“But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed… through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all … (have been) justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
Romans 3:21-22, 24, 26
This is part 2 of a series called God’s Gospel at Grace, which is looking at the gospel in depth regarding sin, the Saviour, and salvation. I would recommend reading the pre-series summary first here, and then Part 1 here.
The picture above is of myself (right) and my friend Ellie* (name changed for privacy). When I met her, I was not a Christian, and my ideas and impressions of Christians I had formerly known were that they were unkind, judgemental, narrow-minded and very, very boring. What a refreshing experience meeting Ellie was! She, and her friends, were the greatest example of grace, appreciation and welcome (AND fun!) that I had ever encountered. She faithfully shared the gospel with me, answered all of my questions, and over a period of time helped me to better understand who God is and what His gospel meant for me. After a LOT of research into the historicity and validity of the bible (I recommend this book as a great resource!), I had faith and put my trust in Christ as my Lord and Saviour! Today, October 1 2014, marks 3 years since I became a Christian – what an appropriate day to begin writing about our Saviour and His gospel!
Earlier in Romans Paul stated that God’s provision of righteousness is through faith (1:16-17). From then on, his goal was to sufficiently prove the sinfulness of humankind, to present the reason behind the need for this provision. As mentioned in the last post: forgiveness makes no sense, in fact is not needed, if there is nothing to forgive. So Paul’s argument for the sinfulness of humankind provides sufficient evidence of this: that we need to have righteousness provided for us, since we cannot achieve it ourselves. When he says that this righteousness has been “witness by the Law and the Prophets” (3:21), he is referring to the fact that the Old Testament prophets and writers were compelled by God as they wrote, and spoke of His new covenant, or gospel, throughout their work (see Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 36:25-27, Isaiah 9:6-7; 53:1-12). Romans 3:21-25 looks at three very important aspects of Christ’s saving work on the cross: justification, grace, and faith.
An appropriate synonym for the word ‘just’ is ‘good’ – when someone is justified, they are declared good, righteous, or without fault. Paul’s presentation of mans sinfulness highlights the fact that man is not just (perfect) and cannot justify himself (become righteous) through any means on his own. Therefore, every person stands before God as a guilty sinner, because they do not have the perfection, or righteousness, necessary to be declared ‘good’ in the sight of God, who is the perfect judge. This is why our justification must come from outside of ourselves. The only way we can be justified is if a righteousness is provided for us. This is what Christ’s death and resurrection on the cross provides.
Since the punishment for sin is spiritual death (that is, eternal hell), the payment for our righteousness therefore had to be spiritual death. On the cross when Jesus died, He not only died physically, but experienced a very real separation from God – an unbelievable punishment for a perfect person to endure. And because Jesus is infinitely holy and perfect, the sacrifice He made by physically dying is infinitely valuable and powerful. It is enough to save anyone from all of their sin, that they may trust in His death and resurrection, receive His righteousness, and be declared just in God’s sight.
This leads to the second element of Christ’s work on the cross – grace. Or put another way, kindness or love which is undeserved. When you receive a gift for your birthday, you don’t deserve it – that is, you haven’t done anything to inherently deserve a gift – but a person gives you a gift out of grace. The same can be said of what happened when God provided a Saviour for humankind: a demonstration of perfect, undeserved kindness – grace.
God didn’t provide a way to be righteous because he had to – He did it so that His glory and His grace might be made obvious through our salvation (Romans 3:26). We are sinful and do not have the capability to be righteous – we also don’t deserve salvation; in fact, we deserve eternal punishment, because that is what sin results in – but God’s love and grace is demonstrated in that He was able to offer His Son as a perfect sacrifice on our behalf, so that Christ could take our punishment, and we could take His righteousness. This simultaneously displayed God’s perfect justice: the penalty for sin is death, so it must be paid – and we must have a perfect righteousness in order to be declared just before God – so in an act that was the Greatest Exchange in history, Christ took our punishment for our sin, and God attributed His righteousness to us who trust in Him. God swapped our sin for Christ’s righteousness. And this righteousness is ours, but it is based solely on the work of Christ. His resurrection is evidence that the payment was accepted by God (Romans 3:24), and therefore there is now no condemnation (punishment) for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
Finally, the last element of Christ’s work is faith. Before we go on, let’s break down the gospel so far:
- We are born sinful
- We must be perfect/righteous in order to be in right relationship with God, and go to heaven when we die
- We are incapable of achieving perfection
- Perfection/righteousness must be provided for us, through a means outside of ourselves
- God provided Christ’s dying and raising back to life as the means for us to have perfect righteousness
Which leads to the next important question: how is this righteousness transferred? How does a person actually receive this righteousness? The answer: faith. Faith is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8) through grace. By God’s loving kindness (grace), and through hearing the gospel (Romans 10:17), faith is given to someone so that they may understand, trust and believe that Christ died on the cross and rose three days later, and that this act was done on their behalf, to save them from judgement because of sin. This faith, or act of trusting in Christ, is what leads to justification – when a person truly receives faith to believe in the gospel, they are pardoned from the guilt and penalty of sin, and declared righteous before God; having received Christ’s righteousness.
The gospel is the greatest and most powerful truth in the world – and we as Christians are never more loving than when we faithfully and truthfully declare it to others, that they may also receive faith and put their trust in Christ for salvation. And the gospel, in its awesomeness, should never cease to amaze those who have known it the longest – how wonderful a truth, that while we were living lives away from, and even in rejection of, God – He provided a way for us to be saved, to know Him as our Heavenly Father, and to one day be with Him after our time here. We have an amazing God!!
Some questions to mull over: If you are not a Christian: how do you respond to the truths laid out in the bible? What do you think of God’s act of sacrifice, out of love for you? Are you willing to trust not in yourself/others/the world, but in the only one who can save you from the penalty of sin? Are you willing to leave a life of sin (living for yourself) to live a life in God’s love, worshipping, loving and enjoying Him? I encourage you, if you’re at a point where you’re unsure/searching for answers, to seek out a good church in your area, or speak to a trusted Christian friend; or better yet, pray! Salvation comes through faith, and you can ask this of God by acknowledging sin in your life, and asserting that you want to trust in Him instead. Ask for forgiveness and for faith in Jesus Christ and what He did on the cross.
If you are a Christian: are you faithfully sharing the gospel with those around you? Are you praying regularly for opportunities to do so? Do you share the whole gospel, or just the ‘nice bits’? What is your reaction to the gospel now (appreciation, indifference, familiarity, interest?)? I encourage you to pray that God would reveal more of His magnificence to you through knowing His gospel, and Himself, more intimately.