“Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom 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. It 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 3:24-26 ESV)
Our sixth word in the text is forbearance. You see it here. Divine forbearance. Paul anticipates the person who is tracking with propitiation saying, so God is angry with our sin, right? Yes. Jesus died for our sins, right? Right. What about all the people for centuries who sinned before Jesus was even around? What about them? Great question. What about them?
God would have been completely just to immediately usher the sinner into eternal punishment. Adam and Eve, you sinned. To hell you go. Complete justice. But what did God do with Adam and Eve? He promised that from Eve’s offspring one would come who would crush the serpent. (Genesis 3:15) He made them clothes to cover their nakedness and their shame. He gave them children: Cain, Abel, and Seth. He gave them long life. How could God do that when their sin seemed to demand immediate punishment?
The answer is forbearance. Divine forbearance knew even then that the descendent of Eve, Abraham, Jacob, Judah, David, and Mary, would die a propitiating death; a death which would atone for Eve eating from the tree, Abraham taking Hagar, Judah murdering, and David committing adultery. Jesus’ death would atone for them and everyone else who would ever receive and believe in Jesus. Divine forbearance temporarily overlooked the sin, seeing ahead in time a death in their place.
It is not that different from what God does for any of us even now—even before we are Christians. The sin of our pre-Christian life, God could immediately judge us, take our lives, send us to hell, and he would be completely just in doing so. But God looked forward in time to that day we believed and then looked back in time to the death of Christ, and he restrained his wrath so that we might display his righteousness by our salvation.
The result is that God is completely just toward every sin and sinner. Every sin ever committed is either paid for in hell or was paid for on the cross. He is both completely just AND the justifier of all those who trust in Jesus for their right standing.
The sobering truth is that not only does God forbear with the sins of those he will save, he also forbears with the sins of those he will not. God waits. If I may draw a Father’s Day analogy, when I was growing up, if I did something kind of bad, my mom would discipline me. If I did something bad, she would say, “Wait until your father gets home.” There are no more terrifying words than wait until your father gets home. Why? When judgment is put on hold till Dad gets home, I’m in big trouble.
God waits to judge sin. That’s what allows people around us to seemingly sin with impunity. Nothing bad seems to happen to them. Often, they prosper. They often have it better than us. But that is because Daddy hasn’t come home yet.
So, the question forbearance asks is, what awaits you? Don’t judge it based on a sense that you seem to be getting away with it. Your present good financial condition or health condition or sense of well-being are no indication of your future.
We live, we die. I walked through many a cemetery, hundreds of years old, in England recently. They lived as we do. Now they stand before God like we will, either an object of wrath and eternal judgment, or an object of mercy with eternal life. The difference between the two is the application of the propitiatory death of Jesus to God’s wrath toward me. This happens by faith. By trust and firm belief that Jesus died for me. As the old hymn says, “Just as I am, without one plea/ But that Thy blood was shed for me,/ And that Thou bid’st me come to Thee,/ O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
© 2018 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
 Charlotte Elliott, “Just as I Am,” 1835.
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