11. Romans 3:21-25a
Good news at last!
At last Paul moves from his establishment of the total depravity of humanity and introduces the hope for all of us who are doomed to death from birth. There is, he says, a "righteousness from God, apart from the law" which is available to everyone. Now, at this time, this righteousness is finally revealed to us. Jesus has finally made clear the awesome plan of God to save our race from eternal destruction.
Even though the revelation of this righteousness is new, it was not a new idea. Even though the Israelites and all people living before Jesus could not have fully grasped it, the law and the prophets testified of this coming righteousness. God had given the nation of Israel ceremonies, laws, and prophecies which foreshadowed the coming mystery of God himself redeeming mankind.
In many significant ways Israel missed the real meanings embedded in their heritage, yet God had begun pointing forward to Jesus the Savior and Redeemer from the time Adam and Eve sinned and He cursed the serpent. Beginning with Abel, God gave his people examples and promises of righteousness that didn't depend on their good works for him.
Genesis 15 records God's covenant with Abram, later called Abraham, that marked the first glimpse of God's plan to create his special people. God took this old, childless man outside one night and promised him that descendents from a son "coming from [his] own body" would equal the stars in countless number.
"Abram believed the Lord," verse 6 records, "and [God] credited it to him as righteousness." God did not consider Abram righteous because he was a good man; nowhere does the Bible indicate that God called him because he was obedient or praiseworthy. God called him by sovereign fiat, and Abram believed God. That trust and complete belief in God's promises was what God called righteousness. Abram's righteousness had nothing to do with the law-in fact, God hadn't given the law yet-and Abram didn't earn or deserve to be counted righteous. God declared him righteous-blameless and perfect-based solely on the fact that Abram embraced God's promises by faith. His righteousness was not the result of good behavior or obedience. It was entirely his trust in God that caused God to declare Abram righteous.
In fact, even Abraham's faith was not his own. When God told him that he and Sarah would have a son after he had produced Ishmael with Sarah's servant Hagar, "Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, 'Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old?' " (Genesis 17:17)
God insisted that Sarah and Abraham would produce a son, and He gave Abraham the sign of circumcision to ratify his covenant promise. Even Abraham's lack of faith in God's direct promise to him did not stop God from being faithful to his word. He gave Abraham His covenant sign, and Abraham began to realize that he could trust God's faithfulness. Even Abraham's faith was a result of God's work in Abraham's heart. The very faith by which Abraham was counted righteous was a work of God in him.
Testified by the Law and Prophets
The books of the law as well as the rest of the Old Testament contain many testimonies of Jesus and of the righteousness that would come through faith in his once-for-all sacrifice. In Leviticus 17:11, God tells the Israelites not to eat blood because, he says, he has given the Israelites blood for their atonement. Animal blood is to be shed on the altar to atone for their sins, and atonement is in the blood. The theme of sacrificial blood was prominent in the ceremonies of the Day of Atonement. Leviticus 23:26-32 explains how the Israelites are to observe this day each year when atonement would be "made for [them]". Central to the idea of the Day of Atonement was the fact that the Israelites did not atone for their own sins. Atonement would be "made for them".
David also wrote about the blessedness of those "whose transgressions are forgiven, who sins are coveredwhose sin the Lord does not count against him." (Psalm 32:1-2) Psalm 106:28-31 records the old story of Phineas intervening with God for Israel when the nation apostatized. (See Numbers 25:13) Phineas' personal intervention "was credited to him as righteousness". This credit was a covenant God made to give Phineas' family a lasting priesthood. Phineas' action foreshadowed Jesus' intervention for the world's apostasy, a sacrifice God accepted and for which he made him our high priest forever.
Habakkuk also foreshadowed this righteousness that comes from God. He declared that the wicked are "puffed up", but that the "righteous will live by his faith." (Habakkuk 2:4) It's not their own effort or even their own faith that renders people righteous. It is God's faith at work in them that makes them righteous. Jeremiah declared that God is the husband of his faithless people. He would send shepherds to care for them and unite the divided nation of Israel and cause all nations to honor the name of God. (Jeremiah 3:11-18) God's care of Israel and the nation's healing did not depend upon Israel's faithfulness. He is his people's husband even though they are unfaithful.
