In the first main section of Romans, Paul demonstrates that Mankind is in a perilous situation, for none can be saved through the working of law unless of course one is perfect.
But we are not perfect.
Paul’s purpose in writing the second main section of Romans is to let us know that there is another way, apart from the workings of law; the way of grace. This concept however, is as complex as it is simple, an apparent dichotomy that gives trouble to many in understanding it. Comprehending that none of us is perfect really isn’t difficult; we see it in others, we see it in ourselves, human imperfection is ubiquitous. Comprehending that God’s standards are way too high for mere mortals isn’t that complicated either, after all He’s God. Yet if God’s standards are so high and we are so imperfect, how can God maintain His standards while letting us off the hook? Ah yes dear reader, that is the tricky part, isn’t it? Paul answers that question in 3:21 – 5:21, the second major section of the letter.
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify (3:21). God has introduced a new system, a system that is apart from the Law; entirely new. Yet in doing so, God has maintained the high standard of the Law without compromising His integrity that the Law has demonstrated. It is a system that has been promised in the past, and now it has finally been revealed. In verses 22-24 Paul explains that this new system is based upon our placing our faith in Jesus Christ as a sacrifice for our sins. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith (25a). Here is where Paul tells us how God has done this amazing thing. Then Paul reveals the tricky part:
to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
When an Old Testament Jew died, he died in his sins, for the sacrifices of the Law did not take sins away, they postponed punishment for a year at a time. Under that system, God agreed to hold off dealing with the sin question, but He didn’t agree to forget about it entirely; a permanent solution would come later which is how Jesus became the fulfillment of the Law. Now Jesus has come and completed His work, and if we would like to receive God’s grace we may, but in order to receive it, we must place our faith in Jesus Christ. This is true for both Jew and Gentile, from Paul’s day until now.
Suppose I wrote out a check to you for $100,000. as a gift. Before I sent it to you, I shoot you an email asking you if you would be interested in accepting my nice gift, for I wouldn’t want to clutter up your mailbox if you didn’t want it; all I’m asking is that you send a quick reply and let me know that you will accept it, and the gift is yours. I’d almost be willing to bet that most of you would hurt my feelings by not placing enough faith in me to accept this gift that I’ve worked so hard to be able to offer you! Why I would imagine that if I just mailed the check to you, most would be afraid to cash it, some might even call the police.
I’m hurt, dear reader, I’m hurt…
In any event, this is the case that Paul is setting out to demonstrate in this section as he moves on to verses 27-31, where he points out that the result of this grace is that there is no longer any distinction in God’s sight between Jew or Gentile, and that the redemption we have received in Christ has nothing to do with any righteousness we might have apart from God’s grace: This is the fulfillment of both the Law and the prophets.
Yet, this is not to say that there is nothing we do to receive grace, however. Does that surprise you? To be quite honest, there are three things we must do to receive grace, but you can relax, for none of them involve our earning of grace in any way but we must accept it. To accept grace we must decide to believe God when He offers it. Second, if we decide to believe God’s offer, we must then decide to place our faith in Jesus Christ, and then we must decide that our first two decisions are irrevocable.
Look, you already lost out on $100,000. of free money because you didn’t make those decisions, how much more important is forgiveness of your sins and eternal life? Come on people; let’s make up our minds here!
Hopefully Paul can make this point with more eloquence than I have. We’ll see as we continue our study…