Romans 8: 22-24
God’s plan of salvation treats all people equally, because all are sinners. This is not to say that God notices no distinction in the seriousness and aggravation of different sins. But as we saw in the previous chapter, any sin, however small and insignificant it may seem to us, is a violation of God’s holy law and subjects us to the penalty of death.
One person may be a relatively decent sinner and another may be a flagrant sinner, but both are sinners, and God’s law admits no degree of failure. If sixty is the passing grade on a college exam, it does not matter if you scored forty and I scored only twenty. We both failed to get a passing grade. There is no point in your boasting that your failing grade is superior to mine. The only thing that matters is that we both failed the exam.
The first purpose of God’s method of salvation through Christ’s death is to deliver us from guilt, and though all people are not equally guilty, all are guilty. So, as Paul said, “There is no difference.” Or, as a more contemporary expression says it, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.”
This eliminates any room for comparison of ourselves with others who may appear more sinful—or at least less holy—than we are. So if we are to live by the gospel every day, all tendency to compare ourselves with other believers, not to mention unbelievers, must be put away. Rather we must measure ourselves against God’s perfect standard and daily confess that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
All Who Put Their Faith in Jesus Christ Are Justified Freely by God’s Grace (Verse 24)
To be justified is to be absolved from any charge of guilt and to be declared absolutely righteous. We are not only discharged from all liability to God’s wrath because of our guilt; we are personally accepted by God because of Christ. Justification is like the two sides of a coin. On the one side we are declared “not guilty” before God, and on the other we are positively declared to be righteous through Christ. That is, we are counted in God’s sight as having perfectly obeyed the law of God.
We must keep in mind that our justification by God is based solely on the meritorious work of Christ and our union with Him. That is, God sees us legally as so connected with Christ that what He did, we did. When He lived a life of perfect obedience, it is as if we had lived a life of perfect obedience. When He died on the cross to satisfy the just demands of God’s Law, it is just as if we had died on that cross. Christ stood in our place as our representative, both in His sinless life and His sin-bearing death. This is what Paul referred to when he said, “I have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20).
To live by the gospel, then, means that we firmly grasp the fact that Christ’s life and death are ours by virtue of our union with Him. What He did, we did. This is the only sense in which we can understand Paul’s bold statements in Romans 8: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (verse 1); “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (verse 31); and “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies” (verse 33).
These statements by Paul are objective truths; that is, they are true whether we grasp them or not. So often, however, we find it difficult to believe them. Because of our frequent failures before God, we do feel under condemnation, we do not feel God is for us but rather must surely be against us, we do think He is bringing charges against us. At such times we must preach the gospel to ourselves. We must review what God has declared to be true about our justification in Christ.
Justification is a completed work as far as God is concerned. The penalty has been paid and His justice has been satisfied. But it must be received through faith and must be continually renewed in our souls and applied to our consciences every day through faith. There are two “courts” we must deal with: the court of God in Heaven and the court of conscience in our souls. When we trust in Christ for salvation, God’s court is forever satisfied. Never again will a charge of guilt be brought against us in Heaven. Our consciences, however, are continually pronouncing us guilty. That is the function of conscience. Therefore, we must by faith bring the verdict of conscience into line with the verdict of Heaven. We do this by agreeing with our conscience about our guilt, but then reminding it that our guilt has already been borne by Christ.
This justification is said to be given to us freely by His grace. The word freely signifies without payment of any kind. Justification cannot be purchased by the payment of good works. There is no exchange of value between the sinner and God. It is an absolutely gratuitous act on His part. This freeness of justification was foretold by the prophet Isaiah:
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” (Isaiah 55:1)
Grace, as we have already observed, is the undeserved favor of God shown to those who deserve His wrath. Grace presupposes guilt on our part. By definition, it is sovereign grace; that is, God is under no obligation to grant to any of us such undeserved favor. (In fact, God did not grant such favor to the angels that sinned [2 Peter 2:4].) The decision to grant such favor to us originated solely within His own goodness.