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“Self Satisfaction through Self Substitution”

Romans 3:21-36
Bob DeGray
June 22, 2008

Key Sentence

Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross in my place for my sins.


I. We can now receive righteousness from God.
II. Righteousness is available only because of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice
III. Jesus gives us righteousness without perverting God’s justice.


Several authors have influenced my life and understanding as a believer. You can probably figure out who, because I mention them often. J. I. Packer, and the book 'Knowing God.' C. S. Lewis, 'Mere Christianity' and 'The Screwtape Letters.' And John R. W. Stott. I believe the first book I ever read by Stott was 'Basic Christianity'. I first heard him speak at the Urbana missionary conference in 1976 'The Lord God is a Missionary God'. When I preached through Romans I valued Stott' s commentary.

But I think his best book, and most influential in my life is 'The Cross of Christ' It's about the cross, especially about the atonement. In it Stott explains the perfection and beauty of what Christ did to rescue us. As we look at Romans 3:21-26 today, as we talk about Christ’s work, I want you to recognize I’m plagiarizing the best. It’s Stott and others who have done the hard thinking.

We’re studying the new Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America, and we’ve reached point five, ‘The Work of Christ’. We believe that Jesus Christ, as our representative and substitute, shed His blood on the cross as the perfect, all-sufficient sacrifice for our sins. His atoning death and victorious resurrection constitute the only ground for salvation.

This sounds like one of the more simple points, but it touches a profound mystery of the faith: how can a holy God accept sinners? In Romans Paul rehearses the common answers and finds none satisfactory. The problem of sin is too hard, too wide and deep for any human answer to bridge. Only God could come up with the answer. And Romans 3 is perhaps the high point in Scripture’s revelation of this profound truth: Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross in my place for my sins.

I. We can now receive righteousness from God.

Because of Jesus, we receive righteousness from God by faith. Romans 3:21-24. But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

Paul spends the first three chapters of Romans showing that we’re all sinners. In Romans 1:18 he says “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” In 1:29-31 he catalogs some of these sins and then says “Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”

He points these truths at the Gentiles who don’t have God’s law, but he doesn’t leave out Jewish people who, having the law, continue to sin. Romans 2:21-23 “You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?” They do.

Finally, in chapter 3 he summarizes. “What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. 10As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; 11there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."

So Paul paints a bleak picture of mankind’s state. No one is righteous. All have sinned, all are justly subject to God’s wrath, his holy anger against the sin and against sinners. But then in verse 21 he says that a new way of righteousness has been revealed, given to men as a gift of God. This new thing is revealed in Jesus Christ, but is also something to which the Law and the Prophets testify. All through the Old Testament we get hints of the grace that will be made known in Jesus.

Verse 22: “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” It’s a double whammy of faith: the word is used twice: as a noun in the verse’s middle - through faith in Jesus Christ, then as a verb - to all who believe.

Paul emphasizes that the only requirement to receive righteousness is faith. That's all it takes. Not works, not goodness, not affiliation with some church, but faith. And remember: faith itself is not a work. You don't somehow drum up a bunch of faith, and that buys redemption. No, even the faith is a gift. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith --and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast.” Faith is a gift of God’s gracious love.

Let me give you of John Stott’s words to nail that down. “When we say that salvation is 'by faith, not by works', we are not substituting one kind of achievement, 'faith, for another, ‘works’. Nor is salvation a sort of cooperative enterprise in which God contributes the cross and we faith. The value of faith is not found in itself, but entirely and exclusively in its object, namely Jesus Christ and him crucified.’

Verse 23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This sin is all inclusive and universal. But sinners, verse 23, “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” The word 'justified' is the same Greek word as 'righteousness' in 21 and 22. As a noun we translate it ‘righteousness’, as a verb, ‘justify’ or ‘justified’. We need a new English word, 'righteousified' For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are righteousified freely, as a gift, by his grace. We are made righteous, declared righteous as a gift of God’s grace. We are seen as pure and holy. We are clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

This is our standing in his sight, but it is not an immediate, complete reality in our lives. I wish it was. I wish when we believed righteousness immediately infused our every word, thought, and deed. But God uses a process called sanctification, by which we are gradually changed so that we live righteous lives, growing in Christlikeness.

