Conflict is one of the more unpleasant realities of life. Some people excel at creating conflict, others walk into it without much premeditation, but in both contexts, conflict can be painful and regretful. Sometimes in life, we can discover that we're in the midst of conflict with others and we aren't even sure why. All of a sudden it seems like they've disappeared from our life. They used to call, now they don't. They used to try to get together, now they're never around. In the end, we find ourselves asking, "Did I do something or say something to offend them?" We may even begin to wonder if we're still friends.
Have you ever wondered if something like this was taking place in your relationship with God? Maybe you've spent your life avoiding God, but now you're becoming conscious of His presence and you're curious about what He thinks of you. Maybe you've been walking with God, but lately you've been experiencing trials and difficulties that feel out of the norm. Is He angry with you? Does He want to have anything to do with you? Does He have something against you that needs to be dealt with and brought out into the open?
This is a question that's answered for us in Romans 3:21-31. This Scripture makes it clear that if not for the direct intervention of Jesus Christ, God most certainly would have something against us. But God the Father sent God the Son into this world to remedy this problem. Yet for this problem to be remedied in our individual lives, we need to understand the nature of the problem to begin with. So, why would God have something against us? What grave concern was Jesus sent into this world to remedy?
I. I have fallen short of God's standard
Previously in the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul made it clear that man's attempts to justify himself will always fall short. The Gentiles could not be justified by their efforts because they weren't even seeking God, and the Jews could not be justified by keeping the Law of Moses because they could never keep it perfectly. The Law made them aware of their sin, but they weren't going to obtain a right standing before God through it since they violated it.
Yet, in the midst of all this rebellion, the Old Testament Scriptures (the Law and the Prophets) made known that the day would come when God would make people righteous. Prophetically pointing toward the future, the Scriptures spoke of the day when the righteousness of God would be granted to all who placed their full trust in Christ Jesus.
But for a person to trust in Jesus, they first need to understand their need for Him, and that need is clarified in Romans 3:23. In that passage we're told, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,". None of us are exceptions to that declaration. I have fallen short of God's standard of holiness and so have you. In the eyes of God, we stood unrighteous and condemned.
Not long ago, I was reading a news story about a well-known pimp who had abruptly passed away. Throughout this man's adult life, he exploited women, encouraged them to pursue a life of prostitution, and made a considerable fortune off doing so. Then, without warning, his life ended. He was found dead in his bed by his friends, and I couldn't help but wonder what that man was seeing and experiencing now. His life gave no evidence whatsoever of faith in Christ, and I cringed at the thought of him having to come before the throne of God after living his faithless, unrepentant life.
But as I pondered his fate, I was also reminded of my own. Left to myself, I was no better than this man. I had no righteousness I could claim that would stand the test in the courtroom of God. My only hope remains the mercy of God that has been shown to me in Jesus Christ. I cannot earn a righteous distinction in the eyes of God, but I can receive righteousness as an undeserved gift of grace because that's precisely what Jesus is offering us. Paul makes clear in Romans 3:22 that, without distinction, the righteousness of God will be granted to anyone who believes in Jesus Christ. No matter how filthy your past and no matter how complicated your present may be, Jesus is willing to save you and make you righteous.
But how certain is this salvation? What confirmation does the Lord give us that we will no longer be condemned? On what basis can we be confident that God is no longer holding our sin against us? On what basis can we be certain that we are no longer under His wrath?
II. Jesus alone can satisfy the righteous wrath of God
When you think of God, what images come to mind? Do you consider Him to be stoic and completely stone faced? Do you picture Him with a perpetual scowl? Do you suppose He's moody, temperamental, and primarily in a state of irritation because of the rebelliousness of humanity? Those perspectives are faulty, but they're certainly not uncommon in the imagination of humanity.
God is perfectly holy and righteous. Sin is a violation of His nature, therefore, He cannot practice it or welcome it into His presence. Scripture describes those who are still lost in their sin as being under God's wrath. His wrath is a serious thing, but the wrath of God should not be confused with moodiness or irritation. It's more consequential than that, and if a person enters eternity having rejected God's offer of forgiveness through Jesus, they will then proceed to spend their eternity under God's wrath and apart from His love.
There are certain theological leanings that seem to be embedded in the hearts and minds of humanity, even before we come to faith in Christ. One of those leanings seems to be an understanding that if there is a "god," his wrath would need to be appeased. Pagan religions have historically made sacrifices to their false deities in the hope that they would satisfy their temperamental anger. But unfortunately, this understanding is incomplete and unhelpful.
During the Old Testament era, the Jewish people were instructed to make sacrifices to God as acts of worship. Their sacrifices served as a temporary covering for their sin that pointed to the fact that one day, Jesus, would come and offer Himself as the ultimate, once and for all, sacrifice for our sin.
We no longer offer animal sacrifices because the sacrificial system ended when Christ was crucified on our behalf. He is the ultimate, blood atonement for our sin, and as Paul speaks of Him in Romans 3:25, He is the "propitiation" for our sins. But what does that word mean and why does it matter?
When Scripture speaks of Jesus as our "propitiation", it's referring to the fact that He appeased and satisfied the righteous wrath of God that we were once under because of our sinfulness. In satisfying the wrath of God, we have also been reconciled with God through Christ. We were once an offense to our Creator, but now we're loved and cherished as children who are no longer objects of His wrath. Through Christ, we become objects of God's mercy and love.
I'm glad God's patience with us isn't like my patience. I struggle with rushing to judgment. I struggle with being swift to punish. Yet Romans 3:25 tells us that God practiced "forbearance" toward us. He passed over our former sins while looking forward to the day when He would offer His Son to take care of the mess we were in. He was patient with us because He knew how He was going to eventually justify us and remove His wrath from us. Through faith in Jesus, our propitiation, we are justified in God's eyes as if we had never sinned.
So, I guess we should feel pretty good about ourselves then, huh? I guess we should pat ourselves on the back for the good job we've done in securing this great blessing from God, right? Hardly. This isn't a story where we get to be the heroes. We have nothing to boast about because in the end, we've been blessed in ways we never deserved.
III. I shouldn't be boasting about myself
Do you consider proud, boastful personalities to be endearing or revolting? In most contexts, we find the arrogance of boastful people revolting. It's unpleasant and is often communicated in such a way as to put others down. But how often have we taken a boastful posture with God? How often have we acted like His favor is something we deserve? How often have we bragged to Him about the service we've done in His name? How many times have we complained to Him that He wasn't being good to us anymore because we resented Him for daring to allow us to go through a season of trial or adversity?
There is nothing we can accurately boast about before God. We can't boast about our ability to keep the Law, because we failed at that. We can't boast about our ability to exhibit the fruit of the Holy Spirit, because we can only exhibit that fruit as He empowers us to do so. Both Jews and Gentiles can only claim one thing - we are freely and undeservedly justified by grace through faith in Christ. This faith didn't negate the Old Testament Law. It showed it to be effective because that Law was like a sheep dog that was meant to expose our need for Christ and drive us to Him.
So, does God have something against you? Well, I guess if you're still rejecting Him, and choosing to remain under His wrath, then the answer is yes. But even though we've fallen short of His standard, He still offers Himself to us. Jesus, our propitiation, has satisfied the righteous wrath of God against sin and will reconcile us to God if we trust in Him. He will transform our boastful and hard hearts into humble, grateful hearts, and the Holy Spirit will perpetually remind us that God is not against us, but for us.
© John Stange, 2018