God cleans our records in Heaven, taking away the record of our sin and replacing it with Christ’s righteousness. This free gift removes God’s wrath from us and brings him great glory.
Grace That Erases Sin’s Penalty
The very wrath, which is God’s justice, that ought to have sunk us deeper than the grave, into the flames of hell, is consumed in God’s own Son.
“He pays the full price for our sin. And therefore, we just receive that gift by faith.”
Topics & Timestamps
0:00 – Bible reading
1:23 – The transforming of our hearts
4:19 – The cleansing of our records in heaven
6:13 – Righteousness by faith
10:43 – God declares us righteous
15:51 – Righteousness is a free gift
19:31 – God’s grace redeems and propitiates
28:31 – God’s righteousness is shown
37:27 – God meets our greatest need
41:24 – God means well for you
“Justification, ultimately, is not so much being forgiven, it is being declared righteous.”
“That’s the way we must view Christ on the cross: that we did not contribute. He buys our salvation.”
“This righteousness which is now put into our records in Heaven, and it’s filed there for the Judgment Day.”
Other Content On This Topic
Let It Out: Why Confessing Your Sin Is Critical
The Wages of Sin: The Punishment of Evil at the Cross and in Hell
Do I Get Punished For My Sin After God Forgives Me?
Shaped By Grace or The Law? // Marks of A Jesus Follower
Text: Romans 3:21-26
Date preached: 18 September 2022
Location: Christ Church Midrand, Gauteng, South Africa
Good evening, everybody. I am Naledi Zondo. I will be reading from Romans chapter 3 verse 21 to 26:
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 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.” (Romans 3:21-26)
This is the word of the Lord.
Thank you very much, sister. Thank you. Let’s turn back to that passage of Scripture that has just been read to us and that’s the one that I am intending to open up as a second installment to what we looked at this, this morning. If you were not there, that’s fine. This is a completely full installment but let me try and quickly marry the two together.
The Transforming Of Our Hearts
This morning when I began the first session, I mentioned the fact that when God saves us, he saves us (with) from two different angles that meet very important, vital needs that we have as sinners. One is the cleansing or the transforming of our hearts on earth. That’s the first, um and then the second is what we are looking at now, and it is the cleansing um of our records in heaven. So, on one hand, we have that which deals with the power of sin in our lives and then the other is that which deals with the penalty, our sin, our guilt that is in the records for which indeed we must pay, unless something about that is corrected.
So, with respect to the first, we spent a bit of time in First Corinthians. There are a number of other passages that I would have chosen to deal with that. One of my favourite ones, in fact, is Titus chapter 3, that also makes a similar movement from the way in which we initially were, what God does in transforming us on the inside, and the final hope that we have, because of that which he has done. But instead, I chose to handle First Corinthians and chapter 6, which again has that specific movement. And there, at least, it was challenging us, and I trust that those who heard me this morning would have appreciated that, that without this moral transformation, we can never find ourselves ultimately in God’s kingdom. That there must be this change. And the reason, as we saw, is because God is Holy. As a holy being, he cannot dwell with sin, so that sin has to be dealt with.
Well, having seen that and we saw that, in fact, this was something God does in this life, we saw something we are waiting for, to happen at the point of our death. Yes, there will be a movement from sanctification to glorification then, but it’s something he does now, and hence that past tense that we saw, that “that is what some of you were.” (1 Corinthians 6:11) So, it’s changed. You are no longer like that. What is it that has made you no longer like that? “You were washed, you were sanctified…” (1 Corinthians 6:11) And so forth.
The Cleansing Of Our Records In Heaven
But what we noticed, even in that passage, is that the Apostle Paul alluded to, to that issue to do with our record in Heaven when he said, “And you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 6:11) And that’s really what I want us to deal with this evening, the other side. In one sense, we have moved from the area of our experience to the area where we, we must but believe that this is what has happened. But in another sense, we are not really moving away from experience, because it is primarily because of this cleansing of our record in Heaven, that we experience this peace that surpasses all understanding. So, it, it works its way into our experience as well.
I thought the best place to deal with it is Romans chapter 3 and initially, I was hoping to begin from verse 23, but as I spent some time this afternoon looking at this passage, I thought if we could also handle verse 21 and verse 22, it gives us the background of everything else that the Apostle Paul is dealing in this passage of Scripture. In fact, the truth that he handles here is one that he handles right across chapter 4 and right across chapter 5, so this is really but the beginning of him dealing with this whole subject of us being justified in the eyes of God.