II. Righteousness is available only because of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice

Paul wants to tell us not just how righteousness is recieved, but how righteousness is achieved. He wants to talk about Jesus, and about the atonement, the same subject that the statement of faith wants to talk about. Verses 23 to 25: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement in his blood, through faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.

We get a pretty good picture of Christ's sacrifice just by looking at the key words in these verses. The first is sinned. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The first three chapters proved we are sinners. The Greek means to miss the mark - used of errant arrows in an archery contest. To sin is to miss God's mark for right behavior. It is to fall short of the glory of God - his purity and holiness.

But the picture isn't really of an arrow getting close and slightly missing. It is of vast chasm between you and the glory of God. You attempt to jump out to God, and get less than a fraction of the way across; then you fall short, and fall to your death. Paul will say later that the wages of sin is death. Sin is devastating in its effects.

Second key word. Justified. Made or declared righteous. Righteousified. We’ve just talked about this one. We receive this righteousness by faith. There is a real change in our status before God. We go from being unrighteous sinners to righteous saints.

Third key word. Grace. Made righteous as a free gift of his grace. We know this much about our salvation: it’s a free act of his love; not something earned or deserved. We deserved death. We deserved judgment. We deserved wrath. But God has given us righteousness by grace alone. It is an act of compassion, kindness and mercy.

Fourth key word. Redemption. We are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Now we get the how of righteousifying, of justification. A price was paid for our sin. In the Old Testament, when an Israelite was sold into slavery, it was not a permanent thing. There was a fixed price he could pay to redeem himself, buy himself back from slavery. And if he did not have the ransom for his own life, he could call on a relative, a kinsman to redeem him.

So what price was paid for us? Well, we owed our lives. We were under a death sentence, condemned to experience separation from God and the wrath of God. These were the things that we owed. This was the price that was paid through Jesus Christ.

But to whom did he pay that price? There have been many answers. Some in the early church said the debt was owed to Satan. If we are in captivity to Satan, they said, then the redemption is the priced demanded by him for the release of his prisoners. But this gives Satan too much authority. Though he is ruler of this world, he is no match for God. The Son would not have had to die to set us free from Satan.

Others have said that it was the law that must be satisfied. We sinners have violated the law, and the penalty for lawbreaking must be paid. And this is valid, unless it makes God's law higher than God, so that he has to look at us in pity and say, my hands are tied. No, God's law is an expression of who he is, and if the penalty for violating the law must be satisfied, it is because God himself must be satisfied.

Similarly, others say that God's honor or justice or the moral order of creation must be satisfied. But the flaw in these ideas is that they make God subordinate to something outside himself which controls his actions, and from which he cannot free himself.

Let me quote Stott again: “It is God himself in his inner being who needs to be satisfied, and not something external to himself. Talk of law, honor, moral order or even justice is true only in so far as these are expression of God's own character.” So the debt was owed to God. We sinned against God. Redemption is the price paid to God to satisfy his wrath and judgment and remove the separation between us.

The fifth word is ‘sacrifice of atonement' Verse 25: God presented him - Christ Jesus - as a sacrifice of atonement The New American Standard has propitiation, which would be a good word if we knew what it meant. The Greek word Paul uses is one that talks about the mercy seat, the atonement seat that covered the ark of the covenant. On the Day of Atonement, once a year, blood was poured on the mercy seat to make atonement or payment or covering for the sins of the people.

So the verse says that God presented Jesus Christ to make payment and to cover the sin that separated God and man. Jesus turned aside God's wrath. He took away sin. Those of you who have the New International Version, can see this meaning in the footnote, which modifies verse 25 to read “God presented him as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away sin.” Jesus took God’s wrath, and took the punishment for sin: he was the sacrificial lamb who atones through his blood.

But Jerry Bridges in his recent book “The Gospel for Real Life” says of this footnote “I was still not satisfied, however, because “turning aside” seems to describe a mere deflection of wrath, as in the case of a boxer deflecting a blow from his opponent. Obviously Jesus did more than merely deflect the wrath of God from us. I believe a word that forcefully captures the essence of Jesus’ work is ‘exhausted’. Jesus exhausted the wrath of God; he fully absorbed it. It was not merely deflected and prevented from reaching us. Jesus bore the full, unmitigated brunt of it. God’s wrath against sin was unleashed in all it’s fury on his beloved Son.

