“But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:21-26
These are some of the greatest words ever written! The Apostle Paul painted an extremely dark picture leading up to these words.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men … Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves … For this reason God gave them up to vile passions … And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting … Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things … For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law … Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin … for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.“
If that’s where Paul stopped writing, we are so doomed. That’s where the Gospel of God comes into view!
“being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”
Yes! We stand justified before God “by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
That’s awesome! But how does it work? How are we redeemed? What makes redemption work?
“whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed”
ον προεθετο ο θεος ιλαστηριον δια της πιστεως εν τω αυτου αιματι εις ενδειξιν της δικαιοσυνης αυτου δια την παρεσιν των προγεγονοτων αμαρτηματων
ον προεθετο (hon proetheto) “whom set forth as” .. proetheto means “determine beforehand, purpose beforehand, design beforehand”
ο θεος ιλαστηριον (ho theos hilastērion) “God a propitiation through” .. hilastērion means “a sin offering, covering” .. the word comes from ἱλάσκομαι “have mercy on, pardon, forgive”
The word is used only twice in the New Testament: Romans 3:25 and Hebrews 9:5 –
“… and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat.”
The words “mercy seat” are the translation for the Greek word hilastērion. First used in Exodus 25:17, the Hebrew word is הַכַּפֹּ֔רֶת (hakkappōreṯ). It is similar to the Hebrew word כֹּ֫פֶר (kōp̄er), which means “ransom.”
Interestingly, the first time the word is used is Genesis 6:14 where God told Noah to cover the Ark inside and out with “pitch” (bakkōp̄er). The second time we see the word is Exodus 25:17 where God instructed Moses how to build the “mercy seat” (ḵappōreṯ) and place it on top of the Ark of the Covenant –
“And the cherubim shall stretch out their wings above, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and they shall face one another; the faces of the cherubim shall be toward the mercy seat. You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I will give you. And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel.” Exodus 25:20-22
You saw it correctly! The word was used for a special covering over both Arks. Those coverings were meant as a protection for God’s people.
The blood of Jesus Christ shed on the Roman cross is our spiritual covering – our “propitiation” –
“Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” Matthew 26:27-28
Paul will deal more with this idea of the shed blood of Jesus “covering” our sins later in Romans, but here’s a quick sneak-peak of what’s coming –
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.” Romans 4:7-8
God determined beforehand (before time began) that He would have mercy on, pardon, forgive sinners – Jews and Gentiles. How?
δια της πιστεως εν τω αυτου αιματι (dia tēs pisteōs en tō autou haimati) “faith in the of him blood”
Whoa! Faith in the “of him blood”? What is that about?
One of the big pushbacks I hear from non-Christians is that Christianity is a “bloody” religion. Why blood?
Let’s go back to Exodus 12 and the Passover to get some important historical perspective –
“Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, ‘This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you. Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying: ‘On the tenth of this month every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for the lamb, let him and his neighbor next to his house take it according to the number of the persons; according to each man’s need you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it … Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy youwhen I strike the land of Egypt.”
Why did God tell the children of Israel to kill a lamb and place some of its blood on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they ate? Because Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, would shed His blood on a Roman cross for our redemption!
“… knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” 1 Peter 1:18-21
John the Baptist, who was the promised “messenger” of the Book of Malachi to Israel, said this about Jesus Christ –
“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me’ … And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” John 1:29-30, 36
John the Apostle, who was witness to many amazing events in Heaven, wrote this about Jesus Christ –
“Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.’ Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!’ And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!” Revelation 5:8-13
God’s redemption of lost sinners – determined before time began, before the foundation of the world – was the death of Jesus Christ on a Roman cross almost 2,000 years ago. Jesus is “the Lamb who was slain” and He is worthy to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!
Our “redemption” is based on the ancient idea of sacrifice. These sacrifices were “offerings” to God and began with the first human family –
“Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, ‘I have acquired a man from the Lord.’ Then she bore again, this time his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.” Genesis 4:1-5
The next time we see a sacrificial offering is what Noah did following the Great Flood –
“Every animal, every creeping thing, every bird, and whatever creeps on the earth, according to their families, went out of the ark. Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the Lord smelled a soothing aroma. Then the Lord said in His heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.” Genesis 8:19-21
Noah offered burnt offerings to God and the Lord smelled a “soothing” aroma. Noah’s offering pleased God and He responded positively toward the earth. That’s the idea of a “propitiation.” It is an “atoning” sacrifice.
The offering Christians point to as prophetic of God’s provision for our sins is found in Genesis 22 –
“Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then He said, ‘Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you’ … So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, ‘My father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ Then he said, ‘Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’ And Abraham said, ‘My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together. Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ So he said, ‘Here I am.’ And He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.’ Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. And Abraham called the name of the place, The-Lord-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, ‘In the Mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” Genesis 22:1-2, 6-14
God did provide His Son to be a sacrificial offering for our sins –
“For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.” 1 Corinthians 5:7
“And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” Ephesians 5:2
“And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission. Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” Hebrews 9:22-24
“By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. Hebrews 10:10-14
Once for all – Jesus’ bloody death on a Roman cross almost 2,000 years ago met with God’s approval and became the payment for our redemption.
Non-Christians don’t understand that and I get it. God sending His Son into the world to die for the sins of the world on a Roman cross seems ridiculous to atheists, agnostics and other non-Christians. That’s what I thought as an atheist. Christians have to be crazy to believe that. However, as a Christian I get it. Jesus’ sacrifice is the one thing in this crazy world that makes sense. Look at what Jesus thought about the sacrifice He was going to make for us –
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” John 15:13
“And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:27-28
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” John 10:11
The world shouts at us day and night about love, but Jesus did the one thing that proves His love for the world – He laid down His life for us. He proved His words with His life. Thank you, Jesus!
εις ενδειξιν της δικαιοσυνης αυτου (eis endeixin tēs dikaiosunēs auto) “for a showing forth of the righteousness of him” .. endeixin means “proof, demonstration” .. dikaiosunēs means “justice, justness, righteousness”
Jesus’ death is the “proof” of God’s righteousness! As Paul wrote a few sentences earlier –
“But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.” Romans 3:21-22
δια την παρεσιν των προγεγονοτων αμαρτηματων (dia tēs paresin tōn progegonotōn hamartēmatōn) “because of the forbearance of the having taken place beforehand sins” .. paresin means “overlooking, suspension, remission of punishment for” .. progegonotōn means “happen previously” .. hamartēmatōn means “evil deed, fault, sin”
God overlooks/suspends punishment for our sins because of His “righteousness.” He does this through a process He invented before time began – “faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.” We must not miss this vital point of Paul’s in Romans 3 –
- The “righteousness” of God comes to us through faith in Jesus Christ.
- The “redemption” that is in Jesus Christ comes to us through faith.
- God is just and the “justifier” of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Our part is clear – we are to have “faith” in Jesus Christ. We are to believe what God said is true and act upon it. As Paul told a jailer almost 2,000 years ago, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:31)
The jailer had to make a decision. It was not one Paul could make for him. The jailer asked what he needed to do to be “saved” and Paul told him. We know from what Luke wrote about the event in Acts 16 that the jailer did “believe” on the Lord Jesus Christ and so did his family. What a great day of rejoicing that must have been!
This message of redemption is for Jew and Gentile. That covers all of us. We all must place our faith in Jesus Christ for God’s forgiveness. If you haven’t done that or are not sure if you have, please contact us. We would love to share with you about this amazing and free gift of God – the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.