The great preacher of the 20th century Martin Lloyd-Jones called it “the acropolis of the Bible” — the high city of Athens that served as the pinnacle of the ancient world. Or in more modern language, it’s “the most important paragraph in the entire Bible, the innermost meaning of the cross.”
What they’re referring to is the profound statement to which Romans builds up to: “That he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
We can only truly appreciate the sheer beauty of this statement when we step back and take the perspective of God’s rights as God, instead of looking at salvation merely for what it does for us. I love how Piper explains this: “The secular mindset does not even assess the situation the way the Biblical mindset does. Why is that? It’s because the secular mindset thinks from a radically different starting point. It does not start with the Creator-rights of God — the right to uphold and display the infinite worth of his glory. It starts with man and assumes that God will conform to our rights and wishes. But in the context of Romans, the issue is: How has the glory of God been treated and what is God’s righteous response to that?”
In other words, the entire gospel hinges on this one statement because if God were to just forgive our sins, overlook our mistakes because “we’re all human,” and let us into heaven, it would be a travesty to his nature. He would cease being the perfect, holy God that he is. Yet, as a God of love and mercy, He does desire to save us from the judgment we brought upon ourselves!
That is the brilliance of the gospel, a solution no one but God himself could have invented. When Christ came, as both God himself and perfectly man, to substitute himself for our sins, he preserved God’s justice while allowing himself to justify (declare righteous) sinners.
I love to use this illustration to explain it. Imagine if someone who murdered your spouse stood before a judge. The judge, who was feeling kind that day, decided that even though the evidence clearly stated that the man was guilty, he would let him go without any punishment. While that might sound nice for the murderer, as the victim of the crime, you would protest. “That’s not fair! Justice has to be served for that crime!”
In the same way, God’s perfect justice cannot overlook the least offense. Justice must be served. The beauty of the cross is that God has found a way to satisfy his justice and justify us.