Romans 3, verses 22 through 24 say, “The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” These verses are not only the theme of Romans 3, or the theme of Romans; these verses are the theme of the entire redemptive Gospel. We have been justified by grace as a free—but costly—gift. The very idea of grace shapes, molds and defines our culture, identity and civilization. Grace is the cross that bridges the gap between our utter desolation and His all-consuming glory.
Dietrich Bonheoffer said, in regards to grace, “Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.” Bonheoffer went on to say, “It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.” The first three chapters of Romans focus on our all-encompassing unrighteousness and our inability to redeem ourselves, ultimately describing the depravity of humanity. Chapters four through eight focus on the peace that comes through justification in Christ and the sanctification that comes only through obedience. In Romans 8, Paul calls Christ’s disciples in Rome to be dead to sin and alive in God. Romans 8:4 summarizes our human identity in Jesus: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life.” Often, in learning grace and love, the theme of obedience is lost. To love God is to follow His commandments and decrees, to walk in the newness of life, to be dead to sin, to be alive in Christ Jesus is to know His deepest desires and make them your own.
Romans 3:31 says, “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” This is the image of how God desires to see relationships flourish and civilizations and governmental institutions form. The Law exposes our depraved “lost-ness” while grace transposes us to His eternal “found-ness.” The cost, as Bonheoffer alluded to in the earlier quote, is that the redeemed are, by grace, no longer slaves to sin, but rather slaves to righteousness. Romans 6:18 says, “and having been set free from sin, [we] have become slaves to righteousness.”
In grace, much of the theme of chapters one through eight of Romans, we often misinterpret the Scriptures, living as if the law was abolished rather than fulfilled. Romans 7:11 says, “For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.” The Old Testament and the Mosaic Law are there to shine light on our sin and failure. These laws are similar to civil law in culture today. Legislative and legal statutes are in place to expose the guilty and bring them to justice: this is the theme by which our nation’s legal system was founded. In Paul’s letter to the Romans we see that, in salvation, justice is radically different: grace is the hinge by which the entire system of justice is swung open. This is where justification is realized and sanctification begins.
Romans 7:14 says, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.” Our sin and worldly desire is made known by the Law. Human beings, by nature, are incapable of complete surrender and obedience. As Romans 7:14 says, the Law is spiritual. Paul is relaying the truth to the Romans that humanity, on its own power, will fail at keeping God’s commands. God’s decrees are kept solely by the power of the Holy Spirit that dwells inside the heart of every believer; to rely on anything else is to not understand the central theme and purpose of sanctification: sacrificing one’s life wholly to God and being set apart from the world for a higher purpose.
Sanctification plays an enormous role in the life and culture of the believer. Romans 8:15 says, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of adoption as sons [and daughters], by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” In being set apart, sanctified, we have been given an entirely new destiny. Our new destiny in Christ is to change our destination’s culture. In salvation, every believer has been adopted as a child of God, never to walk in fear, but to walk in confidence with the knowledge of the mission that is prescribed in Scripture. Each and every follower of Christ is ordained to go to his or her “Jerusalem” and bring grace to the undeserving, shine light in the darkness and bring transformation to the untransformed.
Paul, in Romans 8:31-32, says, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” In salvation, dedication, justification and sanctification, the believer is charged—and required—to humbly lay down his or her life completely for Christ. The sacrifice is great, the reward glorious. As Paul emphatically told the Romans, “Who can be against us?” Who? In verse 37, Paul reminds the believers of Rome that we may be knocked down in the battle, but the victory of the war goes to the redeemed: “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Paul goes on in verse 39, “Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Paul’s message in Romans, chapters one through eight, comes back to this final charge: Grace is the cross that bridges the gap between our utter desolation and His all-consuming glory. Once a life has been dedicated, Jesus Christ’s obedience to satisfy the wrath of the Father has bridged the gap and forever nailed down the cross between the redeemed and the Redeemer.
 Unless otherwise indicated, all Bible references in this article are to the English Standard Version (ESV) (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001)
Johnnie Moore, Dirty God: Jesus In The Trenches, (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 2013, pp. 138-139).