Monday, June 26, 2023

Freed from Sin

The following is a more or less verbatim transcript of the sermon for the Third Sunday after Trinity. I have lightly edited it for clarity, but it is not meant as a written version of the sermon.

The sermon itself can be listened to wherever you get your podcasts or at this link:

Freed from Sin

The Third Sunday after Trinity

Romans 6:1-14

Well, over the summer, when I'm preaching, I'm going to be looking at the readings from Romans. So far, we've seen that St Paul has told us that all of us, without exception, are equal in sin and subject to the wrath of God. All need saving and all need saving the same way, writes St Paul. The only way we can be saved, St Paul tells us, is through faith in Christ. We don't deserve to be forgiven and accepted by God, but God out of love for us, and because of what Christ has done for us by dying for us, forgives us freely and accepts us.

Well, there is an obvious question that emerges from all this, and St Paul asks it in verse one of our reading from Romans. If God forgives us no matter what we do and no matter what we have done, is there any need for us to do anything differently? Why can't we just go on living as we have always lived, knowing that God will go on loving us as he has always loved us? St Paul puts it this way, ‘should we continue in sin that grace may abound’ (Romans 6:1)? When we were sinners, grace abounded to us, so why not go on sinning, so that grace may go on abounding?

It's a logical question but it's not just a theoretical question. It seems that there were people who were accusing St Paul of saying just this and claiming that St Paul didn't care whether people sinned or not. There were others who argued that that was precisely what the Gospel meant. St Paul was writing Romans from Corinth, and he had had to deal with people in the church in Corinth who thought that now they were Christians, forgiven and accepted by God, it meant they could do whatever they liked. St Paul is horrified that people can think he thinks like this, and he is horrified that believers could think like this.

Nevertheless, St Paul doesn't respond to the idea that we can go on sinning as believers by simply telling people to stop sinning. He will say that, but first he explains, not only why we should stop sinning, but also why we can stop sinning. St Paul asks, ‘how can we who died to sin go on living in it (Romans 6:2)?’ ‘Do you not know’, he continues to ask, ‘that all who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death’ (Romans 6:3)? St Paul has previously written about Jesus' death and the forgiveness of sins it brings. Now, in Romans 6, he speaks about our death and the freedom from sin it brings.

We will only understand what St Paul is saying in Romans chapter 6 when we understand that Paul is not simply talking about sins, that is, sins in the sense of those wrong things that we do. Not loving God with our whole being, for example, not loving our neighbor as ourself, not keeping the Ten Commandments, and so on. ‘Sin’ for St Paul isn't just the things that we do that are wrong. Sin is both a power that controls us and a state in which we live.

In times past, when a couple were living together outside of marriage, the phrase that was used to describe it was ‘living in sin’. I don't know if you remember that phrase or have heard it. The idea wasn't just that what they were doing behind closed doors was wrong, but that the state of being together outside of marriage was itself a state of sin. Well, that's what St Paul is saying. Every one of us outside of Christ is living in a state of sin. A state in which Sin itself controls us. And the only hope for us, writes St Paul, is for our relationship with Sin to come to an end. And for it to come to an end, there must be death. It can only be ended by death, he writes, and it is us who must die.

And we did die, St Paul tells the Roman believers, when we came to Christ in faith. When we come to Christ, our relationship with Sin as a power ends. St Paul tells us that our old self was crucified (Romans 6:6). ‘Whoever has died is freed from sin’ (Romans 6:7), and it follows that if we have shared in the death of Christ, so too we will share in the resurrection of Christ (Romans 6:5, 8). We have died and been buried with Christ, St Paul writes (Romans 6:3-4). So, we can now share the resurrection life of Christ. We have died with him, so now we can live with him. We can walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

St Paul is describing something that has actually happened. Before the Roman believers came to Christ, it was impossible for them not to sin. St Paul describes this state in Romans 7. He calls it being under the ‘law of sin and death’ (Romans 8:1). We're all familiar with the physical laws of the universe, laws that govern us and govern our life in this world. St Paul says there are spiritual laws that govern our life in this world as well, and one of them is the law of sin and death. The law of sin and death tells us that when we want to do good, no matter how much we may want to do it, we can't, and that if we don't do good, we will die. Sin leads to death.