Righteousness By Faith
Paul begins by simply making the statement,
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it – (He comes back to this righteousness) the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. (Before it goes on to say) There is no distinction…” (Romans 3:21-22)
Basically, what Paul is speaking about there is something he had begun to talk about in chapter one and verse 16 and verse 17. So, if we can just quickly jump there, because strictly speaking, Romans 1 verse 18 all the way to Romans 3 and verse 20 is a bracket, it’s a parenthesis, it’s, it’s simply there to justify Paul’s excitement prior to verse 18. Otherwise, the main point that he is dealing with is in verse 16 and verse 17 and you cannot miss the fact that there is a relationship between this verse and chapter 23 verse 21. So, if you’ve got your Bibles there, let’s quickly pick. He says there in verse 16,
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel…” (Romans 1:16)
And that phrase there is an understatement. What he really means is, “I’m excited about the gospel! I’m thrilled with the gospel! It’s, it’s, it’s my everything. I’m willing to die for it.” That’s basically what he’s saying. And he gives the reason,
“…for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, (doesn’t matter who they are) to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (He gives a further reason. He says,) For (in other words: because) in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith.” (Romans 1:16-17)
Now that’s it a rather odd statement, but all it means is it is all by faith, from beginning to end. There is no works of your own doing inside the way in which we receive this free righteousness from God. There’s nothing whatsoever – it is all by faith. And in order for him to make the point, he quotes the Bible. He says that is, “…as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Romans 1:17)
So, if you could skip with me from verse 18 chapter 1 all the way to chapter 3 verse 20, verse 21 you’ll notice that that’s exactly what he’s saying,
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law…” (Romans 3:21)
Now the actual Greek reads like this: “But now apart from law, a righteousness or the righteousness of God has been made manifest.” What does it mean by “but now apart from law?” What he means is this: that it’s got nothing to do with you obeying the law. Zero. This righteousness that we’re talking about, it’s not intertwined with you obeying the law. Rather, as he puts it in verse 22,
“This righteousness of God is through faith…” (Romans 3:22)
Exactly what he was saying in chapter 1 and verse 17 – that it is through faith in Jesus Christ. And, as if it’s not enough, he adds, “for all who believe,” (Romans 3:22) which is really the same thing. Faith, belief is the same. But when Paul goes into tautology, it’s because he doesn’t want us to miss what he is saying, because it is crucial.
God Declares Us Righteous
And there, friends, is where we need to begin with what God has done for us in heaven. What has he done? He has provided us with a free righteousness. And that’s really the meaning of the word justify. Often, for most of us, we think of justification in terms of forgiveness. Now in a sense we are right that spiritual justification includes forgiveness but remember when New Testament writers borrow words from the world, and justification is one of them, there is something about that word as it is used in the world that they want to bring into the religious world. So, justification, ultimately, is not so much being forgiven, it is being declared righteous. That’s what it is.
An obvious example that I often use is if you found two people arguing and one of them is now reaching real desperation and frustration, and then he points a finger right at the nose of his friend and says, “The problem with you is you are always justifying yourself!” Which I’m sure you’ve heard before. Is he saying, “The problem with you is that you are always forgiving yourself?” No. He’s saying, “The problem with you is that you are always insisting that you were right, when you know you were wrong.” So that’s what justifying is. And that’s the reason why it, it, it blows our minds to think of God justifying sinners. It’s not supposed to make sense that a righteous God should say about a sinner that you are actually righteous.
And in case you doubt that, well that’s what we find in chapter 4. Let’s just quickly peep a little lower there in chapter 4. Listen to verse 5,
“And to the one who does not work (that’s again, it’s not by what you have done) but believes (there it is – by faith) believes in him (listen to this) who justifies the ungodly…” (Romans 4:5)
Now, you, you don’t do that. If a judge…you were in court, and the prosecution came and proved their case beyond any reason reasonable doubt, that the accused had actually broken the law. If the judge was to raise his gavel in the air and bring it crashing down and then say, “He’s acquitted. He was right in what he did.” You would all storm out of that courtroom in disgust. You would all say, “That judge has been bribed.”
Well, that’s exactly what Paul is saying God has done. He declared, he justifies the ungodly. Now if our understanding was (that) he forgives the ungodly, okay yeah, he’s the gracious God. He forgives. But this phrase means he declares the ungodly righteous. He, he has done it in our records in heaven. That’s where he’s done it: in our records in Heaven. He has dealt with our guilt.
And the point that Paul is making, if we can go back to our text, the point that Paul is making there is again that it’s, it’s something we receive freely, freely. That’s why he used the phrase, “But now, apart from law,” we have this righteousness of God. It’s, it’s a free gift. How? Well, that’s what we come to where I should have begun, in verse 23.
