A proper understanding of “the gospel” is essential when launching a discussion of God, Jesus Christ, salvation, justification, forgiveness, and other theological topics. The best overall description of the gospel I have found to date is in Jerry Bridges’ The Discipline of Grace, at Chapter 3, entitled “Preach the Gospel to Yourself”. You may ask, “why a description of the gospel? Isn’t it merely the fact that Jesus paid the penalty for sin for those who would believe?” Of course, that is true, but it is much more than that. “The Gospel” includes God’s complete plan of redemption from the beginning.
Bridges refers to Romans 3:19-26 as “the single passage in all of the Bible that most clearly and completely explains the gospel...” There, Paul wrote:
19Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
21But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26It 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. (Romans 3:19-26 ESV)
Bridges then does an excellent exposition of the passage, identifying “seven truths that we need to clearly understand”. Those seven truths are:
1. No One Is Declared Righteous Before God by Observing the Law (v.19-21)
2. There is a Righteousness from God That Is Apart From the Law (v.21)
3. This Righteousness From God Is Received Through Faith in Jesus Christ (v.22)
4. This Righteousness Is Available to Everyone on the Same Basis, Because All Have Sinned and Fall Short of the Glory of God (v.22-23)
5. All Who Put Their Faith in Jesus Christ Are Justified Freely by God’s Grace (v.24)
6. This Justification Is “Through the Redemption That Came by Christ Jesus” (v.24)
7. “God Presented [Jesus] as a Sacrifice of Atonement, Through Faith in His Blood” (v.25)
While it might appear to the casual reader that Farley is making much the same argument as does Bridges, the fact of the matter is that Bridges provides an exegetical explanation of the text, whereas Farley provides an eisegetical explanation. In so doing, Farley winds up missing the mark.
Bridges’ exposition will be referred to briefly here. The reader is heartily encouraged to procure a copy of Bridges’ book to read his description/explanation in its entirety.
No One Is Declared Righteous Before God by Observing the Law (v.19-21)
“The word righteous means exact and perfect conformity to the law of God…(the law refers) to the transcript of God’s nature and the rule of obedience that He requires of all human beings. It includes all of the ethical commands scattered throughout the Bible…the standard of obedience required by the law is absolute perfection…” (Bridges, p. 47-48).
“…in our everyday relationship with God, most of us are no different in our thinking than the unbelievers who think they will go to heaven because they’ve been good enough. To live by grace, we must rid ourselves of such thinking” (Bridges, p. 48-49).
There is a Righteousness from God That Is Apart From the Law (v.21)
God provided for us, argued Bridges, a perfect righteousness, that of Jesus Christ who perfectly fulfilled the law of God (Bridges, p. 49). God, said Bridges, has declared “us righteous on the basis of the real, accomplished righteousness of Jesus Christ, which is imputed or credited to us through faith” (Bridges, p. 50).
“This standing in Christ’s righteousness is never affected to any degree by our good-day or bad-day performance. Unless we learn to live daily by faith in (that is, by reliance on) His righteousness, however, our perception of our standing before God will vary depending on our good or bad performance” (Bridges, p. 50, emphasis in original).
This Righteousness From God Is Received Through Faith in Jesus Christ (v.22)
“Faith is the hand by which the righteousness of Christ is received. Faith itself has no merit; in fact, by its nature it is self-emptying. It involves our complete renunciation of any confidence in our own righteousness and a relying entirely on the perfect righteousness and death of Jesus Christ…faith in Christ and a reliance on ourselves, even to the smallest degree, are mutually exclusive” (Bridges, p. 50-51).
“Jesus himself is always to be the object of our faith. We sometimes say we are saved by faith alone, meaning apart from any works. That expression, however, can be somewhat misleading, as though faith itself has some virtue that God respects. It is more accurate to say we are saved by God’s grace through faith. Faith, again, is merely the hand that receives the gift of God, and God through his Spirit even opens our hand to receive the gift. This doctrine of trusting in Jesus Christ alone for one’s salvation is a basic truth of the gospel. Without acceptance of it there is no salvation” (Bridges, p. 51).
“…we were not only saved by faith at a particular point in time, but we are to live by faith in Christ every day of our lives…I must continue to renounce any confidence in my own goodness and place my confidence solely in Christ every day of my life, not only for my eternal salvation, but for my daily acceptance before a holy God” (Bridges, p. 52).
