Good News for Lawbreakers
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player

Good News for Lawbreakers

Romans 3:19–24  (ID: 1707)

The Ten Commandments confront us with the truth that we are all lawbreakers who deserve God’s wrath. As Alistair Begg reminds us, though, we should not respond by trying harder to keep the law, hoping to improve our standing before God. Instead, we must look to the one who has provided all that we need for salvation. It is only in relying exclusively on the work of Jesus that lawbreakers can be made right with God.

Series Containing This Sermon

Pathway to Freedom

Exodus 20:3–17 Series ID: 20501

Encore 2015

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 25906

Sermon Transcript: Print

Now I invite you to take your Bible and turn with me to Romans chapter 3—two verses—in verse 19: “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”

For the past three months, we’ve been studying together the Ten Commandments. And as a result of that, none of us, I believe, have gone away believing that this has been an exercise in feeling good about ourselves—not that we wanted by some strange punitive dimension just to feel bad, but we have been made painfully aware of the fact that confronted by God’s perfect standard in the law, the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments, none of us is able, this morning, to say anything other than that we are lawbreakers. We have broken God’s law.

The question is, what are we then to make of this message as it has come so clearly to us? The message has not been “If only everyone would get on with seeking to embrace the Ten Commandments, then we’d all be a lot better off.” If that has appeared to be the message, then I have failed you, you certainly have misunderstood, I must have miscommunicated. If the reaction has been to say, “Well, I think what I’ve been learning is that I need to try a lot harder if I’m going to make a go of this Christian life business,” then again, something has gone sadly wrong. However, if the studies have brought us to Romans 3:20, then the Spirit of God has done his work, for “through the law,” says Paul, “we become conscious of [our] sin.”

The Condition to Be Faced

I’d like, this morning, to address this, to wrap up, as it were, this series under three headings, the first of which is the condition to be faced. The condition to be faced.

We’ve been discovering, and we need to reaffirm it today, that the law of God was never given to save us. The Ten Commandments were not given as a stepladder up which we were to climb into heaven. Rather, what we’ve discovered is that the law of God has been given to pinpoint sin, to define it, to bring it out of its hiding place, as it were, and to show us the immensity of our problem; to show some of us who never believed that we had a problem that in actual fact, we do; to show us that the wonderful good news can only be understood against the background of the bad news; to understand that the provision which God has made is only relevant in the heart and life of the individual who understands the awfulness of the condition that we face.

So, if you turn back a page to Romans chapter 1 and notice Paul’s great declaration of the gospel, which begins in verse 16: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, [and] then for the Gentile.” And Paul sets out this glorious theme, this tremendous declaration of good news, this word of mercy, this word of grace, this call to faith, this call to belief, this call to trust, this call to be saved. And he does so like setting a sparkling diamond on the black velvet, as it were, of the condition of men and women outside of Christ.

Indeed, the gospel’s significance may only be understood and adopted and discovered when first we have been made to see, by the Spirit of God, the context of our own sorry state. And the reason as to why many of us are ineffective in proclaiming the gospel, and the very reason that some of us remain in our sins, is because we have only had half a gospel to proclaim, or it is only half a gospel that we have received, and only half a gospel makes half a Christian, which is no Christian at all—which is an explanation as to why some who are engaging in religious activity have no assurance that the wonderful good news of the gospel has been made applicable to my life or to yours.

So we must always start where the Bible starts. No matter how uncomfortable it may be, no matter how unappetizing it may be to the spiritual diet of modern man, we must start where the Bible starts. Having said, “I am delighted to proclaim the good news,”[1] what does he then immediately say in verse 18 of chapter 1? “The reason,” he says, “I’m so glad to have this message of good news is because the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress their truth by their wickedness.”[2]

Only half a gospel makes half a Christian, which is no Christian at all.

