The Bible tells a beautiful, compelling story from creation and the fall to redemption and new creation. But as beautiful and compelling Scripture’s story is, a story doesn’t save you – Christ’s death on the cross does. The gospel is a message grounded in history. It’s not just a fable or a fantasy. It’s historically and factually true.
Having studied the four-part story of the Bible; we therefore now move on to the gospel, the primary resource for our mission. What’s our message?
Understanding our message is vitally important as we embark on mission with God. In order to bear lasting spiritual fruit, we need to have an accurate understanding of what the message is we’re supposed to proclaim. In our excitement, let’s not rush out the door to tell others the good news before we’ve made sure we know and understand what the good news actually is.
Background: The Gospel, An Ancient Message
People sometimes think the gospel is a New Testament phenomenon. Not so. In reality, the gospel is a very ancient message, reaching back centuries, if not millennia, before the early church came into being.
A key passage in the prophet Isaiah, for example, reads as follows: “How pleasant are the feet of him who brings good news” (Isaiah 52:7). Which news is the prophet talking about? In context, the reference is clearly to the main subject in the following chapter of the book of Isaiah, chapter 53, with its message about the suffering Servant who gave his life to save others and who bore the penalty for our sins.
Similarly, in his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul doesn’t just talk about the gospel in our passage today (3:19-26). Rather, he starts out the entire letter with a reference to the gospel. In fact, the gospel is the #1 theme in the book of Romans!
The Gospel of God, Witnessed to by the Law and the Prophets
In 1:1-5, Paul says that the gospel is not a NT innovation – in fact, it is not a human message at all. Rather, it is the gospel of God, God’s gospel (see v. 1: “an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God”). Why? Because it is a message about God and what he has done, and it is also a message given by God, and by his grace.
So if the gospel is not a new message, where does it come from? Paul says the gospel is in fact already revealed in both major portions of the OT, the Law and the Prophets. He writes, “the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son …, Jesus Christ our Lord (vv. 1-4).
The passage in the Law is Genesis 15:6, quoted in chapter 4 of Romans (v. 3), which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” The point of chapter 4 is, Abraham was considered righteous by God, not based on what he did, but on the basis of his faith in God (Hebrews 11:19 even says Abraham believed that God could raise people from the dead, for when he was about to sacrifice his son Isaac, the son of promise, he thought God would raise him from the dead to keep his promise).
The passage in the Prophets (quoted in Rom 1:17) is Habakkuk 2:3-4, which says, “The righteous shall live by faith.” Paul quotes this passage at the end of the preface in Rom 1:16-17, where he also says that he is not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for everyone who believes – Jews and Gentiles alike.
Now we all know the famous verse that’s part of the Romans Road, Rom 3:23, which says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Typically, we understand this to mean that every individual, without exception, is a sinner. That’s of course true, but I believe, in context, Paul is saying in Rom 3:23 that all, Jews as well as Gentiles, are sinners.
Everybody Is A Sinner, No Matter How Religious or Irreligious
So, then, after his introduction to the book of Romans (1:1-17), Paul first talks about the world’s depravity in the rest of chapter 1. You can just see how Paul’s Jewish readers would have heartily nodded in agreement and said, “We know, the world is really bad.” Many would do the same today.
But then, in chapter 2, Paul turns the tables and says that Jews are just as bad, because even though God gave them the law, and they know what his expectations are, none of them has kept the law perfectly – not even close. The same is true for everyone else who tries really hard to be good. All they’ll be able to accomplish is find out how bad they really are deep down inside.
By the time he gets to chapter 3, Paul has made clear that not only the (Gentile) world but also the Jews are sinners. He spends the first 3 chapters in the book of Romans to show this because he knows that unless people realize they’re sinners (even religious people), they won’t be ready to embrace the solution.
Before we’re ready for the solution, we must first embrace the problem. Before we’re ready to admit our need for a Savior, we must first face our own sinfulness.
