We have already seen how God deals with sin. First, he condemns it on the cross. It was at the cross where sin was exposed, by what the gentiles and the Jews did to Christ. Our sin was publicly demonstrated by Christ dying on the cross. This is the sense in which Christ bore our sin. He took the sin we laid on him, the sin we committed against him when we put him on trial and crucified him. God judged our sin by publicly showing it for what it is, by exposing the sin of both Jew and gentile on the cross, leaving us both without excuse.
This is how the cross is the power of God to form a new family.
The second way in which God deals with sin is that he forgives it. We see this publicly and freely expressed by Christ on the cross. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not imputing their sins against them, but cancelling them.” (2 Corinthians 5:19) When we sinned against Christ he freely and publicly forgave us from the cross. Immediately Christ forgave his enemies. This is the sense in which Paul is speaking in Romans 3. God did not deal with sin by punishing sinners. He did not deal with sin by the law. Before Paul knew Christ, he was going about punishing people according to the law, thinking this would fulfil God’s covenant promises to Israel. Paul thought this was the revelation of the righteousness of God, just as Jonah thought. But now Paul says in Romans 3 that God deals with sin without the law, without punishing the sinner under the law.
Paul said Christ was displayed publicly on the cross as an atonement for our sin by his blood. The word used for “atonement” here means the mercy seat in the Old Testament tabernacle. Christ was held out to the world by God on the cross as his mercy to the sinner, his public declaration of his forgiveness of our sin. And he did this by his blood, that is, by his public death. It took his death to reveal his forgiveness and love to the world, without God demanding satisfaction or repayment for our sin against Christ under the law. By that he redeemed us, delivered us from the law within our hearts, and brought us back into his embrace at the cost of Christ’s blood.
And this is what God wants us to pass onto each other. This is how his promises to Abraham are fulfilled, about a new family renewing the creation. In Christ the law is dealt with, so that we might live lives of mercy and restoration towards our fellow man. If the law is taken away, then Jewish and gentile relationships are no longer hindered. The family of God is no longer determined by the Old Testament ceremonies which separated peoples, but by the love of Christ which forgives us both and draws us together as one.
This was to publicly demonstrate his covenant faithfulness by his free and full forgiveness of our sin in his own death. By this act he paid the ransom to our conscience, for the law, and broke its power over our lives. By forgiving us freely, he justified us all by grace, through faith, that is, if we accept this gift by holding it out also to our neighbours. (Romans 3:26) And the reason he did this was to make us one new family. We accept God by accepting his full family.
“Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded! By what principle?
Of (perfect) works (under the law)? No, but by the principle of faith (loving forgiveness that serves)! For we consider that a person is declared righteous by faith apart from the (ceremonial) works of the law. Or is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not the God of the gentiles too? Yes, of the gentiles too! Since God is one, he will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.” (Romans 3:27-30) See Paul’s point? It isn’t privatised salvation, but one new family, in which we pass on the love of God to a renewing creation… rather than the condemnation and judgment of the law, which brings death to us all through our hostile and destructive actions towards each other. In Galatians, Paul called it “consuming each other,” because we fail to come to a common table and serve each other. When Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:19 that God has forgiven our sins on the cross, the purpose of Paul is that we might follow by doing that for each other. This is the new creation Paul was speaking about in 2 Corinthians 4-5… the God who spoke light into creation, is now speaking shema into our hearts through Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)
The issue Paul is speaking about here is a very simple one.
God has forgiven us for our worse sin which he visited upon him in Christ, so we have no proper cause not to forgive others their sin against us. If this is the case, then we can forge one new family and go out into the world showing the world this new forgiveness of God by our own actions. This is the simple gospel, the good news about what God has done with the sin of the world.
It’s so easy to default and take the language of the cross in the human, religious cultic sense, of providing some satisfaction to the gods. But God transforms the meaning so that the cross is not something God demands, but something he gives to free us within. This new meaning sets us on the same new course, of following him to forgive and serve others.
Paul doesn’t preach a gospel of “faith alone” in the truncated, or simplified version we may hear. Paul’s faith isn’t just the “believing” of a privatised religion, but the Hebrew form of faith which is about the law being fulfilled in our lives through personal and community transformation. Paul’s faith isn’t a legal contract that saves, but a salvation that takes over our lives through its new fruit.