by Al Baker
Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:25).
Most of us, most of the time, have little or no zeal for intentional evangelistic outreach. We will talk about what is important to us. I live in Alabama and most of the people here have no trouble at all talking about their favourite football team. If you are around me for very long, I will tell you about my grandchildren or the Restoration Academy basketball team which my son Jeff coaches. So, why do we so seldom speak of Jesus to others? I realize you have a job to do, and your company has not hired you to evangelize the people in your office. I totally get that, and I also know we must be ‘wise as serpents and innocent as doves.’ There is a time and a place to bring up gospel issues, and work is probably not one of them. Having said that, however, surely you will agree with me that most in the American church are woefully negligent in publishing the glad tidings of great joy. Are we not largely guilty of the sin of omission in this regard?
How can you motivate yourself and others to this great work of making Jesus known to the world? How can you stay motivated if you are ‘already there?’ While preaching recently on Maui in Hawaii I preached an evangelistic sermon from Romans 3:23-26. Actually, I preached the same sermon three times. Wini, my wife, quipped after hearing it the second time, ‘I think I have this sermon down. Would you like me to preach the next one for you?’ I was very excited to preach this sermon the first time, but the more I preached it, the more excited I became; and I believe the truths of Romans 3:23-26, when internalized, cannot help but cause you to shout with joy to all the world the glories of this magnificent salvation.
God has what some theologians call a divine dilemma. A dilemma is two equally, unsatisfactory alternatives. On the one hand, God is mercy, grace, love, forgiveness, and compassion. The Scriptures are replete with references to these glorious truths. We see it in his dealings with Adam and Eve after their fall into sin. We see it in his covenant grace with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We see it with his reconciling work with King David after his adultery and murder. By the way, the three most prolific writers in the Bible (Moses, David, and Paul) were all murderers before God’s reconciling grace came to them. But on the other hand, God is so pure that his eyes cannot look upon evil (Hab 1:13). He is a jealous, holy, just God who will by no means leave the guilty unpunished (Exod. 34:7; Nahum 1:2-3). So, while God is ‘in the forgiveness business’, he cannot and will not deny his own character. He is holy and therefore cannot ‘look the other way’ at our sin.
In July, 2007 one of the most heinous crimes in recent memory was perpetrated on the Pettit family of Cheshire, Connecticut. Two men, recently released from prison, invaded the Pettit home on a Sunday evening, beat Dr. Pettit with a baseball bat, bound him, put him in the basement, and proceeded to rape and then murder Pettit’s wife and two teen-aged daughters. The men were arrested, put on trial, found guilty, and sentenced to death. But let’s imagine, for a moment, that at the time of these murderers’ sentencing the judge said, ‘I am feeling merciful and gracious today. Let’s forget the whole thing. You are free to go.’ We would all rightly decry the injustice of the judge. So then how can God forgive sinners who so clearly and consciously have broken his perfect and holy law, times without number? The answer is found in Romans 3:23-26.
Obviously I can only scratch the surface here. The profound nature of this passage is truly awesome; but here are a few things to consider. Understand that Paul is saying three things. First is the sentence upon all people, verse 23, ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ We may be immoral, godless sinners like those in Romans 1:18-32. We may be moral sinners like those in Romans 2:1-16. Or we may be religious sinners like the Jews in Romans 2:17-29, but all of us have sinned, missed the mark of holiness.
Second, Paul puts forth the remedy for this sentence in verse 24. These words are truly glorious. Each one is significant and ought to be studied in great detail. He writes, ‘being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.’ For those who have faith in Jesus, for those who are born again, the declaration is this – the guilt and shame of our sin has been removed by the blood of Jesus, and we have Christ’s righteousness, his perfection, imputed to us. It’s like a rich uncle depositing $1million into your bank account. You once were ‘poor’, but now you are rich. This justification is a gift from God, something we can never earn or deserve. Furthermore, we receive this solely by the grace or undeserved favour of God. Remember, you were dead in your sins, engaging in the deeds of the flesh and mind, under the dominion of the devil, and facing eternal perdition, but God was rich in mercy. To go further, this came through redemption (God buying us back from the slave house of sin, Satan, and death by the blood of his Son).
And third, Paul tells us the means by which this great work of redemption is accomplished, verses 25-26. In referring back to Christ, Paul says, ‘Whom God displayed publicly (like bill-boarding Jesus, lifting him up in public on the cross for all to see) as a propitiation (an atoning sacrifice). This word is also used in Hebrews in referring to the mercy seat on which the blood of bulls was sprinkled seven times on the Day of Atonement. This symbolically said, ‘God’s wrath has been satisfied for one more year.’ We know these sacrifices were looking to the day of fulfillment when the Lamb of God would take away the sin of the world. God’s wrath being satisfied, the propitiation, was wrought by the pure, undefiled blood of Jesus (Eph. 1:7; Col. 2:13-14; Heb.9:13-15). Then Paul says this was to prove God’s righteousness. In other words, this was to make clear that God is not unjust. He is not a judge who is partial, who takes a bribe, who shows favourites. He is perfectly righteous. Sin has been righteously judged in the death of his Son. He passed over (like when the Angel of Death passed over those of Israel who had placed the blood of lambs on the doorposts of their homes) the sins of his people. Paul reiterates, for emphasis, this glorious principle in verse 26, ‘for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He may be just (understood to be fair, impartial, not given to bribes) and the One who justifies (who declares us not guilty, giving us the perfect righteousness of Jesus).
As you contemplate these marvellous truths, as you spend time meditating on the glory of what God has done for you in Christ, then you cannot help but be filled with great joy. If you are not overwhelmed with joy, then either you still do not understand what God has wrought in your life, in spite of what you deserve, which is hell itself; or you have not truly possessed the inheritance. The motivation for evangelistic work is to dwell deeply on what God has done in Christ for you.
Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. His weekly devotional, ‘Forget None of His Benefits’, can be found here.
If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at email@example.com.