But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. 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.
Today we are dropping down, without build-up or warning, into the book of Romans. Why? You ask. Well, we’re in between our preaching series on Ezra and Nehemiah and won’t begin our new series on 1 Corinthians until next week. So, the elders told me that if I preached today that I could preach on anything I wanted.
So, I picked this text you just heard from Romans 3. When you get to be my age and, in my condition, you realize that you don’t have that many sermons left in you. And so, when you get the chance, you, like me, want to talk about the most important things. That’s why I picked this text. Theologian Leon Morris said that Romans 3:21-26 may be “possibly the most important single paragraph ever written.” This paragraph changed me in 1982. I trust that it will change you as well.
FCF: The text that we are considering today answers a universal, fundamental question: How can a sinful person ever be forgiven and accepted by a Holy God? Or, more succinctly, how can I possibly be righteous? Now there are many current approaches to answering that question. (Repeat)
He can touch a tree and turn the leaves to gold
He knows every lie that you and I have told
Though it makes him sad to see the way we live
He'll always say "I forgive"
So what we’ll see in Romans 3:21-26 both answers that question and explains how it can be. We’re not to hurry through this text. We’re going to marinate in it. We are justified by grace through faith in Christ alone for the glory of God alone. (Repeat)
Heavenly Father, as we consider your great salvation this morning, I pray that you would speak loudly to our hearts concerning your good news in Christ Jesus. We, who are prone to distractions, worldly concerns, or superstitious beliefs need your Holy Spirit to teach us, to convict, to enlighten the eyes of our understanding, and even cause some here to be born again to a new and living hope. O Lord, how glorious is your gospel. How wonderful is your plan. May we agree with the Psalmist in Psalm 111 who says “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.” As we study your works of Justification, may we delight them. In the name of Jesus, Our Great High Priest. Amen.
Before we get to the text, let us examine the verses leading up to it which amount to a Summation of the first two and one-half chapters of Romans.
After Paul’s formal introduction to the Roman church, which, by the way, he had never visited. Romans is unusual in that way, since most of his epistles were to churches that he had personally established, and with whom he had a previous relationship. He certainly knew people there, but he hadn’t been there yet. He longs to visit them which he communicates early in the letter.
After this introduction he launches into the theme that will dominate the entire epistle: The gospel of Jesus Christ and how one can obtain the personal righteousness that every person needs in light of the justice and judgment of God. Look in Romans 1:16-17 he tells us this:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17)
This righteousness, if not attained, obtained, or received will result in the wrath of God upon every worker of unrighteousness.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men… (Romans 1:18)
Paul is not talking about God’s parental discipline of his people, but rather of the unspeakable ferocious punishment by the all-powerful, righteous, judge of all the earth. And do not misunderstand here, there is no middle ground. One is either a righteous person or an unrighteous person. And every unrighteous person will ultimately face judgment on the day of judgment.
Paul goes on in the next two chapters making his case like a thundering prosecuting attorney bringing to justice a hardened criminal. First, in the rest of chapter one, he prosecutes the average, run-of-the-mill atheist or God-ignorer. Then, in chapter two, he takes on the average, run-of-the-mill so-called “good” person with the secrets of their own hearts as evidence. They judge people, but they don’t even live up to their own standards, let alone God’s. Their nice and polite hardness toward God will not help them.
He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. (Romans 2:6-8)
Lastly, Paul puts on trial the Jews. The question is, do God’s chosen people get judged by the same standard as the Gentiles? Or do they get special treatment? The answer, they don’t get special privilege.
What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: (Verse 10)
Charges have been brought; accusations have been made. And they stick. Paul quotes the OT just to make sure that his Jewish readers clearly understand, but the charges are all of us, Jews and Gentiles alike. Here is the verdict:
“None is righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:9-10)
In verses 11-18 Paul finishes description of fallen mankind using various verses from the OT. He starts with the set of their heart:
no one understands; no one seeks for God. (verse 11)
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good, not even one.” (Verse 12)
Even when they do what might be considered good, they do it for the wrong reasons, not in faith and not to glorify God in Christ Jesus.
“Sin is the revolt of the self against God, the dethronement of God with a view to the enthronement of oneself. Ultimately, sin is self-deification, the reckless determination to occupy the throne which belongs to God alone.” – John Stott
He covers their speech:
“Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” (Verses 13-14)
He addresses their violence and bloodshed:
“Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” (Verses 15-17)
He finishes with his description of sinful man with verse 18:
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:18)
And again, for clarity’s sake he repeats says in verse 20 and 23 what he already said earlier:
For by the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes the knowledge of sin…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:18, 23)
Now, Paul finishes his closing argument in the prosecution.