Now, the wrath of God is not some uncontrollable emotional outburst. That’s how we understand wrath or anger from a human perspective, and we have great difficulty in conceiving of it in any other way. But we must understand this: God is absolutely pure. God is absolutely holy. Therefore, God cannot tolerate that which is impure and unholy. That is why the prophet says that God cannot even look upon sin.[3] But as a compass turns to the north, so God’s settled reaction to sin is the outpouring of his wrath, so that God’s wrath is revealed as the antithesis to the godlessness and the wickedness which ascends from the earth to his throne in heaven. He doesn’t wink at sin. He doesn’t excuse sin. He doesn’t play with sin. His settled reaction to sin is the unfolding, the outpouring, of his wrath.

Now, this is directly related to the condition of man which Paul describes in these two key words. “The wrath of God is … revealed from heaven against all the,” number one, “godlessness,” and then number two, “wickedness of men who suppress the truth.”[4] Now, I wonder, is the order important here? I believe it is, because wickedness is the by-product of godlessness. When men and women are godless, they will then be wicked. And the reason for the wickedness of our culture this morning is its godlessness: that modern man has rejected God—wholesalely rejected God. Even those who say they believe in God, so many of them reject the God of the Bible, reject the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We’ve said many, many times that men and women today, when you use the word G-o-d, do not know what we’re saying. God for them is a cosmic principle. God is the earth, God is this, God is that, God is whatever you want it to be. And so, with an embracing of the name “God,” they are nevertheless godless. And it is godlessness which give rise to wickedness.

Now, let me work this out in your mind for a moment, if I may. Modern man is not prepared to face that. Modern man is prepared to accept the notion of wickedness, albeit under other terms: the fact that things are not the way they ought to be, the fact that we have some problems here and there and everywhere, actually. However, it’s not that man is wicked. Modern man doesn’t like a word like wicked. It’s like a dagger. It sticks in him, and he senses it may be true, so he pulls it out and throws it away: “Oh, it’s not that I’m wicked. It may be that I’m uneducated. It may be that I’m a little lost. It may be that I’m a little wayward. But I’m not wicked. And even if I am wicked, I’m surely not godless.”

But there is a direct correlation between a godless culture and a wicked culture. There is a direct correlation between a godless man or woman and a wicked man or woman. And because our society refuses to accept the link between godlessness and wickedness, billions and billions of dollars are thrown after the symptoms while at the same time refusing to acknowledge the disease. So myriad programs—political programs, social programs, educational programs, financial programs—are conceived of from Washington and in the highest realms of the land, and they stand up and display their total unwillingness to recognize that the state of affairs is on account of godlessness. And they think that a little trip to church here and a little holding of the Bible there and a little bit of religion on this side and a little bit of good works on that side will somehow placate whatever deity it is with whom we have to deal.

“Oh yes, we do have problems,” says our culture, “but they’re not spiritual problems. They’re not moral problems.” Nowhere is it more manifest than in the total confusion and chaos in relationship to the problem of AIDS. Every sensible man and woman in America knows that if we would live with one wife in absolute purity and prior to marriage live in absolute purity, as of today, we would be able to prevent the further development of the AIDS virus. What is here is here, but there would be no more passed on. But since we cannot say to people, “You’re not allowed to sleep with your girlfriend,” since we cannot say to people, “Homosexuality is wrong, is deviant behavior,” we are left not addressing the disease but addressing the symptoms, and we are going to be subjected to the wholesale development of this for our children’s children, because man’s wickedness is due to godlessness, and a godlessness that man refuses to accept.

So while men and women will acknowledge that there is trouble in the street, there is lawlessness in the homes, there are guns in the schools, there is pain in the office, there is tragedy in the lives of developing teenagers, they’re at pains to explain it. They shake their heads and say, “I don’t know how in the world we got here.” Well, the Bible tells us how we got here. It says not only has God’s wrath been revealed from heaven, but one of the indications and expressions of God’s wrath is that when a culture continues to turn its back on him, God may choose to give that culture over to its own desires. Romans 1:24: “Therefore God gave them over.” Verse 26: because of their reaction to him, God, the creator, “God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.”

