The book of Romans is Paul carefully laying out his case (or his defence or apology) for his controversial ‘law-free’ gospel, a new way of understanding God and relating to Him.
Paul’s whole message is not about doing for or giving to God the right or righteous things, so that God will accept you, but it is about receiving the right things or righteousness from God. It is no longer about us being accepted by God because of what we do, but it is about being accepted by God because of what God does!
“But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.”
What is it?
Righteousness – defined as “the quality of being morally right or justifiable”. It means exactly what it sounds like: it is being right, or ‘right-being’, and making things right, as good as they can be, or ‘right-making’. It’s a word of status or position: that you are in the right, you’re in right and good standing with others. Another helpful way that I’ve heard it described is right-relatedness in all your relationships, with each other, with society, with God.
The Bad News: Up until this point, the way that God related to people was through the Law – the expression of who God is – through the Law, God shows his love, faithfulness, justice, to human beings. The Law showed human beings how to be God’s people, how to be righteous (in right relationship with God) and enters into a covenant-relationship with Israel. And Israel was then given the mission to show the rest of the world (the Gentile world) what God is like, who He is, and through the way they lived and followed God’s law. They were called to be a blessing to the nations, to point people back to their Creator.
But because of our sinfulness and brokenness, our rebellious hearts are unable to keep God’s laws faithfully. All through the story of the Bible, God’s people fail in their mission to be a light to the nations; they fail (as do we) to love God and to love neighbour. And the very law that was given to show us what God is like, also uncovers what we are like – it shows us the righteousness of God, but it also shows us our righteousness (or lack thereof). That why Paul says in v.
“For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. 10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
Based on our record of righteousness, what hope do we have of being in relationship with God in the way that we were meant for? How can we live faithfully as His people, and show the world what He is like?
The Good News: “But now”, God has revealed to us a new way of relating to Him, something that the entire Story has anticipated and waited for… God’s righteousness is being made known to us, put on full display for us to see, in a completely new and entirely unheard of way! God has intervened and revealed who He is, and has made Himself known to us. And this has always been part of the plan – all through the Story there have been signs, whispers and pointers preparing us for the this revelation, this unveiling of God, the curtain is about to rise.
“But now” – there are no more wonderful words in the whole of Scripture than just these two words. – Martin Lloyd-Jones (Examples: Romans 6:21-22; 7:5-6; 16:25-27; Eph 5:8; Col 1:21-22; 1 Peter 2:10; 2:25)
What is it? Who is it?
It’s Jesus – God’s righteousness revealed. God coming into our world to act in bringing people back into right relationship with Him, is done through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
God’s Righteousness Given “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew or Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified (declared righteous) freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
How we receive it: Through faith The news gets even better. Paul goes on to say that this righteousness of God that has now been revealed to us in Christ is given to us. Given to us.
God’s righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ. To all who believe. We receive God’s gracious gift of God’s righteousness with the hands of faith and hearts that believe.
It means that Jesus Christ is the object of our faith and belief. We place the full weight of our trust, hope and belief in Him, and what He has done.
“The man who has faith is the man who is no longer looking at himself, and no longer looking to himself. He no longer looks at anything he once was. He does not look at what he is now. He does not look at what he hopes to be … He looks entirely to the Lord Jesus Christ and his finished work, and he rests on that alone.” (Romans Chapters 3:20 – 4:25, page 45) – Martin Lloyd-Jones
The Bad News: We have all of us, fallen short of the glory of God, no matter who you are. On the basis of our own records of righteousness, none of us have a case. Because we are all of us under the power of sin, and we have all missed the mark, we cannot share in the glory of God, to be in right relationship with him, in the unrighteous state that you and I are in.
The Good News: But now, all, anyone, everyone who puts their faith in Jesus Christ, can receive God’s righteousness; it is given to you, God’s righteousness in place of yours! V. 24 says that we are justified and redeemed, freely by the work of Jesus.
1) We are justified – the word used is the same word for ‘righteousness’, and so when we are justified by God, it means that God declares us ‘righteous’! Justification is a word used in the courtroom. When two parties come for a trial, what they are there to do is to make their case before the court, and the judge decides who is right. Who is righteous, who is justified. And so when we are justified, it means that God looks at us and declares us righteous. Why? More on that later.
2) We are redeemed – the word ‘redemption’ means “to liberate by paying a price”. Our freedom has been “bought back”. We are now free from our bondage to sin and death because we have been freed by the work of Christ on the cross.
The Problem: How can God remain righteous—maintain a perfect record of being just and always doing what is right—and make sinners, who deserve justice, righteous? Or to put it differently, how can there be a righteousness of God and a righteousness from God?
How can a just God justify justifying sinners like you and me?
We long for a world free of sin, brokenness, and evil, and long for a world of love, freedom and peace. We live in a world where so much has gone wrong, and we keep trying to find a way to fix it. But we are all contributors to the evil and sin and brokenness that we see in the world – we are both victims and perpetrators of crimes against humanity.
