At this point in our series, we turn to what has been called one of the most theologically important passages in the New Testament:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 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. 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 3:21-26
If we were trying to explain the meaning of the cross, I suppose many of us would eventually say something along the lines of, “The cross proves how much God loves us.” And that’s certainly true. I’ve said that myself many times. So I don’t want to imply that this is the wrong answer; it’s not. But at the same time, it’s definitely not the only answer. According to the Scriptures, there’s so much more going on at the cross.
Notice that Paul never uses the word “love” here in Romans 3:21-26 as he describes the redemption that comes through the blood of Jesus. He never says, “Jesus did this because He loves you.” But look at what he does say. He talks an awful lot about the cross as an act of God’s righteousness; he talks about sin and God’s response to sin — His wrath; and he talks about how God justifies the one who trusts in Jesus.
That’s why this study is so important, in my opinion. The cross insists on so many of these elements that we might tend to gloss over and ignore. And make no mistake: a lot of churches specialize in glossing over these elements of the story. One Christian thinker summed up the kind of glossed over “Good News” proclaimed in many American churches:
A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.H. Richard Niebuhr
This is the “I’m okay, you’re okay” gospel of previous generations, updated to today’s #youdoyou — a gospel whose God is more concerned with your self-esteem than your eternal salvation. It is a sinless, bloodless, cross-less gospel — and people eat it up.
But that is not what we find in the Bible. Instead, we find a righteous God whose wrath opposes evil and unrighteousness. But this same God moves into action to judge sin and to justify us through the blood of Jesus. That’s the true gospel.
We will think about this passage this week along these three lines:
- At the cross, we see the righteousness of God.
- At the cross, we see the wrath of God.
- The cross is God’s way of justifying us by faith.