The Christian Faith In a Nutshell
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.
I simply love this section of Scripture! I often find myself oscillating, wandering towards and away from the gospel on account of the inherent weakness of my humanity. Sin can so easily capture our hearts, and infect us with shame, guilt, and condemnation. The gospel becomes a blurry and faded concept washed into the back of our mind. I really hate that. I hate that the most beautiful and liberating news ever proclaimed to mankind is so easily displaced in the face of our failures and shortcomings. Truly I have found the hardest thing for me as a believer is living in uninterrupted and restful confidence in the sufficiency of Christ. Guilt, shame, and condemnation have snuggled up with me for so long that I feel more comfortable in their presence than in the presence of His love and grace.
But in those moments I find here, in these passages, a reminder of the truth. The gospel is really quite simple, yet there have arisen many voices that have argued that the traditional rendering of what the gospel entails is somehow flawed. They have argued that the gospel is about the "Kingdom" and pulling from the teachings of the Master Himself they construct their case. Others have argued that the gospel is about our entrance into heaven when we die, with absolutely no Scriptural support this has indeed become the prevailing view. More recent interpreters of Paul assert that the gospel is about being included in the people of God, and righteousness is more about being a part of the elect and chosen people of the Father.
No. These ideas are wrong. Plain and simple. Paul presents with crystal clarity throughout the book of Romans that truly the gospel is the incredibly good news that sinners, rejects, and losers like you and me are pardoned in full from our moral retardation on the basis of the love offering of Christ in our stead. We are subsequently given righteousness as a gift from God, and are in the same powerful and loving action adopted into His family as His very own children. Righteousness is a rather strange word to us these days, but essentially δικαιοσύνη means to conform to an ethical standard, to be and do rightly. In the first century this word was synonymous with perfection, and was often used to describe one who encapsulated all of the virtues.
Paul reveals that in Christ this righteousness is given as a gift freely to any and all who would humble themselves and place their trust in the sufficiency of Christ's offering. Thus the righteousness of God is not about our ability to be perfect moral agents, rather we are regarded as entirely and morally perfect as a gift of God's own grace. The reality is we suck and we have failed morally time and time again, but God, who stands in judgement over us, chose instead to clear us of all guilt once and for all, motivated by love and compassion. Instead of dishing out what we deserved He plotted with Christ and the two of them in cahoots set forth a redemptive plan in which Christ would become our sin bearer, and the Father would lay upon Him both our guilt and our punishment.
We are now those who are righteous or perfect and encapsulating all of the virtues on the basis of our guilt and condemnation being dealt with vicariously. The gospel is really simple, yet so utterly profound and shocking that it is often hard to swallow. God clears the ledger of every shameful thing you have ever done, or ever will do, as an act of complete love and devotion to you. He forgives us, makes us righteous, and embraces us as His very own children.
God no longer charts our sins, He isn't measuring you to see if you are growing, He isn't breathing down your neck, and He is not that condemning and convicting voice that continually reminds you of exactly how short you have fallen today. Rather, He has embraced you, accepted you, qualified you, and is proud to place His name upon you. We believe that we have sinned against Him and we deserve what our sins have earned, but in love our Judge has become our Justifier and has cleared us of all charges just so He could embrace us as His own. What a powerful and liberating message? What a powerful truth! Oh God open our eyes and our hearts that we may bask in the glory of your gospel and the grace and love it reveals. Give us hearts of understanding and the capacity to soak in the magnitude of your kindness towards us! God help us to believe it and rest in it daily! Amen!