The beginning words of verse 26 seem to me to help establish this view concerning the retroactive efficacy of Christ’s atonement, for it appears that Paul is saying, not only did God declare His righteousness for the remission of past sins, but He does the same with us in this present day of grace, after the appearing and sacrifice of Christ.  God shows just how righteous He is, in that He will not permit a single sin to go unpunished.  Those who expect God to overlook those sins if they simply make some effort at living a decent life are in for a fatal disappointment.  If sinners could attain to heaven through that means, then what need should there be for Christ at all?  No, the Gospel is a manifestation of the righteousness of God in the sense that it shows that God is so just that He is bound and determined to vindicate His laws, and exact its full penalty, in the case of every single sin ever committed.  Yes, He has chosen and appointed an innumerable host of sinners to eternal life, and will do everything necessary to save them.  But He positively will not save them by ignoring and overlooking their sin.  His righteousness must be vindicated in the punishment of those sins, and that is precisely why we see Christ suffering in unspeakable anguish upon the cross, crying out that He is forsaken of His Father.  He must be accounted an unclean thing, and drink the very dregs of the wrath of God against the sins of His people, before they could go free.

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And thus, God maintains His justice while justifying the sinner who believes in Jesus.  This is a fundamental principle of the Gospel, and one which all too many sadly miss.  The Gospel is not just a message of sheer mercy, but it is a message of how God’s mercy can shine forth and His justice be vindicated at the same time.  The suffering and death of Jesus is the only answer to that perplexing problem.  Every other answer which foolish men and subtle theologians seek to provide has the end result of compromising God’s justice, and making Him an indulgent parent instead of a just Judge.  This can never be.  God can only declare a believing sinner righteous because Jesus has suffered the penalty of the law in that sinner’s stead, so that no longer can any accusation of guilt be laid at our doorstep.  If we believe upon the Lord Jesus, this forgiveness purchased at the price of the blood of the Son of God, and this righteousness which He wrought for sinners, becomes ours through the free grace of God.

 

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