Calvary Road Baptist Church

“RIGHTEOUSNESS BY FAITH PROVIDED”

Romans 3.24-26 

Turn in your Bible to Romans chapter 3. In just a moment we will stand to read a passage of Scripture, so please make your way to verse 24. We consider a portion of God’s Word which is rightly recognized to be the very central passage of Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians. It’s also a magnificent passage to show you what the Lord Jesus Christ provided for you with His doing and dying, the culmination of a task begun at the time of His birth in Bethlehem.

John Calvin, the great reformer, theologian, and founder of what has come down to us today to be the Reformed Protestant movement, declared about our text for today, “that there is not probably in the whole Bible a passage which sets forth more profoundly the righteousness of God in Christ.”[1] Frederic Louis Godet, the great European theologian who was born in 1812, quotes a man named Vitringa, who commented about our text for today as being “the brief summary of divine wisdom.”[2] There are many other passages which explain certain aspects of the Biblical doctrine of salvation more fully and completely than do these verses which we will look at today. But there are not, as best as I can discern, any comparable passages which summarize the whole of God’s truth about salvation as do the verses before we will examine today.

I’ll admit, as we prepare to read the text for this sermon, that there are times when an appropriate real life situation introduction to a message helps both the preacher and the audience to appreciate how Bible truths apply to twenty-first-century living. But there will be none of that now. At this time, there will be little attempt to apply to the twenty-first century. There will be no humor whatsoever. Today there will be no embarrassment at using such Bible words as justification and propitiation. You see, we are presently looking at the very essence of the message that God’s spokesman and theologian was moved by the Holy Spirit to write to God’s people.

Leading up to our text for this message, Paul has pointed out to the Romans that the righteousness of God which is by faith was predicted in the Old Testament. Leading up to today’s text, Paul has pointed out to the Romans that the righteousness of God which is by faith is needed by every sinner. Now we see, in Romans 3.24-26, that Paul declares to us that the righteousness of God which is by faith has been provided. Let’s stand and read those three verses together. Please read along silently in your Bible while I read aloud: 

24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;

26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. 

Three main points in my message, answering three important questions: 

First QUESTION: WHAT IS PROVIDED? 

ANSWER: JUSTIFICATION 

Remember what I’ve said about justification previously. Justification is the means by which God gives to sinners the righteousness which is necessary for the establishing, for the maintaining, and for the enjoyment of a relationship with God. To grossly oversimplify it, justification is what God does to get the sinner right with God. Three of the features of justification can be seen here in verse 24: 

“Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” 

First, there is the feature of obligation. Please take note of the fact that those who are justified are justified by God “freely.” See that word “freely?” That same word is found in Ephesians 2.8, in another context, but is translated in that verse “gift.” “It is the gift of God,” referring in that verse to faith. What is it, then, about this feature of obligation that needs to be pointed out? That there is no obligation at all, that God did not have to and does not have to justify anyone. What He does He chooses to do, and what He does He does freely.

Second, there is the feature of origin. The verse continues “. . . by his grace.” By whose grace? The antecedent of the pronoun, the word previously used to which the word “he” refers, is found back in verse 23. “God.” This is God’s grace. You are probably aware of the fact that “grace,” especially when the word is used in the New Testament in connection with salvation, refers to unmerited favor. Well, this just reinforces the thrust of the previous phrase. That which is free is by grace, and that which is by grace is free. This free justification, which God gives to those who do not deserve it, originates with God. It wasn’t your idea. Nor was it mine. God doesn’t justify those who ask Him to, for then it would be the sinner’s idea. But He does sometimes justify those who plead with Him, who, while they are pleading, know that He justifies freely, know that He has no obligation to save. But since it is the result of “his grace,” we know that the origin of this thing called justification, this giving to sinful men the righteousness that is needed to know God, is God, Himself.

Then, there is the feature of opportunity. What is the opportunity which allows this justification event? 

“. . . through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” 

This word “redemption” is a loaded word in the New Testament. It refers to “releasing or delivering someone or something as a result of paying a ransom.”[3] Indeed, the two Greek words that are combined to make this single word individually mean “from” and “ransom.” In Jesus Christ, then, sinners are delivered by the payment of a ransom price. In Jesus Christ, sinners are set free by a ransom payment. In Jesus Christ, I have been released. And when you examine the context in which this whole matter of justification is set, it is obvious that Paul’s reference is to being set free from sin. What did God provide for you, my sinful friend? Without having to, quite freely as a result of His sovereign decision, God chose to bless some undeserving sinners and to give them the righteousness they need to have a relationship with Him. And what enabled God to do that which He chose to do? That which He uses as an opportunity to rightly and properly give to sinners righteousness is Jesus Christ’s payment of the sinner’s ransom price. And just how did Jesus Christ pay this ransom price? We see that more clearly in the next verse. 

