Passage: Romans 3:20-26
All of us know the painful reality of relationships breaking down. It starts in the school playground when your ‘best friend’ won’t talk to you anymore; the teenage years see relationships see-saw with hormones; in adulthood we can take offence all to easily over someone’s words or actions and end up writing them off. Sometimes the falling-out is very public but other times it is simply a private cooling in relations. Equally we’ve all experienced the joy of a valued relationship that has been reconciled, where forgiveness was sought and lovingly extended. This week we’re thinking about the most important relationship that any of us can have and that is with the God who made us. To do this we’re dropping anchor in these familiar verses in Romans. The Reformer Martin Luther thought this passage so significant that he called it “the centre of the Bible”. Our passage comes at the end of a section which started in 1:18 where Paul has made it clear that no one by nature is in a right relationship with God because every one of us by nature is a rebel against God. This is what sin is and it separates us from God. Our passage shows us how we can be made right with God.
How can I be made right with God?
Something common to most religions of the world is that the worshipper, through their own religious practices, reaches up to their God or gods. A person may not identify with any formal religion but ask them why God should allow them into his heaven, and their response will often centre upon their efforts. But 3:20 sums up the human problem- “Therefore no-one will be declared righteous in his (God’s) sight by observing the law; rather through the law we become conscious of sin.” No amount of effort on our part, be it Jewish law-keeping, morality or good works, can make us right with God. The initiative is not upward (from us) but downward (from God) as v21 makes clear- “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law has been made known, to which the law and the prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Being made right with God is not down to us but it is because God has taken the initiative. This is not something that easily resonates with us because hard-wired into us as humans is the innate desire to prove our worth or show that we deserve something. It is a humbling to realise that getting right with God is not something we can achieve or even deserve.
What has God done to make us right with Him?
Verse 23 reminds us that Paul is addressing the universal human problem and not merely the Christian take on things- “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Sin separates every single one of us from God and makes us objects deserving of his wrath (Ephesians 2:3). But God has done something about this helpless universal human problem as v24 shows- “and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” God justifies us, which means he declares us righteous in his sight. We are made right with him. This is a demonstration of his grace or unmerited love towards us. But what has God done with our sin? Has he just brushed it aside and said it doesn’t matter anymore? Not at all. He has redeemed us through his Son, the Lord Jesus, and this was through his death on the cross- “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement” (v25). Jesus bore the wrath of God that should rightly have fallen upon us. All of us have a strong streak of justice running through us. We hate to see injustice. The ultimate demonstration of justice is the Cross of Christ. It reaches back in time to cover sins committed before Jesus and it reaches forward in time to cover sins committed since Jesus (v25-26). So God has taken the initiative to make sinners right with him through the Cross of Christ.
How does this become a personal reality?
Running right through our passage is a thread as the following verses show- “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” (v22); “God presented him (Jesus) as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.” (v25); “so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (v26)
For many people faith is tantamount to a leap in the dark. But nothing could be further from the truth. Paul makes clear that faith has a clear object upon which it rests and that is the Lord Jesus. Such faith is not a step into the unknown but is anchored in hard, historical, reliable evidence of his life, death and resurrection. To be made right with God is only possible through faith in His Son. For this to happen, we have to see the problem of our sin (not just the wrong things that we do but our rebellion against God), give up on all of our self-salvation projects (remember we can’t make ourselves right with God and must stop attempting the impossible), and put our trust in the only one who has dealt with our sin, once and for all time at the Cross. The Apostle Peter sums it up like this- “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” (1 Peter 3:18) Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the only way that any person can be made right with God.
Points to Ponder
-If you are already a follower of Christ then reflect on the truths of Romans 3:20-26 and spend some time giving thanks to God for the reality of your salvation in Christ.
-If you are not yet a follower of Christ then perhaps this week’s passage has brought this reality home to you but also shown you how you can be made right with God. Please use the following prayer to God to express your desire to trust Christ.
Dear Lord God. Forgive me for thinking that it is by my own efforts that I can be made right with you. Thank you for showing me the reality of my sin and how as a rebel I am deserving of your wrath. Thank you for the Lord Jesus who has dealt with my sin forever, and I turn and put my trust in him today for forgiveness. Thank you for the promise of your Holy Spirit and please help me to follow Jesus. Amen.