Romans 3:26b
Why the Cross?

Marrieds with a Ministry Sunday School Class
Two Rivers Baptist Church
Nashville, TN, USA

For Sunday, 09 June 2002

Handout: Why the Cross?


Green: on hand out

Ink: to be filled in on hand out


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"By the works of the law will no flesh be justified":

It is in vain to seek for justification by the works of the law. All must plead guilty. Guilty before God, is a dreadful word; but a law that condemns him for breaking it can justify no man. The corruption in our nature, will for ever stop any justification by our own works." - Matthew Henry, Concise Commentary on the Bible


Every religion has point system: start with clean slate, good deeds positive points, bad deeds negative points, goal is net positive score at death. Christianity alone represents man since the fall as beginning with an infinitely negative balance, impossible to overcome even by a lifetime of pure good works.

Paul has spent almost three chapters cutting our legs out from under us so that we will hope to stand only on Christ's merit. "Nothing in my hand I bring, only to thy cross I cling." Our only legitimate hope is that God will declare us just, even though we are guilty. How does He do that, and why?

The Puzzle

He who justifies the wicked and He who condemns the righteous are both alike--an abomination to the Lord. Proverbs 17:15
He who says to the wicked,'You are righteous,'
     Him the people will curse;
     Nations will abhor him.
But those who rebuke the wicked will have delight,
     And a good blessing will come upon them.Proverbs 24:24-25
He does not deal with us according to our sins or repay us according to our iniquities.Psalm 103:10
[Passing over sin] makes God look as if He no longer aims to display His glory or preserve His honor... It makes God look as if He no longer values His glory, by acquitting people who have trampled it in the dirt. - John Piper, How Is It Right For God To Justify The Ungodly?
Yet at the heart of our gospel stands the sentence: God justifies the ungodly who trust in Him. God acquits the guilty. That is the gospel! But how can it be right for God to do that?" - ibid.

The Solution

Before the cross can be for our sake, it must be for God's sake. - John Piper, sermon, The Demonstration Of God's Righteousness, Part 3
...Everything Jesus suffered, He suffered for the sake of God's glory. Therefore, all His pain and shame and humiliation and dishonor served to magnify the Father's glory because it showed how infinitely worthy God's glory is that such a loss should be suffered for His sake." - John Piper, ibid. John 12:27,28; 13:31; 17:4.
cross - God's justice, our justification
The interests of men are, of course, promoted to the highest degree, but ... the setting forth was to the end of demonstrating God's righteousness.1

God's justice is the post that holds up the crossbar of our justification.

In the provisions of propitiation two things cohere and coalesce, the justice of God and the justification of the ungodly.2

God, as Judge, publicly executed His own Son as a display of His inherent justice.

Related Issues

Subjective vs. Objective Justification:

That justification is a forensic act, is of necessity implied in this passage. If to justify was to make subjectively just or righteous, what necessity was there for the sacrifice of Christ? Why should he die, in order that it might be just in God to render men holy? It were an act of mercy to make the vilest malefactor good; but to justify such a malefactor would be to trample justice under foot. The doctrine therefore of subjective justification perverts the whole gospel.3

Faith in Jesus:

The part assigned to faith in the work of our reconciliation to God is that of an instrument; it apprehends or appropriates the meritorious ground of our acceptance, the work or righteousness of Christ. It is not itself that ground, nor the means of attaining an inherent righteousness acceptable to God... We are said to be justified by faith, of which Christ is the object, by faith in his blood, by faith in him as sacrifice.4

Redemption vs. Propitiation

Redemption contemplates our bondage and is the provision of grace to release us from that bondage. Propitiation contemplates our liability to the wrath of God and is the provision of grace whereby we may be freed from that wrath.5

That is, redemption is toward us, while propitiation is toward God.

Note: If you had trouble following this, you're not alone. I was suffering terribly from pollen allergies at the time I prepared and delivered this lesson. When I came back a few weeks later to turn it into a web page, I had a lot of trouble following my own notes! My apologies.

Recommended reading:

David J. Finnamore
Orlando, FL