The Most Important Paragraph in the Bible? Part 7

In Romans 3:25b, Paul seems to answer an implicit objection about God’s relationship to sin.  The question appears to be: If God is just, why has He overlooked so much sin in history?  Even the Old Testament prophets sometimes cried out to God because of the surrounding injustice.  For example, “How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” (Habakkuk 1:2a).  Habakkuk also asked, “Why do you make me look at injustice?  Why do you tolerate wrong?”

The cross is God’s answer to such a question.  The cross says, “God has now dealt with sin.  Behold the sinless Son of God who bore the sin of the world.”  In the cross God says, “I have not overlooked sin forever.  I have not turned my back on evil.  There was an appointed day and an Anointed One.” 

Regarding the Father sending the Son as a sacrifice, Paul says, “He did this to demonstrate his justice” (Rom 3:25b).  The word “justice” here means God’s “judging righteousness.”  God has shown His wrath upon sin through the death of His Son who bore that sin.  2 Corinthians 5:21a teaches, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us.”

The reason God had to demonstrate His judging righteousness in the cross was “because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished” (Rom 3:25b).  Paul does not mean that God never punished sin.  But in God’s prior punishments, it seems that Paul believed God’s punishments were not as all-encompassing as sin deserved.  In that sense, some might want to charge God for ignoring sin.  Paul says, No.  God has shown once and for all what He thinks of sin.  He has demonstrated His righteous character as Judge through Jesus’ substitutionary death. 

God’s “forbearance” manifested in long-suffering and patience, in that the Creator (who was spurned and assaulted by human sin) did not punish mankind as we deserve.  Now, because God has put forth His Son as a propitiation for sin, God commands all people to repent.  People must turn from their sin and turn to God in adoration and worship.  People must do this because God is righteous, just, holy, and amazingly merciful.  Let us never presume on or cheapen such mercy.  Today is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2). 

The Most Important Paragraph in the Bible? Part 6

Romans 3:25 begins like this: “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.”  Notice first off the subject and verb of the sentence: “God presented.”  This shows that though God is justly angry with sinners, He sent His Son into the world as a sacrifice for sinners.  God took the initiative here.  While mankind turned their back on their Maker, He sent His Son. 

God presented “him” (Jesus) as a “sacrifice of atonement.”  This phrase in the NIV comes from a word in the Greek that is best rendered “propitiation.”  To propitiate someone means to satsify and avert someone’s anger.  According to this verse, then, Jesus’ death propitiated God’s righteous anger against sinners.  In His death, Jesus made a pleasing and satisfying sacrifice to the holy demands and character of God the Father. 

The phrase “in his blood” should probably follow “propitiation” in translations, rather than “through faith.”  “In his blood” reminds us of the way Christ’s satisfaction of His Father was accomplished.  God was satsified through the “blood” (in other words, the death) of His only Son.  Ephesians 5:2 describes Jesus’ death as a “fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” 

The words “through faith” mean that Jesus’ propitiatory sacrifice is appropriated “through faith” in Jesus.  We are all born sinners under the wrath of a holy God (Eph 2:1-3; John 3:18).  But “through faith” in Jesus we receive the benefits of what Christ accomplished on the cross.  Since He died for sinners and satisfied the just demands of the Father, God’s wrath is averted from believers because of the sacrifice of His Son!  This is marvelous news for Christians. 

So here is the current status of Christians: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).  Notice carefully here: only “those who are in Christ Jesus” are no longer condemned by God.  This is important, because not everyone is “in Christ Jesus.”  God’s wrath is not averted from sinners simply because Jesus died.  God’s condemnation is removed when sinners receive the sacrifice of Christ “through faith.”  Anyone who trusts in Jesus and in His finished work on the cross, surrendering to Jesus as Lord and Savior, is no longer condemned by God. 

Paul said, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9).  How can sinners trust in Jesus and be saved?  Because Jesus satisfied the just demands of God “in his blood,” His death on a cross. 

The Most Important Paragraph in the Bible? Part 5

This is the fifth of eight posts dealing with Romans 3:21-26, a passage that Martin Luther called the most important paragraph in the Bible.  Romans 3:24 says that sinners are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”  We are concerned here with the last words of the verse. 

“Through the redemption” conjures up images from the slave market, where a price was paid to redeem something–or someone.  The work of Jesus on the cross accomplished redemption, a “buying back,” if you will, from the power of sin.  Thus, this is a redemption that “came by Christ Jesus,” accomplished and effected through what He did on the cross. 

