Over the weeks and months we have preached the Word of God on all kinds of issues related to the conditions in which we live, here in this country and in our world. But this Sunday as we come together to celebrate the Lord’s death, I want us to focus on the cross of Christ. And I want everyone who is here to understand the gospel in depth. I know that we can assume that you have a certain amount of knowledge of the gospel; that’s why you’re here. If you’re a believer, you have enough knowledge of the gospel to have been redeemed. But I also know that there are depths and riches in the gospel that are very often overlooked. It is a profound reality that Christ came to die and to rise again for our salvation; and this morning I want to address that reality from the third chapter of Romans, Romans chapter 3. And I’m going to read starting at verse 21, down to the end of the chapter, and then we’re going to focus particularly on verses 25 and following.
Verse 21, “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
“Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.”
Most people think of salvation as it relates to them—most of us think about salvation from our own personal perspective. We look at salvation, and we believe it is for us that Christ died; it is for us that He rose again; it is for us that He made possible a salvation apart from works, because otherwise we would never be able to be saved because we could never accomplish works that would satisfy the perfect righteousness of God. So we look at salvation from our side. And there’s reason to do that, and we rejoice in that, we give testimony to that in our hymns of praise.
But Scripture, however, teaches that primarily salvation is not about us, it’s about God. Salvation is not ultimately for us, but it is for God. In fact everything, in the end, is for God and for the glory of God. The glory of God is the dominating theme in all of Holy Scripture, from the beginning to the end and all the way through at every point. Everything is for the glory of God.
A little later in the book of Romans, in chapter 11 we see that summed up—verses 33 and down to 36 of chapter 11: “Oh, the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”
That comes at the culmination of eleven chapters about salvation. And salvation is of Him and through Him and for Him—for Him. Psalm 115:1 says, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Your name give glory because of Your lovingkindness and Your truth.” We read so much about His lovingkindness in Psalm 107, and we’re reminded of the deliverance that He gives us in Colossians chapter 1. But in the end, in the final, ultimate sense, all of that is for the glory of God. Your salvation is not the end; the glory of God is the end and the goal.
Another way to look at that in the book of Romans is in chapter 1, verse 5, where we read, after revelation about the Son of God and His resurrection, verse 5, “Through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake,” “for His name’s sake.” Third John 7, John writes that people are sent out with the gospel “for the sake of the Name,” “the Name” being the name of God.
So I want to show you in Romans chapter 3 how Christ died for God. We know Christ died for sinners; but in the end, ultimately Christ died for God. Everything resolves in the final major chord of glory to God; that’s what you see when you get a glimpse of heaven in the book of Revelation. Just quickly, very familiar pictures in chapter 4 of Revelation and chapter 5. Chapter 4, verse 11, the hosts of heaven say, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.” God gets all the glory for creation. And then in chapter 5 He gets all the glory for salvation, verse 9, “Worthy are You to take the book and break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” Salvation is for God—for God, for His glory.
Just prior to the book of Revelation is the wonderful little epistle of Jude. And at the end of that chapter we read this in verse 24: “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy”—and then this—“to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” Everything in heaven resolves in the glory of God. This is the dominant theme throughout all of Scripture and redemptive history.
Salvation focuses on God even in the Old Testament. One wonderful illustration of this is found in Isaiah’s prophecy, chapter 45. Just a few verses out of that amazing chapter. Verse 5, “I am the Lord,” God says, “there is no other; besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me; that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun there is no one besides Me. I am the Lord, there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these. Drip down, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds pour down righteousness; let the earth open up and salvation bear fruit, and righteousness spring up with it. I, the Lord, have created it.”
And over in verse 18 of Isaiah 45, “Thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (He is the God who formed the earth and made it, He established it and did not create it a waste place, but formed it to be inhabited), ‘I am the Lord, and there is none else. I have not spoken in secret, in some dark land; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, “Seek Me in a waste place”; I, the Lord, speak righteousness, declaring things that are upright. Gather yourselves and come; draw near together, you fugitives of the nations; they have no knowledge, who carry about their wooden idol and pray to a god who cannot save. Declare and set forth your case; indeed, let them consult together. Who has announced this from of old? Who has long since declared it? Is it not I, the Lord? And there is no other God besides Me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none except Me. Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.’” Everything is for God. Everything is for His honor and His glory.
