It’s no secret that I am an avid reader. So far in 2016 I have read around 75 books. As helpful as I believe reading many books is to my life as a Christian, I have been helped more by paragraphs and sentences. For me, the beauty of reading is finding those few paragraphs and sentences that transform your thinking.
As great as Romans 1-3 has been, there is one sentence in this three chapter span that is greater than the rest. In the original language of the New Testament, Greek, Romans 3:21-26 is one lengthy sentence of glorious news. With the word “But” in Romans 3:21, Paul has moved from the bad news and into the good news. He is finally finished explaining the problem of God’s wrath against our sin. He has clearly argued that no one has an excuse before God and there is no escape from his judgment.
Now, we are given the remedy to our problem—the righteousness of God is revealed apart from the law. We cannot earn God’s righteousness through obedience to the law, but the good news is that his righteousness is from something outside the law—the work of Christ received through faith. How is God able to do this? Because Jesus Christ’s death on the cross was a propitiation. Propitiation is a big word that means something like, “atoning sacrifice.” When Jesus died on the cross he stood in the place of sinners and endured the wrath of God. Jesus experienced the judgment we deserve.
Maybe the best news of this entire passage comes in one sentence–Romans 3:25-26. In the gospel, God is completely just and he justifies sinners! He is both able to declare guilty sinners to be righteous sons and be righteous in doing so. God has made a way of salvation that doesn’t mock his glory or his Son or his people. He is simultaneously able to justify sinners and remain incomparably glorious and righteous. This is the gospel. Christ died for sinners, bearing God’s wrath in our place. Behold, maybe the greatest sentence ever penned:
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]
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (Westbow Press, 2016). He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.