It’s a terrible situation to be in. If I sin, I will die. And yet I cannot help myself, I will sin. St Paul will write in Romans 7, ‘the good that I would I do not, the evil that I would not that I do’ (Romans 7:19). ‘O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death (Romans 7: 24)?’ But, writes St Paul, we have, as believers in Christ, died to sin, and we are freed from it, so that the law of sin and death no longer applies to us.

Now we do have a choice. St Paul urges his readers to make it. We are to understand that we are dead to sin and alive to God and that we need to act accordingly. We now can do the good we want to do, and we can not do the evil we don't want to do. St Paul tells his readers, not to let sin exercise control over them (Romans 6:12).

In other words, he is saying previously you had no choice, you had to do what Sin told you to do; now you don't. Previously you were dead to God and alive to sin; now you are dead to sin and alive to God. St Paul, as he goes on in Romans, will explain what this means in practical terms for how we live, but first he wants the Roman believers and us to understand how real and how radical the change is that Christ has brought about in our lives.

I want to highlight three points for us from all this.

1. Continuing in Sin?

Most of us would not put it so bluntly. We would not say, ‘let us continue in sin that grace may abound’. In any case, this is not the language we use anymore. But isn't this the reality?

To put it another way, how seriously do we take our faith? How much difference does it actually make to how we live? To what extent does our faith influence our choices and decisions? Isn't our attitude all too often, basically, that no matter what we do, there is nothing to worry about, God will forgive us anyway? Yes, we'll try to avoid serious sin, but as to significant lifestyle changes, that's a different matter altogether.

And why worry if God loves us and accepts us, whatever? Why indeed? Jesus in our Gospel reading says to his disciples that those who find their life will lose it and those who lose their life for his sake will find it (Matthew 10:39). What both our Lord and St Paul are saying is that faith in Christ is a life-changing experience. We can't just continue living as if nothing has happened. And if we can live as if nothing has happened, then we may need to ask ourselves whether maybe nothing has happened. If we really have come to Christ, it will result in real and radical change.

So real and so radical, in fact, that only the language of dying and rising again is sufficient to describe it. It may take time for us to appreciate it and to realize how significant it all is, but we must appreciate it. We must appreciate that Christ changes everything.

2. Changed by Christ

The reason why we don't always appreciate the difference coming to Christ makes is because we don't understand quite what life is like outside of Christ.

One of the most misunderstood and misleading ideas that has gained currency in our world and in the Church is the idea of ‘free will’. We in the church are partly to blame for championing it and promoting it. The idea of free will, as it is popularly understood, is that we are all free to make our own choices. Christians will say that God has given us free will so we can choose whether to worship him or not, and we believe it! It would be funny if it were not so tragic.

We have made this idea of human freedom central to how we think. St Paul is far more realistic. He describes our condition outside of Christ as ‘enslaved to sin’ (Romans 6:6). It's not that we have no choice, but that our choices are limited. We are controlled by forces external to us. That seems so obvious, but we so desperately want to believe in our autonomy and our freedom that we just ignore all evidence to the contrary.

St Paul writes that we are slaves to whom we obey, either sin that leads to death or the obedience that leads to righteousness (Romans 6:16). Now we miss what St Paul is actually saying here. He is not simply saying choose whether you serve sin or choose whether you serve righteousness. He wants us to see that we can only serve righteousness once we have been set free from sin, and we can only be set free from sin when we have been changed by Christ. We have to come to Christ first. It is only once we have come to Christ that we are given the freedom to choose to serve Christ.

