The next verses to consider in Romans relate righteousness to Christ’s work on the cross and the shedding of His blood.
“But now the righteousness of God apart for the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:21-26”.
Sin could not be overlooked. God is holy and cannot tolerate sin. Righteousness demanded judgment on sin. God must be just.
We have just read that God put forth Jesus as a propitiation for our sin. The word “propitiation” means a substitute sacrifice. It only occurs here and in 1 John 4:10 “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins”.
God’s love was the great motivation for Him to become our substitute sacrifice. He became the sacrifice for sin that was due to be ours. He took our place.
It is important to note the words used above – “freely“ and “grace”. It was a sacrifice freely made and given by Christ. (Do you remember the use of the word “freely” in the Genesis account, when God said they could “freely” eat of all the trees in the garden?)
Here the word is describing the extravagant gift of God in justification. It was freely given by God and is an expression of His great grace to us. Grace is underserved favour from God. This is wholly a work of God and has nothing to do with us at all.
God is just and the justifier.
The only other place where the word “propitiation” is used in the New Testament is in Hebrews 9:5 where the Greek word is used in the Septuagint for the mercy seat, the lid covering the Ark of the Covenant, upon which sacrificial blood was sprinkled as an atonement for sin. While it might be said that this passage means “Jesus is our mercy seat” it probably has the more straightforward idea of propitiation -a substitute sacrifice”.
“At the same time, the “mercy seat” idea should not be neglected as an illustration of propitiation. Inside the Ark of the Covenant was the evidence of man’s great sin: the tablets of the law, the manna received ungratefully, the budded rod of Aaron, showing man’s rejection of God’s leadership. Up over the Ark of the Covenant were the symbols of the holy presence of the enthroned God in the beautiful gold cherubim. In between the two stood the mercy seat, and as sacrificial blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16) God’s wrath was averted because a substitute had been slain on behalf of sinners coming by faith. We really can say that Jesus is our “mercy seat”, standing between guilty sinners and the holiness of God”. David Guzic, in the Blue Letter Bible.
Justification clears us from the accusation brought against us by the law; we have transgressed the law of God, and thereby deserve damnation of hell. God does not inflict on those who are justified the punishment which they had deserved.
Justification means we are pardoned; we receive the forgiveness of our sins. Our sins are put away from us; they are not only forgiven, they are forgotten and remitted – put away from us.
God will not inflict on the sinner what he deserved to suffer, because Jesus has suffered for him.
When we receive justification through an act of faith it is “just as if I had never sinned”. This is a word that has its roots in the legal world. No condemnation – not guilty – is the cry of the great Judge! The not guilty verdict has been given, there is no more condemnation! When the enemy comes to accuse us, we stand on our legal ground by faith. What Christ has done for us has provided a rock-solid place of standing where the enemy has no longer any rights over us.
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God”. Romans 5:11,2.