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. (Verses 19)
This is the end of the matter. Again, the verdict. Every mouth is closed. The whole world is accountable to God.
And on the basis of good works, or good attitudes, or trying hard, or another religion—no human being will be accounted righteous.
That brings us to this most valuable paragraph that explains how it is that sinful people can be counted as righteous before a just and holy God.
The question that arises is the same one that Job asked in Job 9:
But how can a man be in the right before God? (Job 9:2b)
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: (Romans 3:21-22)
But now! One of the most beautiful phrases in the Apostle Paul’s writings. But now! Means good news is about follow. Something wonderful that will replace the despair of verses 9-20. But Now! What is it? The Righteousness of God has been manifested. The way to a righteous standing has dawned on humanity and in the midst of its doom of judgment. It has been revealed. The curtain has been pulled back. You can now see it. The way is knowable. And it is a way that is not based on obeying perfectly the Law of Moses. Apart from the Law. What does this mean?
First of all, this righteousness is not based on your actions or performance, i.e., it is not by achieving. It is apart from the law. It is not based on your keeping the 10 commandments. You can’t keep them anyway. (How old were you when you told your first lie?)
Second, it is through faith; for all who believe.
A way to righteousness has been found. Well, it wasn’t lost as Verse 21 tells us. Both the Law of Moses and the Prophets foretold and hence witnessed this righteousness. The example of Abraham who believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness will loom large in the next chapter. It is for us as well. Through faith, for all who believe.
“Faith is a lively, reckless confidence in God.” – Martin Luther
The extent of God’s righteousness: For all who believe (Verse 21). The door is open wide. Don’t try to work your way to being accepted by God. Believe your way. Have faith. It is for everyone. Verse 22 “for all who believe” – a continuing process: we keep on believing.) Everyone needs it because, Verse 23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That also is a continuing process. We are always falling short of God’s intended way for us to live which is glorious. We’re falling short. But we are also always believing. We’ll get to the content of that belief a little later.
It's for all. Who believe. Without distinction. Jew and Gentile. That in itself is an amazing revelation. We Gentile Americans take it for granted that we can be accepted by God.
Consider what Ephesians 2:11-12 tells us:
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:11-12)
So, when you read “all who believe, without distinction” stop and praise God.
and are justified by his grace as a gift
What does it mean to be justified? It means the cancellation of guilt.
Justification, as is righteousness, is a legal term. It is forensic. It is the relationship of conformity to the law. To be justified is to be faultless when examined by the Moral Law of God. To have right standing with God himself.
Justification is declarative: it is the pronouncing a person “not guilty” or “righteous”, sometimes with the connotation of vindicating them.
If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked. (Deuteronomy 25:1) KJV
Justification is a declaration of your righteousness.
The opposite of justification is condemnation.
Justification is eschatological: it is God’s verdict of you in last days. You are proclaimed not guilty on judgment day, now. You don’t have to wait until the Judgment Day to know that you are righteous.
Jesus said: (There is a Day coming)
“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-27)
Similarly, Paul wrote:
For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified…on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:13,16)
If you think you will be justified because of your good works you will be in trouble on that Day.
On that day, God will judge the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. The question is are you in Christ Jesus? Do you have faith in Jesus? Do you believe that he die for your sins?
One of the most common descriptions of justification is: When I am justified, I am just-as-if-I’d never sinned at all. While that sounds good, it’s not enough. If I’m only cleansed of all my past sins, how long do you think it would be before I sin again. The first sinful thought, desire, words, or actions would destroy my innocence and bring me under the condemnation of God’s righteous judgment. The justification that Christ brings us covers all of sins including the one’s we are yet to commit.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)
Once, and for all. We have been justified (past tense), we are presently at peace with God.
But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:23-25)
and are justified by his grace as a gift
To us it’s not earned. This Righteousness, this justification is free. Please understand that it was earned and it was very costly, but not by us, which we will see in the next verse. But to us: hallelujah, it is free.
It is without a cause in us. God didn’t look into your heart and find anything that would cause God to justify you; to declare you righteous. God knows your heart. That’s your problem. (Story)
It is without cost to us. There is nothing you can do to earn it. You can’t say enough “Hail Marys” or “Our Fathers” to merit justification.
By his grace. By Grace Alone. Sola Gratia
The parable of the workers in the vineyard. (Matthew 20:1-16). Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? (Verse 15)
…through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3:24c-25a)
The basis of justification and righteousness is in Christ alone. Sola Christo. It’s not Christ plus anything. Not Christ plus your good works, Not Christ plus anything.
“Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”
Redemption implies ransom, the price of emancipation. Let’s bring in some supporting evidence from the NT.
