In this chapter Carson tackles the issue of how and why God can and does declare the guilty just. It’s largely Paul’s argument in Romans 1-11 and is perhaps the most misunderstood aspects of the gospel transculturally.
First, Carson explains why it’s impossible to be acquitted with justice on the ground of the good things we do. The reason is because we are all law breakers: those with the Book, and those without the Book. All of us have broken even our own lesser standards. It’s ridiculous for the murderer to appeal to his “good deeds” before the judge after he in fact has been properly convicted of committing the crime. How much more before the judge of Creation?! And yet, people tend to flock to this absurdity when it comes to eternal matters.
Second, the main theme of Romans 1:18-3:20 is precisely how everyone is justly guilty before God. All are under judgement; all are guilty, because they have denied God the Creator. They have thus become fools and Paul reminds us that there are none righteous, none who understands, none who seeks God, none who does good, not even one—their deeds and words condemn them, none who fears God. Humanity is the core of all the evil there is, for in wanting to go our own way we have all disowned the God who is there, The One, who has made us.
Third, Carson explains several ways in which the Old Testament anticipates the arrival of Jesus. There’s the sacrificial system of the blood of bulls and goats which testify to what was to come in the new covenant. Here the high priest came with sacrifices into the holiest place on the Day of Atonement—all pointing to Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. Then, there are the Ten Commandments which anticipate a day when murder and adultery will not only be prohibited but unthinkable in the new heavens and new earth. And there’s also the anticipated day from the law when the righteousness of God would be revealed in Christ.
Fourth, Carson considers how God’s righteousness is available to all people without racial distinction but on the basis of faith. The reason it’s good news for the above mentioned caption to be true is because all are guilty before God, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. All means everyone under heaven’s sky, on earth’s dirt and in the oceans water. Carson then explains three terms related to our salvation in Christ.
There’s righteousness, which is achieved through Christ’s redemption. This redemption involves buying back from the slave market one who is indebted to another and has absolutely no possible means to pay for the debt. A redeemer is one who purchases the one in debt and delivers him and his family from slavery to another. Biblically, Jesus justifies us freely through faith by the redemption of his blood. Thus, believers are justified before the God of heaven!
Then there’s the act of propitiation. Propitiation is that sacrificial act whereby God becomes favorably disposed to us. He is set over against us in wrath, but now by the sacrificial act of His son, He has become favorable toward us.
Another term is expiation, which is the act whereby God wipes out sin from the board, sin here is cancelled. The object of expiation is sin, while the object of propitiation is God. The text says that God propitiated God through the sacrifice of His son. This is mind boggling in light of the fact that in the pagan world those offering sacrifices for propitiation to the gods were the worshippers. Not so in the Bible, God propitiates God. Thus, turning away of God’s wrath and the cancelling of sin are achieved by both expiation and propitiation.
Fifth, Carson explains what is meant when Paul says that in the cross God is both just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus. God’s holiness must be maintained. Therefore He must punish sin which He did through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. He maintained Justice! God’s love has been demonstrated by paying for our sins on the cross. He displayed Love! Unlike so many understand today, in the Bible faith is related to truth. If it’s not true, it’s worthless.
In the Bible, Faith doesn’t mean that which makes you feel good and is not subject to verification. Rather, it deals with that which is stated and argued as actually occurring in space-time history. Paul does this in 1 Corinthians 15 where he affirms that if Christ has not truly been raised from the dead the first witnesses are all liars. Again, if Christ has not truly been raised from the dead we are still in our sins. Then if Christ has not truly been raised from the dead our faith is useless. And that if Christ has not truly been raised from the dead we are to be pitied more than anyone else. Our lives are a joke precisely because we consider that which is false to be true.
Conversely, if the resurrection is actually true, then all others rejecting the truth of these claims are sadly under the wrath of God and the “joke” is on them. That’s sobering, sad, and must cause our hearts to live under God as we endeavor to shine in this world for Christ.