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. Romans 3:21-25
Why couldn’t God just keep on passing over our sins, i.e. FORGIVE our sins, without Jesus having to die? I was thinking about the nature of sin the other day during a Chapel talk at my school. I suddenly realized that we have to accept that a property or feature of sin committed in God’s world is that it automatically incurs God’s wrath. We can’t get away from that aspect. It’s incontrovertible – not open to being challenged. God set up the world and is the final authority on what everything means and what the rules of the ‘game’ are. And since He says that sin has to be paid for – ultimately, then He can’t just forgive it. The whole package of sin includes this wrath-incurring aspect.
When a friend fails to do what she says and lets you down, you experience at the very least the pain of disappointment. Even if you forgive her, you still suffer. Suffering can’t be separated from sin. God’s active, avenging anger is the same way. It is part of the nature of sin.
So when Paul tells us that God is righteous, it means that He acts consistently with the nature and consequences of sin. He doesn’t go against the system He established – there is actual wrath to be dealt with. We normally would absorb that wrath as a consequence of being the instigators of the sin. But the amazing, outside of the box, reality is that Jesus in covenantal agreement with the other two members of the Trinity, absorbs that wrath in our place. That is what ‘propitiation’ means. God the Father accepts the work of his Son in absorbing the entire wrath due us for our sin.
It’s not that we are declared not guilty. We ARE guilty. It’s that our debt or penalty to God has been paid for and we get to walk out of jail free. It is incorrect to say that it is though we never sinned. We DID sin. Appropriate punishment was meted out and paid for/absorbed by Jesus. And now we are welcomed back into society.
But our reentry into the community is far better than going back to ‘normal’. Think about a man charged with being a sex offender who spends time in jail and then when his sentence has been completed, he is released. The problem for him is that no one wants him living in the community near them. He lives with shame the rest of his life.
Our crimes against God are FAR WORSE than the sex offender. We rebelled against the very One who created us in the first place. But God does not leave us to stew in our shame. He invites us to a NEW normal. We are actually given a place of honor, the opposite of shame. God, the Father, invites us to share in the privileges of children of the King with full inheritance rights.
May we meditate on this unexpected grace. May we revel in thoughts of the inheritance waiting for us. May we frequently daydream about the full fellowship we will enjoy when we are face to face with the One we sinned against and the One who absorbed the punishment due us.