The Rt. Rev. Michael Baughen - Getting Right with God

Michael Baughen

Preached by Michael Baughen at All Souls Langham Place on 3rd January 1971
Michael Baughen was Bishop of Chester 1982 - 1996
This is a transcript from an audio recording which you can listen to here

The Gospel - The very centre of the Christian Faith

Over these next Sunday evenings we are taking, as you know, as our theme the subject This is the Gospel. Most of the sermons will be concerned with the fruits or the results of the Gospel, peace with God, access into His grace, and blessing, the hope of eternal glory and what it means in our daily living. But tonight we look at the Gospel itself. The very centre of the Christian Faith.

Our sermon series is going to be based on the first verses of Romans Chapter 5. And if you have a Bible perhaps you'd turn to Romans this evening or use the Bibles in the pews, page 189 for Romans 3 which will be looking at mainly.

How can a man get in a right relationship with God ?

William Barclay has said this “The supreme problem of life is how can a man get in a right relationship with God ?"

Now do you think that is the supreme question of life? Or do those words just wash over the top of your head and you felt well it's not a big question to me"? The difficulty of preaching the Gospel in the day in which we live is that in our land we have ceased to see the need of the Gospel.

This morning my daughter who is here this evening, she'll, forgive me for mentioning her in a sermon grimacing at me down there, showed me a picture she had been painting, one of these number pictures, and said "Do you think it would look very nice on this wall?" Well in fact it didn't look very nice on the wall because the wall did not contrast to the picture and the picture lost much of its effect by being held against that particular wall. These garments that one has to wear in the Anglican church - this particular scarf which was designed to keep me warm in the days before there was central heating does not look very much against the cassock. But against the surplus it stands out stark - black against white.

Many people today do not see the need to get right with God

Now the difficulty with many people today in our own land is that they see no need to get right with God. If there is a God they can safely ignore him because it will all be alright in the end. And most people kid themselves that there isn't a God at all.

God's judgment makes the Gospel the Greatest News ever !

And one of the things that anyone facing the Gospel has to do is to ask themselves first about this business of the background to the Gospel because the truth that comes in the beginning of Romans lays it absolutely fair and square that the Gospel is only understood as the greatest news that has ever hit this world if it is seen against the fact that man is under judgement before God and must face God in judgement after this life.

You see that very statement I've just made is just ignored by so many people. And if there is no judgement then there need be no salvation. If there is no God then there needs to be no getting right with him.

The whole world is accountable to God

And so if we look at Chapter 3 and Verse 19 of Romans. It speaks that whatever the law says, it speaks to those that are under the law so that every mouth may be stopped and the whole world may be held accountable to God. The whole world held accountable to God. It was for the readers of the Romans Epistle, Gentiles and Jews.

As the key meets the lock

One of the great Bishop's of many years ago was a man called Bishop Handley Moule and he wrote this about the Gospel.

This is the voice from heaven, audible when the sinners mouth is shut while his ears are open by the touch of God. Read them in the hour of conviction of sin. In other words, bring to them your whole being, stirred from above to its moral depths and you will not take them either indifferently or with opposition. As the key meet the lock they will meet your exceeding need. Every sentence, every link of reasoning, every affirmation of fact will be precious to you beyond all words and you will never fully understand them except in such hours or in the life which has such hours amongst its indelible memories.

As the key meet the lock.

This key is so simple and yet the taking of this key and putting it into the lock seems to so many people the most momentously difficult task they have ever been asked to face in their life.

A simple Gospel

The Gospel is incredibly simple. It is possible for a child to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This afternoon some of us have been involved in a marathon of talking with each person, many of those hoping to be commissioned and I've been interested in talking with so many different people about their own backgrounds. And one person was saying to me just before tea this afternoon when they saw me. I said to them "When did you become a Christian?". And they said "I can remember it clearly. When I was aged 5".

Now some people would say - impossible. But it's not impossible, this man knows it-he is now a grown man here in the congregation this evening, serving Jesus Christ. Who knows that even at that age he could grasp the Gospel.

