Gordon E. Johnson


The Matchless Marvel of the Grace of God – a New Standing in Him

Romans 3:25-31 (NKJV)

Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute


Paul has set forth in Romans 3:21-24 the basic facts of God's matchless marvel of grace: there is a righteousness that meets the judge's absolute standard, nothing less than the righteousness of his own Son (3:21).  This salvation was announced to God's original creation witnessed to by the Mosaic law that condemned the best (21); a righteousness imputed to all sinners without exception on the sole condition of faith (22,23); such a righteousness freely given is grounded in the redemption or purchase price of his Son (24).  There is no fine print that negates this offer of grace.

We so often repeat: Christ died for our sins. We are saved through his death. Christ died for me.  These are all basic truths of which we can never be ashamed (Rom 1:16, 17). But seldom do we ask ourselves on what basis does God save us? How does he do it?  These are the precise questions that Paul will answer and address in this classical passage.

On What Ethical Basis Does God Forgive our Sins?

We must remember that God is a holy judge. His primary attribute that defines him is holiness, holy wrath toward sin and therefore indirectly toward the sinner.  We often hear: God hates sin but loves the sinner. True, but these are combined in one person. Paul faces this paradox head on. God's offered salvation is called the righteousness of God (Rom.1:17), nothing more nothing nor less. God found a fully ethical way to satisfy his own law, an expression of his holiness and yet forgive the sinner in the person of his divinely appointed substitute. The holy judge found a way through the vicarious death of the law keeper, the "one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus who gave Himself a ransom (price paid) for all, to be testified in due time" (1 Tim. 2: 3-6).

Paul had just expressed God's offer of forgiveness and restoration: "Being freely justified by His grace through the redemption (ransom) that is in Christ Jesus" (3: 24). Now Paul will address the how. In a nutshell Rom.3:25 is the very heart of the righteousness of God available through faith. "Whom God set forth to be a propitiation by his blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness (salvation), because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed." The verb to set forth simply means manifested, proposed as a previous design. This is the crucial nature of the timing of his death.

The Pivotal Significance of the Doctrine of Propitiation

Another facet in God's plan was the key word «propitiation».  It is only used elsewhere in Hebrew 9:5 and translated as mercy seat. The mercy seat was the golden lid of the ark in which the two tablets of the broken law were placed. Two queribim covered the mercy seat and the glory of Jehovah appeared over it and between them.  It was on the mercy seat that blood was sprinkled; on the Day of Atonement God covered the sins of the people for yet another year (Leviticus 16). It was precisely there where God would meet his people after the sprinkling of the blood.

The doctrine of Christ as the propitiation for our sins is at the heart of our salvation, although seldom properly understood.  Christ was the atonement, the sin offering, set forth in his taking our guilt and penalty as prescribed by the law; nothing less than our death in the divinely placed substitute could suffice. Hence by his blood shed in his death the righteous demands of the law were satisfied. Now the holy judge could be in fact what he always was, a loving and gracious God. The judge's holy wrath toward sin is never arbitrary nor capricious as is ours. God's wrath was moral outrage at man's rebellion. But the law now satisfied releases God to exercise fully his love toward the sinner. There is no dilemma between God's attributes of holiness and love, but there is priority: when sin is removed divine love and forgiveness flow to the repentant sinner.  

Because Christ as our propitiation was God's original design, he could pass over the full execution of the law on earlier sinners, knowing that in his timeless love, a fully adequate removal of sin was to be exhibited now on the Cross (3:26).  All of God's timeless provision in his Son, our Substitute, is ours as was theirs earlier by simple faith. God's only condition for them and for us was heart faith and trust. The Cross forever removes a possible shadow from his having passed over their sins. He then is just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus.

The Judge's Final Declaration:  Jew and Gentile are Justified by Faith Rom.3:28-31

If the holy judge is to remain holy, no possible question can be raised about his exercise of forgiveness for the guilty. God remains holy beyond all moral questions. Christ became our substitute taking our sin, our propitiation, and we taking his righteousness.  God is both just and the justifier on his own terms of the sinner who believes. True believing faith subsumes heart repentance.

Furthermore since God the Father initiated and God the Son executed his redemptive plan, any one so forgiven and restored can never boast of his/her righteousness. Both Jew and Gentile all condemned under the law are offered the fruit of God's design and stand before him in the fully imputed righteousness of God himself (3:27-30).  God in the last analysis is totally just. No advantage is given to Jew or Gentile both stand equally condemned under the law (3:20) and equally justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law

Some Powerful Deductions for our Gracious Salvation through Christ.

1.  God's intervention in Gen. 3:16 in the first words pronounced against the serpent established his salvific design through the "Seed of the Woman."

2.  The whole Old Testament testified to the principle of expiation or substitution: "Behold! The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!" John 1:29

3.  God waited for the law to expose the true maliciousness of sin and timed his death on the Cross at that crucial moment to unveil his gracious gift of righteousness.

4.  With man totally depraved, redemption could only come from him on his terms grace "through faith, and that not of works lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:8.9).

5.  God has broken the "Gordian knot" and found a just way to forgive and restore the repentant and believing sinner. To God be the glory!

6.  Christ is "the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world" (1 John 2: 2).

Dr. Gordon E. Johnson
February 15, 2008