This week’s Fighter Verse is Good News — whether you don’t know Jesus or you’ve been a believer for decades. If you grew up in a church like this one, chances are that you probably grew up memorizing Romans 3:23. But whether these two verses are new or old to you, try to look at them with fresh eyes:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23 – 24 ESV)
Paul wrote these words to the churches in Rome. In other words, Romans 3:23 – 24 was originally intended as a message to believers — so you’d better believe that the Gospel is still deeply relevant to your life.
The previous verse explains, “We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.” (NLT) In other words, the worst sinner and the greatest saint can only come to God by trusting in Jesus. We are all equal under the blood of Jesus; it is level at the foot of the cross. Why? Paul explains, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
“All have sinned.” We are all awful. You are no better off than the worst criminal you hear about on the news or the cruelest despot you read about in the history books. Why? Because none of are ever as good as God. All have “missed the mark.” All “fall short of the glory of God.”When Moses asked God to show him His glory, God said “I will cause all My goodness to pass in front of you” (Exodus 33:19 NIV). His glory — His worth, His weightiness, His fame — is not His blinding light but His very character, His goodness or His relational perfection. He relates perfectly to everyone in all situations. None of us can claim that.
Instead, we “are justified.” In God’s court of law, we are declared “not guilty.” As Paul notes in verse 25, Jesus’ sacrifice absorbed God’s anger against us. But Satan, the prosecutor, tries to get you to hide from God by telling you that you’re guilty, and that God has rejected or discarded you. Sometimes I start remembering all the sins I’ve ever done, and I feel awful, like I’m a failure and that I can never stand in the presence of a holy God. I sometimes even feel like I can’t pray, because I can only go to God when I’m clean. It’s times like that when I need to “preach the Gospel” to myself. God has said to me and to you, “You are not guilty. You are accepted and embraced.” There is no double jeopardy in the courts of God!
After all, we “are justified by His grace as a gift.” Paul uses language here that was deeply familiar to everyone in Nero’s Rome. The poor or the needy of Rome could come into the houses of the great men of Rome and ask for a gift. The great men were encouraged to give, and they called this “grace” (it was an “everyday” secular word to them). This gift actually created a formal relationship more permanent than marriage; the needy person and the powerful person were forever bound. If the needy person continued showing something they called “faith,” the powerful person would give them more gifts. So Paul is using their everyday language to explain their new relationship with God.
What is Paul saying? On one level that we can all immediately understand, salvation is not something we earned or deserved. We did not “earn” God’s pleasure. And we still can’t. You can’t really make God “happy with you” or “sad with you” because He is too much better than us. And on another level more obvious to his original audience in Rome, he is implying that we can expect further gifts. As we show faith that God will give more gifts (faith in future grace), we grow. For example, if I believe that God will give me the strength to share Jesus with someone, then He gives me that gift.
The original gift of being declared “not guilty” is given to us “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” The word “redemption” means to buy back or free a slave. I just said that needy people could receive grace from powerful people. But one of the most common ways that happened in Rome was when a powerful person freed a slave. This is the powerful truth Paul is proclaiming: you are FREE because of JESUS! Satan, that horrible prosecutor, sneers at you, “You’re a victim. You’re powerless to overcome sin! Give in… it’s only natural!” But Jesus says, “In Me, you are a victor. You’re free! You can love no matter what.”
You are not a victim; you are freed from slavery to sin. And no one can condemn you and absolutely nothing can overpower you. Instead of guilty and afraid, you can be at peace, confident, and bold.
QUESTIONS TO ASK EACH OTHER:
- Even as a believer, when have you felt guilty, afraid, rejected, or discarded? How can the truth of justification destroy Satan’s lies in that situation?
- And when have you felt powerless against sin, or like a victim who can’t help but give in? How can the truth of redemption destroy Satan’s lies about you?
QUESTIONS TO ASK CHILDREN:
- Can you become part of God’s family by doing lots of good things? Why or why not? How does Romans 3:23 help us answer the question?
- If you have already trusted in Jesus, can you make God like you by doing good things? Why or why not? How does this verse help us answer the question?