This is the wonder of the Gospel. You don't have to have three Theological Degrees before you get hold of it. In fact sometimes three Theological Degrees may cease to enable you to get hold of it. Because it is so simple as the key to the lock.

The backcloth of our need

The good news-the good news that can only be understood as good news when it's seen against a backcloth of our need before the living God. The good news that man can be right with God through faith in Jesus Christ. And so concerning the Gospel, which is our concern in this series, Paul writes earlier in Romans Romans 1 v.16 “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has Faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek."

This is the gauntlet Paul throws down. It is the greatest message in the world.

Why is the Gospel such Good News?

First may I ask you this evening why is the Gospel such good news? Why is it such good news ?

If you were involved in a commission worker's exam something like this might have been for you to answer. What would you write down to such a question? Why is the Gospel such good news ?

Believing - not achieving

Look with me for a moment at Romans 3 again and verses 27 - 28. But only with half an hour, look at the version in front of you, whether it's RSV or AV, and listen to How Phillips translates it.

What happens to human pride of achievement ? There is no more room for it. Why? Because failure to keep the law has killed it? Not at all. But because the whole matter is now on a different plane - believing instead of achieving. We see now that a man is justified before God by the facts of his faith in God's appointed Saviour and not by what he has managed to achieve under the law.

Now let's take that phrase. Philips translation is that it is now on a completely different plane and God amplifies this in this particular passage . That is in a sense, and there is no distinction between those that are upstairs and those that a downstairs. There is a sense in which everything else is played out on one plane - the plane of seeking to achieve before God.

Other religions place achieving before believing

Islam is on this plain. Hinduism is on this plain. Buddhism is on this plain, and so is much of Judaism on this plain. It is on the plain of seeking to achieve. And so many people in their formal English religion rest on exactly the same plain - the plain of their human achievement for God's approval.

Now what Paul is saying in Romans 3, and Phillips makes it so clear, is that the good news of the Gospel is that you come right off this plain. You come right off the plain that is the plain of achieving. You come to a completely new level of relationship with God ! Nothing to do with, for the moment, with achieving. And this completely new level, this new plain is the plain of believing. And this is why it is such good news. Because however much you are I may seek to achieve before God we can never come to the point of knowing that we have arrived, unless we're precocious.

Knowing that we are right with God

But on the level of believing, it is possible by God's promise and gift of Grace, which will come to in a moment, to know that we are right with God.

So many Christians feel they have to try harder !

Now it is extraordinary how this wonderful but simple truth is something that is blocked in so many minds. I guarantee that there must be many people in church tonight who have an absolute block on the Gospe - how ever many hundreds there are there who know the Gospel. And the block is simply this that, even if I preached my heart out tonight and make it absolutely crystal clear, that there will still be many who will walk out through those doors or the other doors at the end of the service and will say "I must go away and try harder".

You cannot achieve your way to God

I guarantee that will happen. The most extraordinary blindness rests not least upon English people who were brought up in this vague idea that you can achieve your way to God.

And so Paul has to rub the whole thing in. And he rubs it in in Roman to verse 12 for instance “all that have sinned without the law will also perish without the law. And who have sinned by the law will be judged by the law.

Live by the Law and be judged by the Law

What is he saying in Romans 2 ? Just this. "All right, if you want to stay", and forgive me I'm only using this as an illustration, "if you want to stay on the plane of achieving, then you'll be judged on that plane - this is justice. If you want a just God and you want him to judge you like that, he will".

If you're someone who lives by the law, the Jewish law, then God will judge you by that law.

Or if again in Romans 2 12, if as a Gentile you may live without the law, as so much of our own world does and our own country does now, then God will will judge you by that standard too. If you want to stay on that level, God will judge you at that level.

But the tragedy is that at that either of those approaches, at the level of achievement, verses 3 and 19, which we quoted just now “every mouth is stopped before God. The whole world is held accountable to God.”

