Last week we focused on Romans 3:21-22, and continued that this past Sunday as we finished through verse 26. The article, found at this link, is the continuation from last week’s article that will help us keep afresh the Gospel in our hearts and allow us to remain in awe of God’s salvation plan for us. Praise God for His Son who was and is the propitiation for us.
3. God’s Righteousness Is Revealed In His Justice (3:25-26)
How can God maintain His justice while forgiving unjust sinners? Paul explains in 3:25: “. . . God displayed [Jesus] publicly as a propitiation39 in His blood through faith” [or better “through faith in His blood,” NIV]. The word “propitiation” (hilasterion) refers to the satisfaction of God’s righteous anger, so that He can now deal with us graciously.40 It’s a sacrifice which takes away wrath—a wrath quencher, which satisfies God’s anger.41
Although God is merciful, gracious, and compassionate, He is also righteous, wrathful, and just. He can’t lower His righteous standard. He can’t just wink His eye with the attitude, “Boys will be boys,” or, “Let’s let bygones be bygones.”42 God must judge sin. He has done so by nailing every sin (past, present, and future) on His Son. Hence, God’s wrath, His holy anger, has been appeased by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Salvation is infinitely costly to the Father and the Son, but absolutely free to you and me.
If you still struggle with this concept, consider that God’s intolerance toward sin is like the intolerance of a surgeon who insists on sterile instruments for an operation. A surgeon’s demand for a pure operating environment is not an angry reaction to the presence of bacteria. Rather, it is an inseparable part of being a surgeon. To expose the surgeon’s scalpel to bacteria would result in contamination, and you would not get upset that your surgeon insists on absolute cleanliness in the operating room where even a speck of dirt could lead to infection. You would insist on absolute purity under those conditions. You would demand that your surgeon be completely intolerant of any impurity. If you understand a surgeon’s “wrath” against contamination in a hospital operating room, you can understand God’s wrath against sin. God is perfect and sinless in every detail, and His character demands that He deal with the slightest contamination of sin. God also knows that sin leads to total corruption and infection, so for these reasons He must judge sin.43
In 3:25, Paul indicates that this act of propitiation was “to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance44 of God He passed over the sins previously committed.” Although the death of Christ for the sins of humankind was planned in eternity past and prophesied in the Old Testament, it didn’t become an earthly reality until almost 2,000 years ago. Therefore, Old Testament believers were forgiven on account of what was about to happen but hadn’t happened yet. God didn’t revoke the punishment for sin, He suspended the punishment.45 We could say, “Old Testament justification was through faith in the promised Savior; NT justification is through faith in the provided Savior.”46 Old Testament believers looked forward to what God would someday do; believers today look back at what Christ has already done.47 Prior to the cross, Old Testament believers were in paradise “on credit” (i.e., their sins had not yet been paid historically, even though they received some of the benefits from their faith. The same thing happens when we purchase something with a credit card and enjoy possessing the purchased item, even though we have not paid for it yet). God’s righteousness was shown at the cross in that God righteously judged and punished every last sin that man has committed or will ever commit. The cross is and always will be the center point and the focal point of all history.
Verse 26 tells us that God provided salvation “for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” God the Father demonstrated His righteous character through the cross of Jesus Christ. The words “just” (dikaios) and “justifier” (dikaioo) are both renderings of the root term for righteous. God has revealed His justice through the cross. We deserved death and hell—that would have been justice. But instead of getting what we deserve, we were not given what we deserve. That is mercy! But God has gone one step further as we saw in 3:24. He’s given us grace, which is receiving what we don’t deserve—the free gift of eternal life. This is the gospel! God has acted with justice by slaying His Son, but He also acted as the Justifier by allowing us to be set free from our sin by trusting in Jesus. What a God! What a Savior! There is no one else like our God! He has created and orchestrated a sovereign plan that you and I would never have come up with. To Him be the glory! God does what we cannot do.
But how can all this heavy-duty theology be fleshed out in our lives? Let’s review this passage and consider three applications. (1) When we present the gospel, we must always remember to emphasize sin (1:18-3:20). Unless we recognize how bad the bad news truly is, we won’t sense a need for a Savior. The good news of the gospel (3:21-26) isn’t truly good news until we first deal with the bad news. (2) We need to begin to see fellow believers as those who have been “justified” by God. I rarely think this way about others. It’s easy to see the faults and idiosyncrasies in other people. Yet this passage teaches that fellow believers have been declared righteous and are now seen by the Father through the blood of Jesus Christ. (3) We must be sure to present an accurate gospel. This means we must understand the words and the central message of 3:21-26. If we do, we’ll have a proper understanding of God’s righteousness and the free gift of salvation. God does what we cannot do.