Have you ever found yourself somewhere you don’t feel you belong?
Emma and I were out walking once and we both really needed the bathroom. The only place we could go was a very posh restaurant out in the country. And it was getting towards evening and all the black BMWs were driving in and the beautiful people were getting out to dine. And Emma and I looked in through the glass doors and saw a snooty maitre d at reception. So we took a deep breath, I untied the jumper from around my waste and tied it around my shoulders, and I was desperately trying to channel the aura of a Syngen, and Emma was Tiffany. And we walked in. Thankfully the maitre d was dealing with some other people so we swanned through, heads held high to the bathroom. Afterwards I was outside in the foyer waiting for Emma. Can I help you sir? He said as though the only help he wanted to give me was out the door never to return again. For the next 5 minutes that man looked me up and down like I was something on his shoe. And when Emma was done we scuttled out the door, happy to be free of a place we just didn’t fit.
I wonder how much of life feels like that though. It often feels like we’ve found our way into a millionaires club, and we feel like frauds. There we are in the millionaires club, dressed like this. And we don’t fit. And it probably seems to us like everyone else knows how to look, what to say, how to behave. But we don’t belong and we know it. I wonder how you handle blagging your way at the millionaire’s club?
Some of us try to shrink away into the corner and be shy, some of us sit back and try to look mysterious, some of us try to look demure or interesting. Some of us step forward with bravado and try to be funny, or clever or outlandish. But we’re all just trying to negotiate the feeling of being a fraud. The brash person and the shy person both feel like they’re a fraud. We all walk around planet earth like we’ve found our way into the millionaires club and we’re not sure we belong.
How do you have confidence in life? I’m not talking about bravado. I’m not talking about blagging your way through life. I’m not talking about bragging your way through life. But also, I’m not talking about shrinking back and closing yourself off from others. I want to know: How do you walk tall with head held high? How do you live at peace with God and the world and just walk in the calling that God has placed on your life and just bless people with who God has made you to be? Wouldn’t that be liberating? To drop the act, to drop your guard and just be you – confident in life.
Don’t you want that? How do you get that?
Well the Apostle Paul was someone who had incredible confidence in life. He was a guy who went out and planted churches all over the Eastern half of the Mediterranean. He spoke to Emporers, and he spoke to common folk and whoever he was with, he just boldly fulfilled his calling. Sometimes his opponents stoned him, and he just came back for more. Sometimes his friends begged him to stay and he knew it was time to leave, so left. He was not determined by other people’s praise, and he wasn’t determined by other people’s hatred. He simply did what God called him to do, he planted churches, he preached the gospel, he wrote half the letters of the New Testament, and he just lived with freedom the life God called him to. He was remarkably free of what the bible calls “the fear of men.”
But you know what makes this even more remarkable is to remember his history. Paul used to kill Christians for a living. Before he was Christianity’s number one spokesman he was actually Christianity’s number one enemy. Paul had tried to destroy the church. He presided over the stoning of Stephen, and as he’s on the road to Damascus to persecute more churches Jesus meets him and confronts him with his terrible crimes. Paul gets converted and sent out as a preacher to the nations.
Now tell me, have you ever stuffed up publicly? Have you ever made a major blunder that’s out in the open, and then you have to face everyone? That might put a dent in your confidence mightn’t it? Especially if your blunder was, killing Stephen, one of the leading lights of the early church! How do you bounce back from that and not just crumple into a guilty mass of self-recrimination?
Paul knows what he did. He knows the horror of murder and of trying to destroy Christ’s church. Nonetheless he sets about his new life with complete freedom and confidence. How is that possible?
You know, if we have confidence, it’s usually because we’ve got some good past performances under our belt, Paul didn’t have that. He only had black marks in his book. Yet he steps out as a Christian, among Christians, and for Christians and lives with utter freedom and confidence. How does he do it?