Thinkers in church history have speculated as to who received the payment.  Some wonder: was the debt of sin paid to the devil?  Scripture never teaches such a thing, not in any chapter or verse.  If one must have an answer (though a recipient of payment is not inherent in the Greek verb that means “redeem”), the recipient would be God Himself.  Think of it: our sin has caused the breach in fellowship with a holy and just God.  Rather than abandoning mankind forever in sin, God sends His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on a cross and purchase a people for Himself.  God sends His Son as a sacrifice to Himself!  Ephesians 5:2 says, “Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” 

Jesus purchased redemption on the cross.  He cancelled the debt of sin through his atoning work.  The Father received the Son’s sacrifice with pleasure and satisfaction.  Satisfaction…now that’s an interesting word in this context…but more on that in the next installment.  Praise be to our Redeeming God. 

The Most Important Paragraph in the Bible? Part 4

Romans 3:24a is glorious because it follows the horrifying news of Romans 3:23.  Putting these two verses together is an important presentation of the human problem and the divine solution.  Verse 24a shows that there is hope for sinners who have fallen short of God’s glory. 

The verse begins, “and are justified freely by his grace.”  Law-court imagery lies in the background of the word “justified.”  To “justify” is to declare someone “acquitted” in light of charges brought against them.  The charges against the sinner, of course, are his sins, his unrighteousness.  In the miracle of salvation, what happens is this: those who have faith (trust) in Jesus are acquitted of the charges held against them.  As Paul says elsewhere, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  God imparts (credits) His righteousness to us (Rom 4:24), like someone depositing money into an empty bank account.  The “crediting” of righteousness happens because we are “in him,” in Christ. 

God now sees Christians in union with His perfect Son.  Now, no sins are held against them in judgment.  “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).  Romans 3:24 explains that God does His “justifying” work “freely by his grace.”  The reason God justifies “freely” is because “grace” is unmerited favor.  God does not justify out of obligation–He justifies by His grace.  May Christians be grateful for union with Christ, in whom there is now no condemnation. 

The Most Important Paragraph in the Bible? Part 3

In Romans 3, Paul draws together his arguments from the preceding chapters.  “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:22b-23).  “All” primarily has in view Jews and Gentiles, since his intent was to present both groups as condemned “under sin” (Rom 3:9b). 

So, all people, no matter what nationality, “have sinned.”  There is no ultimate “difference” between them.  On judgment day, God will not ask, “Now, are you a Jew or a Gentile?”  God does not show “favoritism” on that day (Rom 2:11).  Paul explains what it means that all “have sinned”: all “fall short of the glory of God.”  Since some Jews held the belief that Adam shared in the glory of God before the fall, Romans 3:23 declares a loss in status and position in relation to God.  A “fall” has occurred.  However, to “fall short” also means to not measure up, to fall short of a standard.  Mankind does not measure up to the glory of God, to His perfections, His excellencies, His splendor, His majesty.  This is not to imply that Adam held a pre-fall status that was somehow equal to God’s splendor and glory.  Not at all.  But it is to say that Adam’s pre-fall status was not unrighteousness

To sum up: In view of God’s standard of righteousness, sinners fall short.  It doesn’t matter whether they are Jews or Gentiles: “all have sinned.”  Romans 3:23 reveals that, apart from Christ, everyone is in a position of unrighteousness and sin.  Sobering thought. 

The Most Important Paragraph in the Bible? Part 2

Romans 3:22a says, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”  God’s saving righteousness (declaring a sinner to be in the “right”) comes “through faith in Jesus Christ.”  The phrase “faith in Jesus” is synonymous with trusting in Jesus, believing in Jesus, anchoring our hope in Him alone.  We are saves by sola fide (faith alone), not faith+works.  The basis of our being made right with God is faith alone. 

The “through faith” expression is used elsewhere in a context of salvation.  For example, Paul says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith…not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph 2:8-9).  That final phrase of Ephesians 2:9 (“so that no one can boast”) is the reason why “through faith” must be the sole basis, and not “faith+law-keeping.”  If I kept the law, and that law-keeping added to the basis on which I was “right” with God, I could have room to boast!  God will simply have none of that, no grounds for human boasting.  So God saves by His grace “through faith” and “not by works.”  In this way, God receives all the glory for salvation.  As it should be. 

The Most Important Paragraph in the Bible? Part 1

In the 16th century, Martin Luther described Romans 3:21-26 as the most important paragraph in the Bible.  Why would that have been the case?  Luther recognized that this paragraph holds crucial Christian truths that are glorious and life-changing.  Let’s look first at Romans 3:21. 

