Having a fear of God says something about the relationship we have with Him. We want to have a right and proper relationship with God, but how can we have that kind of relationship?
The Jews believed the way to a right relationship with God was through keeping the law, but who can perfectly obey all of the law? Of course, none of us can even come close to perfect obedience. If this was the end of the matter, we would live every day feeling isolated from God and without hope that our relationship with Him would ever change.
Paul helps us to understand God did not give the law to discourage us, but to make us aware of our sinfulness. We cannot justify ourselves to God, but Paul said “now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested.” He was saying that God’s plan, the Gospel, is to justify us to Himself.
The law was not a mistake and Paul was not saying Christians should have no regard for the law.
What he points out is that while the righteousness of God without the law was not specifically spelled out in the Old Testament, it was taught there. In Genesis 15:6, for example, we find the connection between belief and righteousness in these words about Abraham: “And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”
Paul reiterated this when he wrote, “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe.” The “righteousness of God” is not referring to the nature of God, but rather it is about the gift our Father gives to all who believe in Christ Jesus.
Romans 3:23 marks the place all of us stand before God. All of us have sinned and because of our sins we “come short of the glory of God.” Whether we like to admit it or not, we are guilty in God’s eyes. We “come short of the glory of God” because we have an absolute need of His mercy.
Paul wrote we are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” God looks at us as if we had obeyed the law. He does this freely because it is a gift, and this gift comes to us by way of the redemption in Christ Jesus. We have been redeemed, or purchased out of captivity to sin.
God “set forth,” or displayed for all to see, His act of redemption in Christ. Paul used the word “propitiation” to explain what happened in Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. Propitiation refers to the ark of the covenant and its mercy seat which was a display of God reconciling Himself to the people.
In the Old Testament a sacrificed animal’s blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat. In the New Testament the blood of Jesus is shed for our sins, and we have forgiveness “through faith in his blood.” Jesus died very publicly on the cross to show mankind His “righteousness for the remission of sins.” He passes by, or forgives, all our sins. This was done “through the forbearance of God,” or due to God’s long-suffering with sinful man.
God has done everything to reconcile us to Himself since we are helplessly mired in sin. If there is any law by which we are saved, Paul wrote, it is the law of faith. It is only by faith in Christ Jesus that we have forgiveness of our sins.
The Sunday school lesson is written by Ed Wilcox, pastor of Centerville Baptist Church. He can be reached at [email protected]