Summary: This sermon examines justification and explains how God can be just and the justifier at the same time.
Today, we resume our study in “Romans: The Good News of God.”
The Apostle Paul wrote this magnificent letter to the Roman Church. He did not plant this church, and he had not yet visited the church, though he knew people in this church. He wrote this letter because he wanted to clarify how God saves people.
Paul started this letter with the usual greeting (1:1-7). And yet, even in his greeting he already stated several themes that he would cover in this letter.
Paul stated the major theme of this letter in Romans 1:16-17, which is that God provides his righteousness to sinners.
Paul began the body of his letter by expounding upon the universal sinfulness of mankind (1:18-3:20). Paul made it clear that Gentiles (1:18-32) as well as Jews (2:1-3:8) are sinners. Indeed, all people are sinners (3:9-20). As he so eloquently stated in Romans 3:10-12, “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.”
The result of the universal sinfulness of mankind is that God is righteously angry with each person. Paul said that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18).
Recently, I heard Dr. R. C. Sproul say that he heard a well-known television evangelist (whose name I do not know) say that he did not preach God’s wrath. He felt that people were attracted to God’s love and mercy and grace, but were put off by the idea that God is angry towards them. The evangelist said that talking about God’s wrath was not good “bait” to catch sinners.
Friends, if we think of God only as a God of love and mercy and grace and kindness, and not as a God of wrath and holiness and justice, we will not have an accurate view of who God is.
Paul is crystal clear in teaching us that God is righteously angry with our sin. We are unrighteous, we are sinful, and we deserve God’s wrath. And worse, there is nothing we can do by ourselves to remedy the situation. If God does not act on our behalf we are without hope, except for his sovereign mercy.
But, thankfully, God has acted. God has provided a way for sinners to be saved. The Apostle Paul explained how God himself has provided his own righteousness for sinners. Let’s read Romans 3:21-26, keeping in mind that today’s text is Romans 3:25b-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. (Romans 3:25b-26)
In Romans 3:21-26 the Apostle Paul deals with the subject of justification. In these six tightly packed verses are “the centre and heart” of the whole letter, according to New Testament scholar C. E. B. Cranfield. Another New Testament scholar, Leon Morris asserts that this may be “possibly the most important single paragraph ever written.” That is quite a statement, isn’t it?
The Bible uses a number of different words to describe how God saves sinners.
For example, the word propitiation, which is very important for our understanding of salvation, is used only 4 times in the entire New Testament. (One of those references is in Romans 3:25).
The word reconciliation is also used only 4 times in the New Testament.
The word redemption is used 9 times in the New Testament, although it used much more frequently in the Old Testament (17 times) and in contemporary culture.
The Greek word for justification and righteousness come from the same Greek root—dike. Remarkably, these two words are used hundreds of times in the Bible. Therefore, the frequency of the words indicates that justification is the central idea in salvation.
Preachers throughout history have come to the same conclusion. For example, John Calvin, the father of our Presbyterian and Reformed churches, called justification “the main hinge on which salvation turns.”
Thomas Cranmer, the architect of the Church of England, believed that justification is “the strong rock and foundation of the Christian religion.” He declared that “whoever denies [this doctrine] is not to be counted for a true Christian man . . . but for an adversary of Christ.”