One of the most poignant Old Testament shadows of God's faithfulness and humanity's unearned righteousness is the story of Hosea. God asked him to marry a prostitute and to continue to go and bring her home when she repeatedly left and committed adultery. God expressed his heart-broken faithfulness to his faithless people in the book of Hosea. The more stubborn Israel was, the more God pursued her. He "led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love." He "lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them." (Hosea 3:8-11) Finally, God says, he will heal Israel's waywardness because he cannot give her up. He will turn his anger away and "love her freely". Even though they are inscrutable to humans, God's ways are right, and the righteous walk in them. The wicked, however, stumble in God's ways. (Hosea 14:1-2, 4-6, 9)
Zechariah records a vision demonstrating the righteousness God gives to his people. In his vision, Zechariah saw Joshua the high priest dressed in filthy rags. God commanded that the filthy rags be removed from Joshua. "I have taken away your sins," God declares, "and will put rich garments on you." He commanded that a clean turban be set on Joshua's head and clean clothes on his body. This vision, Zechariah learned, was symbolic of things to come. "I will remove the sin of this land in a single day," God said. (Zechariah 3:1-10) Joshua represents Israel and all of God's people who accept the righteousness that flows from Christ's blood shed in a single day on Calvary.
As Paul declares, the Law and the Prophets testify to righteousness apart from the law. Everything in the law-the ceremonies, the symbols, the requirements-everything foreshadowed the reality of God's righteousness which Jesus would make accessible to all those who believe in him. The prophets repeatedly foretold the coming of the Messiah and the new covenant God would establish with his people.
Righteousness From God
Jesus' life, death, and resurrection revealed the righteousness that is not from the law. Jesus performed the unimaginable feat of becoming the world's sin and of experiencing the full wrath of God, taking the penalty of an entire race in order to give us a way to be reconnected to the Father.
This righteousness that the Law and the Prophets declared is the only true righteousness a person can have. It has nothing to do with keeping the law or with "holy" living. It is entirely the gift of God through our Savior Jesus Christ. In Romans 1:17 Paul says this righteousness is from God by faith. In Romans 4:5, 13 Paul further clarifies this righteousness. The man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked is the one who is credited with righteousness. This righteousness is not through law but by faith.
Paul uses even more specific language in Romans 9:30-32 to describe this righteousness from God. The Gentiles, he says, did not pursue righteousness, yet they obtained it by faith. Israel pursued it by works of the law, but they "stumbled over the stumbling stone" and did not attain righteousness because they did not live by faith. They rejected the Savior whose sacrifice and resurrection they merely needed to embrace as for them. By their rejection of Jesus, they failed to attain righteousness. Their own compulsion over the law did not produce or earn any righteousness for them.
This "righteousness that is by faith" is characterized by God's word or message of faith being in us. If we proclaim that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved. That belief, that faith in Jesus is what God says qualifies us to be clothed with His own righteousness. (Romans 10:6-9)
In Galatians 2:15-16 Paul is explicit about the nature of this righteousness from God. No one is justified by observing the law, he says, but by faith in Christ. In fact, we put our faith in him so we can be justified by faith, not by observing the law. Paul restated this point in first person in Philippians 3:8-9. My righteousness is not my own, resulting from keeping the law, he says in effect. Rather, it is from God through faith in Christ.
The writer of Hebrews also stresses that true righteousness does not come from personal dutifulness. Noah, says Hebrews 11:7, by faith warned the world of coming destruction. He had never seen a flood before, but he proclaimed it by faith in God who instructed him to build an ark. By acting on his faith in God when he had no tangible evidence to support his actions, he "became heir to the righteousness that is by faith." In other words, Noah's faith in God was credited to him as righteousness from God in advance of the reality of Jesus' death which would tangibly make such righteousness real.
This righteousness from God, Paul says, comes to all who believe. "There is no difference," he says. The comparison he is implying is between Jews and Gentiles. True righteousness from God does not come to the Jews, who had the special revelation of the Law and the Prophets, in a way different from the way Gentiles receive it. All humanity is the same: born depraved, sentenced to death for its inherent sin. The fact that the Jews had greater revelation than did the Gentiles did not qualify them for salvation more than the Gentiles qualified. Their inherent depravity made it impossible for them to uphold the law righteously. Because even the most spiritually privileged humans had no intrinsic advantage in God's eyes over the underprivileged, all needed a miracle to become righteous. Jesus, God incarnate, is that miracle. His death and resurrection removed the inescapable curse of sin and make it possible for everyone, Jew and Gentile, to become righteous with God's own righteousness through faith in the finished work of Jesus.
