A strange verse exists in Romans 3 (verse 26 to be exact): “It (God’s acceptance of Christ’s blood as payment for our sins) was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” I have often wondered why Paul makes a point to say that God is just and the justifier. Sounds repetitive, doesn’t it?
But when you understand what he is defining and declaring, and subsequently defeating, it makes more sense. He is defining the righteousness of God (i.e., that God is acting perfectly just to conclude that all men are under sin, regardless of what they have done or who they are) and declaring the Gospel of God (i.e., that through Jesus we can be forgiven of our sin and clothed in God’s righteousness). Essentially, God’s righteousness means no one is justified naturally, and God’s Gospel means all can be justified supernaturally.
As a result, two things are defeated: Legalism and liberalism. They represent two extremes, and neither accomplishes what only God has done through the “good news” of his Son, Jesus.
For instance, legalism (i.e., the law) may look just. “An eye for an eye” and so forth. But it can never justify. Why? Because no human has ever – or can – keep all the law. There’s no way a merciless master like the law can overlook even one infraction. Truly, it has no justifying qualities.
Then there’s liberalism (i.e., no law). Since it removes standards and parameters, it appears to justify by saying everyone’s in, no matter what. But it can never be just. Why? Because all humans have the law of God written on their heart and know that, even if we pretentiously say there is no right or wrong, there actually is a law that has been broken. There’s nothing just about pretending we’re all okay when we all know we’re not.
But the Gospel? Well, through it God is both just and the justifier! He maintains his just nature (Jesus offered the perfect sacrifice required), and his justifying nature (because of Jesus, God now offers forgiveness to all who believe). That’s something the two extremes of legalism and liberalism, and anything inbetween, can never do.
Ah, thank God for the Gospel!