When the Lord was coming to the end of His life, in John 17 He offered that great prayer to the Father, and in verse 4 of that chapter He said, “I glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work which You gave Me to do.” Even the Son did what He did to bring glory to the Father.
In Philippians, chapter 2, verse 5, speaks of “Christ Jesus, who, . . . existed in the form of God, didn’t regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, and being made in the likeness of man.” This is the incarnation. “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name”—the name Lord—“so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord”—and then this—“to the glory of God the Father.” That’s where everything ends: “to the glory of God the Father.” Peter says in 1 Peter 4:11, “So that in all things God may be glorified through Christ.” It is to God that all “glory and dominion” belongs “forever and ever. Amen,” writes the apostle Peter.
The eternal purpose of salvation is for God. And that’s what I want you to see, perhaps in a way you haven’t seen it before. Let’s go down to verse 25. “Christ Jesus” is the antecedent at the end of verse 24, “whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.” God displayed publicly the Lord Jesus Christ as a propitiation. “Propitiation” is a word that means satisfaction. God found satisfaction in the sacrifice of Christ; the sacrifice of Christ satisfied God. The death of Christ—that’s what His blood refers to there, His death—was the satisfaction to God, and God publicly displayed that.
You remember that Jesus is called “the Lamb of God,” God’s Lamb. Jewish people would choose a lamb to be offered at Passover. God chose His own Son to be His Lamb. The death of Christ was for God in the sense that God was the one who had to be satisfied. He was the one who had to be propitiated. The death of Christ was for God in the sense that He was the one offended, He was the one violated, He is the one dishonored—as David says, “Against You and You only have I sinned.” All sin is primarily against God. Salvation, whatever it is, then has to satisfy God. It has to satisfy His righteousness, His justice, His mercy, and His grace. He must be satisfied. And God determined that He would find His satisfaction in the death of Jesus Christ.
In the Old Testament there were animals that were slaughtered all the time, as you know. None of those animals could take away sin. Hebrews 9 says that, Hebrews 10 says that, “The blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin”; they were symbolic. And built into the symbolism was a terrible frustration. It was obvious that none of those sacrifices ever took away sin; if it had, they wouldn’t have had more sacrifices. But every day, sacrifices—every day, every day, every day.
And then that was all ramped up at the festivals, Day of Atonement, Passover. None of those sacrifices ever satisfied God, none of them. And the book of Hebrews says that’s why the priests kept offering and offering and offering and offering and offering; never a satisfaction. It’s as if God was saying, “None of those sacrifices satisfy Me. Every one of them is inadequate as a satisfaction. They don’t satisfy My righteousness and My holiness. They don’t satisfy the requirement of death required by My law.” There’s only one sacrifice that satisfied God, and that was the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He is the propitiation, the satisfaction to God.
The real question in salvation is not, How can you get men to accept God? The real question is, How do you get God to accept men? It’s not how you get God to accept you; it’s not based on something you do. It’s what kind of transaction is necessary to compensate for the fact that you can’t do anything to satisfy God. The fact that Christ was a satisfaction, or a propitiation, declares that salvation is primarily for God. Christ died for God, Christ died for God. The death of Christ was for His satisfaction.
Now how exactly does the death of Christ satisfy God? How does it glorify God? I’m going to give you four principles that Paul lays out here; they’re extremely important. Number one: The cross was to declare God’s righteousness. Christ died for God in the sense that the cross was to declare God’s righteousness. Back to verse 25 again: “This was to demonstrate His righteousness.” And it’s said again in verse 26, “For the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness.” God displayed publicly Christ Jesus as a satisfaction to demonstrate His righteousness.
Now why did it need to be demonstrated? Doesn’t the Old Testament say plenty about the righteousness of God? Of course. You can go back to Exodus, for example—one of many illustrations. But in Exodus chapter 34 you find that very early on in divine revelation, it’s clear that the Lord is righteous. Listen to 34:6, “Then the Lord . . . the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.” God is gracious and merciful, but He is so righteous He cannot leave the guilty unpunished. That’s just one illustration of how the Old Testament speaks of the righteousness of God.
