Genesis 3, verse 8 is one of the most haunting passages in all of Scripture. It reads…
“8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8 NIV).This verse is haunting both because of what it implies, and because of what it reveals. It implies that God had done this before. He had walked in the garden of Eden in the cool of the day. He had gone to visit His two most beloved creations, man and woman. They KNEW that sound. They had recognized it before with joy.
How different it had been in the past when they heard this sound. “God is here” they must have thought with delight. Maybe they had called out to Him from through the leaves, “LORD, we’re over here. Come see what we’ve been working on”.
But now, now they did not want the LORD to see what they had been working at. They had stolen from the tree which was forbidden. They had sinned against God. And by their sin, they had released pain and confusion and hatred and death into God’s creation.
Not long after Genesis 3:8, the Bible records how Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden. This was an act of love on God’s part. He didn’t want them to eat from the Tree of Life and live forever in their sinful condition. But they were banished from that precious garden all the same.
Ever since that day, mankind has been trying to get back into the Garden. Even those who don’t know the story of Adam and Eve know that something is missing. The world as it is, is in not the way it should be. We long for a connection with the divine. We long for communion with our Creator.
And that’s what Christianity is all about. Getting back into the Garden. Getting back into a relationship with God like that relationship which Adam and Eve had in the beginning.
Our sermon meditation for today comes from Romans, chapter 3. There the apostle Paul tells us what can never get us to back into the garden, and he also tells us what does.
Romans 3:19-25a, 27-28 (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, m through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.
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 law of God shows us what sin is, and that we have done it. Through the law we become conscious of our own sin.
Romans 3:20 is one of my favorite passages in the Bible because it plainly says, “You can’t get into heaven by what you do”. The law of God isn’t a stairway to heaven that you build one good deed at a time. The law is a mirror which reveals all our ugly faults and failings. If it reveals anything it reveals that we have no hope of standing before the holy God when judgment day comes - not on the basis of our own words and actions anyway.
God’s law cannot save us from sin. That’s not what it was designed to do. The law can only show us that we are sinners who deserve hell. Sinners who need to be saved.
The law is like a metal detector. It beeps when metal is present, but it can’t do a thing to move that metal.
The law is like a thermometer. It can show us we have a fever, but it can’t do anything to reduce that fever or make our sickness go away.
The law is like that annoying car sound that tells us the door is ajar. It can beep all day long, but that sensor in the door, and that sound that’s coming out of the dash has no power to close the door.
The law simply can’t get us back into the garden. The law alerts us that we’re not worthy of setting foot in God’s garden. It alerts us to the fact that we’re filthy sinners.
Before we move on, let’s set all the analogies aside and just look at the plain text itself one more time. Paul says…
“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” (Romans 3:20 NIV).Who’s going to get into heaven by keeping the commandments? Nobody. Nobody.
In Galatians 5, verse 4 Paul goes even further. He says that if you think your own good behavior will in any way help get you into heaven, you’ve fallen from grace and will not make it to heaven. Galatians 5:4 reads…
“4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace” (Galatians 5:4 NIV).▬
Now we know what WON’T get us back into the Garden. Let’s see what DOES. Look again at verse 21…
“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, m through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith” (Romans 3:21-25a NIV).Now, there are other places in the Bible that talk about a person being righteous where it means righteous in the sight of other people. Like you’ve got a good reputation. You’re a nice person in the eyes of your neighbors.
But HERE Paul talks about another kind of righteousness. A higher righteousness. God’s righteousness. Paul says that this righteousness of God that is GIVEN to sinners is mentioned by the Old Testament prophets. And that’s exactly what we find in the Old Testament.
“Blessed is the one whose sin the LORD does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit” (Psalm 32:2 NIV).
“18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,”
says the LORD.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18 NIV).
““For I will forgive their wickednessThere are just a few of the places where God says that He will take sinners, and not count their sins against them. And Isaiah 53:5-6 tell us why…
and will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:34b).
“…he was pierced for our transgressions,All have sinned and fall short of God’s standard. But through Christ, even the worst of the worst are forgiven completely, and freely.
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5-6 NIV).
I think Paul wants us to really understand that forgiveness is free. Look at the words he uses to emphasize this:
Verse 22, “given”. Paul says that God’s righteousness is given, not earned.
Verse 24, “justified”. To justify someone is to declare that they are “not guilty”. Today we usually use this word in a bad sense. You know, someone justifies their actions. They paint what they did as good, when it was actually bad. Well, this is exactly what God does for us. He looks at sinners and declares us “good” BECAUSE His Son Jesus died in our place, and suffered the punishment for our sins.
