(from a transcript of a sermon preached on 12/2/01 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Let's read Romans 3, verses 20 through 26:
Romans 3: (20) Because by works of Law not one of all flesh will be justified before Him, for through Law [is] full knowledge of sin. (21) But now a righteousness of God has been revealed apart from Law, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, (22) even the righteousness of God through faith of Jesus Christ toward all and upon all those believing; for there is no difference, (23) for all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (24) being justified freely by His grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, (25) whom God set forth [as] a propitiation through faith in His blood, as a demonstration of His righteousness through the passing over of the sins that had taken place before, in the forbearance of God, (26) for a demonstration of His righteousness in the present time, for His being just and justifying the [one] that [is] of the faith of Jesus.
I want to remind you of the importance of this passage. Turn over to Romans 1:16:
Romans 1: (16) For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is [the] power of God to salvation to everyone believing, both to Jew first, and to Greek;
Here, we see that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Without the gospel, there is no salvation. So the gospel is a vital, life-and-death issue. If you do not believe the gospel, you are not saved. If you do believe the gospel, you are saved. Since the gospel is so important, we need to know what the gospel is. The gospel is "good news," but is it ANY good news? Is it good news about the economy? Is it good news about a friend recovering from sickness? No. The gospel is good news about something SPECIFIC. In fact, it is THE good news. It is the BEST of news, and all other news pales into insignificance in light of THIS news. So, since this good news, this gospel, is a life-and-death matter, what is this gospel? Let's read verse 17:
Romans 1: (17) for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; even as it has been written, "But the just shall live by faith."
Okay - here we are given what the gospel reveals. It reveals the righteousness of God. So this gospel, which all true Christians believe, shows forth God's righteousness. What is this righteousness? Is it the fact that God is right in everything He does? Is it the fact that God doesn't sin? Well, if it were just these things, then one could believe that God is righteous without believing in Jesus Christ. This righteousness that is revealed in the gospel is something SPECIFIC. And Paul doesn't specifically define this righteousness until the eighth paragraph, which begins in verse 19 and ends with verse 31. Verse 21 introduces the righteousness of God that is revealed in the gospel. The gospel reveals salvation from sin based on two things: the imputed righteousness of Christ, which we saw in verse 22, and the atoning, redeeming blood of Christ, which we saw in verse 24 and the first part of verse 25. So those who believe in salvation based on the imputed righteousness of Christ and the atoning, redeeming blood of Christ, without any contribution from the sinner, are saved. Those who do not believe this are lost. Those who do not believe in imputed righteousness are lost. And those who do not believe in the atoning, redeeming blood of Christ are lost. We saw last week that those who believe that Christ died for all without exception do not believe in the atoning, redeeming blood of Christ and are thus lost. They do not believe that the work of Christ makes the only difference between salvation and damnation; instead, they believe that it is the work of the SINNER that makes the difference.
Today, let's look at the remainder of verse 25 and then verse 26. We already saw the propitiatory work of Christ last week. We now come to the phrase, "through faith in His blood." God set forth Christ Jesus as a propitiation through faith in Christ's blood. Faith is the means by which God's people become partakers of the benefits of Christ's propitiation. I like the analogy of faith as a container that RECEIVES the benefits of the work of Christ. Let's notice a couple things. First, only those who have faith are reconciled with God. And God says in Hebrews 11:6 that without faith it is impossible to please God. If someone does not have faith, he remains under the wrath of God. So those who say that there are saved people who have no faith are devoid of faith themselves. Second, what is this faith that is being talked about? It is a SPECIFIC faith. It is faith in the BLOOD of Jesus Christ. Last week, we went over the redeeming and propitiating BLOOD of Christ. It is faith in THIS BLOOD that I'm talking about. It is the belief that Christ's blood actually paid the ransom price and satisfied God's justice for all whom He represented, meaning that all whom Christ represented on the cross will not have to pay the ransom price or receive God's wraith by suffering eternal punishment in hell. This faith is belief that the work of Christ alone ensures the salvation of everyone whom He represented. This faith is the belief of the gospel of salvation conditioned on the work of Christ alone. Those who believe that Christ died for everyone without exception DO NOT have faith in Christ's blood, and thus are NOT partakers of the benefits of His blood. They are dead in their sins. The only ones who have FAITH in Christ's blood are the ones who BOAST in Christ's blood as their only ground of salvation. They believe that Christ's blood, which includes His entire redemptive, atoning work, is what makes the difference between salvation and damnation. This is the ONLY kind of faith that is the true faith of believers.