So how does God deal with the sin and brokenness of this world, as he should in his justice, while showing his love, grace and mercy to justify and redeem humanity? How can a just God justify justifying sinners like you and me? How does God remain righteous – true to His characteristic of justice and love, without compromising on either?
Paul tells us exactly how God does this.
We get now to the heart of the Christian faith – the deeper you go, the more beautiful it becomes, and I hope you see it too. Right at the heart of the Christian faith, is Christ himself.
“God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood…”
Atonement – what does that mean? A clue is in the word itself – it is the act of “at-one-ment” – to reunite, to repair, to recompense, to repay, to reconcile, to make right what was wrong, to bring back together (into one) what had been split apart. Atonement is what it takes to make things whole again, to make things right again.
Demonstration of God’s Righteousness – How is the work of Christ demonstration of God’s righteousness?
On the cross, God’s glory and righteousness are displayed in their clearest definition. 4K HD, it does not get much clearer than that.
It is the place where God’s justice and love meet. At the cross, God Himself, shows us the full extent of His righteousness – divine justice and divine love shown completely in the cross of Christ.
“If God forgave us by becoming indifferent to sin—if the only way he could justify his people was to give up his role as Judge—then that would hardly be loving to the victims of sin, it would give us no assurance for the future, and would make God deeply compromised within his character. No, God should, must, and will judge us. The wonder is that he judged us in the person of his own Son; that, as John Murray writes:
“God loved the objects of his wrath so much that he gave his own Son to the end that he by his blood should make provision for the removal of his wrath.” (The Atonement, page 15)
God does not set his justice aside; he turns it onto himself. The cross does not represent a compromise between God’s wrath and his love; it does not satisfy each halfway. Rather, it satisfies each fully and in the very same action. On the cross, the wrath and love of God were both vindicated, both demonstrated, and both expressed perfectly. They both shine out, and are utterly fulfilled. The cross is a demonstration both of God’s justice, and of his justifying love.”
This is why Paul says that God is both just and justifier of those who have faith and who put their trust in Jesus Christ.
The heart of the gospel is this: That you and I are so flawed, so unrighteous, so sinful, rebellious and broken before God, that it took nothing less that the death of Jesus Christ to atone for my sins to save me, but you and I are so loved and valued and cherished by God that Jesus did it. He did it! He was glad to do it. Justice and love.
If you’ve never heard the gospel before perhaps this is all new to you, and you’ve never heard about God like this before. Maybe you feel far away or distant from him. God and me? Nah, it can’t be. The news may sound good, but maybe it’s just a little too good. Too good to be true.
Which do you struggle with? God’s justice? Maybe you think, ‘why should God have to judge’? Why does he have to punish sin? Why can’t God just forgive us without punishing sin? Why can’t God just be loving?
I could love a God of love and grace and compassion, but when I think about the anger and the wrath of God, and how he has to deal with sin, that doesn’t make me want to love him at all!
Well, dear brother or sister, there is good news for you. Do you know what the opposite of love is? The opposite of love isn’t hate. The opposite of love is indifference.
“If God was indifferent to sin, we would actually feel no real love at all. We (rightly) hear a lot about abusive, overbearing parents who do not show love to their children. But completely permissive parents who set no limits, give no guidance, and never confront their children are also unloving, and also destructive. The world is full of people raised with a supposedly enlightened view of a “loving,” “anything-goes” God, so they feel spiritually like orphans with no certainty or real love, because they are. They have ended up with a God who is uncaring and indifferent; and, of course, non-existent.”
God is concerned about justice because he cares about this world. He is not indifferent, he is not unloving. He is deeply concerned about sin, because in his holiness and perfect righteousness, he is deeply concerned about us, about this world. And it is His justice and righteousness that makes him a God we can depend on, a God that is worthy of our devotion and worship.
Maybe you struggle with God’s love? Maybe you are aware of your record. No one knows the things you have done, how broken you really are. If God knew what was on my record – He would want nothing to do with me, let alone be in relationship with me?
Maybe all you feel is that weight of God’s judgement, and you know that’s all that could be waiting for you. God is going to judge me, just like everyone else has. A holy and righteous God could never love me.
There is very good news for you. God knows exactly what you’ve done, he knows you, better than you know yourself. He knows everything about you – and you know what? He loves you anyway. He knows you’re deserving of judgement – we all are. That why Jesus came, to live the life you should have lived, and dies the death you should have died. He bears the full weight of God’s judgement so that you and I don’t have to.
If you put your trust, your hope, your faith in Jesus Christ and what he has done for you, God looks at you, standing on the dock, and he declares you “righteous”. He looks at you, and he sees the righteousness of his beloved Son, Jesus, that you have received through faith in Jesus. He looks at you, with the eyes of a loving Father looking at His beloved child.
This is the best news you will ever hear.