Romans 3:25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood.
This is one of the most important things the Bible has to say to us. When Jesus was crucified, he bore the wrath of God against our sins, so God and people could be at one again. That is the idea behind the word atonement. It is the payment for our sins that satisfies the righteous anger of God.
Imagine you were in the back yard with God, and he was very angry, because you had been sinning against him for a very long time. God reviewed your sins, from beginning to end, and became even angrier. Then he picked up a crowbar and walked to a nearby tree. For the next six hours he beat that tree so severely, that when he was done, it barely resembled a tree anymore (Isaiah 52:14). But now his anger was spent, and instead of being the object of his wrath, you become the object of his grace. Here is the point: Jesus Christ was on that tree. He bore the wrath of God so that we can be at one with him. He is the sacrifice of atonement.
Romans 3:28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.
The idea of justification was so important to Paul that he used the word, in various forms, over a dozen times in Romans alone. It is a legal term, so we should think of a courtroom, bench, gavel and judge. It is Judgment Day, and after your trial, the judge will open up the gates of glory, or cast you into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). If the gates of glory open wide, it is because you have been justified by faith apart from the works of the law.
A pastor was leading a Bible study for men, and was concerned about one who did not seem to know Christ. One week, after the study, the pastor asked him privately, Bob, are you a Christian? Bob said he was, so the pastor asked for more information. Bob said, It happened this week. I looked in the mirror and said, Why should God let you into heaven? I thought to myself, Because I am betting my soul on Jesus Christ.
Faith is putting all our chips on Jesus Christ, and none on ourselves. Faith does not look to anything good we have done, or anything bad we have done. It looks only to Jesus Christ as the giver of eternal life to all who believe (John 3:16). That is what it means to be justified by faith apart from the works of the law.
Romans 4:3 What does Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.
Paul used Abraham to prove from the Old Testament that we become right with God by faith, not works. Abraham is a good example, because he was God’s friend (Isaiah 41:8), and the father of the nation of Israel. If Abraham was right with God through faith, that is the way for us.
To make his point, Paul quoted a verse that some of his readers knew well. Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Abraham did not work his way into God’s favor, or obey his way into God’s favor, but simply believed God.
Many in Paul’s day thought the way to be right with God was by being a pretty good person. But other than Jesus Christ, there are no pretty good people. We are all pretty good compared to the devil, but the devil is not the standard of goodness. It is impossible to get right with God by being a pretty good person, because we all have more in common with the devil (morally) than we do with Jesus Christ. Thankfully, there is another way.
Since Jesus never sinned, and since he paid the penalty for our sins, we can be right with God through faith in Jesus Christ. Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life (John 6:47), said Jesus. Like Abraham, we become right with God through faith, not works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Romans 4:5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.
The idea that God justifies the ungodly is shocking, and seems entirely wrong at first. Imagine a judge who let murdering rapists go free. That might be popular with murdering rapists, but what about justice? Thankfully, God took care of justice when Jesus died on a cross for our sins. He took the punishment that we deserve, so even the worst can be forgiven.
This should comfort us deeply whenever we misbehave. Christians should never sin, of course, but sometimes we do. And whenever that happens, we can wonder about our status with God. Then we should recall that God justifies the ungodly. God is in the business of saving sinners, so he is not surprised that we still sin. The important thing (the really crucial thing) is to keep on trusting God—who justifies the ungodly.
Romans 4:8 Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.
Paul was making a difficult argument to some very religious people. He wanted to convince them that God justifies the ungodly, not counting their sins against them. The first example was Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, and God’s friend. The second example is King David, a man after God’s heart (Acts 13:22). To help make his argument, Paul quoted a line from one of David’s Psalms. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.
We are not sure if David wrote this Psalm before or after he committed adultery with Bathsheba, and arranged for her husband’s death. Either way, David is happy to be among those whose sin the Lord will never count against them.
The level of assurance here is breathtaking. There was nothing of which David was not capable, and plenty of which he was already guilty. Nevertheless, David was absolutely certain that God would never hold his sin against him. Paul is arguing that whoever believes in Jesus Christ should have this same assurance. This is the best news possible for anyone who ever sins.
Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus established peace between us and God, by paying the penalty for our sins. God is no longer angry at us, because his anger was spent on Christ. We may incur his fatherly displeasure, and even his fatherly discipline (Proverbs 3:12), but those are very different than his holy wrath.
Apart from Jesus Christ, there is no real peace. Even if our bills are paid, and our health is good, we will always have a sense of guilt and impending doom. But since Christ has established peace objectively, we can enjoy peace within. Even if our health is failing, and our bills are overdue, we are assured of eternal joy. Therefore we have peace.
Reflection and Review
What is the meaning of atonement?
What kind of people does God accept?
Why do Christians want to be good?