Paul adds the word “freely” to make sure we get it. This declaring sinners righteous is not done because of any payment WE have made. It is the free gift of God.
But Paul doesn’t stop there with the gift words. He also says that it is through God’s “grace” that we sinners are declared righteous. Grace means giving something you don’t have to give. Grace is the Holy Son of God suffering for our sins, and giving us His righteousness.
Paul adds another gift word, “redemption”. This word means to “buy back”. HE redeemed us, because there was no way for US to redeem ourselves. Like Paul wrote in First Timothy, chapter 1…
“He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus…” (1 Timothy 1:9 NIV).There’s another gift word, “sacrifice”. A sacrifice is made on behalf of someone else. Through His suffering our punishment, Jesus gave us the gift of a restored relationship with God that will never end.
Our salvation was an act of utter charity. Through Christ we are given God’s righteousness as a free gift.
And that’s why Paul says we can’t boast. Look at verse 27-28.
“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” (Romans 3:27-28 NIV).We can’t boast about our righteousness. Like Paul said, it’s actually God’s righteousness GIVEN to us. How do you boast about something you didn’t have any part in making or purchasing? Our righteousness is a GIFT, not a REIMBURSEMENT.
If you ever get into a conversation with someone who thinks their actions have some part in getting them to heaven, ask them gently, “Does God owe you, or do you owe God? Is heaven what God owes you for all the good deeds you’ve done for Him, or is heaven the gift that God gives you through Christ, even though you do not deserve it?”
Do this gently, in love. If we think our own actions will earn heaven for us, what we’re really saying is God owes us because of the great way we’ve lived our lives. God save us from such arrogance.
Now, there’s one last thing I’d like to talk about here. Look again at verse 22. There Paul says,
“…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” (Romans 3:22-24 NIV).Paul puts Jews and Gentiles on the same level because there were both ethnic Jews and ethnic Gentiles in the congregation in Rome.
Before Jesus, the Jews had traditionally looked down on the Gentiles. In Rome, the Jewish Christians knew more about the Bible than the Gentile converts. The Jews had been taught about the Bible all their lives. The Gentiles had just begun. The Jewish Christians in Rome probably hadn’t participated in the same kinds of outward sinful acts that the Gentiles had. For these reasons, and probably plenty of others, the Jewish Christians in Rome would have seen themselves as better than the Gentile Christians.
And the Gentile Christians had their own reasons for considering themselves better than the Jewish Christians. After all, the Bible itself records how the Jews had pushed God away throughout their history. They rebelled against God over and over. And when the Savior finally came, it was the Jews who incited the Romans to crucify Him. In addition to this, many Gentiles had come to faith through the message of Christ, but for the most part the Jewish nation had rejected Him. For these reasons, and probably plenty of others, the Gentile Christians in Rome may have judged themselves better than the Jews.
So, Paul reminds them that all this ranking and classing people is not only nonsense, it’s hypocrisy. We have nothing to boast about because we didn’t earn our salvation…
“…a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Romans 3:28b NIV).▬
And this applies to us today. As we reach out to our community with the message of Christ’s free forgiveness, we’re going to bring in people that don’t know the Bible as well as we do. People who haven’t been raised in the church. People who don’t know the little do’s and don’ts of church things like we do. We dare not look down on these people as if we are better than them. We have all fallen short of the glory of God because of the choices we’ve made and the things we’ve done. We stand on the same ground with the child molester, with the murderer, and with the liar. Only through Christ are we declared righteous before God. Our righteousness is a GIFT, not a REIMBURSEMENT. Let’s let THAT mold our attitude toward others in every setting.
Before we close, I’d like to take you back to where we started. That passage in Genesis 3, verse 8…
“8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8 NIV).Adam and Eve hid because they weren’t holy anymore. They weren’t righteous and good, and they knew it. But through Christ, we no longer have to respond to God’s approach with that kind of fear. Through Christ we have been given “God’s righteousness”. Not just a good reputation. Not just a great reputation. We have been given THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD, through Christ Jesus.
Right now we are holy before God’s eyes. And when death arrives to collect us, we will go where mankind has been longing to return since the beginning. We will go to the Garden of God’s presence. Into intimate and perfect communion with our Holy Creator.
All praise and thanks be to Jesus.
Prayer: Father in heaven, thank you for restoring sinners like us through the bold and dear sacrifice that your Son offered in our place. Let us never view our own pitiful and stained words and actions as in any way helping to restore us to you. Instead let us hold tightly to the free gift of your own righteousness that you have given us in Christ. And help us to estimate our worth in relation to others properly. Let us always consider others better than ourselves, putting them first in true humility and love. To the growth of your kingdom, and the glory of your Name. Amen.