I am unashamed to say this morning, on the authority of God’s Word, that lesbianism and homosexuality is an absolute deviant behavior from the perfect standard of God’s righteousness. And let the world say what it will, and let politicians mumble in their beards, but let God be heard, let his Word be sounded. And it is his Word which is powerful for the salvation of men and women. And loved ones, this morning, you better learn your Bible, and you better know your Bible, and you better say to your friends and to your neighbors, “I can explain to you why we’re in the predicament we’re in: because God’s wrath has been revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of man.”

How do you get a godless, wicked culture? You get godless, wicked individuals. Isn’t that right? You can’t have a culture that isn’t made of individuals, and individuals bring their own dimension to the culture. So that means that the problem is a personal problem. It’s not ultimately a societal problem. You cannot change society by external means, top down. The only way a society or a culture is changed is by changed lives.

That’s why Paul narrows it down. In chapter 3, again, and in verse 10, he says, “There[’s] no one righteous, not even one.” You see, we don’t have a problem this morning talking about our culture, do we? We’re happy to talk about our culture: “Oh, we’re not abortionists. We’re not feminists. We’re not these bad people. Oh, man, what a culture we have! We’ve got the Bible. We’re evangelicals. We hang close to God. We come on Sundays. We’re okay!” No, we’re not! That’s what the Jews were doing in Romans chapter 2. They said, “The gentiles? What a bunch of scum! Man, do we hate those gentiles, messing up the culture, all those godless people. But us, the Jews? We’re the holy ones! We have the law. We wear it here, we wear it here, we wear it here. And when we walk around, we’re sure that God’s going to accept us, ’cause we have the law! We have the Ten Commandments.”

And what does Paul say to them? You’ll need to read it this afternoon. Paul says to them, “Listen, you’re in an even worse position. At least these characters don’t even have the Ten Commandments, and they stand condemned. You’ve got the very things that condemn you, and you’re walking around holding them! And the thing you’re holding in your hand,” he said, “and the thing you’re strapping to your forehead and tying to your wrist condemns you. Who are you to judge somebody else?”[5] he says. Who are we to judge other people? Who are we to condemn the culture in which we live? We are the culture. We are the people. We are the sinners.

That’s the condition.

Now, you answer me this: Is this the kind of message that contemporary bourgeois Americans want to hear? Not on your jolly life it isn’t! Only a madman, a fool, would stand before a congregation and proclaim the Word of God in this way. I listen to the radio Sunday mornings. I listen to all these different sermons. Again I heard the same old junk this morning. And he’s telling the congregation, “And what are we supposed to do? We’re supposed to do this kind thing and that kind thing and the next kind thing.” Never once did he say we’re supposed to proclaim the good news of the gospel. Why not? Because they don’t believe it is necessary! Because they do not believe that God’s wrath has been revealed from heaven against wickedness. Because they do not believe that man is wicked, they do not believe he is godless, and they don’t believe in a God who would exercise wrath on the sins of men and women. So, ipso facto, you have no gospel. You have got nothing to proclaim.

It doesn’t matter how moral we appear. It doesn’t matter how philanthropic we are. It doesn’t matter how idealistic we may be or how apparent our righteousness is. None of that stuff transfers in the currency of God’s kingdom.

The reason why some of us this morning sit in this congregation still in our sins is because we have never been brought by the Spirit of God to face our true condition before God’s righteous standard. Some of us who are wondering about where we are in relationship to spiritual things are nowhere because we have never been truly converted by the Spirit of God. We have exchanged one set of external circumstances for another. We once didn’t go to church, and now we go. We once weren’t interested in religious things, and now we are. We once didn’t really care, and we didn’t have a conscience, and now we do. And so we add all of that together, and we say, “Well, therefore, I must be in. I wanted to have a friend, and somebody told me Jesus is a friend. I wanted to have purpose, and somebody told me Jesus gives me purpose. I wanted to be free from anxiety, and somebody told me Jesus gives me freedom from anxiety.” But did you ever once hear Jesus say, “I have come in order that you might have purpose”? He said, “I am come in order that you might have life.”[6] Now, why would he want to give life to people who have life? ’Cause the life we have is not life. It’s actually death. We’re spiritually dead. But nobody’s going to put up their hand and say, “Jesus, give me some of that life,” until first the Spirit of God says, “You’re a dead man. You’re a dead woman.”

