Romans 3:21—31

Paul loved paradoxes.

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. (verse 21)

Here he talks about something “apart from the Law,” which “the Law and the Prophets” attest to! The issue is personal righteousness, which Paul has already taught is not acceptable to God if it is based on any form of legalism. The only answer to the problem of man’s being righteous in God sight is that God’s righteousness within that man must be manifested through faith. As far as Paul was concerned, the Law itself was designed to point man toward faith in a righteousness outside of himself and this idea was further preached by the prophets, like Habakkuk, whose famous declaration is that “the righteous shall by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).

The way Paul used the word “law” (nomos) should be noted. In verse 21, Paul stresses that the “righteousness of God” does not come by legalism (law), but the law (as in the Old Testament) is really God’s revelation to man of the importance of faith.

1. What God Did, vs. 22—26

This group of verses is significant because for the first time, Paul makes it clear that the faith which justifies a person is not a general faith in God but rather faith in Jesus Christ:

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. (vs. 22a)

This idea is brought to full light in 1 Corinthians 1:30 and in 2 Corinthians 5:21—

It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

When we believe in Christ as Lord and Savior with saving faith, His righteousness becomes ours. This is a gift given to anybody who believes, whether they have a knowledge of God’s Word like the Jews or have been living in ignorance, like Gentiles. All receive Christ’s righteousness at the moment of faith because all need it!

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… (vs. 23)

The tenses of the two verbs of this phrase, unnoticed in English, are nonetheless important. “All have sinned” (past tense in the Greek) and “fall short” (present tense in the Greek) point to a significant thing: the historical fact of our sinful condition results in our present “falling short” of God’s glory. The word translated “fall short” is hystereo, and means “in need of” or “deprived of.” What does all that mean? Human beings were created in God’s own image so that we, through a relationship with Him, might reflect His character and nature—His glory, in other words— in our lives. However, sin disrupts our relationship with God and ruins His image in us because we live in such a way that robs God of His glory. But Jesus Christ, as the Son of Man, perfectly reflected the invisible God during His earthly ministry, and through faith in Him, God’s image in sinful human beings may be completely restored.

But how does this happen? Exactly how does God give this gift to sinful man?

a. Justification, vs. 24

all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Although it seems Paul is teaching a kind of “universal salvation” in saying that all who have sinned are suddenly justified. Of course this is not what is meant by use of the word “all.” It is “all who believe” that are justified, not all that have sinned.

What does it mean to be “justified?” Over the centuries, the Church has had different ideas about what Paul was getting at. For a long time, thanks to the writings of men like Chrysostom and Augustine, the Church taught that to justify someone meant that a sinful person was made righteous by infusing them with goodness. In other words, righteous acts made a person righteous.

That view, still held by the Roman Catholics, has been discarded in favor of another one which views God as the initiator of our righteousness. At the moment of a sinner’s conversion, he is declared to be righteous by God, as the great judge of the universe. This is not to say that God turns a blind eye to the fact that we still sin. God’s declaration of righteousness has nothing to do with our ethical goodness or our virtue. It has to do with Christ’s.

Having been declared to be righteous, God, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, enables and empowers the redeemed sinner to transform his life so that it will more accurately reflect God’s glory.

So, we might say this: At the moment of our conversion, we are made completely righteous in Christ. From Heaven’s perspective, we are as righteous as we can ever be. But, from man’s practical perspective, we are certainly not righteous; we still sin, we still seek forgiveness. This is where the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit comes into play. He makes us righteous, day-by-day, as we submit our wills to His.

This justification, Paul qualifies, is given “freely,” stressing the idea that this is a gift from God; it is His way of making us right with Himself. We are declared to be righteous, forgiven our sins and saved not for any reason within ourselves because we have no merit and no virtue.

b. Grace, vs. 24

Grace” is the reason any sinner, though guilty, may be justified. Paul loved to use the word “grace” so much, it is seen over 100 times in his letters. It means “God’s unmerited favor.” It is the ability of God to treat us far better than we deserve to be treated. Grace is God’s compassion in action.

