Without the righteousness of God, there is no gospel! If God merely passed over sin, he would not be God at all. This is one reason why many scholars have called Romans 3:21–26 the center of the book of Romans and why D. A. Carson has even called it the "Center of the Whole Bible." In this passage we find that the good news of the gospel stands firmly upon the righteousness of God.
The righteousness of God takes center stage in Romans 3:21–26 since it is mentioned four times. Each of these occurrences describes the cross as the display of God's righteousness. In v. 26, Paul summarizes how the cross vindicates God. He says, "This was to demonstrate [God's] righteousness at the present time in order that he might be righteous even while justifying the one who has faith in Jesus." That is to say, Jesus was crucified for the purpose that God would himself be righteous in spite of declaring righteous the unrighteous person who has faith. Did you hear that? At the cross, God made a way that he could declare unrighteous persons righteous and still be God! That is good news!
If God simply declared us righteous—without anyone paying for our sin—then he would not be righteous at all; and if God is not righteous, then God is not God (cf. Deuteronomy 32:4). This is true since we are unrighteous due to sin. Sin is exchanging the glory of God for lesser things (Romans 1:23). God’s passing over sins without dispensing justice seems to affirm their assessment of his glory. The problem "is not so much that [God] would be saying sins do not matter or justice does not matter; more basically, he would be saying that he does not matter.” God must uphold the honor of his name—he must be righteous, or he is no longer God, and there is no gospel!
Consequently, it is the righteousness of God which sweetens the gospel. It sweetens the gospel because—quite honestly—the gospel would not exist without it. God truly made a way in Christ—a way to uphold the honor of his name and save unrighteous people like us who had defamed it. We should rejoice this week in the good news that God is righteous, and he is able to declare you righteous without compromising the honor of his name!
|* This post was originally published as a devotional for the 2015 Faith Bible Seminary Friends Banquet.|
|1. Carson, D. A. The Center of the Whole Bible. Sermon. [LINK].||↩|
|2. This is my translation. See also Piper who defends a similar rendering citing Ladd and Cranfield as well. Piper, John. The Justification of God, p. 150. [LINK].||↩|
|3. Ibid. 148.||↩|
|4. Piper's JSNT article is technical and not for the faint of heart, but it is a gold mine in understanding this concept.||↩|