For example, Romans 3:21 begins with “But now.”  This is important because Romans 1:18-3:20 made the case that everyone (Jew and Gentile) is condemned for sin.  “But now” God has done something amazing, something that brought hope into a hopeless situation.  God has “made known” his “righteousness” (3:21).  I believe this refers to His saving righteousness.  There is a way to be right with God “apart from the law.”  Being right with God does not result from law-keeping. 

Finally, consider the words “to which the Law and the Prophets testify.”  What God did in Christ is in fulfillment of what God promised in the Old Testament.  According to God’s plan and timing, the Word became flesh (John 1:14) and was born into this world (Galatians 4:4).  Through Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, God revealed His saving righteousness. 

God’s Drawing Causes Seeking

I’ve heard it, once believed it, even said it, and maybe you have too: “Everyone is seeking God–only not everyone finds Him.”  A few years ago, my belief altered through a study in Romans.  The particular verse in mind is Romans 3:11: “There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.”  Doesn’t that seem counterintuitive?  I mean, there are so many religions.  How can those be explained?  Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, not to mention plenty of sects and cults.  It sure looks like people are seeking God…right?  Let’s answer the question from another angle. 

Mankind’s wickedness is expressed by suppressing the truth of God (Rom 1:18), failing to thank Him and glorify Him (1:21), exchanging God’s glory for images and idols (1:23), and worshiping created things (1:25).  Scripture is clear that sinners have a depraved mind (1:28).  If we draw these verses together, one of Paul’s points would surely be this: mankind has rejected God and His truth, preferring their own idols and sins. 

Before we answer the question (“How can all religions be explained if people are not seeking God?”), one other piece of the puzzle is necessary.  Since Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6), being an adherent in Islam or Buddhism, for example, will not result in the discovery of authentic truth and divine revelation.  Those paths deviate from the truth.  So, Paul says, all mankind has “turned away” (Rom 3:12) and “no one seeks God” (3:11). 

Here’s how the Bible portrays other religions and faiths.  The multiplicity of religions are not demonstrations that people are seeking for God and His truth–they are demonstrations that people are rejecting God’s truth for a lie.  You cannot seek God and reject God at the same time.  Other religions are manifestations of mankind’s rejection of God.  They did not want His truth.  They suppressed what was evident about God in nature, and they are without excuse (Rom 1:19-20). 

The reason there are so many religions is not because everyone is seeking God.  Paul says “no one seeks God” (Rom 3:11).  The reason there are so many religions is because sinners are rejecting God.  The multiplicity of religions is no proof that people are desperate for God; instead, it proves that people are depraved in sin.  Paul says in Romans 3:18 that “there is no fear of God before their eyes,” meaning that their outlook of the world does not originate from reverencing and fearing the Creator. 

This provokes another question for me, and perhaps for you too.  So how do Christians ever come to know the Father through Christ?  After all, I believe I came to Christ, and, if you are Christian, you may insist you came to Christ as well.  How do we explain that?  Jesus is very helpful here.  He says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). 

Two things stand out from John 6:44 that pertain to this discussion.  First, Jesus says, “No one can come to me.”  This is because no one seeks God in their unrighteousness.  Paul made that case in Romans 1, 2, and 3.  Second, Jesus says, “unless the Father who sent me draws him.”  Ah!  This is the phrase we have been looking for.  Those who come to Christ are those who are drawn by the Father.  If you, or someone you know, becomes a Christian, it did not happen because they were first seeking God.  God’s drawing was first, because Jesus said “no one can come to me unless the Father…draws.”  When the Father begins to draw, then they will begin to come.  The reason they cannot come without the Father drawing was established in Romans 3:11: “No one seeks God.”  Since we do not seek God on our own, we will not come to Him on our own.  Whereas Paul observes that no one seeks God, Jesus (going deeper, so to speak) says no one can.  In other words, the reason people do not seek God is because they cannot seek God.  We are unrighteous. 

Let me state it as precisely as possible: God’s drawing causes seeking.  People become Christians because the Father first enables them to come to Jesus (John 6:65).  We have no natural inclination or ability to seek after the true and living God.  Instead, because of our sin, we naturally reject and flee from the Creator.  We treasure our idols and live in our sins.  But when God draws someone to Himself, they will come (John 6:37).  Our problem is that, in our sinful state, we cannot seek God without God.  You know where that leaves us?  It leaves us at God’s mercy.  Praise God for His saving grace! 

