Wrongness and Righteousness

Rev. Tim Pauls

Romans 1:16-25

The story goes that the London Times once sponsored an essay contest, by invitation only. The editors asked several of the best writers and thinkers of the time to answer the question, “What’s wrong with this world?” Among the contest entries was one by G. K. Chesterton, whose entry was also the shortest. It said, “Dear sirs: I am.”  It was a quick, elegant commentary on original sin.

It’s also the Law from our reading this morning from Romans 1: you’re what’s wrong, and you have no excuse. 

You’re what’s wrong. The Lord makes clear that you’re not nice people who do sinful things now and then. It declares that you do sinful things because you’re sinful from the get-go. The sins you do are a problem, sure: all by themselves, they’re enough for you to deserve God’s wrath. But just like nausea and headaches are symptoms of the flu, the sins that you do are only symptoms of the real problem. You’re sinful. You don’t just do wrong. You are wrong. 

Furthermore, you have no excuse. It’s not just that God has revealed His wrath and power in the creation around you: if you’re sitting here, you’ve had more than a couple close encounters with the Ten Commandments in the Small Catechism, not to mention that part about Confession. You’ve gone through a few lists of how God’s Law gets broken; and if you’ve been honest at all, you’ve confessed that you’re worthy of His wrath and punishment. Furthermore, in His Word the Lord has revealed His Gospel to you, so you’ve heard that you’re set free from sin, made a righteous child of God. 

So…what’s up with those sins even now? What’s up with the thoughts you’re tossing around your mind right now, be it the lust or the jealousy or the pride or the resentment, or the plotting to one-up the people you don’t like very much? What’s up with those pet sins that you think you’ve got on a leash, but you’re firmly in control, like the snarky texting or that picture you’ve got stored on your phone? What’s up with the yawns towards God’s Word or the apathy towards His Supper? 

They’re all common sins of youth. And anyone else who’s got a pulse. You’re what’s wrong, and you have no excuse.

But as destructive as those sins ultimately are, they’re not the great danger that our text warns about. Of those who do not honor God, it says “they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” Everybody’s got to have a god: and if you don’t honor the one true God, the one you’ve got is a fake. The Bible’s full of stories of people who carved a face on a rock, called it a name and said, “This is our god.” But a rock with a face is just a rock. It can’t provide, it can’t save and it certainly can’t raise you from the dead.

People still like false gods, though, for a simple reason: if a rock can’t tell you what to do, then you get to tell the rock what to tell you to do. And—strangely enough—a rock will usually tell you what you want to hear. That’s why people love false gods, because they’ve created a higher authority that will let them indulge in the lusts of their hearts and the dishonoring of their bodies. 

Now, I haven’t seen anyone carrying a rock-god around here, but be warned: the most dangerous false god for you is a fake Jesus that you create for yourself. That’s what happens when you keep your favorite sins around and unrepented. They make your thinking futile and your heart dark until you find yourself sincerely saying, “I can keep these sins and follow Jesus, too.” Your faith gets squeezed out until, a few years down the road, you sit there facing your pastor and saying, “Oh, c’mon. We can still be Christians and live together without being married,” or “I really don’t see why I need to be coming to church to be a Christian. Jesus understands.” At that point, your jesus isn’t the One that the Bible proclaims. It’s a fake jesus who tells you what you want to hear. You didn’t create a god in the image of a bird or an animal or a creeping thing. You created a fake Jesus in the image of you: and as you approve of such sins, that makes you ashamed of the Gospel. God grant you a faithful pastor, now and then, who not only points out your sins of immorality or sloth or whatever, but the greater problem of idolatry.

For all these sins, now and then, you’re wrong and you have no excuse. You’ve got nothing to hold up to God and say, “I deserve your mercy.” 

You ought to be ashamed. Not just now or then, but forever. That’s the Law of our text this morning.

Here’s the Gospel. For Jesus’ sake, God is not ashamed of you. It’s not because you’ve done such a great job of being godly and righteous, but because Jesus has. He became flesh for you, with pure heart and incorruptible body. He bore your sin and guilt to the cross and scorned its shame for your redemption. He suffered the dishonor and contempt of scourge and scorn at the hands of darkened, futile sinners. Far more than that, God unleashed His wrath for your sin upon His Son. Rather than leave you given up to the lusts of your heart and the dishonoring of your body, God gave up His Son on the cross and forsook Him instead of you. Where you exchanged the truth for the lie, Christ has swapped out your sin for His holiness, your guilt for His innocence, your defilement for His purity. For your sins of worshiping the creature, the Creator went to the cross. 

All glory to Him—none to you or me. He did all this before you and I were born—even chose us before eternity, so you and I have no claim to working a part in His saving plan. But to bring these gifts to you, He joined you to that death and resurrection in your baptism. He keeps feeding you, nourishing your faith by His Word and Supper. He keeps giving, that you might be delivered from death and night to grace and light.

It is all His doing. And because Christ dwells in you, you are no longer wrong, but righteous. No longer without excuse, but full of faith. Clothed in His grace, you’re righteous and holy, for you are forgiven for all of your sins. 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen

Created: August 4th, 2010