Whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the Justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25–26—NKJV)

Here is a startling thought: “God is just in justifying the guilty.” As Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown’s commentary says, it is easier to grasp that God is “just in punishing, and merciful in pardoning” rather than “just in justifying the guilty.” But our text shows how this is not just possible and understandable, but also gloriously settled and irrevocable. The satisfaction of God’s justice is only met in the propitiatory work of Jesus Christ, the Just in place of the unjust.

Sadly, in this day and age, authentic justice must be defined, for it is seldom seen by 21st century man. Justice is not equity or equality in outcomes. It is not forgiving or making allowances for previous deficits and excuses. Justice is fair only in that it is impartial. Justice keeps its eye only on the righteous standard, while being blind to all else. Justice makes its aim to decree a fitting punishment for crime as well as a fitting reward for excellence. The biblical statement “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” resonates with justice. Our expressions “to do justice to,” “just deserts,” and “justify the checkbook” retain this foundational definition.

God is Just. He is righteous. He is the standard for undeviating righteousness. His nature will not change, nor would He wish it. His righteous character is at constant odds with and is antagonistic to all sin, no matter its manifestation. When sin is acted upon, the holy law of God is transgressed and His holy nature offended. For that offense, justice must be satisfied. Divine justice knows no compromise.

Since all mankind has fallen short of the glory of God (verse 23), God has demonstrated (to prove, to demonstrate a proof) His just righteousness. He commissioned His own sinless Son to become one of us (a human), to live a life free of offense to the holy nature of God, and to become our substitute, the Just in place of the unjust. Verse 25 states that Jesus is set forth (place before so that He can be seen) as the propitiation (the satisfaction of all that God’s justice demanded). Jesus Christ’s death accomplished two great things: first, the believers’ sins are paid for, and second, justice is maintained. A believer is saved by mercy, for Jesus bore his sin and died in his place, and he is saved by righteousness—for Jesus’ righteousness is placed upon his account. The checkbook has been justified, so to speak—all of grace.

The beneficiary of all this is “the one who has faith in Jesus.” Faith is only as good as its object. Jesus is the sinless Son of God. Your faith must be placed exclusively in Him; He alone must be your object of faith. When we have faith in any other man, we put our trust in what we know of him, his character, his reputation gained through the years, his proven ability to live up to his agreements, and we trust him without verification until he proves unworthy of our trust.

When you elevate this living faith to the realm of saving faith, you dare not extend it to any mortal man, especially yourself. Such faith must be reserved for only One, the eternal, sinless Son of God who Himself is Just. When your trust is fully reliant upon Jesus Christ’s substitutionary work for you upon the cross—bearing your sin and the just punishment that you deserved—and in Him you are declared justified, then you know the meaning of the fact that God is Just and the justifier of the believer, and that indeed He is just in justifying the guilty.

Are you living fittingly in the grace of God every day? Trust and obey.