Prior to preparing the lesson that became the basis for this sequence of articles, I was using a daily devotional series (or “reading plan”) that starts at the beginning of the book of Romans. While I’ll cite an illustration that the author of that reading plan used, I encourage you to try using it yourself in your daily devotions: Romans Explained Part 1 | Heathens, Hypocrites & Jesus | Devotional Reading Plan | YouVersion Bible. (Note that I’m not sponsoring anyone or anything here, and you’ll need a YouVersion account to see the whole reading plan, but I personally found it to be helpful. It seems that God provided that reading plan at just the right time, while I was also teaching from the book of Romans.)
The reading plan linked above is the first of a series of 3 reading plans (with devotions or commentary each day) that go through the book of Romans. In this first part of the series, the author paints the first few chapters of Romans in an illustration of a courtroom, where three groups of people file in:
- The wicked – those who are clearly evil and know it – figure that they are on trial. They take the place of the defendants here, and expect to be convicted.
- The godless – those who scoff at the idea of God in the first place – sit in the gallery, ready to poke fun at the trial, since they don’t think that it even applies to them.
- The religious – those who think that they are already good enough – step into the jurors’ box, ready to pronounce judgment on others.
If you’ve been following along in a number of previous articles from the book of Romans (or if you’ve studied that book of the Bible yourself), we discover that all three groups in the room – not just the wicked – are guilty of being unrighteous compared to God and His perfect holiness. This was no surprise to the wicked, but – per the illustration in the reading plan that I was using – the godless and the religious are taken aback to find that they were on trial here, too. In fact, when the evidence was presented, they were both as guilty as the wicked, even if the laws that they had broken were found in different ways.
In Romans 3, though, we discovered that there is an amazing plot twist. The judge (God) knew that we were guilty, but He loved us enough to provide another way (see Romans 3:21-26). In this amazing plan that He had prepared before we were ever born, justice is still served, but all of the guilty (including us) have a chance to be set free. This opportunity wasn’t free for God to purchase on our behalf, since Jesus Christ had to give up His life for the penalty of our sins, but when He did so out of love and obedience, He exchanged His glory for our sentence.
In light of this illustration (with my thanks for those who made it available to others), and this series of articles from Romans 8 (based on a lesson that I taught earlier this year), I’d like to paint the following picture.
Maybe you’ve seen some of those courtroom shows on TV, where the defendant is pressured to take a plea deal from the prosecution. Even if the defendant is innocent of the crime, the prosecutor has been piling up testimony and evidence to try and prove guilt, and things don’t look very good. The plea deal will usually still ruin the defendant’s life, but it presumes that the defendant is guilty and must pay – somehow – for crimes already committed.
In the end of TV episodes like this, though, we usually find that all the work of the prosecutor (often unintentionally) was building up a story that simply wasn’t true. A key fact that doesn’t come to light until the very end of the trial shows that the narrative of the accuser was all wrong.
In the same way, we are kind of on trial. Satan and his allies continue to pile up accusations and mis-interpreted evidence that we deserve to be thrown into the same punishment as them. Since we know that we are, in fact, guilty of having sinned, sometimes we stop there. We dwell on our sin, and the separation that it created between us and God. At the same time, the forces of evil are all too happy to keep us there, stuck in regret and shame, as they pile on their lopsided view of this case.
For those who have chosen to listen to Jesus and follow Him, though, when we look back to the side of the courtroom where our own counsel sits, we find that He had all the proof that we needed in order for us to be exonerated from the punishment that we deserved. Jesus paid the price for our sins, and God stamped His approval on this by bringing Jesus back to life from the dead. We have proof that Jesus was the Messiah, and that His death is enough for us to now be pronounced righteous. This evidence shows that our sentence has already been carried out (just not by us), and that this payment was valid.
Even more than this, the verdict has already been decided. Maybe we’re waiting for the final judgment (at the end of time) to hear it audibly, but the judge already knows what the outcome will be, and we are free to go.
Now that the verdict has been determined, though, it seems kind of pointless to remain in the courtroom listening to the accuser, after the judge has declared that we can go free.
So, let us remember the amazing grace and love of God, and focus on the fact that justice has been served, but in a way that leaves us not only free, but part of the family of God.
As joyful defendants who have been set free (despite our having committed sins), let us go out and turn our life around. May we make the best use of our second chance. May we listen to the advice that the judge (God) gave us when He pronounced us free. May we live in gratitude to the one who paid for our crimes against righteousness (Jesus), and continue to try and be like Him in our decisions. May we listen to the counselor (the Holy Spirit) that our Savior left to counsel us as we live a new life.
We are free. The court sides with us, and there is nothing and no one (as the next lesson covers, from Romans 8:31-33) that can separate us from God’s love.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for February 20, 2022
- The Lookout, February 20, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Romans, Volume 1, by Jack Cottrell. College Press Publishing Company, © 1996.