Explore the Bible: Justified

The Explore the Bible lesson for March 22 focuses on Romans 3:21-4:3.

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  • The Explore the Bible lesson for March 22 focuses on Romans 3:21-4:3.

It’s always moving to watch first responders as they act in different crises—especially those who risk their lives to, say, rescue people trapped in their cars during a flash flood.

The responders strap on their gear and safety line then head into the flood themselves at great risk to their own lives. When they reach the motorists, the first responders pluck them off the top of their car’s roof, hook them up to safety lines and then accompany them back to safety. The compassion and courage of those responders can bring one to tears.

Even more remarkable is that not one rescued person ever is asked for their credentials or to give explanation as to what they were doing when they drove into the high water. They are not asked about neighborhood in which they live, whether they can pay for the rescue or what their intended destination might have been.

All that matters in that moment is the fact that if someone doesn’t rescue them, they are going to die. On that information alone, the responders act quickly and effectively to do their best to remove death from that desperate person’s life equation in that moment.

It’s helpful and refreshing to look at today’s passage that way. There is so much gospel truth to this text that we will never, individually or collectively, be able to plumb its depth.

The high cost of salvation

These truths seem to be most apparent. Sin and the guilt of it is universal. There is no human who ever lived or ever will live who has ever achieved wholeness with God (salvation) through perfect behavior. “All have sinned” paints with a justifiably broad brush.

Too often, way too often, we pass judgement on others as though we stand atop the summit of holiness.  We are, to a person, down in the valley of desperate darkness and death.  Our only hope is that God would intervene, which is what this text celebrates.

Sin—and its death-giving venom—is at every hand. We were trapped in the rushing flood waters of all that breaks God’s heart, the water was rising rapidly and showing no sign of abating. Then, not at the risk of his son’s life but, at the actual cost of it, God moved into our sinful state with us to show us the way out. Jesus wasn’t wearing a safety line on the cross.

One difficulty this text presents is that of the economy of God. We have no earthly, human model to use as a standard by which to compare God’s willingness to bankrupt heaven if that’s what it took to pay the cost of our salvation.

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Recently, my wife and I stood outside the glass window looking into the hospital nursery where nurses were tending to our newborn grandson. We didn’t say the words, but all who stood there with us were joined in knowing that, no matter what, we’ll love that boy, no matter the cost, as long as God gives us life. And, we are mere humans. How much more God must love us.

It’s hard to imagine what was on God’s heart when he saw the spiritual desperation of his children. Even “the sins committed (before Christ were) left unpunished.” Proving who was right and who ought to apologize to whom and pay what retribution were not God’s first thoughts about all of us. Redemption was, is and always will be first and foremost on the heart of God.

Working as a hospice chaplain showed this to me more than anything ever has. We never asked our patients if they had lived in a certain way that might have caused their terminal illness. All of us clinicians were only concerned about one thing—how we could help that person where we found them. That was it. No judgment. No condemnation. Just compassion. Being a part of that helping community of professionals transformed my life.

If pastors preach with the intention of moving their congregations toward absolute sinfulness, too late! We are already, all of us, there even now. Now, it’s time to consider the healing, saving power of grace in Christ, God’s demonstration of mercy and judgment in the flesh, and what we ought to do and be in light of it.

Motivated by guilt or by love?

We can never guilt anyone into sinlessness. We can warn of its dire consequences and always sad endings. The only way we can ever improve the morality of mankind is to continually point them to the boundless mercy, love and forgiveness of God in Christ. Christ has taken God’s judgment. Will we receive that mercy or walk past it?

It is one thing to condemn sin. Strangely, as Paul points out in his other writings, there is something about guilt that spurs us to seek it out more (Romans 7:8). When Adam and Eve were warned about not eating the fruit of the tree, it appears to have created more desire to taste it.

However, it is another thing to disappoint love. When we know someone loves us unconditionally, something about knowing that creates within us a greater desire to honor it.

It should be the theme of every day for us. We “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

In the far reaches of my childhood memory, I recall having lost something of my father’s one time—his daily newspaper. I was devastated and didn’t how Dad would respond. I went to him in tears. I remember him picking me up, holding me close and telling me it was OK, that he still loved me.

I never lost one of Dad’s papers again. His love spurred me to be more careful. Years later, in high school, Dad even helped me throw my own paper route. Love, not judgment, made me a better man.

Glen Schmucker is a writer and blogger in Fort Worth. He has served as a Texas Baptist pastor and as a hospice chaplain.  

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