Ninety-three years of American culture in the realm of conservative evangelicalism has bolstered up our notions of ourself and our own supposed goodness, thus preventing many of us from actually ever coming to genuine faith in Jesus Christ.

I say to you again this morning, as I’ve said to you so many times: if there really are that many conservative, evangelical, born-again believers in the United States of America, what in the world is going on here? Are there really thirty, forty, fifty million truly converted people in America? No! There are many who are living with an illusion, having never faced the condition. You may be one of them. Doesn’t matter how moral we appear. Doesn’t matter how philanthropic we are. It doesn’t matter how idealistic we may be or how apparent our righteousness is. None of that stuff transfers in the currency of God’s kingdom.

The purpose of the law, the purpose of the Ten Commandments, is to close our mouths. That’s what he says in 3:19: the law speaks “so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world” may be “accountable [before] God.” The whole object of the Ten Commandments, then, is to show us that we must be saved, and secondly, to show us that we cannot save ourselves. So we do the Ten Commandments, and we go, “This is a message that says we need somebody to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.”

Now, if we have truly come to faith in Christ, this is a reassuring thing. If we never have, then it is a nerve-jangling thing. Because what Paul has said is that irrespective of our background, whether we’re a clueless pagan or whether we are a religious person, all of us has missed the mark. You’ll notice there in verse 22: “There[’s] no difference.” Verse 23: “For all have sinned and [all] fall short of the glory of God.” We all flunked! We all flunked! The test papers came back, and nobody got anything other than an F. Somebody says, “Oh, I got a high F. I was very close to a D. I mean, I got a better F than you got.” Yeah, but you got an F. It’s all Fs. Everyone got an F. The only person who ever got an A was Jesus. And he got an A so that our F may go down the tubes and he may put his A in our place and that God may accept us because of his A, irrespective of our F.

But do you know how many people in this church, Sunday by Sunday, go out of here assuming that the message is “I’ve gotta bring my grade up. I’ve gotta bring my grade up! I’m sure I’m getting an F, and I need to get it at least to a D or C or a good B. I’ve got to get my grade up!” Hear me this morning, if you’ve never heard me before: if you work from now till the day you die, you cannot do one thing to get anything else other than an F! There is not one religious thing I can do, not one philanthropic thing I can do, there is not a thing I can do to alter my grade!

Now, until I understand that, I am in the most perilous condition. Because I will then be living with the potential for considering that all these things that I am able to do or all these things that I trust in will somehow or another change my condition before God, and it’s okay for the pagan, and it’s okay for somebody else, but this isn’t a message for me. “We’ve got a dreadful problem in our culture.” Yeah, look in the mirror.

Okay? You got it? Is that a good enough expression of the bad news? It’s the best I can do in the time I have.

The Provision to Be Found

Let’s go from the bad news to the good news: the condition to be faced, the provision to be found.

Now, I had to spend time putting the velvet down so that when I bring the diamond out, you can see how wonderful it is. This is one of the great problems. This is why people don’t come to faith in Jesus Christ. There’re people walking around up here holding up diamonds—holding up As, as it were. And the person says, “What do I need an A for? I’m very happy with a B plus.” They didn’t realize they had an F. Okay? So what it’s saying here: we got Fs, and we can’t get it any higher. Well then, we’d better have some good news for this story, or we’re all in deep trouble.