God needed to demonstrate His righteousness. You say, “Well wait a minute. Isn’t it declared in the Old Testament?” That’s just one of dozens of illustrations. But here’s the problem: Pagans had their gods, they had their idols, and their idols were some crazy mixture of good and evil. They of course are concoctions of hell, so they will reflect the character of Satan and his kingdom. Pagans had their deities. They were capricious. They were inconsistent, to put it mildly. They were predominantly evil. They were to be feared and dreaded. There’s no measure of grace or mercy available from them. You want to see the modern demonstration of that, look at Islam. On the one hand they expected obedience, these deities. They expected people to bow down to them. They expected to recognize some measure of goodness or righteousness about them, and overlook the unrighteousness; and they would live in fear of violating those gods.
What about Jehovah? What about Yahweh, the true God? Well honestly, the true God, the one true and living God, could also be accused of being a mix of righteous and unrighteous. “Why do you say that? Why would people accuse the true God of ever being unrighteous?” The answer: because God tolerated sin. Oh, He didn’t tolerate it eternally, but temporally He tolerated sin. God tolerated sin through man’s history. Many unrighteous people lived, flourished. Many, many unrighteous people prospered, reached positions of power. And more importantly, for all the people who believed in the true God, God overlooked their sin. Those who believed on Him were forgiven; their sin was overlooked.
There was no question about God being loving and merciful and gracious and kind. The big question is, How could God be righteous when sinners who hate Him survive so long and with such prosperity, and those who believe in Him have their sin overlooked? And that’s exactly what Paul says. Go back to verse 25. Here is the reason: God needed “to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed.” He “passed over” them—that’s not a word for forgiveness, that’s a word for overlooking. Why did He do that? “In forbearance.” What’s that? That’s patience. That’s tolerance.
Back in chapter 2 and verse 4, we read, “Do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” Righteous judgment will come, but God is patient, giving you an opportunity to repent. It is patience that causes God not to bring down deserved judgment when it is deserved. Christ is the satisfaction that demonstrates the righteousness of God in the face of His tolerance of sins in the past—“in the past” means before Christ, before Christ.
Through all of redemptive history, since the fall of Adam, wherever people believed in Him, wherever people believed in the true and living God, He passed over their sin. He withheld judgment in tolerant patience. One of the reasons I read Psalm 107 is because it repeats the old Hebrew word hesed, which means “lovingkindness.” In His lovingkindness for those who believed in Him, He overlooked their sin.
In the book of Acts in chapter 17 and verse 30, we read this: “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance.” God “overlooked the times of ignorance.” The Old Testament era was a time of ignorance without the full revelation in Christ and the New Testament. God “overlooked the times of ignorance,” but “God is now declaring to man that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness.”
That word, “overlooked,” in Acts 17:30 is a rare word only used there. It means He didn’t interfere with special judgment. It’s part of His patience. Judgment was only occasional, only occasional. There were lots of judgments, but they seemed to us to be random, with the exception of the Flood. After that there were judgments—you can read about them in the Old Testament—but they were the exception and not the rule. I mean God said to Adam, “In the day you eat, you’ll die,” and Adam lived for hundreds of years after that. The seeds of death were planted.
And the question then comes, How can God be righteous and be so patient with sin and so long overlook sin and so long let sin go unpunished? And having even the people who believed in Him in the Old Testament long dead, long buried in the grave; and yet, God’s justice and righteousness has not been satisfied; but those people He’s taken to heaven. The believers of the Old Testament went into the presence of the Lord even though they sinned, even though there was no satisfactory substitute for them, there was no atonement, there was no real propitiation. Nothing satisfied God.
But still as it says in Psalm 78, “He, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; and He abounded in turning back His anger and did not arouse all His wrath.” That word “atone” means He covered them. He somehow just covered them; He sheltered them from wrath even though He had not been satisfied.
Did the Old Testament sacrifices take away sin? Obviously not. So a look at the Old Testament made God seem as capricious as the rest of the pagan deities. The Lord, who was seemingly not consistently just, every once in a while He would come down in wrath and fury. But how could we deem Him perfectly righteous when He seemed to be so tolerant of sin? He tolerated it among nonbelievers. He allowed, Acts 14 says, “all the nations to go their own way.” They progressed down a path of iniquity, and He didn’t intervene.
Now obviously somebody who reads the Old Testament could see God as a God of righteousness because He gave the law. They could even see God as a God of love. The prophet Micah leaves us with an incredible conclusion that I’m sure was the testimony of many in Israel. Listen to what he said, chapter 7, verse 18: “Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity and passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession?” “Who is a God like You?” There’s no deity that’s going to pass over people’s blasphemous transgressions against Him. There’s no pagan deity that is going to allow that.