And the tragedy is that if we do want to stay on this level of achieving, however hopeless it may be, there is no peace, there is no assurance of being right with God. There is no joy in the infilling of the Holy Spirit. There is no joy in the faith,
Again there was someone I was speaking to this afternoon, it was very interesting in talking with so many people this afternoon. And I asked her whether I could quote this this evening. A person again who got caught up along this particular line of achieving and fell away. And then came to the point of embracing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and she said to me today “the tremendous thing to me, the tremendous thing to me was the assurance that I now had at last that I was right with God. This was the thing, it was the difference, this was the mark that I was now right with God. This assurance that I now had which I never had before ".

And you never can have, can you? If we are resting on our achievements then we are rather like people waiting for the declaration of the exam results. We know jolly well that our effort was perhaps as good as we could make it but it was nowhere near the standard the examiners wanted and we wait wondering - never assurance.

And so many people are in that state before God. And Paul comes in and says that the tremendous thing about the Gospel, the tremendous thing that the living God has done, is to lift you right off that level and to lift you to the level of believing.

The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ

And so chapter 3 and verse 22, if you'll look at it with me, speaks the of the righteousness of God, that is being right with God, which is possible through Faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For all. There is no distinction he says, because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And he goes on in verse 24 to say they are Justified, that is made right with God by his Grace, as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

Now there are bound to be some churchy persons in church tonight who will say after this "you know you've got a sort of religious mania talking about this business of faith and so on". If they do then I would say "Come back and look at Romans 3. Is there any other way of interpreting it ? And if this isn't the Foundation of our faith then then what is.?"

And Paul argues it out so clearly. There is this justification by Grace as a gift through what Jesus has done upon the Cross. And this fantastic offer, which lifts us from achieving to the believing plain is available and offered to every human being.

What makes this Gospel possible ?

The second question is this - what makes this Gospel possible?”

A year or two back after going through a very difficult experience, the church council and members of the church in Manchester pressed us to go away for a special holiday. They very kindly gather together some money for us to go and pressed us to go have a really good holiday. Something additional to our ordinary holiday. It was extremely kind of them.

Because of various reasons, not the least that we've got a family, it had to be a very short holiday of some 4 days but it was a luxury holiday. We did things we've never done or nor are likely to do in our life. We travelled first class to Cornwall. We flew over in a helicopter to the Scilly Isles, we stayed in a luxury hotel, the nicest one on the island in the Scilly Isles with a bedroom overlooking the sea.

And for four heavenly days we were there at the parish's expense and when it came to pay the bill, the manager looked at me some what quizzically, not that I wore a dog collar but he did happen to know by our address that we lived in a Rectory. And I began to say something about how we'd afforded it and he said “Well I did just wonder if you'd been robbing the poor box”. And I was able to say "Well no, the only reason that we've been able to come and do this is because it was a gift.

Being right with God is a free gift to all who believe

It was a gift and when people look at us and say "Well look at you, sinful human being that you are, how can you possibly say that you're right with God? We have only one answer, I could never afford it myself or achieve it. It's a gift. It's a gift". That's the fantastic thing about the Gospel. It's a gift, a free gift to all who will believe.

But how is this gift possible at all?

The Wages of Sin is Death

It's only possible because the price has been paid. It wasn't that the manager at that hotel in the Scilly Isles graciously wrote across the bill 'No charge'. He charged us to the full. But it was that somebody else had paid the bill and this again is the essence of the Gospel. As we look again at these passages, if you will, we see that the issue of sin is judgement and death. Look on if you will to Romans 6 vs 23. I'm sorry if you haven't got a Bible but forgive me if you haven't.

Romans 6 23 says this “the wages of sin is death. The free gift of God is eternal life.”

But let's just take the first the first bit the wages of Sin is death. In other words if someone is going to pay this cost they've got to pay it in that currency,. The currency of death. The wages of sin is death.

And the only reason that the Gospel can be something free, that salvation and rightness with God is something free is because someone has paid that debt and paid it in the terms of death.