Let me show you a couple of verses from 1 Corinthians 4 that are stunning on the subject of confidence. He writes to the church at Corinth which is split. Some people like Paul, others like Peter, others are big fans of the other star-preachers of the day. At this church there is an inappropriate hero-worship of Paul. And there are also terrible rumours about him flying around. Listen to Paul write into that situation:
3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court
Tell me, can you say that? “I care very little if I am judged by you.” Ah some of you say, “Yeah I don’t care what you think, I only care what I think. And I know I’m beautiful, no matter what they say, your words can’t tear me apart.”
Well Paul doesn’t break into Christina Aguilera here. He’s got a different philosophy. Here’s how the verse continues:
indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.
Here’s what Paul’s saying: “I don’t care what you think. But I also don’t care what I think. I leave my judgement in the Lord’s hands.” I’m not going to draw my self-worth from you. And I’m not going to draw my self-worth from me either. I leave all that in the Lord’s hands.
Remember, this is a murderer speaking. And he knows that murder is a terrible sin. He hasn’t forgotten that. He’s able to say “My conscience is clear” and to happily leave judgement in the hands of the Lord. That’s incredible. How can Paul do that?
Well the best way to understand it, is to study the longest letter we have from him – the book of Romans. There Paul will lay out exactly where he gets his incredible confidence from in life.
This evening we’re going to get an overview of chapters 1-7. Next week we’re going to zoom in on chapter 8. This week we get the background. Next week we’ll see the pinnacle of the book.
But let’s turn to Romans 1 to get an overview...
Romans 1, verse 1:
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God
That’s what the letter is about. The Gospel of God. Gospel means good news. So this is God’s good news to the world and it is the bringer of confidence in life
That’s why Paul can say verse 16
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, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."
Here’s the key to confidence. Do you see in verse 17, the gospel reveals a righteousness FROM God? A righteousness FROM God. This is the best news in the world. God has a gift to give to any who will receive it. The gift is Jesus Christ. And Jesus is God’s Righteousness. Jesus is everything God is looking for in a person. You and I are NOT everything He’s looking for. But Jesus is. Jesus is just, and wise, and gracious, and pure, and self-sacrificial – He IS God’s Righteousness in Person. But God gives Him to the world and says “Receive my Son and in Jesus you have my righteousness.” Which means if you have Jesus then you have everything God is looking for. And you have it, freely as a gift.
Think of the millionaires club. There you are slumming around in your old clothes, getting looked up and down disdainfully. Would it help you to know that you have 3.9 trillion pounds to your name. You don’t have it on you. It’s not in your wallet or purse. But it’s safe in a trust fund. At the moment it’s all in your Brother, Jesus’s name. But it really does belong to you, because you belong to Him. You are a trillionaire. Maybe no-one else in the club knows it. But they don’t need to know it. You know it. Does that help you walk around with head held high? I think it might.
Paul says “In the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed” and it’s yours by faith. That means it’s yours if you have received Jesus. If you belong to Jesus, His wealth is your wealth. His righteousness is your righteousness. Won’t that lead to confidence?
But it’s a special kind of confidence. It’s not self-confidence. You’re not a self-made trillionaire. You’ve inherited it all. None of it is your own money. None of it. This isn’t self-confidence. This is Christ-confidence. And that’s better by far.
And so for the next three chapters, Paul is going to obliterate any kind of self-confidence we might have. Self-confidence is the enemy of Christ-confidence. To put your confidence in yourself is a bit like reaching into your wallet at the millionaires club and bringing out your £20 note for all to see. If you do that, you’ve forgotten you’re a trillionaire haven’t you? What trillionaire ever boasts about having 20 quid? If you start boasting about your own wealth, you’ve forgotten your inheritance. And so for the next three chapters Paul is going to show just how impoverished we are in our own right.
So from verse 18, here’s God’s verdict on all our so called righteousness…
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
Humanity is without excuse before God.