Righteousness Is A Free Gift
Okay, first of all, it’s the fact that there’s no other way. Why? Because, as Paul puts it here in verse 23, a little before that he says,
“For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:22-23)
That’s the mountain that we have to deal with. It’s the fact that there’s not a single human being who can ever merit this righteousness, because all of us have sinned, we’ve broken God’s law and all of us have fallen short of that standard by which God would receive us in glory.
God is not like us parents. You know, um as parents, when your little ones are… you’re trying to encourage them to, to jump a rope. You hold the rope on two sides, and you say to the little one, “Come, come, run, run.” And as the child is getting to the rope, of course closing their eyes because the child knows, “I’m about to bang into the rope,” you just bring down the rope right to the ground and little kid crosses over with great surprise that this tragedy hasn’t happened. And you’re all going, “Hurrah! Well done! Well done! Well done!” And the kid feels so nice, but really, you cheated. You brought down the rope.
God doesn’t cheat. He never lowers his standard, never. He is infinitely holy. He is infinitely righteous. That standard of his, we can never reach. We have fallen short of that standard called the glory of God. And that’s the reason why it’s completely hopeless that anybody should think they can arrive in Heaven by their own deeds. It’s hopeless.
In fact, you try it out: speak to anybody who’s religious, whether it is a Muslim or any other. You said to them, “When you die, you think God will accept in heaven?” And they inevitably say something like this, “Well, I hope so.” “What do you mean you hope so?” “Well, you know, I’m trying my best,” they often say. “You know, I’m sincere. I do this. I do that,” and so on. Then you ask them, “Okay, so is that enough?” “Well, it’ll depend on God’s mercy on that day.” You know, they still cannot say what a Christian can say. A genuine Christian, you ask them, “If you die today, will you go to Heaven?” And they immediately say, “Yes.” And it’s not because of what they have done. It’s useless, it’s pointless in this equation. It’s completely based on a free gift from God – a completely free gift.
God’s Grace Redeems and Propitiates
And that’s what Paul goes on to deal with here. He says it’s a free gift and then it shows how God gives this righteousness to us, this righteousness which is now put into our records in Heaven, and it’s filed there for the Judgment Day. Let’s quickly see how he explains it in this passage of Scripture. So, we’ve all fallen short of the glory of God, and then he says this in verse 24,
“And are justified by his grace as a gift…” (Romans 3:24)
Remember I was talking about Paul’s tautology in earlier? I was talking about, “by faith to all who believe” and here he is again, “by his grace as a gift.” Now Paul, grace is always a gift. Come on! If you ever earn someone’s favour, it’s no longer grace. You’ve earned it. But again, it’s Paul wanting to, to so make the point, that we will not miss it that it’s a gift. It’s given to us who deserve the exact opposite. It’s given to us when, in actual fact, we deserve punishment. We deserve to go to Hell. How? Well, Paul uses a number of phrases here. I’ll quickly take you through them and then I’ll make the point.
First of all, it is the phrase “redemption.”
“…through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 3:24)
To redeem simply means to buy back. That’s what it means: to buy back. It’s what you do when you, if you got a loan and now you, to get that loan, you left your title deeds with the bank. So, as you are paying back that loan, slowly you are actually working on redeeming your title deed. Finally, you make the last payment, the bank manager gives you back your title deeds, and you say, “I have redeemed my title deeds.” You’ve bought them back.
And that’s the way we must view Christ on the cross: that we did not contribute. He buys our salvation. He buys us back from condemnation so that we move from being condemned, we move into a sphere where we are now reconciled to God. That’s one word that he uses there.
“…through the Redemption that is in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 3:24)
The other phrase that he uses, which is simply opening up this phrase “redemption,” is the phrase “propitiation.” He puts it this way,
“…whom God, (verse 25 now) whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, (and then he adds again) to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:25)
What does he mean by that: “As a propitiation through his blood,” or, “By his blood?” To propitiate somebody is to, to put something forward so that it appeases someone’s wrath. That’s what it is to propitiate. You are recognizing that somebody is angry with you and then you, you say, “Okay let me take… send people there to go and give something to take away the wrath.”
So, for instance, let’s assume that you had a quarrel with a friend, and in the midst of that quarrel you picked up um an axe, or whatever it was, in the midst of your anger and you missed him, and instead you crashed the windscreen of somebody’s latest BMW or Mercedes-Benz. Okay, you know that “Look, there’s no way I’m going to pay for this!” And you run for your life. Of course, when the owner of the Mercedes-Benz comes out of the shop or office whatever it is and he is, he is told this is what you did. He’s angry. You can literally see smoke and gas and so on coming out of his nostrils and ears. You know he’s really upset.