So we get this if your turn back to Romans 4 and the magnificent passage there in Romans 4 verse 22 where speaking about Abraham's faith and God reckoning him to be right because of his faith, Paul goes on in verse 23 of Romans 4 to say the words "it was reckoned him as being right" , were written not for his sake alone but for ours also.

It will be reckoned to us who believe in him that raised from the dead Jesus our Lord. Who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification. A better translation and a clearer one is “he was put to death because of trespassers and raised because of our justification”.

The essence of the Gospel - Jesus died in our place

Now this is the currency by which this free gift has been made possible. The currency that someone has born in his own body the death that we deserve. This is the essence of the Gospel that Jesus died in our place upon the Cross. There are many other aspects of the Cross but this is the crucial one in scripture.

And we know in that agonizing moment on the cross of Calvary when Jesus cried out "My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me ?”. that in that terrible moment the sins of the world were upon the dying form of Jesus. And so the hymn says 'In my place condemned he stood'.

But some people say "I just can't stomach it, You see, I just can't take all is business about death", Why.?

I suppose the simplest and clearest illustration that has ever been used, it has been used many times and many people in the church will have heard it. And I don't apologise to them because it's such a helpful illustration - there maybe just one person who hasn't heard it and who it's a help to this evening and I'm going to use it. That is the story of the two boys who grow up together. Do you know this story?

It illustrates it to me so clearly. One went into law, eventually. They were very good friends, one went into business. And the story has got various variations in the way in which it's told but basically what happened was the man that went into business got himself involved in a colossal racket and eventually the law caught up with him.. And he was brought to Court and there across the courtroom, as the judge, was his old school friend. Now a judge.

And the two men who had been school boy friends and acquaintances for many years stood, one as the judge and one as the person in the dock. And it would have been possible as you looked on that scene in the Court to feel that because the man who was judge was his friend he would do everything possible to lighten the sentence. But when the sentence was made, and it was made in financial terms, the sentence was given to the to the full and the highest possible fine was passed. And the judge said that he would not have been a just judge unless he had given the highest possible fine for this offence.

But then he took off his wig and he took off his gown and he walked down from the judges seat in the court and he walked down in the well. He went to the clerk of the court and he took out his own cheque book and he paid the fine.

And that's what Jesus Christ did for you and for me. He took off the robes of his majesty and he came down into this sin stricken world and he paid the price in his own blood. He was a just judge who cannot just wave over sin and say "It's ok brother". But he's also a loving God who found a way by which judgement might be met and the price paid.

This is what makes the Gospel possible. Why it's a free gift. Because the price is paid.

What must I do with this Gospel ?

But what must I do with this Gospel? If a man is going to embrace this Gospel he must come with a full acceptance of it, an acceptance that involves a mental belief but also a personal trust. And mental belief involving a commitment to that belief.

Yesterday evening I was speaking in Manchester and I went up on the 4 o'clock train from Euston. Now I'm a great believer in British Rail, sometimes, and I have a nice red coloured timetable which is there in my room saying London Midland Region and giving me the times.

Now I can look at the timetable, I did look at the timetable although I knew it actually for this particular route, but I looked at the timetable and there it was 16:00 hours Euston 18:37 Manchester Piccadilly. Now I can sit down in my study in a nice comfortable green chair and say "I believe it, I believe it, really believe it".

And I can say that at 3 o'clock. At 3:30 I can sit in my chair still with the book in front of me and I can say I believe it, I really believe it. And at 4 o'clock I can be sitting there and saying "I believe it I really believe it".

But it doesn't do me much good. If I really believed it and wanted what I believed then I needed to get up and get to Euston and pay the fare and go onto the train. Which is what I did.

And a lot of people say "Yes, I believe it, I believe Jesus died, I believe about the Cross, I believe all these things". But they don't do anything about it ! They don't act on this belief, they don't accept what is being done for them. And so the thing just stays up here in the head and it's useless.