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses… (Ephesians 1:7)
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all… (1 Timothy 2:5-6a)
He has delivered us, hasn’t he. From many things. What did he deliver you from?
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. (Revelation 1:5b-6)
Now look at Romans 3:25
What exactly was the significance of the Son of God bleeding to death on the cross?
Jesus, the Christ, being fully human and fully God, died. Now understand that Christ in his human nature died. God the eternal Son, did not die, i.e., in his divine nature did could not be killed.
Hebrews tells us that Jesus, the incarnate God, is our high priest.
Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:17)
(Yet without sin.)
He not only is our high priest, but he is our sin offering.
For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:24-26)
To propitiate someone is to appease their wrath. To placate their anger. To some this is an embarrassing notion. To suppose that God is angry is very uncool in today’s culture, inside and outside of Christendom.
The ESV, NASB, KJV
While all those hint at the meaning, the real meaning is to appease the anger of an offended person.
“Propitiation presupposed he wrath and displeasure of God, and the purpose of propitiation is the removal of this displeasure. Very simply stated the doctrine of propitiation means that Christ propitiated the wrath of God and rendered God propitious to his people.” – John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied
The blood of Jesus satisfied God’s requirements. It appeased the wrath of God. God’s furious wrath. Good Friday is the world’s Day of Atonement and Jesus Christ is the world’s propitiatory sacrifice.
On the cross, Jesus suffered on our behalf. In our place. Substitutionary Atonement.
To be received by faith. Again, the means of justification is faith. Sola fide.
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. (Romans 3:25b-26)
“This purpose was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” Somebody had to pay!
(Example of my son breaking the basement window.)
Abraham’s sins—he was called “the friend of God.”
Moses’ sins—there has been “no prophet like Moses.”
David’s sins—he was called “a man after God’s own heart.”
All of the OT saints, those who had faith in God, and did what God told them to do at the time, e.g., repentance and sin offerings were forgiven. But the lingered “how could God forgive them? Because they offered a lamb, a goat, a bull? Seems a little “weak” doesn’t it?
Remember that the doctrine substitutionary atonement was a continuing, unfolding revelation. And all of the sacrifices in the OT were pointing to Christ. They were the type; he was the anti-type; the fulfillment. The real thing. And all those sacrifices, if accompanied by faith in God, temporarily satisfied God’s wrath. There was no intrinsic worth or value in the blood of animal with respect to appeasing God’s righteous anger. They only had value in that they were acts of obedient, repentant faith.
So, God “passed over former sins.” But how could God ultimately be regarded as righteous in this passing over? God had said thou shalt not kill! How then could Moses and David get, literally, away with murder? God just can’t say, “Oh, I was just kidding. It’s really alright.”
When God said, the soul that sins shall die, he meant it! He would be unrighteous not to eternally damn murders like David and Moses. And liars like Abraham and Isaac. Manipulators like Jacob. And drunks like Noah. And the arrogant like Uzziah and Hezekiah. The answer is here in verse 25. All those sins, the sins of those who, like Abraham, believed God and were counted as righteous were born on the cross by the Son of God, the man and mediator, Jesus Christ. He and he alone could ultimately and eternally satisfy the requirements of the law and appease the wrath of God Almighty.
“For God to have forgiven their sin lightly would have been ‘to have compromised with the lie that moral evil does not matter and so to have violated his own truth and mocked men with an empty, lying reassurance, which at their most human, they must have recognized as the squalid falsehood which it would have been.’” – John Stott, Romans, 1994 p. 116
Because of the Sacrifice of Atonement made by Jesus Christ, all of those sins that God had seemingly passed over were paid for. They weren’t just forgotten. They were paid for in full.
If God had merely looked the other way with OT saints, then he could rightfully be charged with wrong-doing. He would be unrighteous. With the death of Jesus, God is vindicated. His righteousness is shown and declared.
“God, because in his mercy he willed to forgive sinful men, and being truly merciful, willed to forgive them righteously, that is, without in any way condoning their sin, purposed to direct against his own very Self in the person of his Son the full weight of that righteous wrath which they deserved.” – Charles Cranfield
The result? “so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” He is just: their sin is paid for. He is the justifier: He can justify sinners though faith in Jesus Christ. Christ, the sin-bearer, is the answer to all of your questions about forgiveness. It is when you trust in Jesus Christ, then and only then, “He will always say, ‘I forgive.’”
We are all guilty and no lawyer can get you off the hook. As a result, most people will die in their sins and await a certain and awful future.
For those who put their trust in Jesus, there is a different outcome. Describe.
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
Choose this day which path you’ll take. I implore you to take the narrow way. You won’t regret it.
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