We do. Verse 21, two fantastic words, two of my favorite words in the New Testament: “But now…” “But now…” It’s what we’re waiting for. “But now…” “But now” what? Well, but now here’s the good news: what I by my own endeavor am unable to accomplish, God on the basis of his great grace has provided. All of my attempts to keep the law perfectly have been a failure. I know that. You know that. You keep coming to me going, “We’ve only done five, and I flunked in all five. And I look as though I’m going for—basically, I’ve got, one out of ten, a possibility, and even that I’m not sure of.” So we know we’re lawbreakers. So unless there is a contribution made that has nothing to do, that is apart from our ability to contribute by our works of the law—that’s verse 21, the little phrase “apart from [the] law”—unless there is that kind of contribution from another source, we are dead and lost in our sins.

Now, you see what happens is this: that only those who have come to cease to rely upon their own endeavors and their own deeds and their own morality and their own religion will ever enter into the benefit of this provision. If this righteousness, which is so necessary, does not become ours as a result of our endeavor, then how do you get it? That’s what I want to know: “Here is heaven. How do I get there? That’s what I want to know. What do I have to do?”


“Hey, don’t tell me nothing. I don’t like nothing. ’Cause nothing means that I’m gonna have to accept what someone else has done.”

You’ve got it dead clear.

“Well, then I won’t have any reason to boast.”

You got that clear. That’s what he says: “Where, then, is boasting?”—verse 27. “It is excluded.”

Anybody on the road to heaven, they say, “How come you’re on the road to heaven?” Say, “Hey, I’m a smart guy. I’m a smart person. I’m smart enough to exercise faith.” No you’re not. “There’s none that seeketh after God, no, not one. There’s none that doeth righteous, no, not one.”[7] Well, the whole world is accountable before God. So on what basis, then, are we made acceptable in God’s sight? Because of something he did in Jesus and by his grace at work in our lives, opened our eyes to see it, unstopped our eyes to hear it, and suddenly we said, “This is it! This is good news!” Have you ever said that?

You see, faith—because “this righteousness comes from God through faith in Christ Jesus”[8]—faith is not the cause. It’s the conduit. It’s a big difference. And it’s not by our faith that we cause ourselves to be saved. It is that faith is the conduit through which God’s grace is ministered to us. The only thing that I bring to getting saved is my sin. When I come to Jesus to get saved, the only thing I’ve got in my pocket’s an F. A big F! “What do you have to show for yourself, Al?” “Nothing.” “Well here, give me your F. I’ll give you my A.”

There’s something not right about that. There’s something glorious about that. That’s the glory of the cross. That’s the blood of Jesus Christ: at great cost to Jesus, the free bestowal to us. You see, this is the great mystery of what we read here. Then we will discover, verse 26, that God is “just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” Because God is just, sin must be punished. Because God is a God of grace, he punishes his own Son, who is in himself sinless, in order that we who are the bearers of the F may be put in a position and declared to have an A.

It’s not by our faith that we cause ourselves to be saved. It is that faith is the conduit through which God’s grace is ministered to us.

The man or the woman of faith has committed themselves to the truth of Jesus, has assented to that truth, is no longer looking to himself or at himself but rather looking away from himself, looking to Christ. The man or the woman of faith has been justified, put in a right standing before God—“justified freely by his grace,” verse 24. I can keep you all afternoon talking to you about this. What does this phrase mean? It means that justification is not something that results from what we do, but it is something which may be ours on account of what another has done.

And he goes on to explain what the other has done. “Justified freely by his grace.” How come? “Through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” How did that work? Well, he says, “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.”[9] And all the Jewish people understood that. They understood. They remembered the exodus from Egypt. They knew they were held in captivity there. And they remembered the angel of death flying over. They remembered the instruction to put the blood around the lintels of the door, and when the angel of death came, seeing the blood, he would pass over them.[10] And those who were in bondage in Egypt were liberated on account of the blood that was shed. And there was looking forward to the great redemption that would come when he, the Messiah, would be the atoning sacrifice for sin. The Suffering Servant would die in order that those who rebelled against God and couldn’t care less may be declared righteous in his sight; that the scum of the earth may become the kings of heaven; that proud, arrogant, middle-class British and American snobby, self-assertive, independent, highly educated sinners may be brought to see their absolute folly. And until they are, the message of the gospel is a joke to them, it is an affront to them, it is an irrelevance to them. God has not saved us, Paul says to Timothy, on account of righteous things that we have done but according to his own purpose and grace.[11]

Now, there’s something I need to say to you before I move to my final point here in these dying moments, and it is this: to be justified freely by God’s grace is not to be made righteous. To be justified freely by God’s grace is to be declared righteous, is to be regarded as righteous. It is to be set in a right standing before God.