Not Even One is Righteous

Our culture is not as interested in truth when it becomes confrontational, uncomfortable, intolerant, or exclusive.  In fact, the attitude seems to be, “You have your truth, I have mine, yours works for you, mine works for me, so you stay on your side of the line, buddy.”  But Paul never saw a manmade line he didn’t want to cross.  Well, maybe that’s overstating it, but you get the point: when it came to the truths of the gospel, Paul was less concerned about the feelings of his readers than the truth. 

In Romans 3:9 Paul makes a startling claim: everyone is under sin.  “Under sin” denotes being captive under a power, a force.  We are prisoners of sin, slaves to it (Rom 6:16).  Sin says “jump,” and I jump.  Sin says “look,” and I look.  Sin says “touch,” and I touch.  It’s not just fun and games, either.  Some games are deadly, especially this one.  “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). 

In Romans 3:10-18, Paul lists at least 6 Old Testament quotes and/or allusions that prove his proposition.  How do we know that “no one is righteous”?  Well, look around, he says.  No one seeks God–instead, they make their own gods (Rom 1:22-23 taught us that).  No one does what is good (instead, people practice sin like it’s going out of style; not only that, sinful people approve of each others’ sinfulness; see Rom 1:32).  Listen to people’s speech, for crying out loud.  Their throats stink like an open grave, and their tongues spread deceit.  It’s like their mouths drip with snake venom–even small doses will render harm.  Driven by envy and jealousy, people are malicious toward one another.  They are quick to kill, swift to harm.  Their footprints leave destruction and misery behind.  They don’t know peace, and they certainly don’t fear God.  Perhaps that last point is the main point, too: they do not fear God.  Isn’t that what sin is rooted in?  Doesn’t Proverbs 1:7 teach that real wisdom begins with fearing God? 

You might be thinking, “What a description of scoundrels and fiends.  Glad I couldn’t see myself in that list.”  But don’t count yourself out of Rom 3:9-18 too quickly.  In Romans 3:9 Paul says, “Jews and Gentiles” are “all” under sin.  Paul just sent a scathing word of condemnation against all mankind.  Despite all of our differences (race, social status, occupation, parenting styles, favorite colors, religions), Paul just gave the common denominator: without Christ, we are under the power of sin. 

Isn’t that a shocking passage of Scripture to the ears of Americans?  We may have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but we all stand–with the whole world–condemned for sin and in need of grace.  Grace is the only hope.  In the very least, Romans 3:9-18 makes me very grateful for mercy found in trusting Christ.  Romans 3:9-18 should cause us to know and feel the horror of our sinful condition.  Romans 3:9-18 should empty us of any grounds for boasting and self-righteousness.  Romans 3:9-18 should drive us to our knees, clinging to the cross.  Why?  Because “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

Election and Free Will

In a new series entitled “Explorations in Biblical Theology,” the series editor, Robert A. Peterson, contributed the volume entitled Election and Free Will: God’s Gracious Choice and Our Responsibility.  The book’s endorsers include D. A. Carson, John Frame, Wayne Grudem, Thomas Schreiner, Robert W. Yarbrough, and Philip Ryken. 

The subject of free will is not a hot button issue like that of divine election.  Peterson examines “election” from a variety of angles.  Perhaps the chapter titles will be useful here: (1) Why a Book on Election and Free Will?  (2) Election and Free Will in Church History.  (3) Election in the Old Testament.  (4) Election in the Gospels and Acts.  (5) Election in the General Epistles and Revelation.  (6) Election in Paul’s Epistles, Part 1.  (7) Election in Paul’s Epistles, Part 2.  (8) Free Will.  (9) The Bible’s Story of Election.  (10) Objections to and Applications of Election. 

I found chapter 2 especially helpful.  It reminded me how divine election was not something John Calvin or Theodore Beza invented.  And chapters 4-7 show that, ultimately, we are not interested in what Calvinism teaches about divine election.  We are interested in what Scripture says (and if Calvinism affirms what Scripture teaches, then great).  Chapter 9 is a great summary of the ground covered up to that point in the book.  The final chapter handles the most common objections brought against unconditional election. 

As faithful Bible readers, we cannot pretend like the words “predestination” and “election” are not in Scripture.  And, since Scripture is God’s revelation, we should want to study and know and treasure every aspect of Scripture’s teaching.  I am thankful for Peterson’s Election and Free Will.  It is certainly not a daunting book on the subject; instead, it is readable and engaging.  The series, “Explorations in Biblical Theology,” is written for “college seniors, seminarians, pastors, and thoughtful lay readers” (ix).  So go buy and devour this book.