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Sermon #38[i] — Romans Series


      Title:                                 The greatest Story

 Ever Told


      Text:                                  Romans 3:19-31

      Subject:               Salvation by Christ



Illustration: CBS Mystery Theater


The title of my message is — The Greatest Story Ever Told. You will find it in the 3rd chapter of the Book of Romans. This is truly the greatest story ever told. It is the best news you will ever hear, the most wonderful thing ever to be known. This story reveals the most wonderful blessing that you can ever receive. This is best news you will ever hear.


Bad News


But the story begins with bad news, very bad news. I once heard a preacher say, “You’ve got to hear the bad news before you can hear the good news.” And that’s so. The good news begins with bad news. That is the way the greatest story ever told begins. It starts with very bad news, the worst news you ever heard, the worst, the very worst.


Listen to it — Romans 3:19. — “Now we know…” This is something we know. You know it; and I know it. We know “that what things soever the law” of God “saith, it saith to them who are under the law.” The law of God speaks to all who have broken it, to all who are cursed and condemned by it, to all who are under the sentence of death by it. In other words, everything written in the law of God, every precept, every commandment, every curse of the law is addressed to fallen, guilty, lost, ruined, doomed, damned sinners. The law of God addresses all the sons and daughters of Adam. The law speaks to you and me. And this is what it says, “let every mouth be stopped and all the world become guilty before God!That is the worst news you ever heard, the whole world is guilty before God. The whole world is accursed, under the curse of the law.


(Galatians 3:10) For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.


That’s the worst news that a person on trial in a courtroom can hear the jury say, “Guilty.” But this is worse than that because this is guilty before God, — guilty before God!


David defined this guilt when he was confronted with his sin by the finger of God. He tells us what this guilt is in Psalm 51. They call Psalm 51 “A Psalm of Repentance” because David tells us exactly what this awful guilt before God is.


(Psalm 51:1) Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. (2) Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. (3) For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. (4) Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. (5) Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.


First he tells us that our guilt it is transgression. We are transgressors. We are trespassers, transgressors in acts, in deeds, in thoughts, in words. We are transgressors, trespassers. We have broken God’s law. We have disobeyed every command.


Second, David tells us that this is, for each of us, a personal thing, a personal guilt. He says, “I acknowledge my transgressions…O Lord God, forgive my transgressions and wash away my iniquity. Cleanse me from my sin. Our guilt is personal. These sins are our sins. We can’t blame somebody else. We can’t blame our heritage or our ancestry or our parents or our environment, or even Adam. If the guilt is inside us it didn’t come from the outside. It came from the inside. It is personal. It is my guilt. Wash my iniquity, my sin, forgive my transgressions!

  • Blot out my transgressions!
  • Wash me throughly from mine iniquity!
  • Cleanse me from my sin!


And, third, David tells us that our iniquity, transgression, and sin is against God. — Against God! He says, “Against thee and thee only have I sinned, and done this great evil in thy sight!” — Our sin, our crimes, our offences are against God!


And then David said exactly what Paul says in Romans 3:19. — We are without excuse! — We don’t have an alibi. I don’t have an alibi. You don’t have an alibi. God is just, just to condemn me and just to condemn you!


(Psalm 51:4) Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.


O Lord God, you are just when you condemn me! You are righteous when you judge me! I am guilty. I am a transgressor. My guilt is personal. It is against you and you only. I am without excuse; and you are just when you damn me and clear when you charge me, because I am sin. I was born that way. Sin was born in me.


(Psalm 51:5) Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me!


That’s the bad news. That’s the problem. What the law says it says to everybody who is under the law; and it says guilty before God. But it doesn’t stop there.


The bad news continues in verse 20. Look at it...


Therefore,” because we are in the condition, because we are sinners by nature and by birth, by choice and by practice…


(Romans 3:20) Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.


One day the Lord’s disciples asked him this question. — They said, Who then can be saved? Do you remember what the Lord Jesus told them? — “With men it is impossible.” And that is what God the Holy Ghost tells us here. Because we are fallen, guilty, sinners, utterly guilty before God, salvation by something we do is impossible! — “With men it is impossible.” But, O blessed be his name forever, he didn’t leave it there. He said, With God all things are possible! We can’t save ourselves; and we can’t save one another; but God can save us! With God it’s possible! — With God it’s sure!