When God asks humanity – where is your righteousness, humanity digs deep into its pockets and comes out with an old dirty hanky and some lint. That’s what our righteousness is. We don’t have any. Not of our own. We are without excuse.
And that’s all of us – no matter how churchy or religious we might try to be. In chapter 2 Paul turns his sights on the religious kind of person. The religious person reads Romans 1 and says “Yes Paul, I know. Tut tut. All that unrighteousness. Dreadful. But of course we’re different Paul. We are religious people.” And so in chapter 2, Paul says “You religious types – you’re the worst.” Chapter 2, verse 1:
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.
You know the old saying. When you point the finger at others, there are three fingers pointing back at you. That’s religion. Tut tutting all the unrighteousness of the nasty world over there. But religious people are just as bad. And when they pass judgement on others, they only condemn themselves.
So the whole world – whether religious or irreligious – the whole world is unrighteous. Guilty before God. And from chapter 3 verse 9, Paul imagines the whole world on trial before God. And here he reads out the charges against humanity. Imagine yourself in the dock as these charges are read:
9 What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews [the religious types] and Gentiles [the non-religious types] alike are all under sin. 10 As it is written [here come the written charges against us]: "There is no-one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no-one who understands, no-one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no-one who does good, not even one." 13 "Their throats are open graves; their tongues practise deceit." "The poison of vipers is on their lips." 14 "Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness." 15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 ruin and misery mark their ways, 17 and the way of peace they do not know." 18 "There is no fear of God before their eyes." 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. 20 Therefore no-one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
So there you are in the dock – war criminals and aid workers all mixed in together – and this is the verdict. Not righteous. Guilty! And, v19, your mouth is silenced. You know it’s true, you can’t argue back. There’s no hope for you.
But here’s the irony. When you realize you have no righteousness in yourself, that’s the foundation of Confidence in life.
That sounds upside down doesn’t it? The whole world says “Have self-confidence: You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” The bible says “You are not good, you have no righteousness. You have no grounds for self-confidence.” But right there is the foundation for Christ-confidence. Because look at verse 21:
21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
Let me ask you a question: Do you realize that, verse 23, you have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory?? If you do THAT IS YOUR QUALIFICATION for, v24, being justified freely by His grace.
Realize you are a sinner, come to Christ and you will be justified. Being justified is having God pass a verdict on you. To be justified means God considers you righteous now and forevermore. In spite of all your poverty, God credits you with all of Christi’s riches. In other words it means you’re a trillionaire.
And you say, yes but what about all my sins? I know I’m not righteous in myself. Paul says, verse 25:
25 God presented Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement [for all those sins], through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished-- 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
Jesus is a sacrifice that covers over all your sins. On the cross, Christ took the just penalty for every murder, every rape, every abortion, every betrayal, every sin under heaven. Justice was done on the cross so that justification can happen for us. He paid off our debts and now He gives us His riches.
We are trillionaires through Christ. What does that do to your sense of confidence in life? It means you’ll forget about self-confidence. Instead you’ll have Christ confidence. That’s what verse 27 is about:
27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
The Christian stops boasting. We know we’re full of sins. We heard the verdict that was read out, we know we’re unrighteous. But Christ IS our righteousness, and I have everything in Him.
So the Christian has nothing to prove, nothing to hide, nothing to lose. We walk around the millionaires club as secret trillionaires. We don’t wallow in self-doubt. And we don’t boast in self-confidence. We have Christ confidence.
Chapter 4, Paul proves that Christ-confidence has always been what the bible teaches. He goes back to two towering heroes of the Old Testament – Abraham and David – and he shows that they were righteous not by observing religious laws and jumping through hoops. They were righteous through faith, through Christ-confidence.
