ROMANS 3:21-22


"BUT NOW!" With these words everything changes. In the first three chapters of the Roman letter we have
stood under the dark cloud of divine condemnation, "But Now" through Jesus Christ we step out in to the warm
sunlight of God's grace and God's love. With these words you move from the darkness to the light, from death
to life, from despair to hope! Isn't it amazing that so much should turn on two simple words? This letter
is filled with long theological words, but God uses two simple, everyday, words to open the window of hope for
us. BUT NOW!
These words are to be understood logically. Paul is reasoning with us. He is giving us the conclusion of the
whole matter. BUT NOW means that something is true in light of what Paul has presented. He is giving us His
divinely inspired conclusion to the whole matter. But the words are to also be understood temporally. There is a
time factor involved in "now." Something is different at this point in time. There is a "then" that stands in the
background of the "now." It is “then” and now "Then" there was condemnation, but "now" there is righteousness.
We are to understand that "now" is the time of salvation. Paul does not use the word salvation in our text.
Rather he uses the word righteousness. In this text righteousness is a synonym for salvation. Righteousness is
what God gives  Us. It is what God gives us that makes us acceptable before Him when He saves us. Without
the righteousness, there is no salvation. As I listen to these  words of Paul, I am aware that I am standing on the
very pinnacle of all  spiritual truth. This is the very heart of the gospel itself. If you can understand the words of
this extended text, then you have understood the very heart of the New Testament. It all begins with "BUT
NOW!" There are two great truths set before us in this portion of our text.

I. Righteousness by the merit system is out.

"But now a righteousness from God, a part from the law, has been made known, to which the law and the
prophets testify." We are to understand in this statement the very substance of the gospel itself. Any approach
to salvation that is based upon human merit or human works is out. What God has made known to us in Christ
is "apart from the law."

1. The Jews made a merit system out of the Old Testament law.
God never intended the Old Testament law to convey a merit system. God never imagined that any human
being could ever earn salvation by keeping the  law. His purpose in giving the law was to help human beings
become aware of their need of salvation. Sinful human beings, however, have the habit of distorting everything
that God gives them. They certainly did this with His holy law. The Jews took the law and perverted it into a
system whereby one would earn salvation for himself by keeping the law. They made a merit system out of it.
When Paul announces that the righteousness of God is "a part from the law, he is announcing to the Jews that
the legal systems that they have worked out are out. They have no standing before holy God.

2. We tend to make a merit system out of the gospel.
It is some revelation of the sinfulness of human kind that we have even taken the good news of the gospel and
perverted it into legalism. We have taken the good news and make it a law. There are some who have taken
Baptism, the Lord's Supper, church membership, faithful attendance in worship, stewardship, and a hundred
different good things that one could do in the life of a church, and they have given to them merit before God.
And they fully expect that they are going to earn God's salvation by keeping these precepts and principles of
the gospel. I can think of nothing more tragic than this. It is surely a tragedy when we take something that is a
message of love, grace and freedom and we pervert it into something that is cold, threatening, and legalistic.

3. God has abolished the merit system for ever.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is a declaration of the death of the merit
system. When God allowed His Son to be placed on Calvary's cross, and
offered Him up for the sins of the world, works and human merit would never be acceptable before Him. If there
was any possibility that man could have ever saved himself by his own deeds of righteousness, then there
would have been no need for the deeds that are presented in the gospel. You and I need to understand that
the merit system is out.
We need to understand that this is good riddance. I have become interested in recent years in the management
approaches of Edwards Deming. Mr. Deminh has become something of a celebrity in our country belatedly. He
was a h1rod in Japan for several decades before he was discovered by American business. Mr. Deming's
approach to business management has been credited with the revitalization of the Japanese industry after the
second world war. There is probably no human being alive today who has had more influence on how business
is being done around the world than this man. One of the things that Mr. Deming sets forth in his approach to
management is what he calls the seven deadly diseases. Interestingly one of his seven deadly diseases is
evaluation by performance, merit rating, or annual review of performance. It is the contention of this business
guru that a merit system in a business place is negative in its contribution. In stead of producing a healthy work
place, it produces rivalry and negative competition. Instead of increasing performance it increases fear, and
leaves people bitter, dependent, and beaten. As I read those words about what happens in the business place
when men and women relate to each other on a merit system, I could not but help but think that a merit system
in religion produces the same kinds of things. Instead of producing love and confidence, it produces fear and
despair. If my relationship with God is dependent upon the righteousness that I have achieved, then I will never
be able to be sure that I have a relationship with God. The only way that my relationship with God can ever be
free from fear and despair is for it to be based on something besides human merit.
Frances Asbury, who has been called the father of American Methodism, understood this. Near the end of his
very useful life, he said: "Were I disposed to boast, my boasting would be found true. I was converted at the
age of sixteen. At the age of eighteen I began to preach, and traveled some in Europe. At twenty-six I left my
native land, bade adieu to my weeping parents, and crossed the boisterous ocean to spend the rest of my days
in a strange land, partly settled by savages. In thirty years I have crossed Allegheny Mountains fifty-eight times.
I have slept in the woods and been without food and covering. Through the southern states I have waded
swamps and led my horse for miles, and in these journeys took cold that brought only diseases that now prey
on my body and must soon terminate in death. But my mind is still the same, that through the merits of Christ
and by the grace of God I am saved." Asbury understood that righteousness by merits is out. Do you
understand that righteousness by human merit is out?