God’s grace is free to the sinner. There is not a single he can do to earn it. Though free, it is not cheap. God’s grace came as the result of the death of His precious Son.

c. Redemption, vs. 24

The word “redemption,” apolytrosis, means simply to buy back slaves in the market place in order to set them free. Human beings are enslaved to sin, unable to free themselves. We are further under God’s wrath, which we also cannot escape from. But, praise God, He intervened, paid the price to “buy us back,” and released us from our bondage.

Christ’s shed blood—His death on the Cross—provided the ransom to free us from sin’s dominion and free us to live according to God’s will.

d. Propitiation, vs. 25

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—

The “sacrifice of atonement” is a “propitiation.” God has found a way to uphold His law and preserve His justice while at the same time extending mercy and grace to a repentant sinner who trusts in Christ. In Christ, the guilty sinner finds complete forgiveness of his sin and cleansed from its guilt.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

God’s propitiation, His sacrifice of atonement, is both subjective and objective in nature. It was accomplished historically by the shedding of Christ’s blood, which is objective. But the effects of His shed blood must be received by faith, which is subjective.

Through faith, we identify ourselves with Christ’s death; we see His death as God’s judgment upon our sins and at the same time our dying to them, and also at the same time, we graciously receive God’s gift of salvation. At that moment, we can say with Paul:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

The last phrase of verse 25 is packed with power: because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished. This tells us that what happened to Jesus on the Cross was a clear demonstration of God’s judgment upon the world’s sin from time immemorial . The Cross of Christ forever stands as the symbol of God’s condemnation of sin and His divine patience with ignorant sinners. God was able to be patient with man’s ignorance and sin in the past because He had determined from the foundation of the world to offer His Son before the eyes of the whole world as THE “sacrifice of atonement.”

2. Three-point conclusion, vs 27—31

The remaining group of verses gives us three important points:

a. Righteousness by faith means no boasting, vs. 27, 28

God’s ingenious “faith alone” plan excludes all boasting. Who can boast when God did all the work? Faith in Christ means there can be no pride of accomplishment; our salvation and our righteous position before God was the result of God’s merciful act in Christ’s death.

For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. (vs. 28)

This stunning verse is the basis for the doctrine of sola fide: FAITH ALONE. And yet, faith alone as no power whatsoever apart from its Object. It has been accurately noted that faith is “the hand of the heart which received the gift of God’s pardon through Christ.”

b. Righteousness by faith is for all, vs. 29, 30

The “faith alone” plan establishes the true unity of God as God of all people. This plan is equally effective for the Jew and for the Gentile.

c. Righteousness by faith establishes a new law, vs. 31

Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.

From 1:18 through 3:20, Paul painted an accurate but desperate picture of the sad condition of all human beings. From 3:21 onward, the picture changes. Hope is now in focus. Help and hope are to be found in Christ. But some of his readers might have thought Paul was a little hard on the Law. So he makes sure we all understand that faith in no way renders the Law useless. In fact, the Law actually serves the Gospel by removing all boasting about how one is able to be saved. How does this happen? Through the Law, man’s eyes are opened to the reality that he is utterly hopeless. The Law was given so that man would seek after grace. Grace was given so that the Law might be fulfilled. The Law, in spite of what some preachers may say, was not at fault because it was not fulfilled. It was man’s fault; focusing on the letter of the Law yet ignoring its Spirit.

Religious rituals and ceremonies all-too often blind their participants to the truth of God’s Word. Martin Luther once observed:

As wealth is the test of poverty, business the test of faithfulness, honors the test of humility, feasts the test of temperance, pleasures the test of chastity, so ceremonies are the test of righteousness by faith.

Christians must ever be on their guard that we substitute anything for the “faith alone” plan.

(c) 2011 WitzEnd


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