Righteousness

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3rd Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 4:18-25

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, we may have long winters in Bemidji, but you have to admit that we have for the most part gorgeous summers. Would you agree? I have had more than one person tell me that they live in Northern Minnesota for the summer. But here we are nearing the end of June and the question on my mind and on some of yours as well is: where’s the summer going?? It seems like it’s just flying by! Do you think so? I don’t think anyone has told me, “Boy, this summer is just dragging on, I can’t wait for winter and those -20 degree days.” So, why does it seem like summer goes by so fast? Here’s my theory: In summer you just want to be outside and do things outside. In summer my “to-do” list grows exponentially. There’s grass to mow, yardwork to be done, a garden to plant and weed and water, outdoor projects that have been accumulating, things to fix, sports practices to take the kids to, walks to take, fishing, swimming, going to the park, and the list seems to go on and on. We have all these things to do during the summer and before we know it, school is going to be back in session, summer is going to be over and snow flakes are going to begin to fly. And we’ll be wondering, “Where’d the summer go? I didn’t do this, didn’t get that done, didn’t finish that project, etc.” We’ll have unfinished business. But that’s the story of our lives, isn’t it? There are always these things that we want to get done, but we don’t. The truth is, you’re going to leave this world with unfinished business. When a loved one dies there will always be more that you wish you could have done, could have talked about, could have experienced with him or her. When you die, there will be unfinished business, people you wish you would have spent more time with, places you wished you could have seen, things you wish you could have done, even work for the Lord that you wanted to accomplish but had to leave undone. In fact, there’s a popular country music song by Luke Bryan called “Fast” that says, “All you keep trying to do is slow it down, soak it in, keep trying to make the good times last as long as you can, but you can’t.”
The reality is that the summer will end with unfinished business, our lives will end with unfinished business, things we wanted to do for ourselves, for our families, for the Lord. So how does it make you feel to have unfinished business, to not do everything you want to do, not accomplish everything you want to accomplish? I’ll tell you how it makes you feel: It makes you feel bad, incomplete, like you’re missing out on something. It also makes you feel judged. If you start a project and you never finish it, you’re judged by other people, what do people think? They will inevitably look down on you for starting something you never completed. But even worse, you look down on yourself. “I can’t believe I didn’t finish this, didn’t get this done, etc.”
That’s where this whole concept of righteousness comes in. Righteousness is a big word that carries with it the meaning of being complete and approved, finished and accepted, whole and wanted, to be right. If you apply to a certain college and they reject you, they’re saying, “Of all the candidates, you’re incomplete, you don’t have the grades or the skills or the talents we’re looking for so you’re unapproved.” If you’re accepted, they’re saying, “You are complete, you have what we’re looking for and you’re accepted.” If you apply for a job and are rejected, they’re saying, “You don’t have the qualifications we’re looking for, you’re incomplete, you’re not accepted.” Whereas, if you get the job, they’re saying, “You are complete, you have the qualifications, we accept you.” Righteousness is being both complete, finished, whole AND welcomed, received, accepted.
Now, it’s one thing to not finish everything we want to this summer or to be incomplete and unaccepted at a certain job or a certain college, but it’s a wholly different matter to be incomplete and unaccepted by God. You see, when we’re burdened, guilty, upset with ourselves for not finishing something here, it really is only a taste of what it means to stand before God incomplete. God is holy and just and therefore he will only accept totally and completely holy people in heaven. And while we might be troubled that we can’t finish our to-do list or that we might have to leave this earth with unfinished business, what ought to trouble us far more is failing to be what God demands.
Martin Luther understood this. He had been taught that righteousness was what God demanded from us, something we had to become by our own doing and the term “righteousness of God” meant that which God proves Himself righteous by punishing sinners, judging those who have done evil. So, Luther lived in constant fear. He strove and he strived to live a righteous life, he beat his body, he whipped himself, he spent all night in prayer trying to be righteous before God. But no matter what he did he was always incomplete, unfinished, he could not be perfect as God demands and so he was also rejected, unapproved by God.