Then in chapter 5, Paul will bring in a key bit of teaching. From verse 12 he’ll explain about Adam and Christ. The human race began with Adam. And we are the race of Adam. Adam was placed over all the world. And each of us come from Adam. Literally and completely we are from Adam. Well what happened to Adam? He sinned and he inherited death. But we are the race of Adam. When he sinned, we sinned. Because he inherited death, we all have inherited death.
But think of Jesus. He is called the second Adam. And He is the Head of a new humanity and the true Ruler of the world. Jesus is God’s righteousness and after dying He rose to immortal life. Those who are in Him rise to new life too.
So here’s the picture in Romans 5. The Christian used to belong to Adam and so we were destined for death and condemnation. But the Christian now belongs to Christ and so we are destined for immortal life and righteousness. Look at verse 18, it gives a summary of the argument:
18 Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.
So the human race either remains in Adam and goes down into condemnation. Or we join Christ and share in His righteousness and life.
Which means this: think of yourself in Adam: though you personally had done nothing, you were headed for condemnation. But now, think of yourself in Christ: though you personally have done nothing, you are headed for eternal life.
It’s not down to you is it? It’s not about what we do or don’t do. It’s only about what Christ has done. In other words it’s not about your works, it’s only about His grace.
But, someone might object to that and say “Hang on. If it’s not about what you do, won’t that encourage you to do lots of sins!? If you’re full of Christ-confidence, won’t you go out and sin all the more while you brandish your “Get out of hell free” card.
Well that’s what Paul addresses in chapter 6. Look at verse 1:
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase?
Paul’s answer in chapter 6 is to say “No, of course not.” If we belong to Jesus we start to live His life. We sin when we’re united to Adam, that’s where sin really comes from. But if we’re united to Jesus, His life starts bubbling out of us.
But then someone might say – “But Paul, I’m such a mixed bag. One minute Christ’s life does bubble out of me, the next minute I’m sinning in terrible ways. That’s what chapter 7 is all about.
Have a look at verse 15:
15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing.
Here’s the problem – the Christian has two natures. We’ve been born from Adam and we’re stuck with his nature until we die. But we’ve also been born again from Christ, and by His Spirit we do want to go God’s way. But it’s a struggle. And the normal Christian life involves doing what we don’t want to do.
Do you struggle in the Christian life? Can you empathize with verse 24:
What a wretched man I am!
Can you empathize with verse 25:
I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
Do you feel torn apart in two different directions? If you do, here’s what Paul says: Chapter 8 verse 1:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,
Isn’t that incredible! Paul is addressing wretched sinners like you and me who “do what they don’t want to do.” And he says “THEREFORE there’s no condemnation.” How can he say that? Because the struggle means you have the Spirit. If you didn’t have the Spirit you wouldn’t have the struggle. You do belong to Christ or else you wouldn’t care about those sins. And if you belong to Christ, there’s no condemnation for you.
Imagine you get behind on your rent repayments and stupidly you pay it off with one credit card and then pay that one off with another one. And you can’t make the interest repayments and you bury your head in the sand, you stop opening your mail, you stop returning their calls and you end up owing the credit card company £30 000. Eventually a friend advises you to phone the company and confess and see if you can freeze the interest repayments or something. You phone them up, tell your story and they say “We have no record of any debts in your name.” You say “Please double check, have you got the right name?” They double check and say “We have no record of any debts in your name!” You’re a bit dubious so you ask for it in writing. So they send you out a legal document in black and white: You owe us nothing. That’s what God says to those who are in Christ Jesus: There is no condemnation for you.
Imagine if we really believed it? Imagine if we walked around the millionaires club knowing that we are secret trillionaires. Imagine knowing that we are utterly secure in Christ. Utterly secure in the love of God. Then we could move on from our past. Then we could walk in freedom. Then we could move out into the world with Confidence and just bless people with who God has made us to be.
This week, will you read through Romans 1-8 before next Sunday? A chapter a day, starting today. And will you ask God to free you from fear and give you confidence in life. Then next week we’ll study this Everest of a chapter, Romans 8.