit will always come up short.
The minimum requirement for the people of the book is perfect obedience to everything in the book. And we just aren’t good enough.

Trouble Comes When We Don’t Submit

Paul knew about pride. After all, he was good at being a good Jew. But he also knew, since he met Jesus, how far short he had come by his own efforts.
Romans 10:2–4 CSB
2 I can testify about them that they have zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 Since they are ignorant of the righteousness of God and attempted to establish their own righteousness, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes,
There’s his self-indictment: Zealous for God, not knowing his Grace, ignorant of righteousness, building their own system for salvation out of laws that really wanted to call God’s people back to having patient and enduring faith in God.
But that means submitting to the idea that only God can work salvation; I can’t save myself. And we humans really aren’t good at submitting to an idea of faith when we have the rules of faith in front of us. But we are really good at building a religious system to keep everyone on edge, in fear of their souls, because only a few can really attain the goal.
That’s what Paul is talking about when he says the Jews “attempted to establish their own righteousness.” Isn’t it good when God gives you all the tools to do that? I mean, there is a temple, so tall and beautiful and grand reserved for only a few to enter; the temple has it courts, the levels of barriers between the common people and the altar of sacrifice. The priests and the scribes kept the law for themselves, until it was beneficial for them to sell copies to the lawyers, that is, the teachers and legalists among the people.
Then those with the resources had the Law of God. Not the common people. So they could be the religious police for the behaviors of the masses. They could stay in control. But that translated into control of what God wanted from them as well. Not to submit to God’s righteousness but to establish and practice their own ideas of righteousness.
But here is the the truth that Paul had learned the hard way: God has provided in Jesus Christ everything that is needed for life and salvation. He puts it this way: “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
It’s not our efforts but God’s grace given through Jesus Christ that gives us a righteousness that God can accept. And this comes to everyone who believes. That’s everyone who believes, not just Lawyer, scribe or priest, not just the good Jews, but everyone, even Gentiles. God is Gauge of His Grace. Not us. But God’s grace is generous and available to all. To all. Even to me. Even to you.
That’s really good news, because

The Law is Hard, but Faith is Easy

If you insist on living by the law, you better be prepared for a lifetime of hard work to fulfil every jot and tittle of the book.
Romans 10:5 CSB
5 since Moses writes about the righteousness that is from the law: The one who does these things will live by them.
If you want to live by the law, you have to do the law. Laws are not written with extra credit for those who follow the laws. Laws are written only to provide the consequences of disobedience. Living under a shadow of consequences will wear you out. You are always “looking over your shoulder,” in effect. You are always wondering if someone will find out your secrets, expose your inequities, and disgrace your name. Because everyone lives with the knowledge of their own shortcomings. Well almost everyone, but that’s another story. The Law is HARD.
Paul found out something that is for our encouragement though:
Romans 10:6–7 CSB
6 But the righteousness that comes from faith speaks like this: Do not say in your heart, “Who will go up to heaven?” that is, to bring Christ down 7 or, “Who will go down into the abyss?” that is, to bring Christ up from the dead.
The righteousness that comes from faith, that is, from believing God for your salvation, means you don’t have to build a ladder to try to reach God to find the Messiah that is hidden in heaven; you don’t have to toss a rope over the abyss into Hades so you can rappel down and stir Christ from the dead.
Faith in God’s work means faith that you know he already sent his one and only Son to us so that by believing in him we might have life. It means you know he has already raised Christ from the dead to prove victory over death and the grave.
Faith in the righteousness of God is a lot easier than Law that tries to do it the hard way.

The Search is Done: Faith is the Answer

So here is the conclusion:
Romans 10:8–9 CSB
8 On the contrary, what does it say? The message is near you, in your mouth and in your heart. This is the message of faith that we proclaim: 9 If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
God has already placed in your heart and on your tongue what is needed for your righteousness. Beleive God, as did Abraham, and Moses, and Joshua, and David…and know that God’s love is what calls you to himself, not his law that makes you afraid of the grave.
Confess that Jesus is Lord. Believe that God raised him from the dead. And be saved. Faith is the answer you need.
But then,

If All Israel Won’t Believe in Jesus...

What do you do about God’s promises to them:
Romans 10:16–17 CSB
16 But not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed our message? 17 So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ.
SO, not all obeyed the Gospel. The word of God that for obedience requires each one to believe. Even Isaiah struggled with the fact that he preached God’s grace but it seemed like no one had gotten it.
But if you hear the gospel, and believe in the one God sent, faith will become your righteousness, not law.
So Paul asks the question:
Romans 11:1 CSB
1 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? Absolutely not! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.
So Paul the Israelite must rest in this hope and promise:
Romans 11:5 CSB
5 In the same way, then, there is also at the present time a remnant chosen by grace.
In other words, if God can save a Jew like me, he can save the whole number of those he has gauged to be ready for his Grace. By God’s own design, for now a remnant, but later, all he has called.

God Saves the World While Israel Watches

Romans 11:11–12 CSB
11 I ask, then, have they stumbled so as to fall? Absolutely not! On the contrary, by their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel jealous. 12 Now if their transgression brings riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fullness bring!
This is all for the final victory of Christ for all that have been called. The is the victory of Grace, that the Gentiles, the rest of the world, might be saved and Israel’s great desire gain the riches of grace back home for their own salvation!
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