You see, many of us who are trusting in our own righteousness are hoping that our behavior will eventually prove good enough to merit the approval and acceptance of God. The problem with that is that even when we do our best, our best doesn’t even come close to the perfect standard of God’s righteousness declared in the Ten Commandments. In contrast to that, if God in his sheer grace, showering upon us his mercy and clothing us in his righteousness, accepts us as we are, and we gladly embrace what he offers us in Jesus, we can then go on and do his will without constantly worrying whether we’re doing it adequately or not.

And I’m gonna tell you something this morning: if you live your life all the time wondering whether you are getting a good enough grade, you have never understood justification. I’m not saying you aren’t saved. I’m just telling you, you’ve never understood justification. If you get on an aircraft, and the wheels start to turn, and the engines roar, and you think, “This may be my last flight”—which I usually do—and you find yourself saying, “But I’m okay, you know, because I never… I didn’t watch that thing on TV, and I remember I took the garbage out, I kissed my wife goodbye, I was at church, and I did read my Bible this morning”—the individual who’s thinking like that has never understood justification. Because the fact of the matter is, as difficult as it is for us to understand and accept, if we kicked the dog, threw the garbage out, fell over on the way out, forgot to say goodbye to our wife, and left in a rage, we may still go down the runway into eternity confident of our salvation. Why? Because he justifies freely by his grace.

Here’s the mystery of it. F. F. Bruce does it perfectly. Bruce says this: “God pronounces [a man] righteous at the beginning of [his] course, not at the end of it.”[12] You sign up for the course and he gives you an A. Before you even begin the first class, he says, “You got an A!” You say, “Well, wait a minute. You haven’t seen my program. You haven’t seen what I’m gonna do. You haven’t read any of my reports.” He says, “That’s not the point. I’ll be reading that. I’ll be looking at them. I’ll be working with you on them. But right now, today, I want you to know, you got an A.” Before ever they do any righteous deeds! Therefore, God’s justification cannot be on the basis of works which a man or a woman is still to do. Justification is an act of God’s grace, his free grace, whereby he pardons all our sins and he accepts us as righteous in his sight.[13] You get an A, straight off.

Isn’t that what the thief on the cross discovered? What was he gonna do to make himself acceptable for heaven? He didn’t have a chance! He’s up there bleeding to death, asphyxiating. His life is running away from him. His friend over on the other side is giving Jesus grief: “Hey! You think you’re the Son of God? Why don’t you get down from there, and get me down from there?”

The thief on the other side says, “I don’t think you should be talking like this. After all,” he said, “you and I, we’re up here ’cause we should be up here. But from what I understand, the guy in the middle, he didn’t do anything. Lord, will you remember me when you come into your kingdom?”

“Today, you get an A. Today you will be with me in paradise.”[14]

That’s the gospel. That’s why no sinner is too much of a sinner. That’s why none of us can boast about our condition in Christ.

Augustus Toplady, in the great hymn “Rock of Ages,” puts it perfectly:

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress;
And helpless, come to thee for rest.
I, the foul one, to your fountain fly;
Wash me, Jesus, or I die.[15]

A Decision to Make

So, there is a condition to face, there’s a provision to be found, and finally, in a phrase, there is a decision to be made. There is a decision to be made.