Paul describes a paradox in verses 23 and 24. Although all humanity is equally unworthy, yet all are "justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." To be justified means to be acquitted or declared righteous. It is the opposite of being condemned. Justification is a verdict that a litigant receives from a judge.
In Romans Paul has been explaining that because mankind is born depraved, spiritually dead, not one of us can reach God's standard of righteousness even when we clearly have his expectations spelled out before us. Knowing what God expects is not enough.
In Romans 2:13 Paul stated that hearing the law does not produce righteousness; only those who obey it are declared righteous. He develops his argument further in Romans 3:20; No one is declared righteous because he observes the law. Instead of producing righteousness, the law makes us conscious of sin. At first this statement seems to contradict that in Romans 2:13. The point Paul is making, however, is that observing or keeping the law requires more than mere conformity.
Centuries before Christ, Isaiah prophesied the nature of true justification. Through the prophet God spoke of the coming Messiah, and in Isaiah 53:11 he called him his servant who would suffer and then "see the light of life." By his knowledge, God declared, this servant would "justify many" and bear their iniquities. In this ancient prophecy God reveals that justification is not the result of human efforts to be obedient. It is a sovereign gift that results from one Person, the suffering and righteous Servant of God, taking the sins of sinners and thereby declaring those sinners justified.
Paul further expounds on this idea of justification by substitution in Romans 4:25. Jesus was delivered to death for our sins, he says, and raised to life for our justification. In other words, Jesus took the legal penalty for our collective sin, died the death we were sentenced to die, and came back to life, defeating the power of sin and its curse of death, so he could declare us righteous because our sins were no longer condemning us.
This unimaginable arrangement, one righteous Person taking on the guilt and punishment for an entire race of creatures thereby freeing them from a death penalty, is a singular event that cannot ever be repeated. In Romans 5:1-2, 16, 18 Paul explains how this miracle becomes effective in individual lives. By faith we accept Jesus' death and resurrection in our place. When we truly embrace the reality that we are hopelessly flawed and fatally doomed unless Someone intercedes for us, when we accept Jesus' sacrifice for us, our faith in him makes the miracle ours. Our faith in Jesus and in the singularity of his death and resurrection makes it possible for us to approach our just and mighty God directly. We no longer have to hide from him in shame; Jesus' death and resurrection makes it possible for God to extend grace to us that restores us to intimacy with him. This arrangement isn't humanly logical, but it is real. Just as Adam's sin infected every human and gave us a legacy of death, so Jesus' singular righteous act of sacrifice brings justification to us and destroys the curse we inherited from Adam.
In Romans 8:30 Paul gives us an even deeper look into the heart of God. This arrangement of Jesus providing our justification is not the result of our pleas or searching for a solution to our predicament. It is a sovereign act of grace. God has "predestined" those he calls, Paul says. In other words, God knows those who are and will be his from eternity. Those he calls-an act initiated by God, not man-he also justifies and later glorifies. The entire process of a human becoming convicted of sin, of accepting Jesus' sacrifice for him or her, and of being justified before God, is a divine act. Because we are fatally flawed, we could not initiate our justification. God calls each person from eternity, and when by his faith we accept this singular call and the resulting restoration to life, the miracle of justification occurs in us.
While the book of Romans gives the most detailed explanation of our justification and salvation, there are also some other powerful statements about it in the New Testament. In Colossians 6:9-11 Paul is reminding the church how heinous their sins had been. He affirms their standing before God, however, by assuring them that they have been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Holy Spirit. Further, 2 Corinthians 5:15 says that Jesus died for all, that those who live would not live for themselves but for him who died for them. Ephesians 2:8 reminds us that we have been saved by grace, and that does not involve any act of our own. It is a gift of God. To Titus he wrote that the grace of God that brings salvation to all men has appeared. (Titus 2:11) Finally, Hebrews 4:16 affirms that we can approach the "throne of grace" with confidence, and there we receive mercy and find grace.
The Paradox of Grace
Paul has made a compelling case to prove we are without an iota of merit in the eyes of God. Without a miracle of cosmic proportions, we would have no hope of being right with God. Now, in verses 22-25, Paul suddenly shows that this very miracle has happened. Through Jesus Christ every hopeless human on earth can be justified with God. Further, this justification is nothing we can purchase or for which we can bargain.
