A young man asks an old rich man how he made his fortune.
Fingering his worsted wool vest with one hand and stroking his distinguished gray beard with the other, the old man said, “Well, it was 1932, the depths of the Great Depression. I was down to my last nickel. So I invested that nickel in an apple. I spent the entire day polishing that apple and at the end of the day I sold it for 10 cents.
“The next morning, I invested those 10 cents in two apples. I spent the entire day polishing them before selling them for 20 cents. I continued in this way for an entire month, at the end of which I had accumulated a small fortune of $3.50. Then my father-in-law died and left us 10 million dollars.”
How is it we carry on in life glorifying ourselves as fortune-makers when we are but apple polishers?
The Word of God speaks to this.
Romans 3:19 and 3:20 state: “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in [God’s] sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”
This Word of God addresses our tendency to glorify ourselves by putting us on trial in the courtroom of God, where our only hope is to be justified.
In a legal sense, “justified” is on the order of being acquitted. And verse 20 tells us that acquittal is impossible on the basis of “the works of the Law.” In the courtroom of God, to present a defense case based on good things done and bad things undone, such “works of the Law,” such moralism, cannot end in acquittal. The Law judges us lawbreakers. Sinners.
So there is no hope in justifying ourselves. Fixating on behavior to make God happy. Living to impress God. Competing with other people. Being judgmental toward other people. It all smacks of self-justification. It is all polishing apples.
Our only hope is the opposite of moralism, the opposite of works of the Law.
Romans 3:21-24 states, “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.”
Acquittal in the courtroom of God comes by God’s grace. Not by His Law. The opposite of moralism. It is unearned. Undeserved. Gift.
Now, while acquittal is offered free of charge, it did not come free. It cost. Oh, did it cost. For the sentence for sin in God’s courtroom is death. Therefore acquittal costs blood.
Romans 3:25-26 states: “[Christ Jesus is the One] 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; 26 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.”
Propitiation has to do with satisfying broken law. In human courts, broken law is satisfied by sentences that vary from money to imprisonment to death. In the divine court, broken law is satisfied only by death.
Jesus’ death is the propitiation. His blood satisfied God’s Law broken by our sin. To the glory of Jesus Christ alone, His blood cleanses from all sins. (1 John 1:7)
Romans 3:27-28 states: “Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. ”
In God’s courtroom, acquittal comes by faith. And faith does not boast. It begs. Faith receives from God and takes no credit. Faith claims no achievement and prays for gift.
Faith believes the Good News of Romans 3. In Christ, we are acquitted. We are not just “not guilty.” We are declared righteous. Not because the Judge is a pushover. Because the Judge is just. “Just and justifier,”
He placed our guilt upon His own Son. Jesus Christ shed His blood on the cross to serve our eternal death sentence. And He rose from the dead to give us a fortune — a baptism of righteousness, an absolution of pardon, a supper of forgiveness, and an inheritance of eternal life.
Kevin Wendt is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Destin.