In discussing justification, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatian church, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Here, Paul was identifying the importance of “…a dependence on Him for his righteous standing before God on a day-to-day basis” (Bridges, p. 52).
This Righteousness Is Available to Everyone on the Same Basis, Because All Have Sinned and Fall Short of the Glory of God (v.22-23)
“…any sin, however small and insignificant it may seem to us, is a violation of God’s holy law and subjects us to the penalty of death…the first purpose of God’s method of salvation through Christ’s death is to deliver us from guilt, and though all people are not equally guilty, all are guilty…if we are to live by the gospel every day, all tendency to compare ourselves with other believers, not to mention unbelievers, must be put away. Rather we must measure ourselves against God’s perfect standard and daily confess that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Bridges, p. 52-53).
All Who Put Their Faith in Jesus Christ Are Justified Freely by God’s Grace (v.24)
“To be justified is to be absolved from any charge of guilt and to be declared absolutely righteous…we are counted in God’s sight as having perfectly obeyed the law of God” (Bridges, p. 53).
“We must keep in mind that our justification by God is based solely on the meritorious work of Christ and our union with him…Christ stood in our place as our representative, both in his sinless life and his sin-bearing death” (Bridges, p. 53).
“To live by the gospel, then, means that we firmly grasp the fact that Christ’s life and death are ours by virtue of our union with him. What he did, we did. This is the only sense in which we can understand Paul’s bold statements in Romans 8: ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (v.1); ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’ (v.31b); ‘Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies’ (v.33). These statements by Paul are objective truths; that is, they are true whether we grasp them or not…often…we find it difficult to believe them. Because of our frequent failures before God, we do feel under condemnation, we do not feel God is for us but rather must surely be against us, we do think he is bringing charges against us. At such times we must preach the gospel to ourselves. We must review what God has declared to be true about our justification in Christ” (Bridges, p. 54, emphasis added).
“When we trust in Christ for salvation, God’s court is forever satisfied. Never again will a charge of guilt be brought against us in Heaven. Our consciences, however, are continually pronouncing us guilty. That is the function of conscience. Therefore, we must by faith bring the verdict of conscience into line with the verdict of Heaven. We do this by agreeing with our conscience about our guilt, but then reminding it that our guilt has already been borne by Christ” (Bridges, p. 54).
This Justification Is “Through the Redemption That Came by Christ Jesus” (v.24)
We as believers have been redeemed from the wrath of God which was rightfully ours to suffer because of our sin. Jesus Christ paid the price for that redemption with his blood. Our justification “…was in fact ‘purchased’ by Christ with his blood. Christ paid the ransom that redeemed us from God’s just and holy wrath” (Bridges, p. 55).
“In God’s plan of justification…justice is not violated by a gratuitous pardon of the convicted sinner. Rather, justice has been satisfied; the penalty has been fully paid by the Lord Jesus Christ…to justify is to declare that the claims of justice have been fully met” (Bridges, p. 56).
“…the death of Christ…completely satisfied the justice of God” (Bridges, p. 56).
“God Presented [Jesus] as a Sacrifice of Atonement, Through Faith in His Blood” (v.25)
“The atonement…assumes the wrath of God against sin, and our consequent liability to his holy and just wrath.” D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones described God’s wrath as “His settled opposition to all that is evil, arising out of his very nature…his nature is such that he abhors evil, he hates evil, his holiness of necessity leads to that” (Bridges, p. 56-57).“Propitiation in the context of salvation means that which appeases the wrath of God against sin…God presented him (Jesus) or set him forth as an atoning sacrifice. It is God the Father who initiated the whole plan of salvation. It is God the Father who provided the sacrifice of his Son to satisfy his justice and appease his own wrath…his propitiation is appropriated by us as sinners through faith in his blood…it is the blood of Christ that cleanses our consciences from the defilement of sin…it is the blood of Christ that purifies us from all sin…it is by the blood of Christ that we have confidence to enter into the Most Holy Place—the very presence of an infinitely holy God…it is the blood of Christ…that turns the holy and just wrath of God away from us…It is the blood of Christ, shed once for all on Calvary two thousand years ago, but appropriated daily or even many times a day, that cleanses our consciences and gives us a renewed sense of peace with God” (Bridges, p. 57-58).
NEXT: FARLEY Part IV: “RELIGION IS A HEADACHE” OR “THE LAW IS BAD AND HAS NO PLACE IN THE LIFE OF THE BELIEVER” AND “ADAM AND EVE DID NOT SIN”