Many do want their lives to be turned around. Many are conscious of the wrong they have done and of the unhappiness they have brought both to themselves and to others by the way they have lived and by their actions. It is by accepting that we have done wrong, accepting that we are powerless to change our lives, and accepting that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves, that we begin the journey of our lives being turned around. This is because it is when we realise just how powerless and hopeless we are that we can see how Christ is sufficient for our need. We need to trust in Christ and Christ alone, St Paul tells us, and, if we do, Christ will bring about real and lasting change.

3. Controlled by God

Coming to Christ changes everything, but we have to act on that change.

At the moment, it seems as if everybody is emigrating somewhere or other: Australia, Canada, UK, you choose it! They are leaving Hong Kong and life in Hong Kong and moving to another place. They will no longer be subject to the rules and laws governing us in Hong Kong; they will instead become subject to the rules and laws governing them in wherever it is they have moved to. They are changing citizenship, exchanging life in Hong Kong for life in the UK, or wherever.

St Paul tells us that we have changed citizenship. We no longer belong to the kingdom of Sin and are no longer governed by its rules. We belong to the kingdom of God. We have been given the right and power to live as children of God, but we need to start living that way. We are now given the opportunity to live lives free from Sin, no longer controlled by it. As I've said, St Paul will go on to explain what this means in practical terms, but he wants in Romans 6 for us to see how real that change is, and he wants us to live as changed people.

Many people, sadly and tragically, prefer life in the kingdom of Sin to that in the kingdom of God. And we need to be under no illusion here. The demands that Christ makes of us as citizens of the kingdom of God are very real. Jesus in our Gospel reading spells out just how demanding those demands are. But Jesus promises to all those who follow him, who lose their life in the kingdom of Sin and exchange it for life in his kingdom, that they will find life, life that lasts eternally. But more than that, we are promised that we will be given the power to live that life. We'll be given the resources we need to be able to live that life.

It's as if when somebody lands in London, they're welcomed right away as a citizen and told there's a million pound bank balance that has been set up for them. A million pound bank balance that’s there for them to draw on to finance their new lifestyle. Jesus not only transfers us from the kingdom of Sin to the kingdom of God, he gives us the resources we need to live in that kingdom, but we have to want to; we have to decide to do so.

The challenge before us is very real. We have experienced in Christ a real change. We now need to live out that change and walk, as St Paul puts it, in newness of life.

May we find that life and may we walk in it!


Thursday, June 22, 2023

Saved from the Wrath of God

The following is a more or less verbatim transcript of the sermon for the Second Sunday after Trinity. I have lightly edited it for clarity, but it is not meant as a written version of the sermon.

The sermon itself can be listened to wherever you get your podcasts or at this link:

Saved from the Wrath of God

The Second Sunday after Trinity 2023

Romans 5:1-11

We don't appreciate today what a major issue for the early church the Gentiles believing in Christ was. Jesus came unto his own, that is, to the Jewish people. He came as the Jewish Messiah in fulfilment of the Jewish Scriptures, and what is more, he largely confined his ministry while on earth to the Jews. He says in St Matthew's Gospel, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Matthew 15:24). In our reading this morning, when Jesus sends his 12 disciples out on mission, he tells them to go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 10:5-6).

Now, he did tell his disciples that after his ascension that they were to go beyond Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria and away to the ends of the world (Acts 1:8). But nothing during their time with him had prepared them for what it meant when Gentiles started believing in Jesus. How were they as Jews to welcome Gentiles into the people of God? In Romans chapters one to four, St Paul explains that as all are equal in sin, all must find salvation the same way.

And the way that they will find salvation, he tells the Roman believers, is by the way of faith in Christ. St Paul explains that God forgives and accepts all who come to him through faith in Christ. Having explained this in the first four chapters, St. Paul concludes in our reading this morning, ‘having been justified by faith, we have peace with God, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand’ (Romans 5:1-2). Justification is not the only thing that happens to us when we come to Christ in faith, but it is an important, indeed essential, part of it.