II. Righteousness as a divine gift is in Christ.
"But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the law and the
prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe." When
God made it clear to the human family in Jesus Christ that the world of human kind was not on the merit system,
He did not destroy all hope of righteousness. Instead he made it clear than he had a better idea. Since Jesus
Christ died there has been available to humankind a complete righteousness which God Himself
provides. This is what Paul is referring to.

1. This gift of righteousness is what the Old Testament had promised. When Paul indicated that this
righteousness was "apart from the law," this did not mean it was contrary to the law. In fact, Paul announces
that "the law and the prophets testify" of this righteousness. They bore witness with anticipation that God would
provide such righteousness for humankind. Your first reaction to this statement by Paul may be one of a
question. Does not the Old Testament law say, "Do this and you shall live?" Did not God expect His people to
keep the law that He gave? Was not obedience to that law required? It is obvious that God was serious when
He gave the law. He was not mocking His people by giving them something that would simply frustrate them. But
we need to remember that there were two sections to the law. One section of the law was moral and it gave the
standard of righteousness which God demands of man. Another section of the law was ceremonial and
sacrificial. When man failed to keep the moral section of the law, God made provision in a sacrificial system.
Donald G. Barnhouse explains the relationship between these two in an interesting way. He explains it as being
divine conditioning for man. He refers to Pavlov’s experiments with the dogs. You remember those famous
experiments in which he demonstrated that the dog could be conditioned to a certain reponse. He took a
newborn puppy and began to ring a bell every time the puppy received food. When food was set before the
puppy, this bell would ring. After some months the dog had so been conditioned that with just the
ringing of the bell the dog's mouth would begin to drool in anticipation of food. Ordinarily the dog drools only
when food is before it. But by the ringing of the bell the dog had been conditioned to a response. In the Old
Testament system God conditioned His people so that when they sinned they began to think of sacrifice. When
they sinned their first thought would be, "I must offer a sacrifice." By this means in the Old Testament law God
was preparing His people for righteousness as a gift, righteousness on the basis of a sacrifice. Then he added
to the symbols and the shadows of the law to the clear prophetic statements of the prophets. In their prophetic
statements they described one who would bear the sins of the guilty. They described one who would
come offering forgiveness freely. God had prepared the way for what is now a reality. This is the reason those
words ring so triumphantly, "BUT NOW" for God has now fulfilled what He promised in the law and the prophets.

2. This righteousness is what Jesus accomplished.
Paul indicates this when he says, "This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ." Later in
this passage Paul is going to present before us the atoning death of Christ upon the cross. What God has done
for us in making available to us a gift of righteousness was all accomplished through the death of Jesus at the
cross. When we hear Jesus Christ announce from the cross, it is finished, we can know that a human merit
system is out, and righteousness a gift is in.

3. This gift-righteousness makes it possible for anyone who will believe to have it. We must realize that even
one breach of one law would make it impossible for us ever to be acceptable before God on the basis of human
merit. Even one flaw on your record would bring condemnation. God requires a perfect righteousness. God is
so gracious to give as a gift that which He requires. Has your family put up the Christmas tree yet? Selecting
and putting up a Christmas tree has always been ordeal around our house. It was surely a good day for us
when Alice brought an artificial tree that she can use year after year. You do know, do you not, that there is no
such thing as a perfect Christmas tree. Every tree on the lot will have a flaw some where. Some of those
flaws are not obvious until you get them home. I remember that Christmas when Alice bought what appeared to
be a wonderful tree. We carried the tree home, went through the process of preparation to put it in the den and
set it up in the den. But every time we set that tree up and stepped back, it would come crashing over. To this
day I do not know what was wrong with that tree. I am sure it was not my expertise in preparing that tree to be
stood in our den. I could not see any kind of flaw in the tree that would cause it to fall over. But after our futile
attempts to get that tree to stand on its own, Alice finally took it back to the place where she had bought it and
traded it for another. There is no such thing as a perfect Christmas tree. But haven't you noticed the miracle
that takes place almost every Christmas? You bring that Christmas tree with its obvious flaws into the house.
You get it put on its platform and put in its place with all of its obvious flaws and you start to work on it. You put
some icicles on it. You put some beautiful bulbs on it. You put a star on top of it. You hang some angels around
on it. You put some lights on it. You may even spray a little snow on it. The first thing you know, that imperfect
Christmas tree has taken on an attractiveness and beauty all its own. This can be a parable of what God does.
Just as there is no perfect Christmas tree, you can be sure there is no perfect life. But if you will turn your life
over to the hand of God, and receive from Him His gift of righteousness, He will dress your life up in His
beautiful righteousness in such a way, that it will be pleasing unto Him and will become a wonder to the world
about you. The angels themselves will stand in awe of the beauty of what God has made when He takes your
flawed and imperfect life and He dresses it up in his righteousness.
The question is for you as we come to this Christmas season, will you give over to God your imperfect and
flawed life, and let Him dress it up in His righteousness? Our text announces to us that "now" is the time to do
this. This season needs to the time when you give your life to God and receive as His gift His gracious gift of
righteousness. Today is God's "now" for you.