Exposition of Romans 3:25b–26 Some confuse God’s forbearance with tolerance

Suppose one child grows up in a home where mom and dad impose discipline consistently after bad behavior. Another child has parents who forbid certain behaviors but never punish violation of their standards. These two children will become adults with very different expectations about standards and consequences.

Is either set of parents like God?

(ESV) Romans 3:25b–26  This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 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.

Perhaps the best answer to the question posed in the introduction to this lesson is “yes and no.”  :-)

Throughout the Bible God condemns sin (1:18–3:20), but those declarations mean little unless God is willing to punish those who sin. If he is not willing to punish sin, then his promises of punishment would be false. Under those circumstances, who could trust his promises of blessing either?

The veracity of God’s statements, his faithfulness in doing what he says, his fairness in judging, and the consistency of his actions are all part of what we may consider to be his righteousness. Douglas Moo takes God’s righteousness “to designate what we might call an aspect of God’s character, whether this be his ‘justice’ (. . .), his impartiality and fairness, or his acting in accordance with his own character.”[1] It is God’s own righteousness that is meant by the two instances of righteousness (Greek dikaiosun?) in 3:25b–26.

When Paul says, “This was to show God’s righteousness” (3:25b), he looks back to God appointing Jesus as an atoning sacrifice to propitiate God’s justifiable wrath against human sin (3:25a). The execution of Jesus on the cross provided a public demonstration of how seriously God takes sin.

In saying “he had passed over former sins” (3:25b), the temporary delay in the demonstration of God’s righteousness was a matter of “his divine forbearance” (3:25b). C.E.B. Cranfield shows insight by saying, “God has in fact been able to hold his hand and pass over sins, without compromising his goodness and mercy, because his intention has all along been to deal with them once and for all, decisively and finally, through the cross.”[2]

What is meant by “former sins” (3:25b)? Moo says: “The sins ‘committed beforehand’ will not, then, be sins committed before conversion, or baptism, but before the new age of salvation.”[3] That age began at the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, or perhaps as early as the incarnation.

(ESV) Romans 3:26 “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.”

Cranfield lights the path here: “Paul recognizes that what was at stake was not just God’s being seen to be righteous, but God’s being righteous.”[4] This is not a matter of mere appearances.

Thomas Schreiner joins Moo and Cranfield in saying that the idea of the final clause is that “God is just even in justifying the one who has faith in Jesus.”[5] Only God could craft a salvation that imposes justice and offers mercy in the same act: the death of Jesus for our sins.

Like a compass needle which always seeks magnetic north, Paul always returns to “faith in Jesus” (3:26).

Is God just an old softy?

No! In an age that wants to focus on God’s mercy rather than his justice, we hear a lot about God’s love but little about his wrath. Yet anyone who minimizes the wrath of God against sin not only attacks the character of God but also demeans the sacrifice Jesus made for each of us on the cross.

1. Peter tells us that in the last days people will be saying Christ is not going to return, that there will be no reckoning for sin on a day of judgment (2 Pet. 3:2-4). But Peter says the delay is instead a matter of God “being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9, NET). How does patience show God’s mercy while repentance confirms God’s intention to judge? Describe how Peter and Paul agree.

2. Why do people want to leave aside any discussion of God’s wrath?

Take a moment to express your praise to the One who is just even as he justifies us because of our faith in Jesus. Of course, if you have never expressed such faith, your time within God’s forbearance is running out!

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 237.

[2] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 212.

[3] Moo, Romans, 240.

[4] Cranfield, Romans, 213.

[5] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 198.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!