Being justified by faith, however, is not the end but the beginning. St Paul writes of how we boast of our hope of sharing in the glory of God (Romans 5:2). St Paul describes how the suffering we experience now produces in us endurance, and how that endurance produces character, and how character produces hope. Hope that does not disappoint us. Hope! Hope is something that is in short supply in our world. We read and hear of the existential threats facing humanity almost daily. Jesus himself warned his disciples that they would hear of wars and rumours of wars, that there would be natural disasters and plagues (Luke 21:10-11).

We sort of thought war was on the way out, didn't we? With the arrival of nuclear weapons, we didn't think anyone would be mad enough to risk large scale war. And now we see the unthinkable. War again in Europe. Not just a local squirmish, but a war which is even now having global consequences. This week, African leaders visited Kyiv because the war is now impacting on food supplies on a global level. It is a war that carries with it the threat of nuclear destruction. And while this war is going on, there is the threat of another war in another part of the world – in Taiwan.

Natural disasters such as earthquakes and famine continue. But looming over us now are the natural disasters with a human cause. Global warming is producing climate change. We have all heard about it. But despite all the publicity and all the warnings from scientists, we are doing next to nothing about it. It is no wonder that young people who have the most to lose are especially worried, and they are right to be. We have seen the wildfires and the floods, and we've seen how even in New York in the past few days people have had to stay indoors because they could not breathe, the air quality was so bad. Scientists warn that there is worse to come.

And we don't need reminding of plagues, do we? We've just lived through a plague, the like of which most of us thought we would never see. And just as we were congratulating ourselves on having got on top of some of the world's most infectious diseases, COVID came along to remind us of how vulnerable we are. And while COVID has been terrible, it could have been much worse. It could have been a far more fatal virus.

The sense that all is not well with our world goes some way to explain why many people don't want children. The birth rate in Hong Kong, for example, is now at its lowest level since records began. In half of the world's countries, the birth rate is now below the level needed to replenish the population. Before I was ordained, I worked for a short time with Oxfam and two of the things we were most worried about while I was working for Oxfam were starvation and overpopulation. Now we're worried about obesity and underpopulation. It's ironic, to put it mildly.

Not only are young people not wanting to have children, rates of depression and mental illness are on the increase. And this is before we talk about artificial intelligence and the societal scale risks it poses to humanity. You will have read recently how those who invented AI have issued a statement saying, and I quote, ‘mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war’.

Jesus warned his disciples about these things. He told them they would happen, and he told them not to despair or lose hope because the end is not yet (Luke 21:9). These things, Jesus said, must happen. Most of us feel there is not much we can do about them anyway. But it doesn't stop us worrying. What I want to say this morning is that real though these existential threats may be, the real threat to each of us is much nearer home. The real threat is personal and individual. It comes from within us, not from outside. The threat is internal to us, not external. It is a threat that comes from the sin and unrighteousness in each one of us.

St Paul writes, ‘for the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth’ (Romans 1:18). While we are still sinners, we are subject to the wrath of God. And so, we can have no hope, no hope, that is, until we find peace with God. The amazing thing, writes St Paul, is that it is God himself who has taken the initiative to make peace with him possible. St Paul writes, ‘but God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8).

This is the Gospel. We can have peace with God, we can be forgiven, but we need to be clear, there is nothing automatic about this, nor is it something that can be earned. St Paul tells us that it is only something we can receive, receive as a gift by faith in Christ. It is by faith that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, St Paul writes. But more than that, St Paul says, ‘we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.’ (Romans 5:11).

We boast in God! But here's the thing: we don't want to boast in God. June is ‘Pride Month’. I don't know if you've noticed, but it used to be called ‘Gay Pride Month’ or ‘LGBT Pride Month. It is interesting how ‘now ‘Pride Month’ has become much more. It is interesting how popular it is regardless of your sexuality.