This righteousness is from God, the very one who condemned us in our sins. Further, it doesn't come through our effort; it comes through our faith in Christ Jesus whose obedience settled the sin problem once for all. Not only is this righteousness from God and through Jesus, we who are hopelessly flawed are justified freely through God's grace. Yet even though our justification is freely given with no requirement from us except that of belief in Jesus' finished work, it is not without great cost. The cost, however, is not ours to pay. Jesus and his Father paid the cost.
God presented Jesus, a part of Himself, to atone for our irreversible sin by shedding his own blood. The Father turned away from his beloved Son, and Jesus died in an agony of black separation from the Father. God sacrificed himself in order to show that he is not trivial; he is just. The rip in the fabric of the universe, sin, could not go unresolved. Jesus' blood mended the gash of sin and graciously provided us free justification, but it also satisfied God's justice and cost the Creator an unimaginable price.
What exactly is the grace that prompted God to justify us while we were still sinners? Many of us learned that grace means "unmerited favor", but there are many other implications as well in the Hebrew and Greek words translated "grace". In the Old Testament, one of the words most commonly translated "grace", hesed, carries overtones of "steadfast love" and "loyalty" and often appears associated with the word "covenant". The other "grace" word, hen, implies favor, directed from a superior to an inferior. God can show "hen" to men, but men cannot show "hen" to God.
In the New Testament, the Greek word charis normally translates the Hebrew word hen, and it usually connotes forgiveness. Eleos usually translates the Hebrew word hesed and it usually means mercy. The word charis far outnumbers the word eleos in the New Testament.
In fact, however, God's grace cannot be summarized in one specific word. His loving kindness and his faithfulness to grant forgiveness and favor to his wandering people are inseparable. Exodus 34:6-7 proclaims God's graciousness, compassion, slowness to anger, faithfulness, and forgiveness while simultaneously asserting his faithfulness to punish the guilty. David called on God in Psalm 6:4 to deliver and save him because of His unfailing love. Proverbs 16:6 declares the writer's certainty that sin "is atoned for" through love and faithfulness. This understanding shows that the writer realized he could not atone for his own sins, and further that God dealt with sin because of his faithful love.
In a fit of shame and annoyance, Jonah complained to God about his graciousness and faithfulness when Nineveh repented of its sin after Jonah's preaching. He pouted to God that he knew He was slow to anger, abounding in love, and that he relents from sending calamities. Jonah understood that God's everlasting love could not be separated from his granting favor to those who called on him.
When Gabriel visited Mary to announce the birth of Jesus, he told her not to be afraid because she had found favor with God. (Luke 1:20) That favor was an act of grace. Luke 2:52 reports that as Jesus grew up, he found favor with God and man. Later, when he preached from the book of Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth, the people marveled at the gracious [full of grace] words that came from his lips. When he pointed out their unfaithfulness and disbelief, however, they turned on him. They were deaf to the grace offered to them through his teaching that he fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy. (Luke 4:15-22)
In John 1:14 the apostle writes that the Word became flesh and lived with us, and he was full of grace and truth. Grace in this passage is the word for "unfailing love". In his fateful speech to the Sanhedrin, Stephen talked about David enjoying God's favor-David, the man with blood on his hands, was deeply loved and blessed by God. (Acts 7:45-46)
Paul's life and ministry testified repeatedly to the grace of God. Acts 14:3 records God confirming Paul and Barnabas's message of His grace by granting them the ability to perform miracles. In Acts 20:24 Paul asserts that his life is worth nothing; only his testimony to God's grace, which has brought us redemption and riches in Jesus, is worth anything to him.
Paul describes the effect of God's grace in his epistles. In Ephesians 1:4-8 he explains that we were predestined to be adopted as God's sons, a legal transaction that would glorify the grace of God. Further, God gives this grace through Jesus Christ, and through it he gives us redemption and great riches. In 1 Timothy 1:8-10 Paul asks his young protégé not to be ashamed but to join him in testifying of the gospel which had been given to them by God's grace. In Titus 3:4-7 Paul explains the effect of God's grace on us. We are saved by his grace, and the result of that salvation is rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit poured on us generously so we can be heirs of God.
God has always lavished his grace on his people. His love planned for our salvation before he created us. His faithfulness pursued his unfaithful people through centuries of apostasy, redeeming them from captivity and promising them eternal freedom. His grace sent Jesus to fulfill God's requirements for humanity and to die the death our sin demanded. His grace has granted us justification, complete pardon from sin, when by faith we accept this astonishing gracious reality-the Word made flesh. His grace yields in us spiritual gifts and a new nature that is being conformed by His Spirit. His grace to us is adoption into God's family as sons with full rights as heirs.
