“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 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.” Romans 3:21-26 esv
When I was in my last semester of college I started an internship at a church that had me speaking in nursing homes to develop my ability to preach. Most people saw this solely as a training exercise and considered the actual ministry part fruitless. After all, the people in the nursing homes were often incapable of remembering their own names, let alone retaining Bible knowledge and growing spiritually.
One of my favorite ladies was Golda. She was 100 years old and couldn’t remember anything for longer than two minutes. She used to ask me what my names was and after I told her it was Adam, she would respond with. “Oh, Adam, where is your Eve?” I would joke with her and say, “I haven’t found her yet but if you see her before I do, tell her I’m looking.” She would laugh robustly, but when the laughter would die down she would say, “What’s your name?” and I would just start the joke all over again.
Some of my counterparts felt uncomfortable at the nursing home – it’s really not for everyone – but I loved it there. My ministry lasted four years, every Sunday preaching God’s Word, and only ended after I had to move away.
In the span of my ministry there, I had the opportunity to preach through the book of Romans, always having to make sure I reviewed where we had been before our weekly lesson. It was a challenge for me because it meant that I really had to know the central points of the book and simplify it in terms that my audience could understand it. In the process I spent a lot of time explaining Romans 3:21-26.
I consider this text to be the most crucial passage to the whole Bible. In it we see the central theme of everything from Adam’s sin in the garden to the future day when Christ will establish His kingdom: God’s righteousness bestowed on man. It is the most powerful text because in such a short paragraph Paul explains how redemption is received personally, judicially, and for eternity. This text offers the clearest explanation to the character of a holy and powerful God, worthy of all of our praise.
How can the righteousness of God be transferred to a sinful and depraved people before the glorification of their flesh and the efforts of a holy lifestyle? this is one of the biggest questions the text raises and answers. Ever since Adam, as the headship for all mankind, sinned in the garden, there has been a great chasm drawn between God and His creation. Throughout history God has dealt with humanity in different ways, but the central theme of the gospel was always there. The Law and the prophets all point to the redeeming LORD.
But there is a serious problem with this…
If God is infinitely holy and cannot tolerate sin, how can His dealing with mankind not tarnish His character? it would seem that God’s blatant irregard to the system of holiness and sin would affect his claim to be just. Justice requires a standard above the judged. How could God be just and yet forgive sinners without diminishing His character and thus nullifying His right to remain just? There was still a price to be paid for the sins of mankind. God would not be just if the sins of creation were not dealt with in a satisfactory manner.
How could the sins of the redeemed be paid for? Christ was the sacrifice put forth by God so that God could remain just. It meant that He had to sacrifice His only Son so that we could be reunited with our Creator. Jesus became flesh, lived alongside of mankind, remained sinless, and died in our place. Christ had to suffer and die. God had to place the sins of the redeemed on His Son and turn His face away. This became the satisfying atonement for our sins. Christ became the substitutionary, satisfying atonement for mankind.
The word Propitiation may be confusing for some. It’s not a word we use very often in our day to day conversation, but it should be. It simply means “Satisfaction.” It would be funny, though somewhat diminishing of the word, if we ended our Sunday dinner by thanking the cook, “That was propitious. I couldn’t eat another bite.”
What is the source of righteousness for mankind? Faith has to be directed towards the sole source of sins satisfaction: Jesus Christ. Without Him no one will be saved. This text puts to death any argument of universalism or a notion that all religions lead to the same God. God must remain just and there has been only one substitutionary atonement for mankind: Jesus Christ.
When I was preaching through Romans at the nursing home, I was able to review the gospel every week by asking them what “Propitiation” meant. Many of them had never even heard the word before I shared it with them. But despite what everyone thought about this ministry being completely fruitless, the ladies will respond back, “Satisfaction!” with a joyful shout. One lady, Genevieve – who had been raised catholic, would grab my had at the end of the service and with tears in her eyes say, “No one has ever shared the gospel like that with me before.” She was there every Sunday, waiting to receive the Word of God.
So you may be accustomed to the gospel, after being in a church for a good portion of your life. You may even be an outsider looking in to this amazing revelation for the first time. Regardless, we should always be reminded of the holiness of God, the work of Jesus Christ, and the power of the gospel to affect the hearts and lives of those who would seem to be incapable of comprehension.