This is the message of the gospel “to all who believe.” If you’ve lived to this point in your life believing that because Jesus Christ died on the cross, therefore, all people are automatically forgiven, and all that we have to do is realize it and get on and live a good life, somebody has been teaching us from an empty head and a closed Bible. We dare not seek to rush people to Christ. We dare not seek to get them there any way, anyhow. We need to allow the Scripture not only to control our message but also to control our methodology. And here in Romans 3:19 and following, you have not only the message but the methodology. You have it clear.

Here’s the message. This is the only message that saves. Number one, “the wrath of God is … revealed from heaven against … godlessness and wickedness.” Therefore, I need to come to see my godless, wicked life. Until I do, what follows is irrelevant to me. When I do, when I recognize that I do not deserve one thing, then I find myself saying, “Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, [would] die for me?”[16]

We dare not seek to rush people to Christ. We dare not seek to get them there any way, anyhow. We need to allow the Scripture not only to control our message but also to control our methodology.

You see, when we start with John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son,”[17] there is something in us that says, “I understand that. I mean, ’cause my wife loves me, and my kids love me, and I’m a fairly lovable guy. So the fact that God loves me is not a big surprise.” But when I realize that I’m a wretch, when I realize that all my best efforts are like dirty, filthy rags,[18] that every good thing that I’ve ever rested in, that every service I attended, every cup of coffee I gave, every offering that I gave, every time I went downtown and gave stuff out to poor people, none of that translates into currency that works in the kingdom of heaven—when I realize my condition and I realize that God would love somebody like that

See, that’s why it says, “It[’s] easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of [heaven].”[19] Because a rich guy thinks he can buy himself in everywhere, by and large. He can drive the right car, live in the right house, attend the right clubs, go to the right functions, and do the right things. So he thinks, he figures, “Hey, I’ll be able to do it.” Jesus says it’s easier for a camel—a camel—to go through the eye of a lady’s needle than it is for a rich guy to go into the kingdom of heaven. Why? Because a rich man is gonna have to bow down flat on his face with the guy who was the thief on the cross and say, “I got an F too, buddy.” And since he’s unprepared to, he doesn’t bow, so he remains in his sins.

To believe in Jesus means to quit believing in myself. It means to quit believing in my religion. It means to quit believing in my good deeds. It means to quit relying on anything that I believe would make me acceptable before God. And it means to come to him and say, “Just as I am, without one plea in my defense, except that Jesus’ blood was shed for me, and that you have bid me come to you, Lord Jesus Christ, I’m gonna come to you.”[20] And when a man or a woman comes like that, the assurance of the gospel is that they will be saved.

Can I ask you this morning… We’ve finished these Ten Commandments. Have you faced your condition? Has your mouth been stopped before God? Have you understood the wonder of his provision? And if so, have you ever decided to accept the A and give up the F? And if you have, have you ever done it? I urge you to today. “Now is the accepted time; … now is the day of salvation.”[21]

[1] Romans 1:15 (paraphrased).

[2] Romans 1:18 (paraphrased).

[3] See Habakkuk 1:13.

[4] Romans 1:18 (NIV 1984). Emphasis added.

[5] See Romans 2:17–24.

[6] John 10:10 (paraphrased).

[7] Romans 3:10–11 (paraphrased).

[8] Romans 3:22 (paraphrased).

[9] Romans 3:24–25 (NIV 1984).

[10] See Exodus 12:1–13.

[11] See 2 Timothy 1:9.

[12] F. F. Bruce, The Letter of Paul to the Romans: An Introduction and Commentary, 2nd ed., Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985), 97.

[13] Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 33.

[14] See Luke 23:39–43.

[15] Augustus Toplady, “Rock of Ages” (1776). Lyrics lightly altered.

[16] Charles Wesley, “And Can It Be That I Should Gain?” (1738).

[17] John 3:16 (KJV).

[18] See Isaiah 64:6.

[19] Matthew 19:24 (NIV 1984).

[20] Charlotte Elliott, “Just As I Am” (1835). Paraphrased.

[21] 2 Corinthians 6:2 (KJV).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.