  • His Purpose (Ephesians 1:3-6)
  • His Purchase (Ephesians 1:7-12)
  • His Power (Ephesians 1:13-14)


Look at Romans 3:20 again. Because we are guilty before God, guilt and sin being our nature and our state, by observing laws and doing good deeds we cannot be acquitted, we cannot be declared not guilty, we cannot be made holy, not in God’s sight. — We may justify ourselves in the sight of other people, men and women like ourselves. We do that all the time. In fact, our Lord charges us with that added crime. He said, “You are they which justify yourselves before men.” But that which you approve of and that which you brag about is an abomination to God. — God looks on the heart. He sees inside us!


Read on (Romans 3:20). — For by the law is the knowledge of sin.” What does that mean? — “For by the law is the knowledge of sin.” It means this: — The law reveals my sin. The law condemns me. The law pronounces me guilty. The law exposes my sin. It can’t possibly justify me. The law which charged me and condemned me cannot justify me.


“The Righteousness of God”


But look at verse 21. This is where the good news begins, verse 21. This is where the greatest story ever told begins.


(Romans 3:21) But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets.


Did you hear that? But now, right now this very hour at this moment, right now the righteousness of God, the holiness of God...I am not talking about his own essential holiness, his attribute of righteousness. Paul is here telling us about the righteousness provided by God, performed by God, and given to us by God. This phrase, “The Righteousness of God,” everywhere it is found in the Word of God includes that little, defining definite article “the,” — “The Righteousness of God!” — “The Righteousness of God” is the righteousness God almighty gives to sinners like you and me in Christ Jesus.

  • But now” — In Christ there is grace for the guilty.
  • But now” — There is mercy for the miserable.
  • But now” —  There is holiness for the unholy.
  • But now” — There is salvation for sinners. — And it is without the law. It is ours freely. It had to be without the law because we can’t obey the law. We never have been able to obey the law.
  • But now” — The righteousness of God is free! It has to be free. It has to be provided. It has to be outside ourselves. It has to be God given.


This is “manifested.” — It is as obvious as the nose on your face in the Book of God!


(Romans 3:21) But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets.


Throughout the Scriptures, it is manifested over and over again. Let every word be established by the mouth of two or three witnesses. Even Christ our Lord said, “If I bear witness only of myself, if I am the only witness, my witness is not true.” Then he said, “The Father bore witness of me. The Scriptures bear witness of me. The works that I do bear witness of me, and John the Baptist bore witness of me.”


So here “the righteousness of God” which is available, which is provided for sinners in Christ, is manifested, “being witnessed by the law and the prophets,” by all the Word of God, by all who have gone before. It is declared by many, many witnesses. God spoke to the people by his prophets and they bore witness to this righteousness.


The Witness


What is the witness? What do the law and prophets tell us? What do all the Scriptures testify and affirm? Read verse 22.


(Romans 3:22) Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference.


And this righteousness is the holiness of God without the law, that is, without my obedience to the law. I can’t keep God’s law perfectly. It has to be perfect to be accepted. The Lord God can’t accept anything that is not perfect. He said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Christ was a man who perfectly obeyed God and was perfect in the sight of God. But I can’t do that. You can’t either. So this righteousness is the holiness of God which is accomplished by Christ. It is accomplished by the faithful life of Jesus Christ.


When Christ lived and died as our Substitute, God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself. Without controversy this is the mystery of godliness, that God was manifest in the flesh. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word.” Verse 14 says, “The Word was made flesh.” — “The Word was with God and dwelt among us; and the Word was God; and we beheld his glory, the only begotten of the Father.”


Jesus Christ is God; but he became a man. He was born of a woman. He was not born of a man. He was not conceived by a man. He was conceived by the Holy Ghost that he might not partake of the sin of Adam. He had no sinful nature. He is God in human flesh. He is the virgin’s son. And Jesus Christ from the day he was born was without sin. I repeat, he had no sinful nature. Throughout his life he was under the law, under the law of the home, under the law of the state, under the law of his country, under the law of magistrates, under the law of the synagogue, and under the law of God, under the Mosaic law, under the Levitical law. He was circumcised when he was eight days old and named Jesus. He came to the temple when he was an infant. His mother brought her sacrifices. He came to the temple when he was 12 to do obedience to Moses’ law. Then he stood one day in the River Jordan. He came to John to be baptized of John; and John looked at him and he said, “I bore witness. This is the Son of God.”


