On this podcast we frequently return to fundamental realities, essential truths, things most precious to us, like the glory of God and the cross of Jesus Christ. If you get these fundamentals right, everything else eventually falls into place. Get the fundamentals wrong, and nothing will fall exactly into place. Something will always be off.
In light of this, some of the most essential questions include these: Why, in the first place, do I need to be saved? Saved from whom? Saved from what? What is my problem? And how does God, and specifically Christ, address my problem? To explain, I love this following sermon excerpt from a 2009 message delivered at a Campus Crusade event in Minneapolis. There Pastor John expounded Romans 3:23–26, in which the apostle Paul says this:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
A glorious text of essential, must-know truth. Here’s Pastor John to explain it.
“Whom [referring to Christ] God put forward as a propitiation . . .” (Romans 3:25). Propitiation means a sacrifice that removes wrath. So, the wrath of God is absorbed by Christ when he dies in our place. Propitiation is the removal of the wrath of God off of us, though we deserve it.
“Condemnation happened at the cross. Whose? Mine. In whose flesh? Not mine.”
“Whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood [his death], to be received by faith.” That’s how you receive a gift: faith is a receiving; it’s not a doing.
“This was to show God’s righteousness . . .” Oh, really? Really? This putting Christ forward “was to show [God’s] righteousness, because in his divine forbearance [patience] he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:25–26).
I don’t think there’s a more important paragraph in the Bible than that right there. I mean, there may be some competing, but that’s just about as close to the center as you can get.
Cursed for Us
Take it apart for just a few minutes with me. God put Christ forward as a propitiation by his blood. Romans 8:3: “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.”
Whose sin? Mine. Whose flesh? Christ’s. That’s an amazing statement. Condemnation happened at the cross. Whose? Mine. In whose flesh? Not mine. This is propitiation. Propitiation is the drawing away of condemnation from me. How can this be? How can it go there, on Christ? It belongs here, on me.
Galatians 3:13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” Whose curse? God’s curse. He’s the one who backs up the law. The law is his word. If there’s a curse in the law on me, it’s coming from God. And Jesus becomes my curse.
So all that to say yes to propitiation; don’t translate it some other way. Don’t use expiation, which simply means “removal of guilt.” Don’t translate it merely as living sacrifice or sacrificial offering. It’s the removal of God Almighty’s just, holy condemnation and wrath, which belongs to me.
Glory Is Gone
Why did he need to do it that way? Why did Christ need to die in order to placate God’s wrath?
“This was to show God’s righteousness.” So, Christ died; God put him forward to die. This was to show God’s righteousness. Why did he need to show his righteousness? That’s a pretty high price for a demonstration of righteousness. Why did he need to show his righteousness?
“Because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” Well, why does passing over sin make it necessary to demonstrate righteousness? Now we’re ready to see verse 23 and the nature of sin: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
I don’t know if you’ve ever felt like I want you to feel now about the connection between sin and the glory of God. “All have sinned and fall short.” Fall short is an old-fashioned translation. The literal meaning is “they lack,” “they’re without.” In what way are we without? Romans 1:23 says we have exchanged the glory of God for the glory of created things. So, we had it; it was our treasure. When Adam and Eve were created, it was our treasure: we loved God, we cherished God, we esteemed God, we respected God; we were in awe of God and worshiped God and praised God and glorified God. And then we traded God.
“In that very moment of upholding his glory, God made it possible to save sinners.”
You’ve all done it; you do it every day. We embrace other values, other treasures, other desires that are so much stronger in our hearts than God is. We traded him, and so we lack God’s glory. It’s not our treasure; we’ve just thrown it away. And sin is anything you do in that process. Anything that reflects that God is not your treasure is sin. So, all have sinned and lack, throw away, exchange, demean, belittle, trample the infinite value of the glory of God.
Guilty Go Free
Now, why does that call the righteousness of God into question when he passes over such sin? Because when God, as he does for all of his people, passes over — does not condemn — sinners who have trampled his glory and demean his glory every single day of our lives, it looks as though he thinks that’s no big deal: to trample the glory of God is no big deal.
It would be like a judge sitting at a bench who’s got a murderer and a rapist in front of him. He says, “We’ll just let it go. We’ll just pass over the murder and the rape this time; we’ll just pass over it.” And everybody in the courtroom would say, “No way! You can’t do that and sit on that bench and be a just judge and say you’re just going to pass over this thing.”
And so, God knows that he would be unrighteous, he would be wrong, unjust, if he treated his glory as though it were so worthless that he could just pass over the trampling of his glory in his people. And so he doesn’t just pass over it; he sends his Son into the world to demonstrate his righteousness.
You see, if you understand Romans 3:23–26, what happened at the cross was the loudest statement imaginable: I love my glory. And in that very moment of upholding his glory, God made it possible to save sinners: “so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
The Unthinkable for the Undeserving
So, in John 17, Jesus expresses this idea: “I want them to see me — I want them to see me risen, triumphant, glorious, all-satisfying in my glory, so that my glory will continue to be exalted forever, and their joy would be full” (see John 17:24).
And at the center is the cross, making that possible for sinners. As God says, “I put my Son forward to demonstrate my righteousness. My righteousness is my unwavering commitment, always and everywhere, to uphold the infinite worth of my glory. And if I am bent on saving sinners who have trampled my glory, which I most certainly am, I will not do it in any way that calls my love for my glory into question. I will do the absolutely unthinkable. I will put my Son on the gibbet, and he will be tortured, and he will bear my wrath to make plain: I don’t sweep God-belittling sins under the rug of the universe when I save sinners.”