A very important question
serious Bible students ask is, "How can God be just,
holy and righteous in character and overlook, or
allow to pass over without notice the sins of Old
Testament saints? How could He intentionally
overlook their sins?" The apostle Paul wrestles with
this problem in Romans 3:25 when he refers to the
Old Testament saints who, "in the forbearance of God
He passed over the sins previously committed." Paul
looks back to the old covenant and says God passed
over the sins in the Old Testament times. God used
self–restraint or tolerance as He looked down on
sinful man. Since God is a just God, how could He
"wink" at the sins committed before Christ came and
still be a just and righteous God?
The apostle Paul
summarizes the whole Old Testament teaching on the
holy and righteous character of God when he
declared, "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven
against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men .
. . " (Romans 1:18). In his grand indictment against
all mankind in chapter one he concludes, "those who
practice such things are worthy of death" (v. 32).
"Therefore you are without excuse . . . And we know
that the judgment of God rightfully falls upon those
who practice such things" (2:1). "The wages of sin
is death" (6:23). The first three chapters sums up
the righteous character of God and the fact that we
have all sinned and come short of the glory of God
Paul reminds us of the
Hebrew prophet Ezekiel who wrote, "The soul that
sins will die" (Ezekiel 18:4). Again he said, "The
person who sins will die" (v. 20). "The wickedness
of the wicked will be upon himself" (v. 20). "For
his iniquity which he has committed he will die" (v.
26). "'For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone
who dies,' declares the LORD God. 'Therefore, repent
and live'" (v. 32).
Obviously, sin is serious
business with God. The Scriptures can be summarized
God is holy and He hates
sin. He cannot look upon sin.
Because God is righteous
He must punish all guilty sinners.
Unless God can prove that
He has punished all sin, He is no longer righteous.
God poured out His wrath
on all sin at Calvary.
God has punished all sin,
and therefore He is just.
The old covenant
sacrifices and offerings were never capable of
producing a full forgiveness of sins. They did not
expiate sin. Their sins were passed over, covered
for the time being and another sacrifice would be
made for sin the next day. They could not radically
deal with sin. It is clear the blood of animals
could not do this. All they did was to point forward
to the coming perfect sacrifice that could deal with
sin, cleanse the conscience of dead works, and
reconcile man to God. Therefore, how could God pass
over their sins? How could He remain righteous and
true to Himself?
All of the Old Testament
saints were in heaven on credit. Abraham, David,
Isaac Jacob, etc. were forgiven because they looked
to Christ and the sacrifice He would make in time.
They made their offerings by faith. They took God at
His word that one day He was going to provide a
perfect sacrifice for sin. They believed God. The
thrust of Paul's argument in Romans 3:24-25 is, "It
was their faith in Christ that saved them, exactly
as it is faith in Christ that saves us now."
The apostle Paul's answer
to the question of God's righteousness is clear. At
the cross God was publicly declaring His own
inherent and essential righteous character and
justice. Here He is not referring to the imputed
righteousness He gives to believers, but His own
personal, glorious attributes. He is referring to
His own essential moral, holy, just and righteous
character. God gave a public demonstration that He
is still righteous, just and holy although He has
declared all believing sinners just and
righteousness in His sight. How did He do it? God
set forth Jesus Christ as propitiation through faith
in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the
passing over of sins formerly committed under the
old covenant (Romans 3:24-25). Hebrews 9:15 teaches
us the same thing.
God explained Himself and
declared His holy character when on the cross, His
Son died as a sacrifice for all sin. Although God
has in patience and forbearance held His judgment
back in Old Testament times, He did not hold it back
at the cross. He expressed all His holy wrath
against sin on Jesus. The cross was a public
declaration that God's righteousness was satisfied.
He vindicated His own eternal character of
righteousness and holiness at the cross. At the
cross God vindicated what He had been doing in the
past as He overlooked sin under the old covenant. In
verse 26 He answered how He could pass over those
sins in the past. The answer is still in the cross
of Jesus. Every sin was dealt with once and for all
at the cross.
At the cross God declared
His righteousness for having passed over sins in His
time of self-restraint. He can declare His own
righteousness then, now and forever in forgiveness
of sins because God poured out His entire wrath on
His Son. The wrath of God that should have come down
upon all sinners in the old dispensation came down
upon His Son, Jesus Christ at the cross. That same
wrath that should come down upon you and me because
of our sins fell upon Jesus in that same historical
event at Calvary. Jesus Christ is "the Lamb slain
before the foundation of the world." Because God
knew He was going to execute judgment against all
sin in due time He could put off that judgment until
the right time. Therefore, God can remain just and
deal with sin as He says He is going to do, and
still justify the believing sinner.
This is "the
demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the
present time, that He might be just and the
justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Romans
3:26). This is how He could pass over, or put off to
another day, judgment against the sins in the past.
How does He deal with our
sins now? How does He deal with our sins in the
The answer is still the
same––at the cross of Jesus. Christ is the
"propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only
but also for the sins of the whole world." All sin
was dealt with once and for all on the cross of
Jesus. The blood of Jesus covers every sin of those
who believe––past, present and future.
Christ has dealt with all
sins in His own death. It was done once and forever.
God laid all sins on the back of Jesus. The sins you
and I have not yet committed were laid on Him there.
Christ in His death for sin has already dealt with
the sins you have not yet committed. This is the
only means whereby God can forgive us of our sins.
This is the only justification of God for forgiving
all sins whenever committed. All sins are forgiven
on these grounds alone. Therefore, God can be "just
and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus"
(v. 26). The cross is not just the declaration of
God's love; it is also the declaration that He is a
just and holy God. He is true to His holy character.
At the cross God was declaring that He is "Light and
in Him there is no darkness at all." His love must
be kept in perfect balance with His righteousness.
The cross is the
vindication of God's righteous character. God can
remain holy and just because He has punished sins
and sinners in His own pure and holy Son. God poured
out His wrath upon Christ. The prophet Isaiah said,
"He bore our chastisement." "By His stripes we are
healed." God punished sin and was therefore true to
Himself. He kept His integrity.
Sinners are declared
righteous freely by God's grace though the
redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God set
forth as propitiation through faith in His blood.
Therefore, God can declare His righteousness for
having passed over those sins in the past time of
self-restraint. God is righteous in forgiving
sin––past, present and future.
Is the apostle Paul
teaching universalism? Does that mean everyone is
automatically saved because Christ has already died
for their sins? No. It means the provision has been
made in God's grace by Christ's death to forgive,
but only those individuals who personally believe on
Christ to save them will receive forgiveness and
salvation. "He who believes in the Son has eternal
life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see
life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John
Have you put your trust
in Jesus Christ to save you from the wrath of God?
Are you enjoying His peace and assurance that all
your sins have been covered by the death of Jesus
Christ? As Jesus Christ to be your personal savior
Vindication of God's Righteousness
Christ in the Old Testament