Redemption Through Christ
In this passage dense with legal and theological terms that describe the most astonishing reality in the history of humanity, Paul now explains that our justification, or our legal standing as completely righteous people which we have received by God's grace, has come to us "through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (v. 24)
Redemption means delivering someone from some evil by paying a price. The price paid is called the ransom. People often think of "redemption" as "deliverance", but it is more than that. Redemption involves a ransom price.
Paul's first century audience would have clearly understood the power of the word "redemption". In the first century, slaves frequently were redeemed from slavery either by the slave paying his master for freedom or by paying a price into a pagan temple treasury, an act resulting in the slave's no longer being owned by his master but by a god. Paul's audience would have had no confusion about the implications of being redeemed; they knew it meant a price had been paid for their freedom from slavery to sin and death.
Psalm 130:7-8, the psalmist foretold God's redemption of his people in words that he probably did not fully understand. In these verses he exhorts Israel to hope in the Lord, because in him is unfailing love and redemption. Then he wrote the words that prophesied the Messiah, "He himself will redeem Israel from all their sin."
In 1 Corinthians 1:30 Paul describes our connection to Jesus and also Jesus' role as "wisdom from God". He says that because of God's will, believers are in Christ "who has become for us wisdom from God-that is our righteousness, holiness, and redemption." Here Paul is personifying wisdom by saying the person of Christ literally became or embodied God's wisdom. He further defines God's wisdom as literally being our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. In other words, this singular event of Christ becoming flesh brought God's wisdom to us in tangible form. Further, by Jesus becoming wisdom from God, he literally became our righteousness, our holiness, and our redemption. This text does not say Christ brought us righteousness, holiness, and redemption but that he is those things. The reason the center of our lives must be Jesus is that he literally embodies all that we are when we become children of God. We hold onto Jesus because when we are intimate with him, it is his righteousness and holiness that God sees in us.
Further, when we embrace Jesus, he doesn't just buy us from our slavery to sin and secure our redemption from its curse; he literally is our redemption, It is when we are in Christ that we are free. Yes, Jesus paid the ransom for us and existentially frees us from the bonds of sin, but that ransom does not effect our freedom unless we surrender to him, not just to the idea of him or of what he did. It is because Jesus is our redemption that he is our Sabbath rest. Without intimacy with Jesus the best we can do is to anticipate freedom the same way the Israelites did: by celebrating Sabbath days to remind us of God's promise. When we accept Jesus and are born again by his Spirit, however, we find that it is our relationship with Jesus that is our redemption.
Paul further explains our redemption in Galatians 4:5. He states that God sent his Son who was born under Jewish law to redeem those under law so they can have the full rights of sons of God. Jesus came to earth subject to Jewish law, but he paid the ransom to redeem us from the curse of the law. We have been freed not only from slavery to sin but from slavery to the law and its curse.
In his letter to the Ephesians Paul describes our redemption in yet other terms. Ephesians 1:7-8 states that in Jesus we have redemption through his blood-the ransom price. This redemption equals forgiveness of our sins. In verses 13-14 Paul further says that we receive the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of our inheritance which we can trust "until the redemption of those who are God's possessions." Although our redemption is secured, our bodies are not yet redeemed from their sinful flesh. The Holy Spirit is our guarantee that not only our spirits but also our bodies will one day be made eternal and free from flaws.
Hebrews 9:11-14 declares the magnificent truth that Jesus, the perfect Israel and the second Adam, has entered the Most Holy place, the presence of the Father, by means of his own blood, having secured eternal redemption. The fact that Jesus, God incarnate, the Word made flesh, has entered the presence of the Father is our assurance that his blood satisfied the wrath of God against human sin. The fact that Jesus is there assures us that we also will be there physically. In the meantime, we are with him now spiritually. His blood that opened the way to the Father is also cleansing "our consciences from acts that lead to death" so we may serve the living God.
Our redemption is more than deliverance from sin. Jesus bought us with the price of his blood. He himself IS our redemption, and he is our assurance that we will physically spend eternity with God. He is our righteousness and our freedom. In him we are no longer slaves of sin or slaves of the law. In him we are new creations redeemed from mortal humanity and promised eternity.