But only Jesus could do this. God presented him as the sacrifice of atonement for our sins. It can only be Jesus for three reasons. First, because of his purity. He was sinless and pure, having done no wrong. So, having no debt of his own, he was in the position to pay our debt. 2 Corinthians 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Second, because of his humanity. We talked about the two natures of Christ last week. He is fully human. He became one of us, a representative of those who owed the debt. There is no justice in animal offerings, in having an animal take the place of a sinful person. People owed this debt; therefor a person must pay. Hebrews says “both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.” He is our representative at the cross.

Who can substitute? One who is pure. One who is human. And one who is divine. The debt we owed was infinite: many sinful people; multiplied by countless sins. No finite created being can pay this. Only an infinite God can do it. So a man must pay, but only God can pay. And God's merciful, just resolution was to become man. To himself become the substitute, in Jesus, the second person of the Trinity.

So who paid the debt? God himself, in Christ. Who became the substitute? God himself, in Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:19 “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” This was self substitution. A substitute was needed for your sins and mine, to bear the wrath and to endure the separation. And a substitute was found in the person of God himself, the Son in love offering himself as the sacrifice of atonement.

1 John 4:10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Self substitution. This is the doctrinal truth about Jesus. But notice what it is not. It is not God maliciously and gleefully accepting the innocent offer of a third party to stand in our place. This is not the love of Jesus standing between us and the wrath of God. The Father is not wrath and the Son love. This is God agreeing with himself that his love will satisfy his wrath.

The sixth and final word of the Gospel is faith, which we’ve already seen. Righteousness is received through faith in Christ Jesus. We believe he died for our sins. To have faith in Christ is to trust that his blood was shed for you, to place your confidence in him alone. No works, no goodness, no law can save. Only Jesus alone can save.

III. Jesus gives us righteousness without perverting God’s justice.

So we receive righteousness by faith. Christ achieved righteousness by self substitution. Finally, God's righteousness was vindicated in the atonement. Verses 25-26 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement in his blood, through faith. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished - 26he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

The question we’re studying is: How is it possible for the righteous God to declare the unrighteous to be righteous? In the Old Testament, God told the Israelite judges that they must justify the righteous and condemn the wicked. An innocent person must be declared innocent and a guilty person guilty. This is the basic principle of justice. But now, Paul says, God's justice is demonstrated in justifying the unjust. How? The sacrifice of Jesus meets the demands of his character and his justice.

Notice that patience is not justice. “He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his patience he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.” If God were not patient, putting up with sin, then we would all be struck down every day. In the whole history of the world, there have been none that were righteous, no nation, no people, no family, no individual. God has patiently left these sins unpunished.

But this is not justice. If God is righteous, there must eventually be punishment. God is the one our sins have offended, and from whom punishment is due. God himself who must somehow be satisfied by the just punishment of sins.

And now, in Christ, he is satisfied. Verse 26: “he did this to demonstrate his justice at the present time.” The time came when judgment was pronounced. The time came when the penalty of sin was applied. But not to us. In Christ God sacrificed himself in order to fulfill his own just requirements. God can now declare us righteous without any injustice on his part because the penalty has been paid.

Again, if Christ were merely a third party, who simply stepped into the picture and said, ‘I'll take the punishment’ that would not have been justice. It’s not just to simply put to death the innocent for the guilty. But this is self substitution. God in Christ substituting himself for us. And so it is self satisfaction. God in Christ satisfying the righteous requirements of his own holiness.

This is why Jesus was in such agony in the Garden. Many men have gone to death without the agony Jesus suffered. But he was not just going to death. He was going to bear the sins of the word and to bear the wrath of God. This was the cup that could not be taken from him - the cup of God’s wrath poured out.

This is why Jesus cried out on the cross "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" because at that moment as he bore the wrath, he was separated from God. God the Son in some incomprehensible way, separated for the first and only time from God the Father. Amazing love. Amazing plan of salvation. God's justice satisfied.

Let me close with Stott. “We strongly reject therefore every explanation of the death of Christ which does not have at its center the principle of divine self satisfaction through divine self substitution. The cross was not a commercial bargain with the devil, nor a compulsory submission by God to some moral authority above him, nor punishment of a meek, loving Christ by a harsh or punitive or reluctant Father.

Instead, the righteous, loving Father humbled himself to become in and through his only Son, flesh sin and a curse for us, in order to redeem us without compromising his own character. The Biblical concept of atonement is of God satisfying himself by substituting himself for us.”

This we believe - and by this faith alone we are saved.