The Father said to me, “Upon whom you see the Spirit descending in the form of a dove, and abiding on him, that is the Son of God.” He said, “I bore witness to that.” And John said to him, “I have need to be baptized of thee. Comest thou to me?” And our Lord replied, listen. “Suffer it to be so now for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.”


You see, Christ in the fulness of time made of a woman, made under the law that he might obey it in our place and give us a perfect righteousness, “the righteousness of God.” And from his birth to his death all that he did on this earth was for our salvation to fulfill all righteousness and all perfect obedience and holiness for us so that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.


Now the righteousness of God is manifested being witnessed by the law and the prophets, even the righteousness of God which is by the faith, faithfulness, and obedience of Jesus Christ our Lord.


Now listen to Romans 5:19. Listen carefully. —


(Romans 5:19) For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.


How important that verse is! — That is this righteousness of God wrought for us. By the disobedience of one man, the many, many, many, many who were in his loins, who came from Adam (And that is all of us!), were made sinners. So by the obedience of one man, Jesus Christ, the many, Jew and Gentile, male, female, old and young bond and free who were in his loins, who come from him, who believe on him, are made the righteousness of God in him, by his perfect life and by his substitutionary death.


(2 Corinthians 5:17) Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (18) And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; (19) To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. (20) Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. (21) For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.


(Galatians 3:13) Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: (14) That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.


Do you see that?


(Romans 3:19) Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. (20) Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (21) But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; (22) Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ…


To whom is this righteousness given? For whom is it intended? — “It is unto all and upon all them that believe him.”


Do you believe him?


Paul said, “Wherefore, sirs, I believe God that it shall be exactly as he told me.”


Abraham believed God. That’s way back yonder in Genesis chapter 15 when God took him out under the stars and said, “Count them.” He said, “I can’t.” And God said, “So shall your seed be of all nations.” And Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness! He believed God!


Now then this is not written for his sake alone, for the sake of Abraham alone that righteousness was imputed to him, but for our sakes also to whom this same righteousness, the righteousness of God, is given by faith in Christ. Abraham was the friend of God. God himself said so. Didn’t he? He said Abraham is my friend. I talk to him face to face. I won’t hide from Abraham anything that I have done, am doing, or shall do. He’s my friend.


Why was he God’s friend? — He believed God! He believed God. And this righteousness was imputed to him. But that wasn’t written for his sake alone. It was written for us to whom it shall be imputed if we believe on the name of the Son of God.


And the next line of verse 22 says, For there is no difference.” — “There is no difference.” That is in the Word of God several times. There is no difference. All have sinned and come short of glory of God. There is no difference between the Jew and the Gentile. There is no difference between male and female, old and young, learned or ignorant, prisoner or guard, bond or free. Then we read (v. 23) — “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”


Result of Believing


But here is the result of faith, believing God. Listen. Verse 24.


(Romans 3:24) Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.


What does justified mean? Not guilty. We started this message off guilty before God. Justified means not guilty before God, not guilty in his sight. So we are justified. How?

  • Freely.
  • By his grace, not by works.
  • We are justified through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. He redeemed us. He bought us back.


Now here is the very heart of this the greatest story ever told. It is found here in verses 25 and 26. — This is the centerpiece. This is the heart of the story. Being justified, sanctified, redeemed, righteous freely by his grace through the redemption, through the life, through the blood, through the obedience, through the sacrifice, through the death of my blessed Substitute, the Lord Jesus Christ…


(Romans 3:25) Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; (26) To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.


Our Savior said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he sent me, he anointed me, he ordained me, he set me forth.” God from the beginning has set forth his Son, the Lord Jesus, the Christ, called the Messiah, that One who was described by Micah the prophet as “the Desire of all nations.” He has set him forth openly, publicly, conspicuously throughout this Book.

