Before Paul met Jesus he had been a model Jew. He was a disciple of Gamaliel, the most respected Jewish rabbi of the first century (Acts 22:3). He was a Pharisee (every Jewish mother wanted her son to grow up to be a Pharisee). When Paul talked about the religion of Judaism his opinion was extremely well-informed. He concedes here that his former religion had advantages, not the least of which was the knowledge of God’s Law recorded in their Hebrew Scriptures (v.1-2).
But the Law does not produce salvation; it only exposes the depth of our sin and our desperate need for salvation. In verses 10-18 Paul strings together excerpts from Psalms, Proverbs, and Isaiah that reveal the fallen nature of both religious and non-religious people. No one is righteous, no one is innocent, and no one is good enough to be acceptable to God on their own merit. We have all sinned with our words, saying things that are deceptive and hurtful (v.13-14). It is in our human nature to be mean (v.15-17). We try to defend ourselves: “I’m a good person…I go to church…I know the Bible” — but God’s Law (His holy standard for us) shuts our mouths and we stand condemned as lost sinners (v.19-20).
This bad news of sin and condemnation only sets us up for the good (awesome, amazing, super-fantastic) news of salvation in Christ, the focus of the remainder of the chapter. The truth in verses 22-26 is wonderfully simple and simply wonderful: because of what Jesus did on the cross, if we place our faith in Him we can be right with God! Here is that statement again: because of what Jesus did on the cross, if we place our faith in Him we can be right with God. Now let me break it down…
The death of Jesus on the cross accomplished something called “propitiation” (v.25; that word does not appear in translations like NIV and NLT, but the concept is there). Propitiation means to satisfy the demands of justice by means of a sacrifice. When we place our faith in the propitiation Jesus made on the cross, we move from being under God’s wrath to being under His mercy — and we are saved! The word Paul used to describe that effect is “justified” (v.24). To be justified is to be declared “Not guilty” and completely right with God. Remember when you first trusted Christ and the guilt of your sins was lifted? Remember the awesome feeling of being clean and forgiven? What you experienced in that moment was the joy of justification because of propitiation. Hallelujah!
Faith is the key here. We are justified by faith. God is “the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (v.26). Have you placed your faith in Jesus? Are you trusting Him now?