Second QUESTION: HOW IS THIS JUSTIFICATION PROVIDED? 

ANSWER: PROPITIATION 

This word “propitiation” is a tough word. It’s a tough word to pronounce, and it’s a tough word to understand because our society is far removed from that which Paul took for granted with his readers. Paul’s likely Christian readers in Rome, both Jewish and Gentile, would have recognized this word as the word that was used throughout the Greek version of the Old Testament (LXX) to refer to the mercy seat, which was the golden lid on top of the Ark of the Covenant, upon which the high priest sprinkled the blood of the atoning sacrifice on the Jewish Day of Atonement each year.

Some doubt that Paul has the mercy seat specifically in mind here, for some reasons: First, it is pointed out that in the Greek Old Testament it’s always referred to as “the” mercy seat, and the definite article “the” was not written here by Paul. Perhaps he did that for a reason. Second, it is claimed Paul’s letter to the Romans does not assume detailed knowledge of Jewish sacrifices, as does the book of Hebrews, which would be necessary if “the mercy seat” in the Jewish holy of holies was what was being referred to here. Third, it is suggested that by the time Paul wrote Romans a significant number of the Roman Christians were Gentile Christians, who would tend to take the Greek word for “propitiation” in its more general sense, not in the restricted Jewish sense of the golden “mercy seat.” Finally, it is pointed out that Paul has made no references to this point of Levitical sacrifices that would suggest he is at this point referring to a specific piece of furniture once situated in the Holy of holies.

These are genuine points to consider, though it is also worth considering in light of our Lord’s Second Coming in Revelation 19.13, “clothed with a vesture dipped in blood,” that He is at one and the same time the sacrifice for our sins as the Lamb of God, our great High Priest who offers the blood of the sacrifice for the remission of sins, and is also the mercy seat where the blood of the offering is properly applied to satisfy God’s righteous and holy demands for sin’s punishment.

In the general sense, and in this verse, it is most likely the word “propitiation” is used by Paul to refer to “that which serves to render favorable.” Something happened which caused God, Who is very unfavorably disposed toward sin, and Who is very angry with sinners, to become very favorably disposed toward some sinners. And that something that happened is bound up in the person of Jesus Christ. That is what Paul is likely primarily referring to here, while we hang on to the fact that the only other place in the New Testament where this word translated propitiation is found it most definitely does specifically refer to the mercy seat, Hebrews 9.5.

Notice three things about “propitiation,” about that which renders God favorable toward a sinner:

First, it was purposed by God: 

“Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation.” 

“Whom,” of course, refers to the Lord Jesus Christ. We must always keep in mind that the Lord Jesus Christ is at the center of all that has to do with our soul’s salvation. “Set forth” translates a single Greek word that can either mean “to purpose” or “to show forth publicly.”[4] I am of the opinion that the context is in favor of the former meaning, “to purpose.” This means that God decided, and when He decided He purposed, that the way He would provide the ground for a sinner’s justification, the way in which He would satisfy His Own righteous demands that the penalty for a sinner’s sins be paid for, would be a way of His choosing. No one came to God one day and said, “Would it be okay if Jesus became the propitiation for mankind’s sins?” No. That was God’s idea. God purposed it. John 1.12-13: 

12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:

13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 

So, the Lord Jesus, God decided, was to be a propitiation. The Lord Jesus would be a satisfaction, if you will.

Next, we see that the benefit of this propitiation is procured, is secured if you will, by faith: 

“. . . to be a propitiation through faith.” 

This, of course, is what we expect to see here. Since we know that no flesh is justified by works of the flesh or deeds of the Law, faith must be the means of appropriation, the way a sinner gets what God has to offer. And since the benefit of this propitiation is righteousness, and since righteousness which is by faith is what Paul is talking about in this portion of Romans, it only makes sense that this propitiation which Jesus Christ provides be through faith, as well. In other words, a sinner gets what satisfies God from God by faith. And what satisfies God? What propitiates God? His Son Jesus Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice for my sins. Folks, there is just no way anyone’s works and deeds has ever had or will ever have anything to do with securing a relationship with God. It must and can only be a faith proposition because it’s only by faith that you get that which satisfies God.

Thirdly, we see that this propitiation, this which satisfies God, is purchased by blood: 

“. . . through faith in his blood.” 