But let’s suppose you had a very rich uncle who has been wanting to help you get over your tantrums – your, your, your, your, anger problem. And so, you rush to him and you, you tell him this is what has happened, and he says to you, “Okay, I’ll handle it. I’ll handle it.” And what he does is he then buys an even better Mercedes-Benz or BMW and takes it, with you, but he takes it to this man. And then, as you come out of the car, that man now just wants to strangle you, as he comes after you. And then your uncle stands in between and says, “Hang on, uh I have bought this Mercedes-Benz for you to replace that one. Let me take your old Mercedes-Benz instead.” Now suddenly, you know, the man’s anger is gone as is just seeing this. The plastics are even on the chairs inside the car. Everything is brand new. It’s smelling new. And you see him saying, “Well, you know, young people are like this, you know. Yeah, you know life is like this, but thank you very much!” He’s been placated by this something that has been put before him.
Well, that’s really what atonement was all about and all those atoning sacrifices right across the Old Testament were simply a figure. They were just a picture of the ultimate, final, atoning sacrifice of God’s own son. He is much, much more than a brand-new Mercedes-Benz. He is God the Son who comes and takes our place. And God himself is the one who chose him.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son…” (John 3:16)
He gave the best of Heaven in our place as a propitiation by his blood. The very wrath, which is God’s justice, that ought to have sunk us deeper than the grave, into the flames of Hell, is consumed in God’s own Son. He pays the full price for our sin. And therefore, we but receive that gift by faith. We, we can’t add anything to it. It’s a perfect sacrifice. All we do is we believe, we trust, only on that finished work of Christ. And it is on the basis of that, that our sins are dealt with.
God’s Righteousness Is Shown
Before or maybe, let me finish this part, and then I will tie it all up together. And finally in this section, the Apostle Paul explains why this is the only way that our records can be sorted out in heaven, the guilt of our sin dealt with there. The penalty of our sin completely removed in the records in Heaven is the only way that it could be done in a way that glorifies God. A way that still leaves God as God with all his Holiness and all his righteousness. And that’s the way he ends this section, halfway through verse 25,
“This was to show God’s righteousness (you see, it manifests God’s character, God’s attributes, his righteousness) because in his Divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” (Romans 3:25)
I’ll explain that in a moment but let’s see, hear him repeat himself and then finish off his argument.
“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.” (Romans 3:26)
The point he’s making there is that prior to the point at which Jesus finally comes and dies on that cross, there are question marks about God’s character, about God’s justice, about God’s righteousness. Because, for instance, how do you accept an animal in the place of a human being? How? Because that’s what God was doing all along. People were bringing animals, and they were having their necks chopped off, put on the fire or something and then God says, “Okay, go in peace.”
You try that with, with your judge when you’re about to be sentenced in prison and he says, “Okay, you know, five years in prison for what you did.” And then you say to the judge, “Okay, uh my dog…(whistles)” Most likely the judge will increase your, the penalty five times, you know. “50 years in prison now for, for thinking I’m a fool! How can your dog replace you? How?” But that’s what had been happening so far. It’s questioning the righteousness of God.
Further, think about it, there were individuals who were arriving in Heaven who, who were not righteous. Think of a guy like David. We all know what he did, huh? But he arrives in Heaven and I’m sure if I was Angel Michael, Angel Gabriel, I’d be still thinking, “What’s going on here? You know, he’s supposed to be this righteous God. I know what this guy has done. How has he been allowed in?”
So, there would have been question marks until Calvary, because now the blameless Son of God, the one whose very value is infinite, the only one in the history of the universe who had never sinned on Earth, is on the cross. He dies a death he did not deserve because he was perfectly righteous, and then he says, “All those sacrifices were actually pointing to me. I am the sacrifice.”
At that point, yeah, nobody can start questioning the character of God, because he’s given that which is of infinite value for us. Now it’s the other way around, isn’t it? Just now saying, “Lord, come on. How do you give that which is so valuable for me, for me?” And God says, “Because I want at the present time to show my righteousness. Now any sinner who trusts in my Son, I can go and pull out of the drawers his dirty, defiled records and replace them the righteous life of my Son, put it in there and close those drawers. And on that basis, I can welcome him in, because anybody who opens those drawers will see first of all a perfectly righteous life and then secondly, the payment made for him through that death.”