“Who is a God . . . [who] doesn’t retain His anger, but delights in unchanging love?” Who is a God who has compassion? Who is a God who “treads our iniquities underfoot . . . casts all our sins into the depths of the sea”? What kind of a God so offended, so constantly offended, overlooks all this sin and lets unbelievers live and prosper, and lets believers have the promise of life in His presence without a satisfaction to His righteous justice? The question is summed up in those familiar words at the end of verse 26, How can God “be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus”?
How can God be just and a justifier? Is this some kind of cheap forgiveness? God in the Old Testament is presented as merciful and gracious, full of lovingkindness. He’s presented as a just God: “Shall not the [God] of all the earth do right?” He’s holy, He’s just. So why so tolerant of sin?
So in the Old Testament there is a thick veil over the justice of God, and this looming question has existed through all of history, until Christ comes: How can God be just and the justifier of sinners? Sacrifices didn’t bear the penalty. They only symbolized the sacrifice that would come in the future that could. For four thousand plus years there was this spectacle presented to mankind in what should be a moral universe, and it was a kind of scandalous thing. Divine righteousness seemed to sleep. One might have asked if divine righteousness even existed, or if it wasn’t just whimsical.
Men sinned in safety for centuries, millennia, until Christ. When Christ came, He died for God. He died to provide that satisfaction to God’s justice. Galatians 3 says He bore the curse. “Cursed is everyone who” breaks “the law”; He bore the curse. First Peter 2 says He bore “in His body” our sins and the judgment for them. Second Corinthians 5 says He became sin for us, “that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
So in the death of Christ, God is declaring His glory in this sense: He is saying, “I am just, and sin will be punished. But I’m also merciful; and sin will be punished in full, but for My people, My Son will be the substitutionary sacrifice.” The death of Christ declares publicly and openly that God is just—so just that He does something that is incomprehensible. The eternal Son of His love, the second member of the Trinity, eternally holy, is made sin.
The condescension that I read to you, Philippians 2, is beyond our ability to even understand. How can the eternally Holy One take on the wrath of God for all the sins of all the people who would ever believe in the history of the world? God is so committed to His justice, so necessarily committed to His righteousness, but so also committed to His love, mercy, and grace and wanting to display those elements of His character, that He makes His Son a satisfactory sacrifice.
How could Jesus, one person, bear all the sins of all the people who would ever believe? The only answer to that that I can ever give is that He’s an infinite person and has an infinite capacity for anything and everything, including absorbing divine wrath.
So Paul answers this very, very important question. Set the record straight. The cross reaches backwards, OK? The cross reaches backwards. But be reminded, Revelation 13:8 says the Lamb was slain from before the foundation of the world. In the mind of the eternal God there is no time; and therefore, in the eternal sense, Christ was always the Lamb, always the provision, even before He actually came into history and died. So in the Old Testament, God overlooked sin, forgave sin, based upon what had already been determined His Son was going to do. So the death of Jesus Christ reaches back and covers all believers before the cross.
So God can be just if His righteousness is satisfied by appropriate punishment for those He forgives; and that is the punishment He laid on Christ. That covers the past. Whether it’s characters in Genesis (patriarchs), whether it’s believers through the period of the judges and the kings (the prophets)—throughout the history of Israel from the beginning to the New Testament, believers who were justified by faith were granted that justification because their sins were to be carried to the cross by Christ. There was only one possible way of salvation, and it was the death of Christ; and it reached backwards.
Look at verse 26. He says it again: “For the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time.” That’s to say it not only reaches back over the sins previously committed, but it also reaches forward in “the present time.” Zechariah says of the Messiah, “He is just and endowed with salvation.”
The cross not only reaches back, it reaches forward. God forgave Old Testament saints because Christ would pay the penalty of their sin. God forgives New Testament saints and beyond because Christ has paid the penalty for their sins. He paid the penalty after their lives were long over; He paid the penalty for us before our lives even began. You understand that? Massive reality. And therefore, the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world is “the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus,” just as He was the justifier of the one who had the faith in God before Jesus ever came. Verse 26, God is “just and [still] the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
Justice and mercy meet at the cross. We get the mercy; we talk about the mercy; we understand the compassion of someone dying in our place. We understand the death of Christ with relation to us. But what we must understand is the death of Christ in relation to God. It allows us to glorify God forever and ever, as a God not only of mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and love, but a God of justice and righteousness and holiness.
