In this third study of the series, we'll look at who Jesus is from Rom 3:21-26. Martin Luther called this passage “the chief point, and the very central place of the Epistle, and of the whole Bible”. 

 

Jesus is the Promised Old Testament Christ who offers “a new way” (Rom 3:21-22)

Romans 3:21 begins with a dramatic “but now”. When is this ‘now’? It is a ‘now’ after Genesis 3, after God has shown us our sinful state. It signals a turning point, where “the righteousness of God had been manifested...” and that something objective has been done in history so that something is different now. Ever since the fall of man in sin, mankind has been trying to work our way back to paradise, that state of blessed righteousness and peace with God. We've all done so  by covering up sins with fig leaves or trying to live good lives and be good people. This “but now” is the appearing of Jesus Christ on the scene of history - the Son God promised to reverse the curse. 

Now, a "righteousness of God ... apart from the law" has been made known. What is this and what does it mean? The righteousness of God has been shown apart from the law, meaning that a righteousness separate from the law is now present and Scripture (i.e. the Law and the Prophets) actually bears witness to it. Romans 3 is basically saying that there is a way to become perfect not through obeying and keeping the law.  It is what Luther calls an “alien righteousness”- a righteousness that does not come from my own work or effort of keeping of the law. In Rom 3:21, Paul says that a non-law righteousness is now available. Sinners can now cross the bar without actually crossing the bar.  This new way is through faith in Jesus, for He is the "Christ", the promised one spoken of in the Law and the Prophets. 

 

Jesus is the Savior who propitiates, redeems and justifies (Rom 3:23-25)

Rom 3:23 presents a problem that we all face. It tells us that all have sinned in Adam and that we have fallen short of the glory of God. We have all run away from God, and have shut him out of our lives. This is the sin that we have all committed. Gen 6:5 shows us the extent of our sins. We are not just flawed or are people with problems. We all share the sin nature of our ancestors -- fearful, lustful, irresponsible. 

Verses 24 to 25 then go one to show us what Christ did for sinners like us. Jesus propitiates, redeems and justifies. Propitiation borrows the language of temple worship and means "to make favourable to" or "to satisfy". This is directed towards God to satisfy his wrath, the wrath of a righteous, holy God against sin, and this wrath means that sinners naturally deserve death. Rom 3:25 tells us that Jesus was put forward by God as a propitiation of this wrath.

What does this mean? The Bible tells us that God has no more wrath for sinners because Jesus Christ has satisfied God’s righteous judgment. How did He do this? He lived the perfect life we were supposed to live and on the Cross, died the death that we ought to die as guilty sinners (Isa 53:4-6). There, on the cross, He was punished as a rebel against God as our substitute, going through hell in our place (1 Pet 3:18). Jesus Christ gave His life for us because He loved us (Rom 5:8). This means that those who receive and accept His work on their behalf are now absolutely at peace with God (Rom 5:1).  

Redemption has taken place because of propitiation. Because Jesus has propitiated God’s wrath, He has redeemed us.  The word comes from economic language or the language of the marketplace.  It speaks of the transfer of ownership. Thus, when the Bible speaks of redemption, it means that we are freed from our former master but we now serve Christ. We are never our own masters, but Jesus is our master and He is one who justifies.

Because Jesus was put forward as the propitiation, and we have been redeemed, we are also justified. Because of what Jesus has done, we are justified sinners in God’s sight. That is the legal status we receive because of Christ. 

 

Jesus is the Evidence of God’s character – His righteousness, mercy, and wisdom (Rom 3:26)

Rom 3:25b tells us that God did much more than show us his love at the cross. You see, God had another problem. He had passed over sins in his divine forbearance, leaving them unpunished. What does this mean? Verse 25 tells us that God left sins unpunished all the way until Jesus and if God did not deal with those sins, He would be an incompetent, partial and poor judge. His integrity and justice would be compromised. 

Paul tells us in Rom 3:26b that in Jesus Christ, God shows His wisdom by not only loving us in forgiveness, but also justly satisfying what righteousness demands. The cross shows us God’s love for those who could not be righteous on their own and yet, the fulfillment of His righteous requirement for divine justice. What can we learn about God’s character through Jesus Christ?  We see his kindness to pardon us, but also in a way that satisfies his justice. God knows what to do with sin -- either in hell, or it is all charged to Jesus on the cross.

Romans 3 shows us the depths and riches of God's love. We have all the firewood and kindling to set our hearts ablaze by faith. Do you believe all that's written here? Let the saving work of Jesus move you. 

Reflection questions

  • What does the Bible mean by a “new way” or a “non-law righteousness”? Why is this so revolutionary?
  • What have you learnt today about Jesus? How has the story of the Bible led us to His presentation?

Modified from chapter 3 of "The Gospel Primer: Far as the curse is found"