This post highlights information from the sermon preached at Trinity Presbyterian Church in New Martinsville WV on Sunday, April 2, 2017. Watch the entire sermon at the end of the post.
In the Introduction to Romans, Paul signals that he is going to write about how God reveals his righteousness through the Gospel.
To understand this, we must especially understand Paul's use of the word righteousness and other related words (righteous, just, justifier, and justification). What does that word “righteousness” mean?
When God is True to Himself
The word simply means conformity to a standard. In God’s case, the standard is God, so God’s righteousness refers to his conformity to himself. He must always be consistent with his own holy, good, infinitely loving self. To borrow an expression from common parlance--God must remain true to himself.
When God is righteous, he is conforming to his own character. Of course, because he is God, he cannot be unrighteous; he cannot not conform to his own character, or he would not be God. He is what he is, and he cannot be what he is not. So that is righteousness as it pertains to God.
When We are True to Ourselves
With regard to humans, the standard is still God's character. We do not get the luxury of being true to ourselves because we are sinners. When humans are righteous, they conform to God’s character. When they are unrighteous, they fail to conform to God’s character.
Since God created humanity to reflect his character (humans are the image of God--God reflectors), failing to reflect his character is a serious problem.
Back to God's Being True to Himself
Since God is righteous, he must deal with that problem in a way that is righteous, in a way that conforms to his own character.
The explanation for God's wrath in Romans 1 is that God must conform to his own perfect character, i.e. he was, is and always will be righteous. So God directs his wrath against all that does not conform to his character.
God reveals his wrath against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of man. Romans 1:18God’s wrath is his righteousness against our unrighteousness. So God must destroy humanity because he is righteous--he must be what he is. He cannot ignore unrighteousness. It is just not in his unchangeable, infinite, eternal, wise, holy, just, good, and true nature.
Is There a Way for God to be Righteous and Not Destroy Humanity?
Here is the kicker, brothers and sisters: In the time before time, before the creation of the world, before the creation of humanity, God decreed a way for himself to be righteous in a way that does not destroy sinful humanity. He decreed both to save humanity from its unrighteousness AND maintain his righteousness.
How is that possible? We know it cannot be done by simply overlooking humanity's unrighteousness, by looking the other way, or by pretending nothing's wrong. Remember, God must be righteous. God cannot ignore unrighteousness.
Somehow, if God is to save his creation, he must do it in a way that maintains his righteousness. He must both destroy sin and save the sinner without violating his perfection.
Romans is about how he did that--how he revealed his own righteousness while at the same time saving his creation from their unrighteousness. Paul tells us that he did that by revealing his righteousness through the Gospel.
The Gospel is the greatest love story ever told; the story of the greatest sacrifice ever made; the tale of the most magnificent mercy ever displayed. It is the Scripture-long story of how the Father sent the Son into the world to receive in his own body the wrath that human unrighteousness deserved. Ironically, he was murdered by his creatures’ own hands, and by that very sacrifice he willingly took God's wrath for the murderers. Furthermore, through his victory over death--his resurrection--he declared his undeserving creatures righteous by crediting to them the very righteousness of the Son of God himself.
Both Righteous and the Righteous-Maker!
By God's pouring his wrath upon Christ, and by giving to his creatures Christ’s own righteousness, God became the justifier--the bringer into conformity with his character-- of all those who believe in him. As he did so, he remained completely and entirely true to his own character. He fixed humanity's problem in a way that not only displayed his righteousness, but also magnificently displayed his unsurpassed love.
This glorious news is what Romans is all about.
If you want, you can watch the complete sermon and take the quiz.