Exhausting The Wrath of God
The word translated "atonement" in verse 25 of the NIV is better translated "propitiation". Propitiation is a word which can mean the act of appeasing an angry authority, or it can mean the offering or sacrifice given to turn away the wrath of a deity or authority. In this verse Paul is saying that Jesus was the propitiation which satisfied God's wrath against sin. In fact, the implications of the Greek behind the word "propitiation" are so strong that a fair explanation of the meaning would be that God exhausted his wrath on Jesus when he hung on the cross as a propitiation for our sin.
Verse 21 tells us that this new righteousness apart from the law which Paul is defining originated with God. Verse 25 continues this truth; God initiated the righteousness he gives us by presenting Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement. Jesus did not sacrifice himself apart from the Father. While Jesus obediently chose to go to the cross, the Father sacrificed himself by presenting Jesus-part of himself-to us as the object of His wrath. The pain of the Father must have been as intense as the pain of the Son.
What exactly did it mean that Jesus became a propitiation for sin, and what did it accomplish for us? The description of the Day of Atonement sacrifices gives an early picture of what Jesus' personal sacrifice meant. Two goats, chosen by lot to be sacrificed or sent alive into the desert, were the atonement offerings. The blood of the sacrifice made atonement for the Most Holy Place, and the scapegoat figuratively carried the sins of the entire nation on its head out of the camp into the desert, thus removing sin from the nation of Israel. (see Leviticus 16:6-10) Jesus was both the sacrifice and the scapegoat. His blood satisfied the legal requirement of death for sin, and he removed sin from humanity by taking it into himself, leaving us guiltless. He became our propitiation.
Isaiah further prophesies Jesus' role as a propitiation for us. He said Jesus was pierced and crushed for our transgressions, but his punishment brought us peace, and his wounds healed us. (Isaiah 53:5) His suffering turned God's wrath away from us and brought us peace with him. His wounds made it possible for God to heal our scarred, wounded hearts and souls.
Paul declared in Romans 4:25 that Jesus was "delivered over to death" for our sins, and he was raised to life for our justification. He took the place of doomed humanity in the presence of God's wrath, and he rose from death in order to declare us not guilty. Paul further says in Romans 5:10 that we have been reconciled to God through Jesus' death, and we have been saved by his life which is spent in unending ministry and mediation for his people.
In 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, Paul makes the extraordinary statement that Christ died for all, so all in him died. In other words, when we embrace Jesus and his sacrifice for us, we become connected spiritually with him, and his death actually becomes our death; his resurrection-the promise of our resurrection. In verse 21 of the same chapter, Paul says that God made Jesus, who had no sin, to actually be sin for us. Sin was stripped of its power and removed from its dominion over us when Jesus took it onto himself and died. Conversely, the Father and Jesus did this unimaginable thing in order that we "might become the righteousness of God." Not only were we released from the curse of sin by Jesus' propitiation, but in the same mysterious way Jesus became our sin, through Him we become God's righteousness.
Another effect of Jesus' propitiation is that we have been redeemed from the curse of the law because Jesus became a curse for us. (Galatians 3:13) He provided our purification from sin. (Hebrews 1:3) He made atonement for our sin and exhausted God's wrath so we don't have to face it. (Hebrews 2:17) Jesus sacrificed himself to take away the sins of humanity, and because he has purified us and we are freed from eternal death, he will return and save us physically to be with him forever. (Hebrews 9:27-28)
Jesus bore our sins in his body so we can die to sin and live for righteousness. He has healed our wounds by suffering his wounds, and we have returned to our Shepherd and the Overseer of our souls. (2 Peter 2:24-25)
John sums up the miracle of Jesus' propitiation by reminding us that the whole event demonstrates love. Love, he says, is not that we loved God and he responded. On the contrary, He loved us and sent Jesus to be an atonement, a propitiation, for our sins. He exhausted his wrath on his only Son because he loved us. (1 John 4:10)
That Jesus became a propitiation for our sin is a mystery beyond explanation, yet it changed the entire course of history. It not only provided a way for us to live instead of inevitably to die, but also it provided the means for us to become adopted into God's family and to be heirs of his kingdom and riches.
