Summary: The cross reveals God’s integrity, and by experiencing the cross we can understand, experience, and live consistently with God’s integrity.
How can a person go to heaven? It sounds like such a simple question, yet so many people aren’t sure how to answer. The Christian faith has always insisted that the answer to this question of how to go to heaven is found in the cross of Jesus Christ. For the Christian faith, the cross is the key.
Yet many people in our culture today don’t know what the cross means or what Christians believe about it. A study was conducted about five years ago of people in Australia, Germany, India, Japan, England and the U.S. to find how much they recognized certain symbols (Baptists Today 9/21/95). Ninety-two percent could identify the interlinking circles as the symbol for the Olympics. Eighty-eight percent could identify the golden arches as the symbol for MacDonalds. But only half of the people could identify the cross as symbolic of the Christian faith.
I heard recently about a woman who went to an antique shop in England, and asked the shopkeeper if she had any crosses. She pulled out a few and said, "Here’s one that’s empty, and here’s one that has a little man on it." The shopkeeper wasn’t trying to be offensive, but she simply had no idea who the little man on the cross was.
For many the cross is simply a decoration or a fashion statement. What does the cross tell us about God and about how to go to heaven? That’s what we’re going to explore today. We’ve been in a series through the New Testament book of Romans called GOOD NEWS FOR OUR TIMES. In this series we’ve been seeing that God has good news for our world, but before we can understand that good news we need to understand the Bible’s diagnosis of the human condition. According to Romans, the reason why the world is so messed up is because the entire human race is in rebellion against the creator of the universe. Today we’re going to look at what the cross of Jesus Christ tells us about God’s solution to our spiritual condition. The Bible claims that the cross reveals God’s integrity. Today we’re going to see how the cross helps us UNDERSTAND God’s integrity, EXPERIENCE God’s integrity, and finally LIVE CONSISTENTLY with God’s integrity.
1. Understanding God’s Integrity (Romans 3:21-22a)
How does the cross help us understand God’s integrity? That’s what we see in v. 21 and the first half of v. 22. The phrase "but now" marks a major transition in Romans as Paul begins to speak of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross as the turning point of human history. The death of Jesus opened a new chapter in the outworking of God’s plan for the human race. It’s no accident that there in the west we divide time into B.C. and A.D. with reference to Jesus Christ.
Now the key phrase in this section is "the righteousness of God" or as the NIV puts it "righteousness from God." This word "righteousness" occurs here in v. 21 and also 22; we also find this same Greek word translated "justice" in v. 25 and v. 26. This word "righteousness" refers to God’s consistent character, his faithfulness to keep his promises, his commitment to act with integrity. The righteousness of God is God’s integrity. Through the cross of Jesus, God revealed his integrity in a way that was independent of the Jewish Law. Although the Old Testament part of the Bible the Law and the Prophets testify to this new chapter in God’s plan, when Jesus actually came it was something new, something fresh.
Now our New International Version of the Bible translates the first part of v. 22 "This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe." But in the Greek this literally reads, "This righteousness of God comes through the faith OF Jesus Christ to all who believe." That’s also how the King James Version translates this phrase. I think that’s more accurate, that here Paul is talking about Jesus Christ’s faith not our faith in Jesus. When the Greek word for faith is used in this way it refers to a person’s faithfulness. For example back in 3:3 Paul spoke of "the faith of God" to refer to God’s faithfulness. So it’s not our faith that reveals God’s integrity, but it’s Jesus Christ’s faithful life that reveals God’s integrity (Hays 171-73; Wright 189).
Instead of revealing his integrity through the 10 commandments, God has demonstrated his integrity through the life of Jesus Christ. At his baptism Jesus was faithful to identify with our failures and our need for repentance. At his temptation, Jesus was faithful to resist Satan’s lies and to serve God alone. In his public ministry Jesus was faithful to the Father’s calling in his life, to teach and heal, to love and confront. Jesus was faithful to obey the Father’s plan by going to the cross. The birth, life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus are the means by which God has made his integrity known. That’s why the first four books of the New Testament are biographies about Jesus Christ. The law and prophets looked forward to this, but it didn’t happen through the law; it happened through Jesus.