Sin is the same in any dispensation. Sin is always rebellion and disobedience against God (See ‘What is sin?’ for more on this.) Sin will always face God’s justice in righteous judgment and wrath. Yet, it was not until the revelation of the mystery given to Paul that it was explained how God could be just and the justifier of those who are disobedient to his commands. The answer lies in the payment for sin made by Christ on the cross (Romans 3:21-26).
It is easy for most of us to assess how God deals with sin according to his just law. Anyone who disobeyed God’s command was considered a sinner and deserved the just punishment according to the law. Yet, the wages of all sin is death, and no amount of good behavior can annul the penalty that we have all incurred. James wrote:
“For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” – James 2:10
Under the Jewish dispensation of the Old Covenant, God provided a system of personal sacrifices which could be offered in response to sin. When offered by faith, these sacrifices would show repentance of sin, and an appeal for forgiveness toward God. The heathen and Gentiles had no sacrifice for sin, except what was offered on their behalf by the mediators of God’s blessing – the Jews.
Under the current dispensation of Grace, the nation Israel has fallen from their privileged state under the Old Covenant. When given miracles, laws, blessings, and even a Messiah, Israel failed to obey righteousness even as the Gentiles. Now, their failure proves that despite help from God, every person is under the influence of sin, as Paul writes:
“…for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:” – Romans 3:9-10
And in another place,
“For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.” – Romans 11:32
The most self-righteous do-gooder is considered no better than the most vile wicked heathen, they are both unrighteous and deserving of God’s punishment (see if you are good enough to go to heaven). In this dispensation there is no system of sacrifices or behavior that can prevent the indignation and wrath that God has against sin in this world. As a result, God’s wrath is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of every man (Romans 1:18).
Yet, we see so much ungodliness and unrighteousness in the world that goes unpunished. Where is his wrath poured out? Is God ignorant of the evil in this world? The Scriptures tell us he is not.
For instead of pouring out his wrath upon the world nearly two thousand years ago, he ushered in the age of Grace.
God put the sins of the entire world upon Jesus Christ when he died on the cross. This propitiation satisfied the demand for justice from God (Romans 3:26).
Since God was in Christ ‘reconciling the world unto himself’, he does not impute trespasses to any man today. Instead the entire world is reconciled to God, so that we can preach reconciliation to every man without distinction (2 Cor 5:19-20). The whole world is given a period of grace paid by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in order for men to come to salvation.
This payment for sins reconciled the entire world, but will justify only those who believe.
“Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:” – Romans 3:22
For every man that believes, we are not only reconciled, but declared righteous and worthy of the gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23). For every man who does not believe, they are reconciled as by God’s grace, but do not receive righteousness worthy of eternal life.
Those who do not accept the grace of God or his free justification by faith will end up facing the wrath of God at the judgment for their ungodly rebellion against God’s grace in this age.
At the end of this age of unprecedented grace, God will return ‘in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (2 Thessalonians 1:8).
For the believer, sin is placed upon Christ and we are declared righteous by his grace. For the unbeliever, sin is not imputed in this age because of Christ, therefore there is no immediate punishment. However, he will have to answer for his own unrighteousness at the great white throne judgment of God (Rev 20:11).
God’s punishment for sin was taken by Christ on the cross, who was made sin for us so that we can be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor 5:21).
Therefore, for us who are justified by faith are at peace with God, and do not live in fear of judgment or punishment (Romans 5:1). The lives we live now we live by faith in the Son of God, following after the righteousness for which we were ordained to walk (Gal 2:20, Eph 2:10, Phil 3:12-14).