‘Pride month’ has become popular with all people because of the ideology behind it. An ideology that is now the ideology of society, regardless of your sexuality. It is the dominant ideology, at least amongst us. It's an ideology in which we ourselves are central. And what's not to love about me? What's not to be proud about in me. It's my identity, my needs, my wants, and my desires that matter to me, and they should matter to you too. Pride in who I am is what counts. And in the same way that the letter in the middle of the word defines what sin is, so too the letter in the middle of the word ‘pride’ defines what pride is. It's I, me. The Bible calls it idolatry, and the wrath of God is being poured out on all those who in their idolatry suppress the truth by ungodliness and unrighteousness.

We can boast in ourselves all we like, but all we are doing is boasting ourselves to judgment and destruction. St Paul tells the Roman believers, and through them he tells us, that our hope lies in sharing the glory of God. St Paul writes, ‘much more surely, therefore, since we have now been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God’ (Romans 5:9).

Jesus in warning his disciples not to worry about all the existential threats they saw in the world around them, warned them instead to worry about the false prophets and messiahs who would lead them astray. Don't worry about the wars, don't worry about the earthquakes, don't worry about the plagues, but do worry about false teaching. Because false teaching is much more dangerous than earthquakes and famines, plagues, and wars.

Many are being led astray in our own day and led astray, sadly, by teachers in the church who tell us that we have nothing to worry about, that God's just too nice. He won't judge you. He won't get angry with you. He's too loving for that. But St Paul writes that he is not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God to salvation (Romans 1:16) and the reason why the gospel is the power of God to salvation is because we need saving. Thank God, he has made that salvation possible. Possible to all of us, without exception, but only through faith in Christ.

It is through faith in Christ that we are justified and given hope, and it is through that faith that we will be saved. The hope we have in Christ is a real hope. St Paul writes, ‘and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us’(Romans 5:5).

May we find peace with God today through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and may we too be able to boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.


Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Introduction to Romans

The following is a more or less verbatim transcript of the sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity. I have lightly edited it for clarity, but it is not meant as a written version of the sermon. The sermon itself can be listened to wherever you get your podcasts (search for: Ross Royden).

The First Sunday after Trinity 2023

Romans 4:13-25

Facebook group members will know that my original intention for the next few weeks was to preach on St Matthew's Gospel. Over the past few years, I've preached sermons going through St Mark's Gospel, St Luke's Gospel, and St John's Gospel. It was my intention to preach this year through St Matthew's Gospel. However, as you will have noticed, our second reading as we enter the season of Trinity is from Romans. And we're going to be reading through Romans for our second reading from now until the middle of September, September 17th, to be precise. So, I have decided instead to preach on Romans!

I am not quite sure why the readings start today at chapter four of Romans, but the fact that they do means that this week I can introduce Romans and then start properly on Romans next week, because Romans chapter five, verse one is a much more natural place to start if you're not going to start at the beginning.

Well, if you do the maths, this means there's about 13 Sundays when we'll be having readings from Romans. And you may think, oh my goodness, that's a lot of sermons on Romans. If you are thinking like that, can I just mention Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones, who was the minister of Westminster Chapel during the 20th century? On October 7th, 1955, he began a series of sermons on Romans on a Friday night. They attracted 500 to 600 people. Those were the days! He finished preaching on Romans twelve and a half years later, having preached 372 sermons. They've been edited and transcribed, and they're available to buy in 14 volumes.

So if you think 13 sermons isn't quite enough, you can go and get Martin Lloyd-Jones's sermons. Many of them are available online to listen to as well. If you do think I'm getting off a little bit lightly, I intend to do a series on a few chapters of Romans for Lent 2024. Whether or not we get anything like 500 people to them, I rather doubt.

St Paul's letter to the Romans is 7,114 words. St Paul averages 4,134 words in his letters. Seneca's longest letter is 2,495 words, so quite a bit short of the 7,000 plus words of Romans. St Paul's letter to the Romans, then, is long. But it's not long as we would think long. You can read it in a few minutes. It's shorter than a lot of reports that I'm sure many of us have to read in the course of our work. Although it is not long by our standards, the scholarly literature on Romans is immense, far beyond any one person's ability to get on top of. It's very easy, when seeing all that's been written about Romans, to feel bewildered and overwhelmed Because there are many different and conflicting interpretations of what St Paul meant by what he wrote in his letter to the Romans, scholars will argue at length even over single words.