  • Genesis 1:1-3
  • Genesis 3:15
  • Noah’s Ark
  • The Rainbow
  • The Smitten Rock
  • The Paschal Lamb
  • The Exodus
  • The Law
  • The Priesthood
  • The Tabernacle
  • A Prophet Like Moses
  • A Priest Like Melchisedek
  • A King like David
  • Psalm 22
  • Isaiah 53


(Galatians 4:4) But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, (5) To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. (6) And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.


(John 1:6) There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. (7) The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. (8) He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. (9) That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. (10) He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. (11) He came unto his own, and his own received him not. (12) But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: (13) Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (14) And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (15) John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me. (16) And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. (17) For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. (18) No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.


We saw him and beheld his glory. God set him forth. One day the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us and lived here for 33 and a half years walking on this earth before he was crucified. God set him forth.


Now listen. — God set him forth “a propitiation,” a propitiation — (What is the word propitiation?) — an appeasement, a reconciliation, an atonement, to put away sin. God set him forth as a propitiation, as a mercy seat, as an atonement for sin, “through faith in his blood to declare God’s righteousness for the remission of sins that are past through the forbearance of God.


A Lamb


Perhaps one of the best pictures of Christ and most often used pictures of Christ is a lamb, a lamb. He is called “the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world.” In Genesis 4 the lamb is typified. Abel came to worship God and slew a lamb and put its blood for an offering on an altar. Cain came, didn’t bring a lamb and God rejected his fruits and vegetables and had respect to Abel’s offering. There is the lamb typified.


Then, in Genesis 22, the lamb was prophesied. Abraham was on his way up the mountain when his son Isaac asked him, “Where is the lamb?” He said, “My son, God will provide himself a lamb.” — “God will provide himself a lamb.”


And then, in Exodus 12, the lamb’s blood was applied. Down there in Egypt they put the blood on the door, slew a lamb, put the blood on the door and God said, “When I see the blood I will pass over you.


And then in Isaiah 53 the Lamb is personified. It is going to be a man, a man who will grow up among us as a root out of a dry ground, as a tender plant and we see him. There is no beauty we should desire him. He will be despised of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He will be wounded for our transgressions and he will be bruised for our iniquities and the chastisement of our peace will be upon him; and he will be led as a lamb to the slaughter. — “The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all!” He opens not his mouth, but voluntarily, freely dies for his people. That is the lamb personified.


Then (John 1:29) one day John the Baptist the last Old Testament prophet stood with two of his friends and Jesus Christ walked by and John the Baptist identified him. He had been typified. He had been prophesied. His blood had been applied. He had been personified. And now he is identified. John said, There he is! — “Behold, the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world!


At last he was crucified. Our lamb was slain. His blood was shed. And he (Hebrews 9:12), as our great high priest went not into the tabernacle made with hands, but into heaven itself, not with the blood of animals, but with his own precious blood and put it on the mercy seat of God and put away all our sin. God set him forth a propitiation, a mercy seat, a covering, a reconciler, an appeaser.


And then, in Revelation 5, we have the Lamb glorified. John wrote on the isle of Patmos, “And behold in the midst of the throne stood a Lamb, stood a Lamb in the middle of the throne as it had been slain.” And they fell down before the Lamb. All the hosts of heaven fell down before the Lamb, put their trophies at his feet and their crowns at his feet; and they sung a new song. — “Thou art worthy for thou wast slain and thou hast redeemed us to our God by thy blood out of every nation, kindred, tribe, and tongue.” Oh, behold the Lamb of God.


All this was done…


(Romans 3:26) To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.


This revelation of God, this good news, this gospel by which the Lord Jesus Christ is set forth a Propitiation for our sins means that the work of salvation is altogether his. We make no contribution of any kind!


(Romans 3:27) Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.


(1 Corinthians 1:30) But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: (31) That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.




Now, let me give you the conclusion of the story. The story’s conclusion has three parts.


  1. We are justified by faith, without any contribution on our part (v. 28).


(Romans 3:28) Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.


  1. Christ our God is the only God and the only Savior there is (v. 29-30).


(Romans 3:29) Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also. Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.


  1. Sinners keep, honor, establish, and magnify all God’s holy law only by faith in Christ (v. 31).


(Romans 3:31) Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.


That’s the greatest story ever told. Let’s go tell it to everybody!


Illustration: The Handkerchief






Don Fortner








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[i]    Danville — Sunday Morning — December 14, 2014

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