Through Faith In His Blood
Christ's propitiation, however, cannot heal us unless we risk placing all our faith in the reality and power of Jesus blood which he shed on the cross into eternity. What Jesus did by becoming human and taking into himself the penalty of our sin and experiencing the full wrath of God against it, changed creation and all of eternity. God becoming man while retaining his deity, God dying to redeem a doomed universe from its brokenness, the God-man coming to life after suffering the death of sin-these things are singularities whose effects influence both the physical and the spiritual realms. Christ's death and resurrection have changed the definitions of human death and also life.
Many people have tried to explain God's forgiveness as a phenomenon that would have happened whether or not Jesus actually died. "God is a good God," they say; "he is by nature forgiving and didn't need Jesus' death to convince him to forgive us." Some go so far as to say that God sending or requiring Jesus to die would have been "child abuse". Still others say Jesus' death was not necessary for God's forgiveness; rather, it was necessary to convince us that humanity was indeed so sinful that it would kill the Son of God and thus convince us we needed to be saved. Yet another explanation for the cross is that Satan had to be defeated by a person weaker than himself. If God had simply struck him down, Satan would have cried, "Foul!" and would never have been convinced that God deserved to win the battle. Hence, a weak, crucified human defeating Satan could leave no question about who was superior, Jesus or Satan.
In fact, any attempt to discredit the shed blood of Jesus is heresy. God's law was unalterable: disobedience to Him resulted in death. From the Garden of Eden onward, that truth was clear. To discredit the blood of Jesus is to negate the sacrifice, the love, the passion, and the justice of the Trinity. The Israelites' sacrificial laws we explicitly designed to make real the horror of what our forgiveness and salvation would cost. Sin could not be atoned without shed blood.
Hebrews 9:16-20 explains that God's covenants which promise an inheritance of life and blessings are similar to legal wills. They cannot take effect unless the maker of the will dies. Only then do the heirs come into their inheritance. Therefore the Mosaic covenant, which was a shadow of the new covenant, was established by shedding the symbolic blood of calves, and the new covenant came into reality by the shedding of Jesus' blood. In fact, the writer declares, there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood.
In the upper room the night before his crucifixion, Jesus passed the wine to his disciples and said, "This is the blood of the covenant poured out for the forgiveness of sins." (Matthew 26:27-28) Paul said we've been justified by his blood (Romans 5:8-9), and we have peace with God through his blood. (Colossians 1:19-20)
Peter wrote that we were redeemed by the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19), and John said the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)
Revelation is full of references to the blood of Jesus. In this book John declares that Jesus has freed us from our sins by His blood (Revelation 1:4-7); he has purchased men for God by his blood (5:9). Revelation 7:14-16 describes the great multitude who come out of the tribulation, and they have washed their robes clean in the blood of the Lamb. Chapter 12:10-11 states that believers overcome Satan by the blood of the Lamb, and in 19:11-14 Jesus is described as the rider of a white horse. He wears a robe dipped in blood while his heavenly armies are wearing white, clean robes.
The atonement that Jesus made for us at the cross could not have come about without his death. It is his shed blood that opens the new and living way to the Father (Hebrews 10:20). It is his blood that justifies us and redeems us from our inherited curse. It is his blood that carries our sins away from us. It is Jesus' blood that satisfies the Father; it is the ransom that releases the universe from the power of sin.
Before the creation of the world, the Trinity planned the singularity of Jesus' death and resurrection for the salvation of doomed humanity. The Father sent Jesus, part of himself, who willingly became human flesh and lived as a man among men. He was born spiritually alive instead of spiritually dead, however; he was begotten by the Holy Spirit. As a human without sin, his perfect life redeemed our lives. Because he was both our Creator and our brother, his death atoned for our collective sin. He was the propitiation which turned away the Father's anger toward sin, and in him the Father exhausted his wrath against evil.
Because of Jesus' becoming our atonement offering, his life was the ransom which bought our freedom from sin and from the curse of the law. And because he redeemed us, we are declared righteous before God when we trust what Jesus has done. Because of Jesus, God no longer sees us as doomed sinners when we have faith in Christ. Instead he sees Christ's perfection when he looks at us. We are adopted as sons with full rights of inheritance into God's family, and we are new creations.
We no longer need to fear God's anger against us. Further, we no longer need to live lives of desperation, crippled from our deepest wounds and secrets. Because of Jesus' sacrifice and resurrection, we can become whole. God's Spirit enters us when we accept Jesus, and he changes and heals us. He draws us toward and teaches us the truth, and as we release our controlling grips on ourselves, Jesus holds our hearts and reveals his love to us in the places of pain from which we have hidden.