Well, faced with all this, we need to remember that St Paul originally sent his letter to a church composed of many who were poor, illiterate, and uneducated. But he expected them to understand what he wrote. St Paul wrote Romans from Corinth in the winter at the end of the AD 50s. He spent three months there at Corinth before he went on to Jerusalem. So he had time to think and time to write. As he wrote, he wrote having been active in ministry as an apostle for some 25 years. He had already established churches in Galatia, in Philippi, in Thessalonica, in Corinth, in Ephesus, and these are just the ones we know about. What we have in Romans, then, is the mature reflection of somebody who had been engaged in ministry for a considerable period of time. The question is, of course, why did St Paul send the letter to Rome?

St Paul did not found the church in Rome. It wasn't even an associate of his who had established the church there. Indeed, as he sends the letter to Rome, he has to apologise for not having visited Rome before. So why go to all this trouble to send such an important letter to people many of whom he didn't know and a church which he had never visited? Well, the answer is that St Paul felt he had finished the work God had given him to do in the east of the Roman Empire and that he was now being called by God to go to the west of the Empire and specifically to Spain (Romans 15:24, 28).

St Paul's hope is that Rome will supply him with the material resources he needs for that mission to Spain and will also give him a base to work from. This reminds us, firstly, that St Paul wasn't the real founder of Christianity. Sometimes you hear people say that it was St Paul who founded the Church, or that St Paul was the second founder of Christianity. Well, it's true he was a major apostle. He founded many churches. But there were several churches he didn't establish. He didn't establish the church in Jerusalem, the church in Antioch, the church in Alexandria, the church in Rome, and others besides. St Paul was important, but not perhaps quite so significant as some people think.

Secondly, St Paul wasn't a lone ranger. He wasn't somebody who just went off on his own to do his own thing. He always worked in teams. In Romans 16, he sends greetings to people in the church in Rome whom he did know; people he had worked with in the past. Many of them are women. And this reminds us that St Paul wasn't hard to get on with.

You often hear people say he was a very difficult person to get to know. No, he wasn't. The people that he greets in Romans are people he's been imprisoned with, people he's been close to death with. And it also reminds us that he wasn't a misogynist; he wasn't someone who disliked women. The person who delivers the letter to the Romans to Rome and the person who first reads it out, because they wouldn't have been able to read it for themselves - there would have only been one copy to begin with - the person who reads the letter out to the church in Rome and the person who first teaches on Romans was Phoebe, a woman. We know that tells us in Romans chapter sixteen verse one.

Well, in Romans, St. Paul explains how, as an apostle to the Gentiles, he sees his mission to the Gentiles. He is sharing his understanding of the Gospel with them, so that they will know what it is they're getting into if they support him and get behind him in his mission to Spain. Now it was necessary for him to do this because there was significant disagreement in the Church over the Gentile mission. We forget that Jesus came unto his own, that is, he came to Jews, to the Jewish people. After Jesus' ascension, the church reached out to pagans, to Gentiles. But this raised questions over which there was a lot of argument, because Jesus hadn't left any guidance as to the basis upon which Gentiles were to be admitted to the church.

St Paul and the early church all agreed on the fundamentals of the faith. They agreed that the Scriptures were inspired by God. They agreed that God was the creator of the world and that he had sent his Son into the world. They agreed that Jesus had died, had risen, and had ascended. They agreed that Jesus had died for our sins. They agreed that we should worship around a common meal. They agreed on the sending of the Spirit and that the Spirit was active in their midst. All the things that we today would say in the Creeds, they largely would have agreed on. They might not have agreed on it in the same detail as we now have it, but they would have been united in the basics of their faith.