Psalm 85:10 says, “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other”—and nothing fulfills that like the cross. So for those in the Old Testament who believed in God, the cross covered them as a satisfactory atonement. For those since the cross, when Christ died on the cross all the sins of all who would believe into the future, as well as all the sins of all who had believed in the past were gathered up in Christ. For now, there’s an added element. It’s not enough to believe in God—what does it say at the end of verse 26? He is “the justifier of the one who”—what?—“has faith in Jesus.” There’s no salvation in any other name, right?
The cross glorifies God because it declares His righteousness. But secondly, the cross was also to exalt God’s grace. Verse 27, “Where then is boasting?” “Where then is boasting?” Think of it: If Christ bore in His body the sins of all who would believe, and the sacrifice was already made on Calvary two thousand years ago, what contribution did you have that could cause you to boast? You were two thousand years into the future when Christ died for your sins. When He actually bore your sins in His body, you were two thousand years from existing. What kind of grace is this? What contribution could you have possibly made to that as a nonexistent person known only to almighty, eternal, and sovereign, omniscient God? “It is excluded.” Any boasting is excluded. If Christ died for you before you ever arrived into this world, how can you boast?
What kind of principle is this? He uses the word “law” there in verse 27. “By what kind of law?”—what kind of principle, what kind of method is this? “Of works? No, by a law of faith.” The cross literally eliminates any possibility of human works. You don’t cooperate in your salvation. Christ died for you two thousand years ago and bore your sins in His own body on the cross and satisfied the justice of God. No place for self-congratulation; only God can make such a provision. And this glorifies God’s grace. He chose you before the foundation of the world.
In Ephesians 2, this is so important, 2:8 and 9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.” That is amazing. We’re the workmanship of God created in Christ Jesus. It’s a gift of grace through faith, which is itself a gift, not of works. And not only have we been saved by grace, but verse 10 says, “Created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
Listen to this, that’s an overlooked statement: God not only chose your salvation, He chose your sanctification. You were elect to be sanctified. There’s no such thing as a justified believer who’s not sanctified. Just as much as God ordained your salvation, it says there He determined your good works beforehand. You were saved “unto good works, which God beforehand ordained that you should walk in them.” Everything was settled in eternity past, and everything in that marvelous covenant of salvation was ratified at the death of Christ, and you were actually there. His death is not a potential thing; it is a real atonement for the people whom God chose.
What kind of principle is this? It’s not of works, but it’s a principle that operates by faith. Works add nothing to your salvation; and even your sanctification is God empowered. God has ordained your justification before the world began and ordained your sanctification along with it.
This is how faith appropriates, apart from works. “What do you mean by that?” It’s just a matter of believing. Verse 28, “We maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law.” How could your works have anything to do with something determined in eternity past? How could your works have anything to do with the death of Jesus Christ as a lamb slain before the foundation of the world in the timelessness of God? How could your works have anything to do with a salvation that was granted to you, secured for you thousands of years before you were ever born? So what is put on display here? Not just the righteousness of God, but the grace of God, the grace of God.
And there’s more. The cross reveals not only God’s righteousness and God’s grace, but God’s consistency. Now think about this. Sometimes people have said, “Well there’s an Old Testament way of salvation; the Jews were saved a certain way.” This is popular in evangelicalism today: “The Jews were saved one way; we’re saved one way.”
Now wait a minute. The salvation that God granted to the believers of the Old Testament who believed in Him truly, was secured for them by the death of Christ in the future. Our salvation is secured for us by the death of Christ in the past. But it is the death of Christ that sweeps back and the death of Christ that sweeps forward. So obviously there’s only one possible way of salvation, and that is the death of Christ. That puts God’s consistency on display.
And here was much of the issue: What kind of God is this, that overlooks somebody’s sin? What kind of God is this, who seems to be capricious, who seems to be tolerant, who seems sometimes to be loving and sometimes to be judgmental? And if we look at the God of the Old Testament—you know, scholastics have for decades said that, “Well the God of the Old Testament can’t possibly be the God of the New Testament. There’s got to be a difference.”
But notice verse 29, “Or is God the God of the Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.” I love that. We’re dealing with one God and one way of salvation. God doesn’t have two standards, He doesn’t have two means of saving people. He is one God; there is one way of salvation.