Now, perhaps most of us don’t feel we struggle with knowing where we stand with God, like Luther, but what do we struggle with? Do we carry around guilt for unfinished tasks? Are we troubled because we don’t feel accepted by certain people? Do we feel we’re going to miss out on something in life? We need to hear what God says here in our text.
Abraham was missing out. God had promised Abraham incredible blessings and most of all the promise that from his children the Savior of the world, his Savior, would come. But Abraham was incomplete- he didn’t have a child. It was hard to have all those promises when he didn’t have a single child. So, God took him out on a starry night and showed him all the stars and said see if you can out them, that is how many descendants you’ll have. And contrary to everything else, Abraham took God at His Word, Abraham was “fully persuaded that God had the power to do what He had promised,” Abraham believed God’s Word and what are we told? “It was credited to him as righteousness.” In other words, through faith, not through something Abraham had done or accomplished or finished but through faith he was credited with the perfect righteousness that his future descendant Jesus would accomplish for him.
And the same is true for you and me. Through faith in Jesus two things have really happened to you. Your sins have been forgiven and you’ve been justified, that is, declared righteous. In other words, forgiveness means that all your sins have been removed, sent away from you, gone forever. Jesus took them on himself on the cross and buried them in his tomb, they are gone. That’s forgiveness, it’s a negative concept, something bad is taken away and removed. Justification is essentially a positive concept. Something good is given or credited to you. And what is that? Righteousness. Jesus was righteous in every way. Jesus left no unfinished business. Remember what he said on the cross? “It is finished.” He completed everything for your salvation, he was totally perfect in every way. And through faith God credits Jesus’ perfect righteousness to you. Because of Jesus God now looks at you and he sees someone who is whole and complete not lacking in any way and He approves of you. He says of you what He said of Jesus, ‘You are my beloved child, in you I am well pleased.” Because of Jesus you are righteous – complete and approved, whole and welcomed, received and accepted by God forever.
When Luther discovered this truth through God’s Word this is what he says, “The Gospel reveals the righteousness of God in a passive sense, that righteousness through which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written: “The just will live by faith.’ Then I felt as if I had been completely reborn and had entered Paradise through widely opened doors.” In other words, because of Jesus he was whole and complete, accepted and approved by God.
That’s also true for you! So what does this mean for your life? What does this mean for your day-to-day living? I know summer just officially began this last week and you don’t want to think about the summer being over already, but sooner than later it’s going to be over and you’re going to be left with unfinished business, things you wish you had done but didn’t. So what do you do? You can do your tasks, enjoy the summer, do things to the best of your ablility, but in the end not feel guilty or upset about what’s not done, because finally in what matters most of all- to God you’re righteous, complete and whole, accepted and approved. When you’re turned down for that job that you wanted or feel unaccepted by someone else, you still have peace, why so? Because in what matters most of all – your relationship with God – he has credited you with Jesus’ righteousness, you’re whole and complete, accepted and approved. When the end of your life comes and you’re looking back at all the unfinished things that you wish you would have done and you’re disappointed, remember, in what matters most of all, you’re righteous, when it comes to eternity, you’re whole and complete, accepted and approved by God Himself. Rest in the righteousness God has given you in Jesus, this week, this summer, and always. Amen.

Luther quotes:
“Man often breaks his promise (because he does not have the power to fulfill it, or because he is unstable), even if such breach of promise goes counter to his will. Man often cannot do what he has promised, because something intervenes which prevents it, since it lies beyond his power. But that cannot happen to God. He who believes God, glorifies God; conversely, he who does not believe God, refuses to give glory to him.
“Christ’s death is the death of sin, and His resurrection is the raising up of righteousness. For by his death Christ has atoned for our sins, and through His resurrection he has procured for us righteousness. Christ death does not merely signify, but has effected the remission of our sins. Christ’s resurrection is not merely the pledge of our righteousness, but also its cause.”