Today we hit a Scripture so tough, it took me two years to write about it. It’s Romans 3:16 - see if this isn’t the most uplifting verse you’ve heard all week…
16ruin and wretchedness are in their paths,— Romans 3:16 (HCSB)
We’ll definitely need some more context - let’s look beginning with verse 10, going through verse 20.
10as it is written:
There is no one righteous, not even one; 11there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God. 12All have turned away, together they have become useless; there is no one who does good, there is not even one. 13Their throat is an open grave; they deceive with their tongues. Vipers’ venom is under their lips. 14Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. 15Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16ruin and wretchedness are in their paths, 17and the path of peace they have not known. 18There is no fear of God before their eyes.
19Now we know that whatever the law says speaks to those who are subject to the law, so that every mouth may be shut and the whole world may become subject to God’s judgment. 20For no flesh will be justified in His sight by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.— Romans 3:10-20 (HCSB)
The block quote in the passage above is a compilation of verses from the Old Testament. I won’t paste all of them here, but these can be found in Psalm 5:9, Psalm 10:7, Psalm 14:1-3, Psalm 36:1, Psalm 53:1-3, Psalm 140:3, Ecclesiastes 7:20, and Isaiah 59:7-8. In each of these passages, what immediately follows these descriptions is a call is for God to judge the people who are displaying these tendencies, and deliver His people from them. The passage in Isaiah is no different; the prophet writes how the Lord is going to judge those who have wronged Him and His people. Here’s how he described the coming judgment…
15Truth is missing,
and whoever turns from evil is plundered.
The Lord saw that there was no justice,
and He was offended.
16He saw that there was no man -
He was amazed that there was no one interceding;
so His own arm brought salvation,
and His own righteousness supported Him.
17He put on righteousness like a breastplate,
and a helmet of salvation on His head;
He put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
and He wrapped Himself in zeal as in a cloak.
18Thus He will repay according to their deeds:
fury to His enemies,
retribution to His foes,
and He will repay the coastlands.
19They will fear the name of the Lord in the west,— Isaiah 59:15-19 (HCSB)
and His glory in the east;
for He will come like a rushing stream
driven by the wind of the Lord.
That’s quite a picture! The “rushing stream driven by the wind” is a powerful image. We’ve seen images of floods on TV - it’s amazing how just a little bit of water can completely overpower anything in its path. This is a strong force, but it is not indiscriminate, like a normal flood; the Lord is repaying people according to their deeds. At this point, we may be thinking “Boy, I’m glad I’m not one of those people who has wronged Him or His people!” But, are we really innocent? Let’s take a look further in Romans 3…
23For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.— Romans 3:23 (HCSB)
I once had a pastor who said that in this verse, “all” is from the Greek, meaning “all.” There is little ambiguity about whether you and I are part of the “all” that Paul is talking about - every one of us has sinned against God, and deserve any punishment we receive from Him.
So, we’ve wronged God, and God demands justice. How are we going to make this right? (Notice above in Isaiah 59:16, “His own arm brought salvation…”) Let’s see what Paul says.
21But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed - attested by the Law and the Prophets 22- that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. 23For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. 26He presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.— Romans 3:21-26 (HCSB)
The word “propitiation” is an interesting word. When I started reading versions other than the King James Version, I thought for sure that “propitiation” was one of those words that wouldn’t make it. However, the more modern translation versions NASB, ESV, NKJV, and HCSB all have this word in this verse! The NIV translates it “sacrifice of atonement,” and that’s a good way to put it. The dictionary defines propitiation as making something favorably inclined or appeasing it. God presented Jesus as a way to appease His demand for justice! Since Jesus appeases this demand, all we have to do is believe in Him and accept Him (v. 26 “He would… declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus”). Not only does he declare us righteous, God will “pass over the sins previously committed.” (v. 25)
This is really good news. I imagine your experience on this earth is much like mine in this regard - I simply cannot always do what I know I’m supposed to do. I get angry. I say mean things. I let resentment build in my heart. If it were up to me to apologize for my sins and try to do better, I would be toast. But, look at what Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross can do for us! If we accept Him, God counts us righteous and doesn’t demand any further payment for our sin! (We may still have to deal with consequences here on earth - God forgives our sin; He never promised to save us from our bad decisions.)
Notice the end of verse 22 - “to all who believe, since there is no distinction.” There’s that “all” again, and yes, it’s still talking about you and me. This free gift, this payment for sin, is available to all people without distinction. Any race, any gender, any age, any marital status, any intelligence level, any financial status… well, you get the idea. Most importantly, it is available for you! If you are reading this, Jesus knew about you when He died on the cross; He paid for your sin with His life. All you have to do is accept that gift - as Paul and Silas told a jailer in Acts 16:31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” If you would like more information on how to accept this gift, you can look at God’s Simple Plan of Salvation, which details more about this; also, feel free to contact me using the “Contact” link found at the top of the page.