Love Wins?- Romans 3:21-26

We have been looking at God’s love, and the question has arisen as to how God’s love relates to His other attributes. The Bible states plainly that “God is love” (1 John 4:16), but does this mean that God’s love somehow overrides His other attributes, that love “wins” in the end and all people go to heaven? We will look at this passage in Romans to see why and how this is not true, how love is one of God’s attributes, and since He is “one” all of His attributes work together. Paul begins here, in verse 21, by telling us that it has been revealed that righteousness comes “apart from law”, that it has been clearly revealed that man cannot be accepted by God based upon his own performance, righteousness cannot be earned by keeping any law or rules. The phrase “law and prophets” here is a reference to the Old Testament, which, when properly understood, also tells us man cannot be acceptable in God’s sight through his behavior. He tells us, in verse 22, that righteousness only comes from God (because only God has any) and that it comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Righteousness here does not refer to a way of behaving, but to a state of existence, all who trust Christ are declared righteous and accepted by God, and are righteous not because they act a certain way but because God says they are. Paul tells us here there is “no difference”, meaning here that there is no difference among all people in their need for salvation, in the way to salvation, and in the means of salvation. This is because “all have sinned”. The reference to all humanity here is not to its salvation but to its sinfulness and need of salvation. All humans exist as sinners, but not all are “justified”, only those who place their trust in Jesus Christ are justified freely by the grace of God. Justification comes not to all people but only to those who have accepted the free gift of salvation offered by God through Jesus Christ. In verse 25, we find that God presented Jesus as a “sacrifice of atonement”. The word presented here speaks of a pre-determined purpose or plan, that the cross was a sacrifice of atonement. This term atonement is hilasterion, a reference to the mercy seat of the temple in the Old Testament, for God has declared that only a blood sacrifice can properly deal with sin. The blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled upon the mercy seat to atone for sin, and Paul tells us here that Jesus blood on the cross was the hilasterion which dealt with all the sin of all the human race, but that this sacrifice is only applied to those who accept it through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul tells us God did all this to “demonstrate His justice”, that love does not override justice, but that the two are complementary, that justice is part of love. If God were not just, He could have just “overlooked” sin and taken everybody to heaven, but the fact of the cross shows that God’s justice would not allow Him to overlook sin. He had said the soul that sins must die, and He could not just say, “oh, just forget I said that”. His justice required that sin must be dealt with, and His love provided the solution. God’s justice required that sin could not be overlooked but must be dealt with, and His love provided the solution in that He came and died for it. We see here that love doesn’t “win”, but that love works in concert with God’s other attributes, that His attributes do not compete with one another but work together. All that God does is a function of His love, and it is up to us to properly understand how His love functions, and let Him define what love is and show us what it looks like, and it looks like Jesus. who is the ultimate expression of God’s love, but also of His justice.

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