Let's now look at the remainder of the verse: "for a showing forth of His righteousness through the passing by of sins that had taken place before, in the forbearance of God." Here's the righteousness of God again. It is that righteousness that is revealed in the gospel. The work of Christ, specifically the redemptive and propitiatory work of Christ, shows the righteousness of God through the passing by of the sins that had taken place before. What does it mean by "passing by"? The Greek word that is behind this is used only once in the Bible. The KJV translates it "remission." I don't like the phrase "passing by," because it implies that certain sins were just overlooked without satisfaction being made. To understand this word, we need to go into who Paul is talking about here. He says that the sins "had taken place before." Before what? Before Christ came to die on the cross. He is talking about the Old Testament saints who lived and died prior to Christ's death. This answers the question: If Christ died at a certain point in time to make satisfaction for sin, what about those who had lived and died prior to Christ's death? Did they all go to hell because Christ did not die for them? The answer is that the benefits of Christ's death actually went BACK in time. The Old Testament saints were justified by the FUTURE work of the coming Messiah. Their faith was in a FUTURE event. They believed in salvation based on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of the Messiah to come, the Lord our righteousness. When we went over verse 21, we saw that the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel was witnessed by the Law and the Prophets. The Old Testament saints were saved in the same way and believed the same things as the New Testament saints. They rejoiced to see the day of Christ. So this "remission" of sins before Christ came to the earth was based on exactly the same thing as the remission of sins after Christ's death in time. The remission was based on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ alone. "Remission" means pardon or cancellation. So, in this phrase, we see that God showed forth His righteousness before Christ's death through the pardon, the cancellation, of sins that had taken place before Christ's atonement. And this pardon, this cancellation, is based on what was witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, which is the work of Christ. The last part of the verse says that this remission showed God's forbearance. The Greek word for "forbearance" means "endurance." God did not destroy the Old Testament saints, even though they committed sin, and even though Jesus Christ had not yet come in time to make an atonement for sin. God endured their sin because of what His Son was coming to establish. And they were saved, even before His Son came, based on the work that had yet to be done. Turn over to Revelation 13:8:
Revelation 13: (8) And all those dwelling in the earth will worship it, those of whom the names had not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb having been slain from the foundation of the world.
Here God speaks of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, having been slain from the foundation of the world. But wait a minute! Wasn't Jesus slain in the first century A.D.? Yes, in time, Jesus came to this earth and was nailed to a cross and died and rose again. So what is this passage talking about? It means that in the mind and plan of God before He created the world, the atonement was an accomplished work. It was as sure and certain as if it had already happened in time. God's plans never fail. So when God planned the atonement in eternity past, it was a done deal. This is how the Old Testament saints were justified. The atonement was so sure and certain that the Old Testament saints were justified and sanctified and brought to final glory based on the future work of Christ.
Now let's look at verse 26 of Romans 3:
Romans 3: (26) for a demonstration of His righteousness in the present time, for His being just and justifying the [one] that [is] of the faith of Jesus.
Paul goes from the showing forth of God's righteousness in the remission of sins before Christ died to the showing forth of God's righteousness in the remission of sins after Christ died. The "present time" means NOW, after Christ lived and died and rose again. Paul wanted to make sure that his readers knew that the redemption and propitiation in Christ Jesus was for ALL of God's people, both before and after Christ's work. In the present time, as in the past, God's righteousness is revealed in the gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone.
The last phrase of this sentence that started in verse 21 sums it all up: "for His being just and justifying the one that is of the faith of Jesus." The righteousness of God that is revealed in the gospel shows that God is both JUST and JUSTIFIER. Any gospel in which God is not JUST or God is not a JUSTIFIER is not the true gospel. Let's think about a doctrine in which God is JUST but doesn't justify. God, being just, must punish all sin in proportion to His holiness. All who sin must be declared guilty. If God were JUST but not a JUSTIFIER, He would send everyone without exception to hell. Think about the person who is under a natural conscience conviction of sin. Suppose this person has a sense of the holiness and justice and wrath of God and is terrified, because he knows that sin deserves death. He knows that he deserves to go to hell and knows of no way that God can be appeased. This person does not believe the true gospel. There's no good news here; the news is all bad. Now some lost religionists would say that this man is under "Holy Spirit conviction." But the Holy Spirit does not convict men of sin without convicting them of righteousness. No one who is indwelled by the Holy Spirit is ignorant of the way that God is appeased. Everyone who is indwelled by the Holy Spirit believes the gospel in which the righteousness of God is revealed through the work of Jesus Christ. A doctrine in which God is JUST but is not a JUSTIFIER is a false doctrine. This is a doctrine that puts forth God's JUSTICE at the expense of His MERCY.
Now let's think about a doctrine in which God is a JUSTIFIER but who is not JUST. This would be the case when a person believes that God just declares people not guilty without the sin of those people being punished. In this case, the atonement of Jesus Christ is not necessary, because God already makes peace between himself and men and just decides not to punish them for their sins. Those who believe this do not believe the gospel, which means that they are lost. Their doctrine puts forth God's MERCY at the expense of His JUSTICE. Another case would be one in which God shows MERCY to everyone without exception and Christ's blood ATONED for everyone without exception, yet some to whom God showed MERCY and for whom Christ DIED are still punished in hell. In sending people to hell, God (and I'm talking about a false god here) punishes those whose sins have already been paid for. This god is an unjust god in the first degree. In fact, this god's MERCY is not TRUE mercy, because some for whom this god showed MERCY will go to hell. Thus, in this damnable doctrine, God is neither truly MERCIFUL nor truly JUST.
