Alva McClain, founder and first president of Grace Theological Seminary, wrote, “If someone should ask me, ‘Brother McClain, if you could have just six verses out of the Bible, and the rest be taken away, which would you take?’ I would select these six verses. All of God’s gospel is there, and in a way found nowhere else in the Word of God.” What verses were they? Romans 3:21-26.
This may be the most important New Testament passage concerning how sinners like you and me may be justified by grace alone. The theme is this: God’s righteousness—the gift of His grace—comes only to those who believe. But what must you believe? You must believe 4 truths about God’s righteousness.
- Believe God’s righteousness has been displayed at the Cross (vv. 21-22a).
It is God’s righteousness, not man’s, which is displayed by the death of Christ. The Law required death for sin, but could do nothing to impart righteousness. The Law defends God’s righteousness, but it cannot dispense it. The sacrificial system of the Old Testament was a witness to the righteousness of God, which would ultimately be fulfilled by Christ. What made these sacrifices acceptable to God was the forward look of faith.
- Believe God’s righteousness is lacking in every person—especially you (v. 22b-23).
By man’s standard there is a difference to each man’s “righteousness,” but according to God’s standard we are all condemned. When some of our church members go to area prisons to have Bible studies with inmates they meet men who are there for a variety of reasons, some more wicked than others. But they are all there because they have been found guilty. The same is true for each and every one of us. Before the bench in God’s courtroom we have all been found guilty. You must believe this is true about yourself before you are ready to be saved.
- Believe God’s righteousness is a gift of grace (v. 24).
Central to the doctrine of justification is the 5-letter word grace, which is the opposite of works. Justification by grace alone is what separates Biblical Christianity from all religions. Man-made religion defines justification as the process of being made righteous. But the Bible defines it as the act of being pronounced righteous. Justification means to be declared and treated as righteous; it is as a gift from God. There is no cause in the sinner, all the cause is in Christ. It is the free gift of God.
- Believe God’s righteousness is found only in Jesus Christ (vv. 25-26).
God, in Jesus, satisfied the requirements of His own law. Jesus is our propitiation, the satisfaction of God’s righteousness and the absorber of His wrath. The death of Christ upheld the righteousness of God by dying in the sinner’s place. God “passed over” sin in the Old Testament, looking forward to full payment in Christ. Because of this, He may have been accused of winking at sin, treating it lightly. But that was not the case. The cross displayed His love and upheld His righteous standard at the same time, enabling Him to be both the Just and the Justifier of the one who has faith in Christ.
3 TAKEAWAYS FOR CHRISTIANS
Perhaps you are reading this, thinking “Yeah, I get this. I’m already saved. I understand my salvation is not based on my merit, but only on the person and work of Jesus Christ. I believed that years ago when I was saved as a young child. So, how does this help me today…as a Christian?” Here are 3 applications for you.
- Your flesh will naturally fall away from grace. This is the way of your flesh. If you forget grace, you will have the tendency to fall into subtle, but tricky ways of thinking and begin to live—not by grace—but by your own spiritual performance. Perfectionism may become a pattern. As a result, you will be tempted to become proud…to look down upon others. You may forget how sinful your heart really is and begin to wonder why other Christians struggle with things that are of no bother to you at all. You may lack mercy and be quick to condemn those who struggle. When you are overcome by God’s grace yourself then you begin to treat others with grace, rather than being a harsh enforcer of the law.
- If you forget grace, you may easily be overcome by discouragement when you fail. Sometimes we know we are saved by grace alone, but fall into the trap of thinking our standing before God is based upon our spiritual success. Therefore, we can begin to think that God is happy with us when we are checking off all the right boxes, but He is not happy with us when we are struggling. Remember, if your faith is in Christ, your standing before God is not based upon our imperfect righteousness, but on the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.
- If you abuse grace then you may forget the gospel that saves you by grace will also sanctify you by grace. Grace does not give us a license to sin, but it demands that we grow in holiness. As Titus 2:11-12 teach us, “For the grace of God has appeared…training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.”
Salvation is by grace alone; that is, the only way for us to be considered righteous in God’s sight—and thereby be saved—is to God’s righteousness, which is a gift to those who believe in Jesus Christ. This new life, then, progressively displays conformity to His righteous standards.
[Adapted from last Sunday’s sermon, The Gift of God’s Grace, preached at Cornerstone Community Church in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.]