But Now …

Mini-series on Rom 1-5 continued

Romans 3 21-26

When I was a young Christian, my pastor taught me to look for the big “buts” in the Bible, because these are often the turning points where important truths are expounded. In Romans “but now” appears in 3:21, where after charging that both Jews and Gentiles are under the power of sin, Paul turned from the problem of all humanity to the solution – the righteousness of God. Righteousness, the condition acceptable to God, is a key theme in Romans. It is introduced in 1:17, briefly referenced to in 3:5, but formally discussed first in 3:21-31.

Rom 1:17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last …
• Rom 3:5 But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say?
• Rom 3:21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.
• Rom 3:22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
• Rom 3:25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished
• Rom 3:26 He did it to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Up to this point, what did Paul teach about righteousness? A lot:

• It is the righteousness of God, His righteousness (1:17; 3:5, 21, 25, 26). We have only unrighteousness (3:5).
• It is revealed in the gospel (1:17), but has been made known through the Law and the Prophets (3:21). In other words, it is not something new, but in continuity with the Old Testament.
• It is given through, and received by, faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (1:17; 3:22, 25, 26). It is available only through Jesus, nowhere else. He is the only way.
• It is apart from the law (3:21). You can’t get righteousness by law-keeping. You get it by faith, not works.
• God gave Christ as the atoning sacrifice so as to be just and the justifier (3:26).

The last one requires a little explanation. God is just and must punish sin, otherwise sin would go unpunished and there would be no justice. The perpetrators would get off free without penalty, while the victims would not get recompense. Yet God is also love and does not want anyone to perish (2 Pet 3:9). He does not take any pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezk 18:23; 33:11). This dilemma is resolved by God paying the penalty Himself. He sent His only Son to be the substitute to die for all those who repent and believe, restoring them to be in right relationship with God.

In OT times God in His forbearance had left sins committed unpunished. It was as if He had turned a blind eye to sin and was unjust. But when Christ came He took upon Himself all the sins of those who believed in Him. In shedding His blood on the cross, He paid the penalty for all our sins, so sin is punished and God can justly forgive us. In Jesus’ capacity as the judge He is just in punishing sin, but in His role as the atoning sacrifice He is the justifier who showed mercy by paying the penalty Himself. So God’s justice and love are both satisfied by Jesus’ death on the cross once for all.

That’s the marvel of the gospel – free for us who put our faith in Christ, but at tremendous cost to Christ who paid with His own life. The only question remaining is: Do you trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? Only you can decide for yourself. I hope you make the right choice.

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