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Blood, Belief and the End of Boasting

Thousands of years ago, a man named Job asked the question that has haunted and eluded human beings since the fall of mankind: “How can a man be right with God?” 

Consider Job. He’s a righteous man, a blameless man, a man who feared God and shunned evil, a man with integrity. Yet he knows that none those virtues will put him right with God. And we know it too, deep down inside. And so did the Apostle Paul. That’s why He wrote the book of Romans. It comprehensively addresses the question about getting right with God. And the answer is what we call good news—Gospel! 

In telling human beings God’s plan for making people right with him, Paul talked about three things at the end of chapter three: law, faith, and blood. 

The LAW: Before Paul tells us how righteousness comes to fallen, sinful humans, he tells us how it does not come—indeed, how it can never come: through our law keeping. 

That’s why He used the phrase, “Righteousness apart from the law.” He says: 

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it. —Romans 3:20–21

 Christians often make much of what we call “The exclusivity of Christ.” That is, Jesus is the only way. And we should make much of that, because Jesus is the only way. But why is He the only way? That’s a gospel conversation. All other ways are dead-ends. 

The Law is un-keepable for human beings. We fail. We’re guilty. Everyone. Paul’s proven that. Deny his closing courtroom arguments? (Romans 3:9-19) Not a chance.

God’s Law represents an impossible standard because it reflects the perfect holiness of God. Think of the first image we associate with God’s Law when Israel exited Egypt. God brought them to the foot of an imposing mountain: Mt. Sinai. It was tall. It was dark. There was thunder, lightning, quaking, and fear. God warned that any who approached the mountain or touched it would be struck dead instantly. 

Why didn’t God bring the Israelites to a bunny park, a butterfly garden, or a splash pad? Because that wouldn’t produce the intended attitude toward His Law. Fear. Even Moses was afraid. Nobody could possibly meet God’s holy standard. All have fallen short.  

When I was a kid, a gravel pit near my house held a challenge called “Motorcycle Hill.” People got hurt trying to climb and conquer that hill. Not only was it straight up vertical; it actually curved backwards. Kids with dirt bikes would try climbing it and flip. Then they concluded that it might take more speed, so they went faster and really got hurt. It was an impossible hill to climb. I heard people brag about climbing it but I never saw proof. 

But time, erosion, weather and maybe some ambitious kids with shovels made that tall hill short, the steepness more sloped, and the impossible possible. You could actually climb Motorcycle hill without killing yourself or trashing your bike. Because it changed.

But God’s Law does not change. It cannot change. That’s good news and bad news. The good news is that God’s standard is not a moving target. God doesn’t change! But the bad news is that we can never hit the target. We continually fall short. We flip backwards and get hurt. We fail. That’s what’s behind the Greek word for sin in the New Testament. We miss the mark. We fail. We fail the first tablet of God’s Law that tells us how to love, honor, and serve God. We fail the second tablet that tells us how to love, honor, and serve our neighbor. No righteousness for us there! Dead-end. 

But every religion puts forward a law of some kind to keep as the only way to satisfy and be accepted by its god. A path to follow. Enlightenment to achieve. Nirvana to reach. A pilgrimage to make. Steps or rituals to complete. Commands to obey. That’s righteousness by the law, and Christianity is having none of it.  

FAITH:  Next, Paul starts talking about faith. That should be shocking to the casual observer. Paul introduces being right with God, then instead of talking about behavior, he talks about belief. That’s odd. That’s different. That’s shocking. That’s Christianity. Our behavior will not earn us a standing with God. It’s rotten. It’s stained. It’s unacceptable. Only one person’s law-keeping is acceptable: Jesus. 

We need his performance, not ours. When we place our faith in the finished work of Jesus, the pronouncement of righteousness comes to us from God. We are declared blameless, innocent, justified, and fully righteous. God gives us the flawless achievements of Jesus and gives him our rap sheet to take to the Cross. That’s the great exchange. He who knew no sin became sin on our behalf so we could become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). 

The word for faith means “join yourself to” or “lean your weight on.” In the Old Testament, once a year on the Day of Atonement, the high priest would make atonement for the guilt of Israel. He would choose two goats. One would bear the sins away from the camp and go free. The other would bear the punishment for Israel and die. That’s where we get the phrase “scape goat.” It has come to mean anyone who innocently bears the guilt or blame of another. The priest would lay his hand on the head of the goat and send it away.

In a similar way, our faith is the hand on the head of Jesus that says, “Jesus is mine. I believe he became my sin bearer and substitute. My sin and guilt are his. His righteousness is mine.” He’s God’s lamb who bears away our guilt, shame, and sin. 

BLOOD: Next paul begins talking about blood. Why? Because redemption means deliverance at a cost, or release by payment. What payment? What cost? This is the death of Jesus. For the first time in Romans we see the Cross (Rom. 3:25).   

Paul calls Christ’s bloody death a “propitiation.” That word means “turning away of wrath,” or “to satisfy.” It’s used to describe the “mercy seat” in the holy of holies. Jesus became the place where blood atonement was made in God’s presence. 

The cross is the universal symbol of Christianity. Christ had to die because propitiation had to be made; sin had to be punished. Our sin had to be punished. In Christ, it was. 

The complete story of Christianity is this: Jesus did not just die FOR you. He died INSTEAD of you. By his perfect life and substitutionary death, God was able to be “just” and also “the justifier” of the one who has faith in Him. What does that mean? 

It means that on the Cross, we see both God’s wrath and God’s love on full display. He was the judge that said, “You’re not going to the gallows—I am.” And he was also the judge who said, “Afterwards, you’re going home with me.” 

Some people—especially liberal scholars—have a hard time with blood atonement as a means of sacrifice and appeasement. They claim it’s monstrous, primitive, and barbaric. Some have called it divine child abuse since God the Father crushed his Son.

But remember, Jesus volunteered His life. Nobody took it from him. He was a willing sacrifice for sin. There was no abuse here. The trinity had an agreement from the foundation of the world. Jesus agreed to pay the penalty for sin.

When we talk about God’s love, we have to talk about God’s wrath. Or else, God’s love appears easy and cheap. What did it cost God to love us? Everything. He suffered and died to bring us to God. He propitiated for us. He turned God’s wrath away from us. Turned it where? On Himself. It’s staggering to consider such sacrifice for enemies.  

Since God accomplished our salvation alone, Paul says our boasting is foolish. Faith excludes boasting. Our best achievements have done nothing to justify us. So to boast in them is like a drowning man holding onto a bar of gold and shouting, “I’m rich!” 

The only boasting we can do is to boast in the Cross (Galatians 6:14). It’s ironic; a symbol that once offended every Roman citizen is now a symbol of joy and humble gratitude for every citizen of God’s Kingdom. So go ahead, boast in the Cross!

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