“Not Guilty!” These words bring relief and lift fear from accused people. This announcement is a powerful sound of liberty - even when fallible human courts declare one “not guilty.” The verdict stands. You are acquitted of that crime and can never be tried for it again.
On the other hand, we hear stories about those committing violent crimes and getting off with a mere slap on the hand. We hear, “He’s only a lad, we have to make allowances for him, he’s a victim of society, he really can’t help it, he isn’t responsible for his actions.”
The courts of our land do a pretty good job, but unfortunately, they are fallible. The guilty are often set free and declared “Not Guilty,” and the innocent are condemned on occasion.
In contrast to the human courts of our land, the Divine court never makes errors nor excuses. The guilty are guilty. St. Paul writes in Romans 3:19-20: “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law, no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
When we look into the law, we find ourselves nothing but condemned, for the law of God always condemns sinners – lex semper accusat.
If you have broken the law even once, you are guilty. Furthermore, if you have fallen short on even one point of the law, you are guilty of the whole thing. “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10).
Have you ever been envious? Have you ever gossiped? Have you ever slept in instead of coming to church? Have you ever dishonored your parents? Have you ever taken the Lord’s name in vain? Have you ever put anything before the Lord? Maybe your job, maybe your spouse, perhaps yourself?
We have all sinned, and more than just once. We stand condemned, especially if we think that our goodness will count for anything before God, who is perfect. He can tolerate no imperfection in his perfect Kingdom, which he rules by his perfect righteousness and will.
No one can stand before a perfect and righteous God with their own righteousness and claim to be innocent. If you think you’re a good person, think again – no one is good except God.
He who lives by the law dies by the law. 1 John 1:8-10 makes it clear, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
If you think that you are without sin, what is God? A liar. He knows that you are a sinner, and I know that you are a sinner; if you think you are not a sinner, you are truly mistaken.
God’s court cuts through all the garbage and speaks the truth – “Not Guilty!” Wait, what? Wasn’t I just pointing out that we are guilty? A Crime indeed was committed. Every crime was committed.
This is where we return to our Reformation roots as we come to grips with the fact that the law says “Do!” and the gospel says “Done!”
God’s freedom for sinners is just. There is justice in it, even though it seems so unjust at times. He brings forth what is both just and holy. In the Greek, it is called the dikaiosune theou, the righteousness of God.
Throughout this passage, that dikaiosune shows up a few times in different forms. Let’s take a look.
But now, the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law although, the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins (Rom 3:21-26).
Jesus brought forth what we call the apolutrosis - the ransom, the price of release for the whole world. Note that we all have sinned and fallen short. How are we met but with a measure of forgiveness that atones for the crime?
In Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, God extends his gracious and generous hand to us with this gift of eternal mercy and eternal life. He gave his life as a ransom for you! He who knew no sin became sin so that you might be the righteousness of God.
Jesus loved you so much that he suffered a miserable, terrible death to save your eternal soul. His flesh was torn so that you might be saved. He was accused, mocked, ridiculed, tortured, and condemned to death so that you would stand innocent. The sins of the world were laid on him, and he was condemned for what you and I have done.
In Christ, we who were slaves to sin have been ransomed. In his graciousness (dorian), we know his grace (charis); his making us acceptable in his eyes.
We were criminals marked for eternal death, but we are now in Christ marked for more than just life, but life and life with great abundance as a child of the living God.
But we haven’t finished plumbing the depth of this passage yet. There’s more – how does this gratuitous verdict become the sinner’s personal possession?
Let’s look at the rest of our passage Romans 3:27:” Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”
Paul makes it clear that no one is saved based on keeping the law but on the principle of faith. Let us remember that faith is not the cause of the dikaiosune theou because that would make faith into our work. Faith is a gift that is given freely to us so that we might believe.
Friends in Christ, remember that faith only speaks of its object. It is the object itself that we look to which provides for us.
When I was a child, I had a good father who made money and provided for my family. On occasion, he would bring home unexpected gifts for my brothers and me.
I always just knew that dad would provide for me and protect me. He was my father; that’s what he was there for. I had tremendous faith in my father, didn’t I? Was there anything that I did to make him my father? I simply knew that he was my father, by no effort of my own to make him mine.