As our team crossed the finish line, we were all covered from head to foot in thick mud. There stood a preacher, a lawyer, a housewife, and a construction worker – all looking grimy and tired. The Marine Corps mud run taxed our strength and made us all look like we walked out of a pig pen. The only way to get clean was to allow someone to spray us down with a hose. In Romans 3:19-20 Paul observed that the law has only one real function, to expose our sin. As we stand before a holy God our sin is like that mud. It indiscriminately covers all people and makes them grimy and tired – and worthy of wrath.
Our text is Romans 3:21-4:3 and Paul is telling people how they can become clean before God. Many people mistakenly believe that good works makes a person acceptable before God. However, seeking to become clean by good works is like taking a small rag and trying to wipe away the mud after our race. I tried it. It took only a few strokes of the rag to discover that the only thing I did was smear the mud and dirty the rag to the point that it was useless. There was too much mud. The Bible says, “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags…” (Isa. 64:6).
As we stood in our caked-on mud, our respective spouses pointed us to the hoses. A person was washing everyone who wanted to be clean. Paul is pointing all sinners to Jesus and telling them that only through faith in him can they become clean before God. The word the Bible uses to describe someone made clean is the word justified. A saved sinner in justified because they have been made clean by Jesus. God washes away their sin through the blood of Christ. It is only through his blood that a sinner can be made clean.
However, for a person to become clean they must exercise faith. Paul says that, “The righteousness of God is through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe…” (Rom. 3:22). Faith entails two things. First it requires belief. I believe that Jesus can make me clean. Second, it requires trust. I trust that when I place my faith in Jesus that He in fact does make me clean. I need nothing else, only the blood of Jesus. Faith takes me to Him, but He is the one doing the cleaning.
After we were hosed down, we all changed into clean clothes. When we place our faith in Jesus, He not only washes away our sin, but He puts new clothes on us as well. When a person is made clean by Jesus, they are in possession of something they never had before – the righteousness of God. God freely gives to every repentant sinner the perfect righteousness of Jesus. He is, has always been, and will always be sin-free. His righteousness puts us in a right relationship with God. As a result, when the Father sees us, He no longer sees our sin, but the perfect righteousness of Jesus.
Because of Jesus we are clean, wearing His righteousness, and standing before God with the joy of knowing that we can never be removed from his presence. This is God’s grace. All people are invited to come to the fountain and be washed clean by the blood of Jesus.