Why can’t God just forgive?
What is the real need for the cross where Jesus was brutally, violently, and painfully executed through crucifixion.
Why can’t God just forgive?
One of the most popular genres of television is the crime procedural, where police investigators use forensic science to solve murders. Just consider the success and duplication of shows like CSI, which birthed CSI Miami and CSI New York. NCIS multiplied itself into NCIS Los Angeles and NCIS New Orleans. The long running, hit show Law and Order spun off Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, which at 18 seasons, is the longest running network television show in America.
There is one, primary goal on each of those shows, which is the goal of any police investigation: justice.
After all, how would you respond if a judge simply let a known murderer go? All the evidence is for conviction. Slam dunk. But this judge is really nice and while in a really good mood decides to let the criminal go. How would you respond?
We would erupt with righteous indignation in view of such injustice. We would be filled with a sense of outrage!
If we as humans demand justice, how much more would we expect God to demand justice.
This is why he can’t just forgive, which is exactly what Paul teaches us in Romans 3:20-26, where he actually uses courtroom language to describe the message of the gospel.
Romans 3: 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous (just) in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. 21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
So far, it sounds like God can just forgive! But now Paul describes how and why he can forgive.
25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
In this passage, Paul reveals three reasons why God can’t just forgive.
I. The first reason is the nature of God. In verse 26, Paul wrote that he sent Jesus to suffer execution on a cross “to demonstrate his righteousness… so as to be just and the one who justifies.” God is a perfectly righteous, good, fair judge. It is his nature. To just forgive would elicit outrage and indignation from heaven.
II. The second reason why God can’t just forgive is the condition of man. In verse 25, he wrote that Jesus had to serve the ultimate sentence of death “because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.” We humans are guilty sinners who are under a death sentence for cosmic treason. We have rejected the will, wisdom and ways of the King for our own ways. This is our condition. God can’t just forgive the sinner if he is to also uphold justice.
III. This leads to the final reason why God can’t just forgive, which is the purpose of the cross. Again in verse 25, Paul says, “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement.” The phrase “sacrifice of atonement” translates a single Greek word that means propitiation. To propitiate is to satisfy the demands of justice. It is to absorb a curse. It is to serve the sentence the law demands. This is why the cross is where the justice, mercy and love of God are all on full display.
In Charles Dickens’s epic novel A Tale of Two Cities, two men, Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton, love the same woman, Lucie Manette. However, Lucie chooses to marry Charles. Later, during the French Revolution, Charles is thrown in prison and awaits execution by guillotine. Sydney, who closely resembles Charles in appearance, visits Charles in prison, drugs him, has him carried out to freedom, and takes Charles’ place. The next morning Sydney is executed, fulfilling his promise to Lucie that, even though she did not choose him, “she would always have someone who is willing to die for her.”
The law demanded that someone serve the sentence of the guillotine. Out of love for Lucie, Sydney takes the place of her husband, enabling her to live her life with the man she loved.
Of course, Jesus is the ultimate Sydney Carton, who gives his life in our place, enduring the demands of justice, absorbing the curse and serving the sentence that the law demands. For as Paul says in Romans 8, because Jesus was condemned in our place, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ.” In the courtroom of God, the gavel has struck. Justice is satisfied. The law has been fulfilled. We are now forgiven and free, reconciled and restored to God as Father.