The problem was, what did this Jewish message about a Jewish Messiah mean for people who weren't Jews? Fundamental to the Church's faith was that Jesus was the Christ. So fundamental was it that the title ‘Christ’ became Jesus' name. Jesus the Christ became Jesus Christ. But what did it mean for a pagan to confess faith in a Jewish Messiah? And what did pagan Gentiles have to do when they did confess faith in this Jewish Messiah? Did they also have to keep God's Law as God had revealed it to his people in the Scriptures? Well, the obvious answer as many people saw it was, yes, of course the Gentiles had to keep God's commandments. Of course they had to keep God's Laws. Others said, well, yes, they do have to keep God's commandments, but there are some things that God asked us Jews to do that they don't have to do. So the answer is yes and no.

St Paul, however, said, no, they don't have to keep God's commandments; they don't have to keep God's laws. And that was controversial. St Paul's position eventually won the day, and we now accept it without question. So we don't keep the Sabbath holy; we do work on it. We do eat pork, at least most of us do. We do wear garments, perhaps are now wearing garments, of more than two fabrics. These are all things that are forbidden in the Old Testament Law. Men who become Christians today don't feel the need to be circumcised. So when Bishop Timothy leads the confirmation service in the Autumn, he won't be asking a doctor to conduct a physical examination of the men to make sure they're circumcised. As parents, we don't feel that as well as getting our children baptized, we also have to circumcise our sons.

But God said to Abraham that any male who wasn't circumcised could not be a member of the people of God (Genesis 17:14). So where did that leave the pagans, the Gentiles who were becoming members of God's people? The point is, St. Paul couldn't take Rome's support for his mission for granted. He had to explain himself, and he had to explain his understanding of what the Gospel meant for pagans. Well, his three months break in Corinth gave him the chance to explain in a careful and systematic way how he saw the Gospel for Gentiles.

He begins by telling the Roman Christians that he's looking forward to his visit to preaching the Gospel in Rome. And he's looking forward, he says, because the Gospel is the power of God to salvation to all who have faith to the Jew first but also to the Greek to the pagan to the Gentile. The reason he says the Gospel is the power of God to salvation is because in the Gospel is revealed the righteousness of God and it is revealed ‘ by faith for faith’(Romans 1:17). And St Paul will spend quite a lot of time in Romans explaining what he means by this.

Now when we hear that the Gospel is by faith, for faith, we probably don't have a problem with that. But for the first Christians who were Jews, the righteousness of God was revealed in the Law for people who kept the Law. Yes, they believed in Jesus the Messiah, but that didn't mean that they didn't also have to keep God's Law to be righteous. And people who didn't keep God's Law, by definition, weren't righteous. But St Paul says, no, the righteousness of God, what God wants, is by faith for faith.

Now, while we today probably don't think that ‘by faith for faith’ is too controversial, we may find the reason that St Paul gives for saying it's by faith for faith somewhat more disturbing. In the first four chapters of Romans, St. Paul explains why we need the righteousness of God by faith, and he explains why we all, without exception, need it.

Firstly, he says we need the righteousness of God because we as as human beings are unrighteousness. He begins his account of his Gospel, not with the love of God, but with the wrath of God. ‘For the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven’, he writes, ‘against all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of human beings who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth’(Romans 1:18-19). I don't know if you're one of those parents who produces portfolios for your children. In them you display, quite rightly, certificates showing their achievements as well as pictures of them doing what they love and what they're good at. And you submit them as a way of showing the school that you're submitting the portfolio to a feeling of what your child is like, what the child looks like as a person. As adults, we do it with a CV when we apply for a job. We list all our achievements, all our skills, and so on and so forth, to show future employers why they would be stupid not to employ us.

St Paul in the first chapters of Romans does that with the human race. Only the portfolio of the human race is one of failure, wickedness, and rebellion against God. St Paul says that human beings are dead in sin, disobedient to God, and as a consequence doomed under the judgment of God. In other words, St Paul concludes that the human situation is a desperate one. There is none who is righteous, no, not one, all have sinned, he writes, and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:10, 23).

