If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
When we look at the world it is easy to look at it through the narrow lens of good people and bad people. Particularly if you become passionate about a political, social, or religious cause, you will often lapse into thinking in terms of friends and foes. All of this is a way of either approving or disapproving individuals. In the words of the Bible, this is called justification. In a similar way, we can be justified , accepted before God.
But what makes a person acceptable to God? Now a common answer to this question is that we gain God's acceptance by what we do. If we do enough good things, God will finally be pleased with us. Such a view pictures the moral life as a long road stretching ahead, perhaps up a mountain. Only by tremendous exertion could one ever arrive at the destination of being loved and accepted by God. The phrase that Paul uses to describe this view of religion is the righteousness of the law. The righteousness of the law teaches that by the right things we do we are accepted by God. Paul, however, contends that there is a new type of righteousness that has been revealed in our Lord Jesus. It is actually not new—Abraham had this type of righteousness—but it is new in the sense that it has been made evident to all people. The righteousness of faith states that we could never be justified by works of the law because we can never do enough good things to make up for the gravity and seriousness of our sins. Imagine if a parent decided to love his children only after they were entirely perfect. God too does not wait to love us until we are perfect or even good. He knows that we are weak, both physically and morally. The Bible says that God remembers that we but dust. God also knows our wandering, our rebellion against his leading. Recall the scene in the garden with Adam and Eve. Up to that point in the narrative of Genesis, God has been calling things good: “And God said let there be light, and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good.” The serpent tempts Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In other words, now Adam and Eve are going to be deciding what is good and what is evil. And this is the path of sin. When we decide to usurp God's power and authority—in the case of Adam and Eve the power to say what is good and what is evil—we fall into the destructive ways of sin, and there is no amount of good-doing that can dig us out this hole that we have dug for ourselves.
God however does not just cancel or ignore the weight of our sin. He does not just say, oh that, don't worry about that. No, sin hurts ourselves and it hurts others. Think of the record of human history: tyranny, murder, genocide, slavery, oppression. The awful weight of these sins and of the sins of the whole world, God places on the willing Lord Jesus. He, in the words of our liturgy, is the propitiation for our sins. Propitiation is a technical term to describe how his sacrifice pays the debt of our sins. And now we have acceptance with God, not based on what we have done, but by what Jesus has done on our behalf. This the righteousness of faith, and Paul describes it with these words, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. You will be saved, my friends, from sin and death, and raised up to new life with the risen Lord Jesus.
You can now see how to receive this righteousness—indeed it is not something that we can earn or achieve—we just have to open our hands to receive it as a gift. No long journeys are required. You don't have to do arduous and dramatic feats of penitence, like certain well-intentioned but misguided Roman Catholics in Mexico who walk up hills on their knees and practice self-flagellation. In fact, this righteousness of faith is on hand for you and for me today. This is, I believe, what Paul means when he writes rather cryptically in our Lesson, what does the righteousness of faith say? The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart. Another way of saying this is, in the words of Jesus, the kingdom of God is within you. You don't, in other words, have to go looking for it, like some secret, esoteric knowledge. The righteousness of faith, justification with God, being accepted by him is on hand right here and right now. No matter where your life has taken you in the past, wherever you have been, whatever you have done, God has shown his good will towards all in the Lord Jesus. He has shown that he wants to live in fellowship with humans redeemed by the Lord Jesus.
Even though we do not need to go anywhere to find this acceptance in God, nevertheless, there is a need to go on a journey. It is not the journey to find God, but it is the journey to share this good news of God's loving acceptance of sinners in our Lord Jesus. The latter part of the Epistle lesson describes this work, this journey. Paul asks the question how are people going to hear this message of love and forgiveness if they have never heard of Jesus and his great love for all. And how will they ever hear if no one goes to tell them? This is precisely the basis of Christian outreach. As a Christian community, we go outside the walls of this church, to show people the love and generosity of God. It is what our young people did in Portland a few weeks ago. It is what our fledgling outreach committee is attempting to do. This morning you will find in the bulletin an insert about their work. St. Francis famously said, preach the Gospel always and if necessary, use words. Much of the work proposed by the committee is preaching the Gospel without explicit words, but we pray that the Lord will give us opportunities thoughtfully to share our faith in the context of relationships outside these walls. We reach out to others because we know we have been fully loved and accepted in our Lord Jesus not based on an accounting of our merits. Now we can, we must reach out to others with this message of hope and new life. If we have no desire to share this news, to see lives saved and transformed, it probably means that we have only been superficially touched by this message of grace. If you have discovered the abounding grace and love of God, the key to all human existence, then why would you keep this a secret? It worth sharing lovingly with others in the context of a relationship. May the Lord give his blessing to all the outreach which we undertake in his name, and may each of us as Christians have a sense of reaching out to others in the love of our Lord Jesus.