God is Just

by PastorErick | 4/24/17, 9:50 AM

Romans 3:21-26

[21] But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—[22] the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: [23] for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, [24] and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, [25] whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. [26] It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

My boys have an acute sense of justice (at least for themselves): There isn’t a day that goes by when one of them doesn’t complain to me about some injustice. “Jude got more cereal than I did.” “Johnny got to play the game longer than I did.” 2 days ago the unfairness complained about was the fact that Jude got to sit in a particular seat in our car twice in a row, so John screamed out as he moved back to the other seat, “Tomorrow I get to sit in the seat 2 times in a row!” You see the scales have to be evened out if we’re going to be fair. 
Our sense of fairness and justice doesn’t seem to be nearly as strong when it comes to getting what we deserve though, right? We are not happy for justice being served when we’re caught driving over the speed limit right? We are not happy when our boss holds us to account, or our kids teacher sends them to the principal’s office. 
The scriptures teach God is eternally fair, promising to give to each one according to what they deserve. But if God is fair, then that causes a problem for us right?
According to the scriptures what mankind deserves in fairness is eternal punishment.

Listen to Paul describe all of humanity just before this text at the beginning of Romans 3:

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”


That’s really what our text is dealing with today. For the first three chapters of the book of Romans, Paul labors to prove to everyone that we’re all a mess. We have rebelled against God, not just failing at keeping His law, but outright rejecting it. At the real crescendo of his argument, Paul writes the most devastating passage probably of the whole Bible about human nature.

So if God is eternally just (and not able to change) and yet He says he will save us from this just and fair punishment of hell, how in the world can He do this?

He satisfies His justice apart from our obedience

First of all, we find out that God satisfies His justice apart from our obedience. Look at vs. 21: But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law….

Let me flesh that out a little bit. The first thing you need to know is that the word “righteousness” in Greek is interchangeable with the word justice. They are the same word: Diakosoune. So when we read this verse we could read it: But now the justice of God has been manifested (or revealed) apart from the law.

The second thing you need to know is that little phrase “apart from the law” means essentially “apart from our following of the law,” or obedience. Let’s stop there for a moment and dwell on that.

Man’s natural religious inclinations tell us that the way we get right before God is through our works. We do these good things, say these good things, think these good things, give our money to the Church and at the end of the day God will look at all our works together, see that the good ones outweigh the bad ones, and say “Ok, you passed. Come on in.” That is essentially the teaching of every other religion.

A great many of you, confessing to be Christians, believing in some way or another that the way God saves you is primarily by your obedience. You may not say it, but functionally you live it. You subconsciously think that your standing with God is determined by what you do day in and day out. If you had a seemingly good day, where you didn’t yell at the guy next to you on the freeway, or you didn’t watch some movie you shouldn’t, or you didn’t yell at your kids, or whatever it is, you go to bed with a sense that you and God are A-OK.

But this is not Christianity! This is not a proper view of God’s justice. God’s justice in this view is too small! God’s justice will never be satisfied by anyone’s obedience. Period. The text says God’s righteousness, His perfect justice has been revealed (satisfied) apart from the law (apart from our obedience).

Ok then, next question: How does God satisfy His justice apart from our obedience? I’m glad you asked….

He satisfies His justice by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (vs. 22-24)

During the Reformation, the chief issue of contention was over how someone was saved by God. The Catholic Theologians had been teaching that the way this happened was through a combination of God’s grace, your obedience, and your faith. But Martin Luther and the rest of the Reformers came across texts like this and found that this was not the case. Of this text Luther is quoted as saying not only Romans was the heart of the Bible, but this passage specifically was the heart of the book, and therefore the very central passage of the entire Bible! From the study of texts like this, the chant of the Reformers became “By grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.” It’s all right here.

Read the first few verses again: But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift,

What is grace? The Lutheran Study Bible I think accurately describes it as “God’s generous mercy toward undeserving people.” What is faith? The Lutheran Study Bible I think accurately describes it as “the instrument by which believers receive God’s blessings.” So we obtain this grace through trust in Christ. Who is Christ? He is God, the Second Person of the Trinity, in whom we find God’s gifts. So let’s just mash all these things together again: God’s generous mercy toward all us undeserving people is received through trusting in Christ, the one in whom we find God’s gifts.

But how does this satisfy God’s justice? To merely say that it is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone saves us may be true, but it doesn’t explain (at least fully) how it is that God can resolve the problem of His justice. For if God is merely gracious to us, then He would be in violation of His justice still. Someone needs to level out the scales. Someone needs to pay the price. For the answer to that, we must press on in our text. Look at the end of vs. 22:

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

He satisfies His justice by Christ’s redemption

Ahh, now we are seeing how this justice can be satisfied. That word, “REDEMPTION” is so huge! The word in Greek is Apolytrosis. It literally means to buy back through the payment of a ransom. It was the word used when someone paid the price for the setting free of a slave. This is what Jesus said He had come to do:

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom (or a payment) for many.

He came to “set the captives free”. So you have to imagine God’s justice is like a fine, or a penalty that needs to be paid off. We all owe God an infinite debt for our sin, but the only One who can pay that infinite debt is God Himself.

What was the price? Paul tells us: “Propitiation by His blood” That word “propitiation” was the word that the translators of the Greek Old Testament at the time chose to use for the cover of the Ark of the Covenant. Why is that significant? Well if you go back to Exodus, we see that the way God forgave sin (temporarily) was when the High Priest sprinkled or “covered” the cover of the Ark with the appointed Sacrifices blood. Inside the Ark of the Covenant was the Ten Commandments, but covering the law was the blood. The blood atoned for the people’s inability to follow those laws. The blood would appease His wrath and anger at the people for their sin. So when we read that Jesus redeemed us with a propitiation by his blood what we are hearing is that like the sacrifices of the Old Testament temporarily appeased God’s anger, Jesus, the true, Perfect spotless lamb of God, who obeyed the law perfectly in our stead, offers up His blood, His life as a covering of righteousness for us.

As the text goes on to say, “Why did He have to do this? Because in His divine patience, He hadn’t taken out his full justice on former sins. He hadn’t punished people as they deserved, rather taking out the punishment on His very own Son in our place.

Therefore, God both retains His justice while making it possible to save us. As the text says,

It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

It is at the cross that God’s justice is met out for you.

It is at the cross that God becomes your justifier: Since the redemption price is paid by Christ, we don’t have to pay it ourselves. It is offered freely as a gift to be received by faith. This is the way it works out: We all naturally stand before God in judgment. If you stand before God apart from Christ, than you must take that justice yourself; there is no way around it. If you stand with Christ than God has already has executed His judgment on you at the cross. The justice we deserve has been taken by Christ. Therefore, we praise God for his awesome justice because by it, we are saved.....

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Erick

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