The Heart of the Gospel - Part 1 of 3

by Ed Vasicek

Many people find Christianity repulsive because of its major tenet: God the Father sent His Son to be punished for our sins.

The idea of an angry God burning with rage and on the verge of releasing His wrath was the God of Jonathan Edwards. His fiery sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" is often used as an example of what some claim to be a distorted view of God.

But, when measured by the Scriptures, Edwards was right. Although modern theologians prefer to emphasize God's love while denying His rage at the sinner, the Bible maintains both perspectives: The Holy God Who is raging with anger is also the loving and compassionate God Who loves sinners.

This meeting of God's mercy and justice are mentioned repeatedly in the Scriptures (Ps. 85:9-11 for example), but I do not think they are coupled together more intensely than in Romans 3:24-26.

Packed within three little verses are some of the most crucial truths of the gospel, for these verses explain WHY Jesus died on the cross and exactly what He accomplished by that death. The key focus is upon the concept of propitiation, which we will define in the second article.

First, let us see two accomplishments of propitiation: our justification and our redemption (v. 24). As we investigate these vital concepts, we must remember that the New Testament can only be fully appreciated against the background of the Old Testament, the textbook of the early church.

Redemption can be a commercial term, meaning to "buy back." Jesus' death "bought us back" from our lost condition and its consequences, including our bondage to sin, our citizenship by default in the Kingdom of Darkness, our alienation from God, our spiritual bankruptcy, and a hostile relationship to God.

Justification is the legal act in which God declares us "not guilty" and "holy." This is not based on our behavior; God justifies us when we are ungodly. Note Romans 4:4-5:

"And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness."

Because God justifies the ungodly, this justification occurs when we are converted and born again. The term "ungodly" is never used of a true New Testament believer. Although we still sin (and some of our behavior may be ungodly), the term refers to our pre-conversion condition. We are ungodly and a moment later-when we exercise saving faith-we find ourselves justified!

The idea that justification occurs at death when we have lived a godly life is contrary to what Paul is teaching here. God does not justify the godly, but the ungodly. Once justified, the ungodly become the godly and evidence their justification by their works.

Zechariah 3 is a foundational passage for several New Testament truths. But note its clear picture of justification: receiving a clean status before God with the pre-incarnate Christ acting as our advocate to maintain that status: "Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?'

"Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, Remove the filthy garments from him.' And to him he said, Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.' And I said, Let them put a clean turban on his head.' So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord was standing by."

When we are justified, God removes our filthy sin-laden garments and covers us with a white garment - the righteousness of Christ (Rom. 3:22, 1 Cor. 1:30).

But what about redemption? The Old Testament is filled with redemption imagery. The Book of Ruth centers around redeeming family land and redeeming Ruth from widowhood. A number of laws in the Torah involve redemption of property and people. The Levites replaced the firstborn sons when it came to Tabernacle service, but those firstborn sons were redeemed only when a price had been paid (redemption money -see Num. 3:48).

So redemption involves the payment of a price to obtain another's freedom or to restore that which was lost.

When Jesus died on the cross, the Greek New Testament says He shouted out, "Tetelesthai," which is translated, "It is finished." The Greek language has a perfect tense, unlike our English language. The Greek perfect indicates something has happened in the past which carries a current result. Additionally, the term "Tetelesthai" was used as the equivalent of "paid in full."

Kenneth Wuest translates this phrase as, "It has been finished and stands complete." Another way to understand the term is, "It has been paid and now stands paid in full."

Our redemption has restored us to a favorable status with God. We can say, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31). We have been justified by faith and stand in God's grace before Him (Rom. 5:1-2). Justification (the legal status of perfection), forgiveness, heaven, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit-these are but some of the consequences of being made right with God.

Justification and redemption are accomplished by means of God's grace. The best way to understand grace is to look at how Paul uses the term. In Romans 11:6, he contrasts grace to something we do. So we can do nothing to justify or redeem ourselves.

In Romans 6:23, Paul uses a related term ("gift") which is contrasted to "wage." God gives us eternal life as a gift, not as a wage. We cannot earn, deserve, or achieve it. We receive God's grace when we believe (Rom. 5:1, 10:9-10). Since having faith (believing) is an attitude and not a work, and since God even gives us the faith to believe (Eph. 2:8-9), salvation is truly "by grace" (God's favor).

In our immediate context (Rom.3:27), Paul asks, "Where is boasting? It is excluded." In other words, if there is absolutely nothing that I have done to receive God's justification and redemption, that is grace!

Next month, we will see that this redemption was made legally possible because Christ's death propitiated God's justice.

Ed Vasicek is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute. He has served
the Highland Park Church in Kokomo, IN for 22 years.

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