Now let's dwell on the truth that God - the true God of the Bible - is both JUST and JUSTIFIER. We've gone over this many times before, and it bears repeating over and over again. In the true gospel, God remains JUST while showing MERCY. He is true to His JUSTICE and HOLINESS while declaring certain sinners NOT GUILTY. And the answer lies in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Those for whom Christ died are sinners, and because God is just, their sin must be punished. This was accomplished when the sins of those for whom Christ died were imputed to Christ, and Christ suffered the just punishment that our sins deserved. And when God saves a sinner, the righteousness of Christ is imputed to that sinner, so God must declare that person totally righteous. In declaring a sinner righteous, God is JUSTIFIER. In punishing the sins of His people, God is JUST. And this is all through the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Let's turn to a couple passages on God as both just and justifier.
Isaiah 45: (21) Declare and bring near; yea, let them consult together. Who has revealed this of old; [who] has told it from then? Is it not I, Jehovah? And there [is] no God other than Me; a just God and a Savior; [there is] none except Me.
How can God be both a JUST God, who punishes all sin, and a SAVIOR, who saves certain people from their sin? Only through the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Psalm 85: (10) Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace kissed [each other].
How can it be that MERCY and TRUTH meet together? How can it be that RIGHTEOUSNESS and PEACE kiss each other? TRUTH and RIGHTEOUSNESS demand that all sin be punished and that all who sin be cursed. MERCY and PEACE demand that those to whom God shows mercy and those who are at peace with God be in everlasting communion with Him. The answer is in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, the God-Man Mediator, met in himself the demands of truth and righteousness and was made a curse in our place, so MERCY and PEACE would be given to all those whom Christ represented.
Notice at the end of this phrase that God justifies the one who is of the faith of Jesus. God doesn't justify everyone. He only justifies those who are of the faithfulness of Christ, those to whom Christ's righteousness has been imputed. And all for whom Christ died WILL, WITHOUT EXCEPTION, IN TIME, be justified, because Christ's work demands their justification.
So in this precious sentence, Romans 3:21 through 26, we have seen the righteousness of God that is revealed in the gospel. This one sentence reveals the power of God unto salvation to everyone believing. This righteousness of God is through the righteousness of Jesus Christ given to all and resting upon all believers, being declared not guilty through the blood of Christ that paid the penalty IN FULL and appeased God's wrath IN FULL for all for whom Christ died. This righteousness of God shows God to be both JUST and JUSTIFIER.
This is the gospel. Do you believe it? Turn over to Romans 10:1-4:
Romans 10: (1) Brothers, truly my heart's pleasure and supplication to God on behalf of Israel is for [it] to be saved. (2) For I testify to them that they have zeal to God, but not according to knowledge. (3) For being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to the righteousness of God. (4) For Christ [is] the end of Law for righteousness to everyone that believes.
The Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul is saying that those who do not know about and thus do not believe this righteousness of God that is revealed in the gospel are unregenerate. They have a zeal to God - they are very zealous at their religion - but they are lacking some knowledge. And that knowledge is the knowledge of the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel, which we have gone over in the last few weeks. If you do not have THIS SPECIFIC KNOWLEDGE, then you are lost. If you believe that Jesus Christ died for everyone without exception, then you DO NOT believe that Christ paid the price IN FULL and appeased God's wrath IN FULL for all for whom Christ died. You do not believe that God is both JUST and JUSTIFIER. You are ignorant of the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel. And, as verse 3 says, all who are ignorant of the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel are SEEKING TO ESTABLISH THEIR OWN RIGHTEOUSNESS. Have you ever thought about it that way? If you believe that Jesus died for everyone without exception, then you do not believe that it is Christ's work alone that makes the difference between heaven and hell. Instead, you are seeking YOUR OWN righteousness that, to you, makes the difference between heaven and hell. Whatever you think makes the difference between heaven and hell is the righteousness that is established for you. If you believe that Christ died for everyone without exception, then it is YOUR OWN EFFORT that is your righteousness, and God will not accept it. If you think that what you do recommends you to God or keeps your peace with God or entitles you to heaven, then you are pleading yourself as your righteousness. REPENT of your evil thoughts and deeds, and BELIEVE the gospel in which the righteousness of God is revealed through the effectual work of Jesus Christ.
And as we who have been given the gifts of faith and repentance meditate once again on this glorious gospel, let us put off sin and do good works that we might show our love and thanksgiving to the one who is a just God and a Savior, who poured out His holy wrath on His Only Begotten Son and imputed Christ's righteousness to us so we might have everlasting life. Amen.