And therefore, he is to show, “this righteousness at the present time so that he might be just,” and everybody can now say, “Yes, he is just, because my sins have been paid for by another.” And at the same time, he can be, “the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” In other words: today itself, in this life, he can declare you righteous, infinitely righteous in your records in Heaven. Nothing to do with you obeying the law or disobeying the law. Its hundred percent based on that transaction that took place when Jesus Christ expired, when he died.
That’s glorious news, friends! I can’t think of any news better than that. A God who deals with the power of sin in my heart and at the same time deals with that dirty record in Heaven, the penalty of sin that has been put there in my records, deals with it. The God who cleans and transforms my heart so that from being a lover of sin, I become a lover of righteousness.
And on the other hand, a God who cleans my records in Heaven, removes all that stuff that is wicked and sinful and evil, and puts there the righteousness of God’s own Son. What a salvation we needed. What a salvation. No wonder the Apostle Paul says, “This message excites me! It excites me! I want to come to Rome and declare it in the capital of the known world (at that time). I want to come and share it with you afresh. It is the best news in the universe.”
God Meets Our Greatest Need
What is sad, as I quickly wrap up, what is sad is that this, which is the heart of the Gospel, is, is a message that we are easily losing today, as we are now concentrating so much on what I call this sort of deliverance motif, where it’s all about, Are you unhappy? Come to Jesus who make you happy. You know? Are you failing to get a job? Come to Jesus. He will give you a job. Are you failing to get married or having a child? Come, Jesus will give you a husband or wife or he’ll give you a child. This sort of “abracadabra” kind of thing that is the popular offer. We are losing this central message of this saviour, given to us by a loving, gracious, merciful, kind, good, God, that he might do that which is totally otherwise impossible: changing the heart that is enslaved to sin and changing records in a non-corruptible courtroom in Heaven.
But that’s what he’s done. And its good news which we should be declaring to all, because that’s our greatest need: to be reconciled to this righteous God – that’s our greatest need. And friends, we must never lose sight of it. It is that which enables us to meet the trials of life. It’s what enables us to meet the final trial of life: death, knowing that I’m simply being upgraded to my eternal home. That there’s no tremor in me whatsoever that I’m meeting this God on the final judgment because my record in Heaven has been cleaned up.
One old hymn that I really treasure, that captures something of this, says something like this,
Jesus, thy blood and righteousness
my beauty are, my glorious dress;
In flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
with joy shall I lift up my head. (The Lord our righteousness)
Being clothed in Christ righteousness, he is saying, Count Zinzendorf wrote those words, he’s saying, “When I am before this awesome judgment seat of God there won’t be a single tremor in my being. Instead, with joy, I’ll lift up my head.” We should rejoice in that reality now because that transaction, if you’re a Christian, has actually happened already. You have already been justified.
God Means Well For You
The second and last application that I want to give is uh at the beginning of chapter 5 and it’s simply this: that all the other blessings that come to you in the Christian faith are because of that same justification, that same change of your records in Heaven. He says there,
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him (he says) we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, (and because of that he says) and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2)
We are brought into a phase of life where the Lord is dealing with us according to his grace because in our records in Heaven, there’s Christ’s righteousness there and his shed blood.
In other words, I don’t know what you’re going through at the moment. It might be a difficult season in your life, a very difficult season. But don’t think God has said “I’m forsaking you now. I’m punishing you now.” He may be disciplining you, but it is as a loving father seeking to make you a better person. It’s love reaching out to you.
And that’s important reason because, whatever prosperity gospel preachers might be teaching us, that you know, when you’re a child of God now everything’s supposed to be going nicely, we know that’s not true. Huh? In our individual experiences, we know that’s not true. But this truth is what changes it because you’re no longer thinking, “Okay, I think God has finally caught up with me. He is beginning to give me my hell now.” No. You know that your sins have been fully paid for. In your records in Heaven is righteousness. Therefore, he means well. He means well. He means well. Let’s pray.
Our Father in Heaven, thank you for these two sides of our salvation: the cleaning of our hearts and the cleaning of our records. Thank you, Lord, for the peace and joy that we experience because of this. And Lord, help us to always keep coming back to these basic truths as we deal with all kinds of situations in our lives as your children. But also help us to be sympathetic to a world that is lost in sin, to share this good news. As we’ve been hearing, this church going into a mission’s week and wanting to explain why we love Jesus, and why others should love him too, may this be the central message, O God – Christ and him crucified, and the fruit of that now and in eternity. Do this, O Lord, for us, primarily that you might be glorified in our lives while you still lend us breath. For it’s in Christ’s name that we pray, amen.