So let’s now take a closer look at our passage for today, Rom 3:19-26.
The Gospel: The Revelation of God’s Righteousness Apart from the Law
19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.
- We’re accountable to God (v. 19)
Whether people acknowledge it or not, they are in fact accountable to God. As we share the gospel, we need to start by telling people that. We need to tell them about the coming judgment and ask them on what basis they think they will be acceptable to God.
20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
- Through the law comes knowledge of sin (v. 20)
There’s no use trying to be good, because no one can be good enough for God. Does that mean God is unreasonable and has unrealistic expectations? No. His standard is simply the glory with which he created us in the beginning. All we had to do is live out his God-intended purpose. But tragically, we now all fall short of the glory of God which he created us to reflect. It’s not just a matter of being better than most other people; it’s falling short, tragically short, of the purpose for which God made us in the first place.
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
- The righteousness of God has been revealed through faith in Christ (vv. 21-23)
We’ve already seen that the Law and the Prophets both witness to the fact that God’s righteousness comes by faith. But now, Paul says that God’s righteous requirements have been revealed apart from the (written) Law, that is, in the person of Jesus Christ (the “now” is a salvation-historical now: “now in salvation history,” at this juncture of God’s plan). All that we need to do is believe (sola fide).
For there is no distinction:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift.
- Those who believe in Christ are justified by his grace (v. 24)
Whether you’re a religious person (a “Nicodemus,” John 3) or a non-Jewish “sinner” (the Samaritan woman, John 4), you fall short of God’s intended purpose for you. When you share the gospel, tell people that God created them for so much more; also, he wants to set them free from their sin, so they’re no longer held back by their guilt and shame and can once again reflect his glory. All of this is by God’s grace (sola gratia): salvation by grace alone, through faith alone.
… through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 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.
- Jesus’ redemption provided propitiation through his blood (v. 25)
God himself provided the sacrifice: God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son! He sent him in the fullness of time, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law – us!
Because God is righteous, and holy, there must be punishment for sin. We’d love for God to simply say to us, “I know you’re a sinner. But never mind. I love you anyway! No problem, you’re OK.” God can’t do that, because of his holy and righteous character.
When we share the gospel, we need to explain that to people. This game is played by God’s rules, not ours. He makes the rules. All we can do is play by them, or we’re out of the game.
God can’t merely overlook our sin; our sin needs to be dealt with. The dilemma is, there’s nothing we can do about it, because we’re the problem.
What the Bible says is that God himself came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ and took care of our sin problem by dying for us on the cross.
26 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.
- God is both just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus (v. 26)
In this way, God was both just – that is, he didn’t just sweep our sin under the rug without actually dealing with it – and at the same time he is the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus. Wow! That’s amazing, isn’t it? God found a way, in Jesus Christ, to really deal with our sin. And he did it himself! By his grace! So all we need to do, and all we can do, is say “Thank you!” and trust Christ, God’s sacrifice on our behalf. It’s that simple, and yet that profound and wonderful.
Conclusion: The Gospel is True, Clear, and It Saves!
We’re not saved by a story – we’re saved by a person and what he did for us, the Lord Jesus Christ and his death on the cross. The gospel is the greatest message ever told, because it is true, clear, and, most important of all, because it actually saves.
- The gospel is true
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [i.e. Peter], then to the twelve …”
The gospel is a message grounded in history. It’s not just a fable or a fantasy. It’s historically and factually true.
- The gospel is clear
You don’t need a Ph.D. to believe the gospel. The gospel is for everyone. Everyone needs to hear the gospel and to act on it. We’re entrusted with the gospel, as part of embarking on mission with God.
- The gospel saves
Best of all, the gospel is the message of salvation. The gospel saves! There are many other messages in the world today, but there is only one message that actually can deliver what it promises. As the apostle Paul writes in the book of Romans, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes.” Let’s not be ashamed of the gospel and go on mission with God and spread the good news to others.