‘Diversity, equality, and inclusiveness’ are the key words of our generation. Companies all want to make their mission statement DEI: diverse, equitable, and inclusive. St Paul begins his account of his Gospel by saying the Gospel meets that criteria. It meets that criteria because no matter who we are, we are all equal in sin, and all alike included under God's judgement. We are equal in sin and facing the wrath of God. All alike; no exceptions.

Now, St Paul doesn't write all this to make the Romans feel bad and he doesn't write it to make us feel bad, although, it has to be said, if we haven't felt bad, then it's unlikely we have ever understood the Gospel. All are sinners, all need saving, all can only be saved the same way. And to be saved we need to be righteous, but no one is. So we need the righteousness of God. We are ourselves are not righteous, we need God's righteousness. St Paul writes that the righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel through faith for all who have faith, not just the Jew but also the pagan. Which pagans? All pagans! The Gospel is through faith for all who have faith.

Having explained this in chapters one to three, St Paul, in our reading today in chapter 4, gives the example of Abraham. Now this is a key example because the Jewish people saw Abraham as the father of the people of God, and St. Paul agrees that Abraham is the father of the people of God, but says St Paul, the people of God are those who share the faith of Abraham and those who trust in God in the way Abraham trusted in God. And crucially, writes St Paul in our reading, Abraham had faith in God before he was circumcised and before he did anything that could be counted as good. He trusted in God while still ungodly, unrighteous and as a sinner.

And so to be part of the people of God, people who look to Abraham as their father, St Paul writes, we need the same trust in God and in God alone that Abraham had. Now St Paul will go on in Romans, as we will see, to unpack the implications of this and to answer the questions which he knew would arise from it. But he wants to make sure that we all have understood from the word go what it is he's saying.

The Gospel is for all who have faith in Christ, but it is only by faith, not by works, not by good works, not by works of the Law, not by keeping God's commandments, but solely by trusting in God and in what God has done for us in Christ. This, says St Paul, is the Gospel he is going to Spain to preach. This is the gospel he wants the Roman Christians to get behind. All of which is great. But the problem for us with all this is that it's not how we think today.

I don't think many of us worry too much over whether we're righteous or not or whether we keep the Law or not. I doubt that many of us worry about whether or not God is going to punish us or not. Not only is the language that St Paul uses not our language, his concerns are not our concerns. Preachers like me attempt to put what St Paul has written into the language of our day. We try to show why his concerns should be our concerns. But we're hampered by all the arguments there are over what St Paul meant and by the divisions in the church historically over what he meant.

It is no wonder that people say, isn't it all too much trouble? Ross, you'd been better to have stuck with St Matthew! At least there are some good stories in the gospels. But St Paul writes that the Gospel is the power of God to salvation. Well, this makes it something that matters. It also means that the Gospel is not just another creed that we believe in or code that we follow. It is something we can have confidence in, but it is also something we ignore at our peril.

In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus says that he has come not to call the righteous but sinners. And St Paul tells us, that's you and that's me. So hearing the Gospel message to sinners isn't just a nice idea, something to do on a few Sundays in 2023. What we are dealing with is a message that St Paul claims is absolutely relevant to us, to our life, and to our our future. Jesus said he came to call sinners. It is in the Gospel that Jesus calls sinners to him today. And so Paul tells us that the call of Jesus can be answered by having faith and trust in him, by trusting that he will heal us and forgive us our sins in the way the woman with the hemorrhage trusted, that simply touching his cloak would give her healing.

Our faith can make us well too. We are, of course, free to turn away like the Pharisees did. We are free to get on with other things we think more important and find more interesting. But if we like St Paul, believe that the Gospel is the power of God to salvation, we will want more than 13 sermons. 372 sermons won't be enough because we will want to make absolutely sure we have understood it and have responded to it.

St Paul writes, ‘I'm not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God to salvation, to the Jew first, but also to the Greek, for in it the righteousness of God is revealed, by faith, for faith’.

May we be amongst those who have faith and are saved.