The Cross Declares God is Righteous and Just
Most Christians understand the forgiveness of their sins is by the cross of Calvary, where our Lord Jesus Christ shed His precious blood (Mt 26:28; Acts 5:31; 10:43; 13:38; Eph 1:7; Col 1:14; 1 Pet 1:19). When contemplation is extended, we think of the propitiation for sins (Rom 3:25; Heb 2:17; 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10). The wrath of God is directed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (Rom 1:18). Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice at Golgotha appeased the wrath of God rightly directed against us. Our trust in Christ’s substitutionary atonement, on our behalf and in our stead, is what makes us Christians (Rom 5:8; Eph 5:25; 1 Pet 2:24). We are justified by His blood, by His grace, and by the faith given to us (Rom 3:24, 28; 5:1, 9; Phil 1:29).
There is something even more important than our forgiveness. It is what we know about God when we survey the cross. Thus far, I have noted that God forgives believing sinners. There is also the wrath of God at the cross. While His wrath is poured out on His only begotten Son, He is showing His mercy to His people. In our consideration of the cross and what it declares to us, we may wish to inquire how the cross is relevant to those living in the Old Testament dispensation. The Gentile had the light of nature and the Jews also had the Law of God. Throughout the Old Testament, God warned His people about sin, judgment, justice, wrath, and death, but those were not fully manifest.
The sacrifices for sins were offered, but they could not solve the penitent sinner’s problem of sin. There was also the problem with the guilt of sin and how it weighed down the sinner, who could not clear his conscience. Still, God did not appear to be executing His judgment and wrath in a manner that He promised.
Here is another message declared at the cross. God’s pretermission of sins committed in the past were fully laid on Christ at the cross. He who knew no sin became sin for the Old Testament saints, even as He did for saints in the New Testament age (2 Cor 5:21). All of our sins and all of their sins were imputed to Christ.
In God’s self-restraint He did not pour out the fullness of His wrath. The question may be proposed, “Was God just in not dealing with the sins of the Old Testament saints?” It is the cross that demonstrates that God stored up His wrath against the believing Israelites and poured that wrath out on Christ Jesus. The cross and its message include the attributes of God, that is, He is perfectly just in the way He has dealt with sins and sinners.
Not only is God just in His judgment (Gen 18:25), but the cross shows us how He is the justifier of those whom He has justified (Rom 3:26). God took His righteous wrath against unjust sinners and redirected His wrath to Christ, upon whom He imputed all the sins of His chosen people both Jew and Gentile. The blood of Christ was sprinkled on this remnant group from every nation, tribe, and tongue (Rev 5:9).
If God were unjust in dealing with sins, we could not claim He was righteous. He Himself would be a law breaker. The cross, however, demonstrates the righteousness of God.
God is holy (1 Pet 1:15–16), and the revealed Law of God is holy (Rom 7:12). Sinners are unholy and therefore they are declared unrighteous. The inseparability of sins and sinner’s demands just punishment for sinners. This is eternal hell in the lake of fire (Mt 25:41, 46; Jude 7; Rev 20:14–15). Since the days of Adam through until today, the great majority of people have this just condemnation (Rom 3:23; 6:23; Heb 9:27; Rev 20:11).
In fact, all are condemned (Jn 3:18), with their sin nature, being children of wrath (Eph 2:3). Christ Jesus, however, came to save His people from their sins (Mt 1:21). This is His holy nation (1 Pet 2:9), set apart from sin and set apart to God (Rom 15:16; 1 Thess 4:3, 7; 5:23; 2 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2). The only way God could do this and retain His righteousness and justice was to deal with the sins. He could not just say to people, “I love you and forgive you.” That would not be right because it would not be just.
At the cross, God has forgiven His people of their sins. He has expiated their guilt from sins. Jesus has propitiated their sins by enduring the just wrath of God against them. This was God’s predetermined plan for the Lamb of God, slain from before the foundation of the world.
In ordering the substitutionary atonement for the sins of His people, God has successfully dealt with all of their sins. He did this once, a one-time sacrifice of Himself for their permanent reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18–20).
Christian, rejoice in God’s salvation of your body and soul. Rejoice in the removal of separation and your privileged access to the throne of God and His grace. Remember also to rejoice that God has successfully maintained His holy, perfect, and eternal attributes of righteousness and justice. These, too, are the message of the cross.
Spokane Valley, Washington
January 28, 2022