Romans 3:21-28: December 8—The gift you can’t give yourself
Dec 1, 2013

At this time of the year, our minds turn inevitably to the subject of gift giving. In fact, some diligent persons have been known to start on gift buying for the next year by taking advantage of the post-Christmas sales each year. How sad it is when a person passes on to glory and cannot enjoy the gift already set aside. The death gives new meaning to the question one could ask, “When is a gift not a gift?” If the intended receiver either does not or cannot receive the gift, the giver is deprived of the joy of sharing a happy moment. Is this not true also when a person dies without receiving the gift of salvation already readied by God? Although God’s gift of salvation cannot be earned, it nevertheless must be received.

Let us begin by observing God’s generous offer (vv. 21-22). The opening words of this section, “But now,” intentionally draw a sharp contrast with the preceding verses. The Bible gave a scathing denunciation of the moral condition of all peoples in their almost systematic rejection of basic morality. Against the sordid condition the Bible begins with the failure of the Jews to obtain morality as proven by their own history as well as the scorching evidence as recorded by their prophets. Using that information as an indictment, the Bible launches immediately into what was built into the Jewish teachings and rituals, the fulfillment in the Jewish Messiah, Jesus Christ, God’s Anointed One. He revealed God’s righteousness to be manifested, not by ritually obeying the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. As a result, God’s righteousness, that is, God’s holy nature, is available to both Jew and Gentile. This simple truth, the Greek sola fide, faith alone, became the watch word of the Reformation.

A basic tenet of the salvation God provides through Jesus is the believers are justified (vv. 23-24). We were taught in theology class a simple way to explain the word justify. Say in slowly: “Just-as-if-I” had not sinned. God through Christ treats us just as if we had never sinned. The term speaks of us as though we were standing before the judgment bar of God and are declared, “not guilty.” Through Christ’s sacrificial work we are redeemed. The word comes from the world of commerce in which a personal item has been given to a creditor as security for a loan. In case of hostages taken and held for ransom, a redemption price must be paid. As Mark 10:45 states, Jesus gave His “life as a ransom for many.” However we cannot press the word “ransom” too far. Christian writers in the Second Century A.D. toyed with the idea God paid the ransom to Satan, but finally rejected the idea because God owed Satan nothing. What Jesus did is explained in Colossians 2:14: He blotted “out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, mailing it to His cross.”

To pursue the topic further, God erases our sin record as completely cleared (vv. 25-26). The key word is propitiation, that the death of Christ satisfied God’s wrath. About 1930, proponents of a developing theology called neo-orthodoxy, argued that God was not angry with anybody; hence, His wrath could not be propitiated. Sin needed to be covered, that is only expiated. Conservatives effectively rejected such a view because it destroyed the doctrine of the substitutionary death of Christ to pay the sin debt, a basic doctrine that must not be compromised.

The summary doctrine states that God is both just and justifier (vv. 27-28). In the eternal courts of God’s government, Satan, the adversary, tries to prove that God is defective in justice in not giving an account for the payment of every sin, or else that God is defective in mercy by not holding each person accountable. The death of Christ satisfies each complaint. All sins were nailed to the cross. God is just. At the same time He issues the proclamation that whosoever believes in Jesus benefits from His sacrifice. God is both just and justifier for those who receive Jesus by faith. Let us all proclaim a heartfelt “Hallelujah!”

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