Isaiah 54:5 says, “The God of the whole earth shall he be called” [NKJV]. Jeremiah 16:19, “The nations shall come unto You from the ends of the earth.” Zechariah 2:11, “And many nations shall be joined to the Lord . . . and shall be My people.” God has broken down the middle wall between Jew and Gentile.
God is the God of all, since God is one. One God, one plan of salvation, one way of salvation. God is the one true God and one way of salvation, means He is the God of all men, Jew or Gentile. He saves all men. He will “justify”—is the term there—He will justify all men based upon the death of His Son. He can’t be different. It’s faith. It was faith for the Jews, not law. It was faith for the Gentiles. He’s the one God with the one way of salvation to His eternal glory. He’s glorified in His absolute consistency.
Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Moses found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Abraham was saved by faith. God saved people in the Old Testament era by faith through the coming sacrifice of Christ as the satisfaction. He saves people since then by faith in Jesus; and their salvation was purchased at the same cross. No one has ever, no one will ever be saved any other way. Mark that, please. No one will ever be saved by works.
Go back to chapter 3, verse 20: “By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight.” That will never happen. Works will never save anyone, not the works of pagan Gentiles who have some measure of understanding about God, not the works of very religious Jews, not the works of anyone. What a glorious God we have, who declares at the cross of Christ His perfect righteousness and His matchless grace and His consistency.
And then finally, the cross was to declare God’s law. Coming out of this treatment of grace, Paul asks a very important question in verse 31: “Do we then nullify the Law through faith?” If the law didn’t save us, does that cancel the law? Mē genoito in the Greek, “No, no, no, no”—strong, strong negative. “May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.”
Wait a minute. How does the cross of Christ in the grace of salvation procured for us in the cross establish the law? First of all the law is established in that it cost the Son of God His life to pay the penalty the law demanded. There’s never been anything that happened in all the history of the world that is as clear a declaration of the absolute perfection of the law of God, than the cross of Jesus Christ. God literally had to kill His own incarnate Son to satisfy His justice. The cross does not nullify the law. Just the opposite: It puts the law on display. It is the law that is being satisfied.
Secondly the cross is to deal with sin. And sin is a violation of the law, which means the law, like God, is holy. The very definition of unholiness is a violation of God’s law. The law is not nullified, the law is elevated because every wrong thing is a violation of that holy law. So the cross establishes the law by showing how horrendous and destructive and deadly sin is, and by requiring the sacrifice of the Son of God.
The law is confirmed by the cross. And when it says in Ephesians 2:10 that we’re saved “unto good works, which God has before ordained that we would walk in them,” even though we’re saved by grace through faith, what does that tell you? What are good works? Where do you go for a definition of what is good? To what? To the law. The law then becomes our friend, just like the Word of God does. “O how I love Your Law!”—read Psalm 119.
God’s glory is all on display in the cross. We see His righteousness there, we see His grace there, we see His consistency there, and we see the elevation of His holy law, which is nothing but a manifestation of His holy character. God is glorified in the cross. You don’t understand the cross until you understand that Christ died for God.
Father, we thank You for the truth that sets us free. We thank You for the privilege of Your Word being revealed to us, and the Holy Spirit in us to help us grasp and understand its truths. We give You glory; all things are for You, by You, from You, for You. In everything You are to be glorified. Even now in whatever we do, we should do it to Your glory. We are made to glorify You; that’s why You redeemed us for Your own glory, for Your own sake. We are longing to be with the saints at rest in Your presence in that perfection, which enables us to give glory to You, unlimited and unhindered forever. We give You all glory for our salvation, which was purchased for us long before we ever lived, which put on display Your glorious perfections.
Now as we come to the cross in this simple time of Communion, we ask that You will give us a fresh understanding of the death of our Savior for us. The Word of God says that we’re not to come in a hasty way, flippant way, superficial way, to celebrate Your death. To trivialize it in any sense, both in our thoughts about it and by holding onto sin, would be an ugly act of hypocrisy. We don’t want to partake in a hypocritical way, so we ask that You would help us to examine ourselves and let go of sin, and come and cleanse us and prepare us to do this in a way that truly honors You. Help us to see again in the bread and the cup the death of our Savior, but in a grand way beyond maybe what we’ve seen it before—and give You glory, glory that You deserve, and the response of holiness and obedience that You also deserve. May that be the direction, perhaps in a fresh way, that we set as a course to bring You honor. That’s our prayer. Amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.