The Gospel is acceptance of a Person

But it's more than just acceptance of a fact, it's also acceptance of a person. It's a trust in the Jesus Christ that is alive today..

You get this, perhaps you've had it yourself if you're a driver and you have someone in the back seat who gets in and trusts your driving but as soon as you start off down the road they say "Watch out, watch out. mind that red car coming the other way. And look out, look out, the traffic lights are going to red and mind that bike, and isn't this the right way?. And isn't that a 40 mile an hour limit that were in ? And so on. And the person in the back seat has no trust in the driver.

Trust in the Person Jesus Christ and what He has done

Now some people are like this because personal trust in Jesus Christ has to be alongside what he has done. It's these two things together.

Look back for a moment, we're not far from the end, at Romans 4 and verses 18 to 19. And Romans 4 is speaking about the unshakeable faith of Abraham, verse 18. “In hope, he believed against hope that he should become the father of many nations" as he had been told "so shall your descendants be". He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead, because he was about 100 years old when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb.

No distrust, made him waiver concerning the promise of God. But he grew strong in his faith, as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Now that is faith and its New Testament Faith. It is firmly believing in the promise of God and that God can fulfill that promise.
So let's list it out:

  • It is faith in Jesus Christ as the one who died upon the Cross in your place and mine.
  • It is faith in the God who promises that at all who believe on Jesus as their saviour will have forgiveness and eternal life.
  • It is faith in the issues of that promise in our being right with God.

That is New Testament Faith. And that is there a way of embracing the Gospel.

The Gospel is complete and finished

And the greatest result from this is, although we will be looking at other results in these next week's. The greatest result is that it is a complete and finished thing.

And the very first verse that were supposed to be expounding this evening in Romans 5:1 is this “Therefore since we are justified by faith.” This is the root of all that we are going to look at in future weeks. He doesn't say that we may hope that we are, he says we are. It is an emphatic, certain, definite thing.

What Jesus has done is past, complete and done and the person who accepts God's word way of faith is acquitted now. This is the tremendous benefit, supremely of accepting the Gospel, which the level of achieving will never bring.

And it's tragic that so many people don't see it this. I had a woman, a girl came to me just before I left Manchester asking about lodgings and because you need to be careful who you are fixing people up with in lodgings and so on I just said now, amongst other questions, "If you don't mind me asking a question, are you a Christian ?". She said "Well I don't know really. I don't see how you can know. " That's the level of achieving but not the level of believing. If a person has believed on Jesus Christ his answer is "Well by the Grace of God I am. Not because I deserve it. But because of what God has promised and offered"
And our confidence in this is reinforced as Paul says in Romans 8 later that - what else can you fear ? God has done this, a living God has made the way possible for you to be right with Him. Who can you fear? For he is the judge. And yet he has done this for you. Therefore you have no need to fear the judge.

Only God can condemn. And if God has made the way to be right with him and you've accepted this, then you have no fear of condemnation. So in that great hymn we sing out “No condemnation now I dread, Jesus and all in him is mine".

This is indeed the supreme benefit of justification by Faith. And the Church of England article 11 in the Prayer Book says this "that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine and very full of comfort". Amen to that.

This Gospel - The Gateway to Heaven

Just as we close, a quote from Martin Luther for whom this passage of the Epistle to the Romans was the way by which he became someone at peace with God. He said:

I pondered (these passages of Romans), I pondered until I grasped the truth, that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby through Grace and sheer mercy he justifies us by faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into Paradise. The whole of scripture took on a new meaning and where as before the phrase 'the righteousness of God' had filled me with hate now it became to me in inexpressibly sweet, in great love. This passage of Paul became to me a Gateway to Heaven.

Have you passed through that Gateway? If not, may I plead with you to ponder to look at it particularly perhaps in some of the more modern versions, to ponder, to ponder and to ponder the first five chapters of Romans until, like Luther, you see it, receive it and embrace it. And this Gospel becomes for you the Gateway to Heaven.

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