This is our year of national elections. This is the year we celebrate the reality of democracy. This is the year that we practice the democratic ideal in ways that are uniquely American. This year we will elect a President.

How do we do that? First, we have a two party system. There are more political parties than two, but the two are the powerful parties that have a realistic chance of electing a President. Second, we have a primary system. Every person who hopes to be a national presidential candidate for one of those two parties must campaign in the primaries. There it is decided, state primary by state primary, who will be the presidential candidates in the two major parties. Third, we have major party conventions. At these conventions the presidential candidates of the two major parties are officially declared to be "the party candidates." Fourth, these two candidates campaign for the national vote for about four months. Fifth, we have a nation election, and, ideally, the person who gets the most votes is our President for four years.

Why do we do it that way? Do you want the constitutional answer, the historical answer, or the "person-on-the-street" answer? Perhaps one oversimplified answer will do for all three: "That is the way it works." Is "that the way it works" in every democracy? No. "That is the way it works" in America. Can you imagine living in a country where it did not work that way? Can you imagine it working in any other way in America?

That is the system. The system works. Protect the system. Be loyal to the system. Do not mess up the system. Do not change the system. From the perspective of the American people, the essential key to democracy working is the system.

From the perspective of the American people, the key to anything working is the system. Always stick with the system. In the system you will always find the life and the essence of success.

  1. It is does not surprise me that in our culture and our nation, the key to religious success is declared to be in the system.
    1. That is one reason that many in the Church of Christ often find the needs and the spiritual conditions that surround us so confusing.
    2. If our religious system is right, why are we not more successful?
    3. If our religious system worked well in the past, why is it too often ineffective today?

  2. Placing faith in our religious system does not make us unique.
    1. The nation of Israel in which Jesus was born placed their faith in their religious system.
      1. First, their system began with a fact: the nation of Israel was the chosen people of God.
        1. The Old Testament emphasized that fact many times.
        2. Their problem did not come from that fact.
        3. Their problem came from their interpretation of that fact.
        4. To them that meant God loved them to the exclusion of other people.
        5. A person who was not an Israelite could convert to Judaism and become an Israelite, but to convert the person had to be indoctrinated in the system and live by the system.
      2. Second, the heart and soul of their system was the Law that God gave them through Moses.
        1. The heart and soul of the Law were the ten commandments.
        2. Their religious system was based on their understanding and application of the Law.
    2. In their religious system, the ten commandments (first given in Exodus 20:1-17,) were the foundation of everything.
      1. You worship the Lord God who delivered you from Egypt, and no other god.
      2. You do not make any object that represents God; you make no idols.
      3. You do not use God's name in a way that enables you to deceive others.
      4. You will keep Saturday holy by making it a day of rest.

  3. Then in first century Israel was born a Jewish man named Jesus, God's son, who through God's resurrection became the Christ.
    1. Jesus did not teach or work within their religious system.
      1. Jesus worshipped God, but Jesus did not emphasize the things their system emphasized.
      2. Jesus honored God's name, but Jesus did not honor God in the Ways their system emphasized.
      3. Jesus honored God by observing Saturday as the day of rest, but Jesus did things on Saturday that their system did not permit.
      4. The devoutly religious and the religious leaders were the greatest adversaries Jesus had.
      5. Why would Israel's devoutly religious people oppose Jesus? Because Jesus' teachings did not emphasize the same things that their system emphasized. He declared truth and revealed God outside the system.
        1. The law said, "Do not commit adultery," but Jesus forgave people who committed adultery.
        2. The law said, "Do not steal," but Jesus forgave thieves (tax collectors).
        3. The law said not to work on Saturday, and Jesus did good on Saturday.
        4. Jesus did not restrict his work to function within the religious system.
    2. Jesus died to be Savior to all people, not just Israel.
      1. The good news of God's accomplishments in Jesus' death and resurrection were shared with the world.
      2. Jesus' teachings were shared with the world.
      3. Within a few years people who were non-Israelite Christians outnumbered Israelites who were Christians.
      4. Jewish Christians had a problem accepting these people as Christians.
      5. Why?
        1. They did not fit the system.
        2. In the past, many of these people worshipped other gods, and the law said do not do that. How could God save people who had worshipped other gods?
        3. In the past, many of these people honored and encouraged the making of idols, and the law said not to do that. How could God save people who had encouraged the making of idols?
        4. In the past, these people had not honored God, and the law said you must honor God. How could God save people who had not honored Him in the past?
        5. These people had never kept Saturday as a holy day of rest, and the law said to do that. How could God save such people?
        6. Many of these people were completely ignorant of the Law!
      6. Because these people did not fit the religious system of Judaism, many Israelite Christians refused to consider them to be God's people.