What is suggested by the phrase “in his blood?” Only those of us who are 2000 years removed from first-century Rome would have difficulty understanding that this is a reference to a violent and bloody death. You see, sin has so muddled people’s thinking that folks have a problem understanding that God’s sentence for anyone who sins against Him is death and that your eternal separation from God in the lake of fire will be an eternity of violent punishment. In turn, so that He might purchase for you God’s favor so that He might propitiate God on your behalf, Jesus Christ suffered a violent and bloody death. He endured what you and I personally deserve. And by His shameful and horrible death, He satisfied God’s righteous and holy demand that your crime of sin be punished. That is how your justification was provided for; by the shed blood of the crucified One. 

Final QUESTION: WHY WAS JUSTIFICATION PROVIDED FOR BY MEANS OF PROPITIATION? 

ANSWER: DECLARATION 

This was done to declare God’s righteousness formerly: 

“. . . to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.” 

In Old Testament times God did not immediately deal with men’s sins and hold them accountable for what they did. Especially with regard to the sins of believers, Paul tells us here that God remitted their sins. In the margin of some of your Bibles, it is commented that God “passed over” sins. Not that God ever overlooked men’s sins in the past, but that He chose not to deal with them at that time. Perhaps this is what Paul was referring to when he spoke to the Athenians in Acts 17.30: 

“And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.” 

And why didn’t God jump in and judge men’s sins immediately in the era before Christ’s sacrifice? He was demonstrating “forbearance,” knowing that in due time Jesus Christ would satisfy God’s righteous demands by suffering and bleeding and dying on Calvary’s cross. So, He waited. This sacrifice of Jesus Christ, making justification possible for sinners who have faith in Christ, and providing for God the appropriate basis for forgiving sin, showed that God was not being unrighteous by “overlooking” sins in the past. He was going to deal with those sins; but not yet.

This was also done to declare God’s righteousness presently: 

“To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness” 

And finally, to declare God’s righteousness conclusively: 

“. . . that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” 

God is just. There is nothing in His character or in His nature that would allow, much less suggest, that God could ever be anything other than or do anything other than that which is just. And notice that the Just One is the justifier. God is entirely consistent with His just nature by justifying sinners. There is nothing unjust in giving righteousness to you who place your faith in Jesus Christ. And God is not just giving away righteousness and pretending that sin was never committed. That would be unjust. That God could never do. Crime has been committed. And the soul that sinneth it shall surely die. Justice demands that payment be made for sinning against the Holy One. So, how can the Holy One be the One Who forgives and the One Who justifies and still be just? When sin is punished. Only when sin in punished. When satisfaction has been made through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. 

Justification is needed.

Justification is how sinners acquire the righteousness which is required to be reconciled to God, and it’s how sinners acquire the righteousness needed to have a relationship with God.

But what makes justification possible? Not what. Who? God. It was His design. It was His Son’s sacrifice which paid the price to set captive sinners free from sin. And He did it in such a way as to proclaim that He is righteous.

Realize, then, that the only way God can ever or will ever allow you into heaven is through faith in Jesus Christ. You see, only Jesus Christ is the One Who satisfies Him. Nothing else and no one else has ever satisfied God’s demands that sinners be punished for their sin. Only Jesus Christ, the righteous.

If you go to Hell without Christ, you will spend all eternity being punished in an attempt to satisfy God for the crimes you have committed against Him. But you will continually fail to satisfy God’s demands, meaning you will be in Hellfire for ever. But if you flee to Jesus Christ, if you will come to Him and cling to Him by faith, then the satisfaction which Jesus Christ has already made on the cross of Calvary can be yours.

This is neither a flowery nor a fancy sermon. This is just pure, lean meat for the soul. But it’s an answer to the question posed more than 3000 years ago by a man named Job, when he asked, “How should a man be just with God?” The sinner comes to Jesus Christ by faith. With the faith he uses to lay hold of Jesus Christ the sinner is given by God justification, the standing before God of a righteous man.

How can God do that? Simple. When the sinner lays hold of Jesus Christ by faith, that same Jesus Christ satisfies God’s demands that the sinner be punished for sin because the Lord Jesus was already punished by God on the cross.

Is this what happened to you? As I preached, did the Holy Spirit speak to your heart and say, “This is what God did for you. This is what Jesus Christ did for you”? Or did He speak to your heart, saying, “You need this”?

Please understand that I didn’t know all of this stuff when I was saved. But after I was saved, when I was exposed to these truths in sermons I heard, the Holy Spirit always gave me assurance that “This is what happened when you trusted Christ.” How about you?

“Pastor, this is complicated.” My friend, it doesn’t need to be complicated at all. Sinner? Just come to Jesus Christ, and He will take care of what needs to be taken care of.

__________

[1] Frederic Louis Godet, Commentary On Romans, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications), page 150.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 356.

[4] Ibid.

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org