Then he uses the Gospel to present the solution (a solution, by the way, which continues even after we become Christians):
Now God could have erased this world and no one could have accused him of injustice if he had done that, but he did not. While under no obligation at all to us rebels he instead put in motion a plan in which he freely, graciously, and at tremendous cost to himself satisfied his own justice in our place. Into my hopeless situation Paul speaks of God acting to rescue me anyway.
Let’s look at Chapter 5, verses 6 and 7: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
The language of Christianity is the language of substitution. It is not primarily the language of morals. God is not presented as a mother saying “eat all your vegetables”. Instead, Christianity is about a one-sided rescue, that we didn’t want and certainly didn’t deserve, and he did it anyway.
At the cross, Paul says God made Jesus to be sin, who himself knew no sin. Peter says he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree. Now how can this be just? How can God reckon like this? The answer is in Romans 3:24: gratuitously, or by his grace, through the ransoming that is in connection with Christ Jesus. It is not arbitrary, it’s not capricious, it’s not unjust for God to do this. If God died for us in Christ, God has every right having satisfied his own justice, by taking it all in our stead, to give us whatever he wants to give us.
In other words, God has his right to save us for free! He’s the one who allowed himself in Christ to be crucified for our sin. He has the right to give us eternal life. Having died in our place, he has a right to reckon to us a righteousness that isn’t really ours. And he does!As Christians, we still need to hear both the law and the gospel. We need to hear the law because we are all, even after we’re saved, prone to wander in a self-righteous direction. The law, said Luther, is a divinely sent Hercules to attack and kill the monster of self-righteousness–a monster that continues to harass the Redeemed. We need constant reminders that our best is never good enough and that “there is something to be pardoned even in our best works.” We need the law to freshly reveal to us that we’re a lot worse off than we think we are and that we never outgrow our need for the cleansing blood of Christ. In other words, we need the law to remind us everyday just how much we need the gospel everyday.
And then once we are re-crushed by the law, we need to be reminded that “Jesus paid it all.” Even in the life of the Christian, the law continues to drive us back to Christ–to that man’s cross, to that man’s blood, to that man’s righteousness. The gospel announces to failing, forgetful people that Jesus came to do for sinners what sinners could never do for themselves–that God’s grace is gratuitous, that his love is promiscuous, and that while our sin reaches far, his mercy reaches farther. The gospel declares that Jesus came, not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it–that Jesus met all of God’s perfect conditions on our behalf so that our relationship with God could be unconditional.So, God’s good law reveals our desperation; God’s good gospel reveals our deliverer. We are in constant need of both.
The Law discovers guilt and sin, And shows how vile our hearts have been. The Gospel only can express, Forgiving love and cleansing grace.Isaac Watts