Jesus is calling you to surrender to his already accomplished work for you. He asks you to accept his ransom for your redemption and to admit the depth of your sin and shame. He is asking you to trust him and to repent of the ways you have held him at arm's length, fearing feeling your grief and anger and shame. He is asking you to let him open the dark corners of your heart, to let him show you the truth about yourself, and to allow his love and his Spirit to enter those wounded places and make you whole.
Praise the Father for sending Jesus to save us from our hopeless depravity. Praise Jesus for being our propitiation and for satisfying the curse of the law and the wrath of God. Praise the Holy Spirit for bringing our spirits to life and for making us new.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for the miracle of salvation and for the miracle of eternal life free from guilt and sin!
The blood of Jesus
Paul finally introduces the good news; now, after millennia of people trying to be good and to keep the law, God reveals a righteousness apart from the law. This righteousness was foretold in the Law and the Prophets.
1. If this righteousness was only now made known, how did the Law and the Prophets testify of it? (see Genesis 15:6; Leviticus 17:11; 23:26-32; Psalm 32:1-2; 85:1-3; 106:28-31; Habakkuk 2:4; Jeremiah 3:14-18; Hosea 3:1; 10:1-4, 8-11; 14:1-2, 4-6, 9; Zechariah 3:1-10)
2. This "righteousness from God" is not God's righteousness. What is this righteousness? (see Romans 1:17; 4:5, 13; 9:30-32; 10:6-9; Galatians 2:15-16; Philippians 3:8-9; Hebrews 11:7)
3. The clause beginning in v. 22, "There is no difference" and ending with verse 23, "and fall short of the glory of God," is parenthetical. In other words, "All who believeare justified freely" About whom is Paul saying, "There is no difference"? (see Romans 3:9; 10:12)
4. Although everyone is equally unworthy, all are equally justified by believing in Christ. What does it mean to be "justified"? (see Romans 2:13; 3:20; Isaiah 53:11; Romans 4:25; Romans 5:1-2, 16, 18; 8:30; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 2 Corinthians 5:15; Ephesians 2:8; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 4:16)
5. Paul describes a paradox in v. 22-25. In verses 9-19 he has shown how no one deserves anything but guilt and condemnation. Now he explains that all can be justified even though they are not deserving. Find the four ways Paul says God administers justification, and explain the paradox. (Refer to verses 24-25)
6. In verse 25 Paul says we are justified freely by his grace. What is God's grace? (see Exodus 34:6-7; Psalm 6:4; Proverbs 16:6; Jonah 4:2; Luke 1:30; 2:52; 4:15-22; John 1:14; Acts 7:45-46; 14:3; 20:24; Ephesians 1:4-8; 2 Timothy 1:8-10; Titus 3:4-7)
7. Look up "redemption" in a dictionary. What is "the redemption that came by Christ" mentioned in verse 24? (see Psalm 130:7-8; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:7-8; 13-14; Hebrews 9:11-14)
8. Look up "atonement" in a dictionary or Bible dictionary. Once you understand the meaning of atonement, what has the atonement mentioned in verse 25 accomplished for us? (see Leviticus 16:6-10; Isaiah 53:5; John 1:25; Romans 4:25;5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, 21; Galatians 3:13; Hebrews 1:3; 2:17; 9:27-28; 1 Peter 2:24-25; 1 John 4:10)
9. Why does Paul make a point of stressing that the atonement has power and meaning "through faith in his blood"? (see Matthew 26:27-28; Romans 5:8-9; Colossians 1:19-20; Hebrews 9:16-22; 1 Peter 1:18-19; 1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:4-6; 5:9; 7:14; 12:10-11; 19:11-14)
Commitment and Application
10. How have your understandings of justification, atonement, and grace changed as you have begun to understand the new covenant?
11. What habits and memories do you fear examining and presenting to Jesus so his blood can wash them clean and fill your heart with peace and the assurance of his atonement for you?
12. Ask Jesus to reveal to you what lies behind the habitual frustrations you experience where you get "stuck" and can't resolve your problems or handle them constructively. Ask him to show you what he wants you to see, to know what he wants you to know, and to change what he wants changed in you. Ask him to enter those hurt places in your memories and to heal your deep shame and brokenness, replacing the pain with his Spirit. Praise him for being faithful to complete the work he has already begun in you!
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