We have seen that the book of Romans is the gospel of sonship. However, in this book another important matter is covered, and that is the matter of righteousness. In 1:16 and 17 Paul says that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes, because the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel. In this message we shall see why righteousness is the power of the gospel and why righteousness is necessary in order for God to produce many sons through the gospel.
In eternity past God predestinated us to be His sons. However, although we were the predestinated ones, we became fallen and involved with sin. This brings in the matter of God’s righteousness. If we had not fallen, we would not need to be concerned with righteousness. But because we are fallen, God must deal with us according to His righteousness. What should God do with those He has predestinated to become His sons? Some may say that because God loves us, He cannot cast us all into the lake of fire. Yes, God loves us, but He hates sin. God does not desire to give us up or to cast us into the lake of fire. However, He cannot forgive us unless His righteousness has been satisfied. If God would forgive us in a light manner, He would place Himself in a position of being unrighteous. As a righteous God and a just God, He cannot forgive sinful people without meeting the demands of His righteousness.
In order that God might be able to forgive us, Christ, the Son of God, became flesh. As 8:3 says, God sent His own Son in the likeness of the flesh of sin. By incarnation, the Lord took upon Himself the likeness of the flesh of sin and became identified with sinners in the flesh. For the sake of God’s righteousness, the Lord Jesus was put to death on the cross. There, on the cross, He was made sin for us, and God condemned sin in the flesh. By dying on our behalf the Lord accomplished redemption and fulfilled all of God’s righteous requirements. Now God has the position righteously to forgive us. In fact, He not only can forgive us, but, for the sake of His righteousness, He must forgive us. God forgives not primarily because He loves us, but because He is bound by His righteousness to do so.
John 3:16 says that because God loved us, He gave His only begotten Son so that everyone who believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. This verse indicates that God saves us because He loves us. Furthermore, in Ephesians 2:5 and 8 we are told that we are saved by grace. The book of Romans, however, reveals that we are saved not by grace nor by love, but by righteousness. Neither love nor grace is a legal matter. You cannot claim that, according to law, a person is required to love you or to show grace to you. Only with those things which are related to righteousness do we have the position to claim something in a legal way.
For example, suppose you are a landlord and I am one of your tenants. Each month I am required to pay you a certain amount of money as rent. If I fail to pay rent for two months, you have the position to righteously claim from me the payment of the rent. On my part, I must pay the rent, not out of love nor out of grace, but out of righteousness. I am legally obligated to pay the rent. If I pay it, I am righteous. But if I do not pay it, I am not righteous.
In one sense, the Lord Jesus was put to death by the Jews and Romans. But in another sense, He was put to death by God. The Lord was on the cross for six hours. During the first three hours, He suffered the persecution of men, who did many evil things to Him. But during the last three hours, God laid all our sins upon Him, and then He judged Him, punished Him, and put Him to death. This is proved by Isaiah 53. God put Christ to death because, during the last three hours on the cross, Christ took our place. Through Christ’s death, God’s righteous requirements were fulfilled. Therefore, the Lord could utter the words, “It is finished” (John 19:30). By saying this, the Lord was indicating that the work of redemption was accomplished. As proof of this, the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom (Matt. 27:51). Furthermore, the entire scene surrounding the place of Christ’s death became serene and peaceful. A wealthy man asked for the body of Jesus and buried Him in a tomb (John 19:38). Thus, with His suffering over, the Lord rested in the tomb. The requirements of God’s righteousness had been fulfilled by Christ’s death, and God was satisfied. Three days later, as proof of this satisfaction, God raised Christ from among the dead. Hence, the resurrection of Christ is the proof that God is satisfied with His death on our behalf.
Before Christ died on the cross, it was still possible for God to change His mind about forgiving us of our sins. He could righteously have cast us all aside. But after Christ’s death on the cross under the judgment of God, God cannot do this.
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