  4. In a concise, direct statement, Paul dealt with the reality of God's salvation in Christ as he wrote Romans 3:21-26.
    But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
    1. This is my understanding of Paul's declaration.
      1. God found a way to be righteous and to reveal righteousness that is not based on the Law.
        1. God can independently of the Law be righteous in His actions.
        2. That allows God to extend to people the opportunity to be righteous before Him that in a way that does not depend on the law.
        3. Instead of the Law being the way to become righteous, the Law is a witness to what God has done.
        4. God's word, the Law and the Prophets, are the witness to this new way to be righteous.
      2. In this is the new way to be righteous:
        1. God Himself is righteous through what He did in Jesus Christ.
        2. God can make people righteous through what He did in Jesus Christ.
        3. Jesus made this new way to be righteous possible by trusting God.
        4. This new way makes us righteous when we trust Jesus.
        5. This new way to be righteous is available to everyone who trusts Jesus.
        6. Everyone, Israelite and non-Israelite, needs this new way to be righteous because every person is guilty of evil and falls short of God's glory.
      3. Any person who trusts what God did in Jesus can be justified.
        1. By being justified, Paul means God looks at that person as if he or she was not guilty of sin.
        2. This justification does not come through obeying the law; it is given by God as a gift; it comes through God's grace.
        3. God's justification has to be a gift; no human deserves justification.
      4. God can justify us, can look at us as if we are not guilty of any evil, because God redeemed us with Jesus Christ.
        1. He used Jesus' death to buy us back from evil; He paid the full penalty for our evil by giving Jesus' life and the blood for our mistakes.
        2. God publicly substituted Jesus' life for the consequences of our evil.
        3. Jesus' blood paid for our evil.
        4. Jesus' blood benefits us when we trust what God did in that blood.
      5. Why was it necessary for God to substitute Jesus' life for our evil?
        1. It was necessary because God endured all the human evil committed prior to the death of Jesus.
        2. It was necessary because God's justice had not destroyed humanity for wickedness.
        3. It was necessary because God had shown grace and practiced forgiveness in all those generations before Jesus died.
        4. It was necessary because righteousness is a part of God's nature, and, because His nature is righteous, God could not be unrighteous.
        5. To refuse to make all people pay the full consequences of evil before Christ was an unrighteous act if God had not paid for those passed over sins with the blood of Jesus.
      6. By allowing Jesus to die for human evil, God was just.
        1. In Jesus' purity God paid the full price of every sin that ever has been or ever will be committed by humans.
        2. Because God paid for those sins, God is just.
        3. Because God paid for all sins, God can forgive any person.
    2. Paul's point is simple.
      1. God's innocent Son died to pay for every evil ever committed by people.
      2. Jesus was innocent of any evil, therefore Jesus could be our substitute sacrifice.
      3. Jesus lived and died in absolute surrender to and trust in God.
      4. God fulfilled justice by letting the innocent Jesus die for our sins.
      5. Because God fulfilled justice, God is free to justify every person who trusts what He did in the death of Jesus.

  5. If we want to, we can make rules, regulations, and laws out of everything God did in Jesus.
    1. We can tell ourselves and the world, "That is the way it works."
    2. We can make a system out of what God did in Jesus.
    3. But if we do that, faith in that system cannot save us.
    4. Faith in Jesus, faith in what God did in Jesus' death will save us.
      1. Only in Jesus' death could God be righteous.
      2. Only if we trust what God did in Jesus' death can we be righteous before God.

[Prayer: God, help us trust the only truth that can free us from sin. Help us trust Jesus. Help us trust his death. Help us trust his blood. Help us trust his resurrection.]

In what do you trust? God knows if your faith is in a system or in His son. Do you know? When you trust a system, you believe in your self. When you trust Jesus, you believe in God.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 23 January 2000

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