Romans 3:25b-26, 31
The Just One and the Justifier; the High Priest and the Sacrifice
We said yesterday that this entire passage (and frankly all of Romans) is about, not our righteousness (since we have none), but about the righteousness of God. We noted that God is righteous in His infinite moral and holy character. But we also rejoiced over the marvelous news that through His Son’s sacrificial atonement for our sins, God now counts us righteous before Him (covers us with His Son’s righteousness, that is) and has thereby brought us back into fellowship with Himself. Paul writes in another place about this righteousness that God gives us through Christ that he wants to “be found in [Christ] not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9).
Referring to these two ways of speaking of God’s righteousness, Paul later calls God the Just One and the Justifier. He is the Just One in that He is infinitely moral and holy; He is the Justifier in that He justifies (makes right) the one who believes in Christ Jesus. It makes perfect sense: Only the perfectly Just One has the right and ability to justify others. But this also reminds us of a similar passage in Hebrews 9:11-28 about our Lord and Savior. There, Jesus is referred to as the High Priest who alone is worthy to enter the true holy place, not made with hands. And what did this High Priest offer as sacrifice for the sins of his people? He offered himself. Thus, just as our God and Father is both the Just One and Justifier of those who believe, so our Lord Jesus Christ is both the High Priest and Sacrifice on behalf of those who believe. Isn’t the plan of salvation wonderful? Isn’t God beyond mysterious? No wonder Paul could say, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways” (11:33).
Apparently the question was raised as to how God could be just while passing over the sins of former generations before Christ. Should not God have visited them with His wrath which is mentioned in 1:18? Paul again shows us the grace of God in His divine forbearance or restraint with those generations before, a forbearance He now shows all people before the return of His Son when divine patience and mercy will be finally exhausted (2:4-5). And as for we who know the Lord, who were saved under the “law of faith,” ours is now a different task: To uphold the law. What law? The law of Moses? The law of conscience? No. We now uphold the law of Christ, a law that goes beyond the other laws—the liberating law of love (James 1:25).