Thursday, March 8

Purposes of Christ's Death: Romans 3:24-25

I've been thinking about reposting a series of posts I did way back in 2004 when I first started blogging. It's a series that looks at the scriptural purpose statements given for Christ's death—you know, any statements about Christ's atoning work that include the words "so that" or "for this reason" or "to this end" or something similar.

Since I'm sick today, I thought this might be a good day to start recycling. I'll edit each one up a bit as I repost it.

First up—Romans 3:24 and 25:
....whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (ESV)
You'll find the purpose statement in this text stated twice, but a little differently:
This was to show God's righteousness . . .
and
It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
One of the purposes of Christ's death, according to these verses, was to demonstrate God's righteousness. The word translated just in the second statement could be translated righteous, as well; so the last half of this statement is explaining in more detail the way it is that Christ's propitiatory death shows God to be righteous: It is a way for him remain righteous and, at the same time, count sinners as righteous.

The problem, as the verse lays it out, is that God's passing over previously committed sins could raise doubts about his righteousness. The former sins referred to are the sins that God left unjudged in the time before Christ's death, and it would be unrighteous (or unjust) for God, in his role as judge, to simply shove these wrongdoings under the rug. We usually think of injustice in terms of finding someone guilty for crimes not committed, but it is also unjust to ignore crimes someone has committed. Therefore, there needs to be a right or just way for these sins to be overlooked.

And that's what Christ's death accomplishes; that's one of its purposes. It is the historical event that makes God's forbearance in previous times right. That Christ died means that sin was never simply ignored, but there was a righteous way for it to be passed over, and this righteous way was the means of propitiation that would come through Christ's sacrificial death on the cross. It is because of Christ's propitiatory death that God can withhold his righteous wrath against sinners and count them righteous instead; yet still be completely just in everything he does. Christ's death absorbs the retributive wrath of God that is made necessary by human sin, and in this way his death demonstrates to all people that God is righteous even when he mercifully forgives sin and justifies sinners.

Demonstrating that God passed over sin in a way that is righteous or just is one of the purposes of Christ's death.

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