Part 3 of The Cross: What It Says About God
You can listen to this sermon here.
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. 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 (Rom. 3:25-26).
The Righteousness of God
Righteousness is one of God’s moral attributes. “God’s righteousness means that God always acts in accordance with what is right and is himself the final standard of what is right” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 203).
People often argue that the God of the Bible is not always righteous. They point to some of the doctrines (e.g., hell) and stories (e.g., the flood) of the Bible and say, “That’s wrong!” (Admittedly, there are no easy answers to some of these objections.)
Abraham once questioned God’s righteousness. When God told him that he was going to destroy the city of Sodom, Abraham said, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen. 18:25). Abraham was concerned that God was going to punish the righteous with the wicked (v. 23). In the end, Abraham trusted that God would do what was right.
God always does what is right.
There are many statements in Scripture about the righteousness of God. “Righteous are you, O LORD, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?” (Jer. 12:1). “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deut. 32:4). “Righteous are you, O LORD, and right are your rules” (Ps. 119:137). “The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works” (Ps. 145:17). “I will speak the truth; I will declare what is right” (Isa. 45:19). “‘I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD” (Jer. 9:24). “The Lord …is righteous; he does no injustice” (Zeph. 3:5).
In Romans 1:18-3:20, the apostle Paul argues that all of humanity is guilty of sin. He writes, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). In other words, no one is capable of keeping the law of God. Paul goes on to say, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God” (v. 19).
Paul adds, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (v. 20). To be “justified” means to be declared righteous. It is impossible for us to be justified by obeying God’s law. “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10, NIV).
God loves us and wants to justify us. But he is also righteous and must punish our sin. How can God satisfy both his love and his righteousness? We find the answer in Romans 3:21-26.
1. We can be declared righteous apart from the law.
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it” (v. 21). Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said that “there are no more wonderful words in the whole of Scripture than just these two words, ‘But now.’”
2. We can be declared righteous by faith.
“The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is not distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (vv. 22-23).
3. We can be declared righteous because of Christ's work.
“And are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forth as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (vv. 24-25a). A “propitiation” is an offering that appeases God’s wrath (retributive justice). It is God who provided the propitiation (cf. 1 John 2:2).
Religion is spelled D-O. But Christianity is spelled D-O-N-E. There is nothing we can do to make us righteous before God. Only by trusting in what Christ has done can we be justified.
The Right Way
“This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 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” (vv. 25b-26).
The cross was the right way to make unrighteous people righteous.
God “accepts as righteous before him sinful people who have faith, and he accepts sinners as righteous without violating his own just character because Christ has fully satisfied God’s demand that all who commit sin must die” (Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 130).