A Just Solution
Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans
by Bob Burridge ©2011
Lesson 15: Romans 3:21-31
You have to work through many problems during your life.
You have to decide how you will spend your time? What will you become familiar with, and what talents will you develop? Whom should you marry? How can you best raise your children? What kind of job should you have so you can pay for the things you need and want? How will you cope with frustrations and disappointments? How will you cope with losses and death itself?
There is a question far more important than these, or any others we can think of. It is a question that deals with how successful you can hope to be with all the rest. It has to do with finding real satisfaction in life. It has to do with the personal qualities that you develop in your life. It has to do with having a proper attitude toward others you will meet. How will you spend the rest of eternity? The question of course is this: “How can I become accepted in the eyes of God?”
This is the most fundamental issue a person ever faces. As we have seen in our last studies, the Bible clearly teaches that the corruption we all inherit from Adam and the sins that flow from it separate us from God.
Being separated from him, no one can see things as they really are. In this state the person is spiritually dead. A spiritually dead person has no real satisfaction in life. He has no way to grow spiritually. He has no way to deal with the imperfections in those around him, and he has no eternal hope. The Bible tells us that in God’s eyes lost lives are deeply offensive.
Paul has proven so clearly in the first part of Romans that since all inherit Adam’s corruption and guilt, no one is able to make himself right with God. Our depravity poisons our motives and keeps us from doing anything that truly honors God. Our guilt is so great, even for one sin, that no matter what else we do, we cannot save ourselves.
Here is the dilemma: The payment demanded is complete separation from God for all eternity. To ignore the just penalty each person deserves would violate divine justice. So then, how can anyone ever be saved from this horrible future?
Paul summarized this universal and total inability of fallen man in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The whole first part of the letter shows that no one is exempt.
All who have descended from Adam are corrupt and therefore commit sins. This includes Jews and Gentiles, the educated and the ignorant, those having the Scriptures and those left with only the declarations of nature and human conscience. They all fall short of the glory of God.
There are many ways in which we come short of this glory. On the one hand, fallen sinners cannot glorify God and enjoy him forever, but here the word “glory” is used in a different sense. It is a glory that comes from God.
Jesus used this word in the same way when speaking of the Pharisees in John 12:43, “for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.”
The original word translated “praise” is “doxa” (δοξα). The same word translated “glory” here. The Pharisees received glory from men, but they will not get the same from God. As sinners, there is no possible approval from God for anyone. Since we lack any hope of approbation from God, we need a righteousness that is not our own.
The solution God reveals for providing this righteousness is astounding.
Romans 3:21-22, “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference”
By “Righteousness” we mean perfect obedience to God’s moral principles. No one can be righteous by keeping the law. All have inherited the guilt of Adam’s sin. Therefore from the time a person is conceived, he is morally offensive to God. No one can obey all of God’s law perfectly without even one lapse or failure.
Since no one is able to be righteous on his own, God, by his grace, provides righteousness to fallen humans by means of the gospel.
Dr. Haldane says the expression “the righteousness of God,” “is one of the most important expressions in the Scriptures.” Somehow, by grace, the perfect holiness of God becomes ours. With it come all the benefits of being perfectly holy. We have the comfort and fellowship of God promised to us for all eternity. That is the Gospel. Truly good news.
This is the heart of the gospel message. What we unworthy sinners cannot have by even our best efforts, is provided through Christ. Only he could provide us with the blessings of holiness without violating the demands of justice.
Jesus was a real human, perfectly holy. At the same time he was God, infinitely powerful and worthy. By Sovereign decree Jesus was made to be the representative of his people. He was perfectly obedient to every point of morality and worship. He suffered the penalty of the law, though he himself did not break it.
Only Jesus could both be sinless and suffer to pay the penalty for sin. A creature may either keep the law, or suffer its condemnation, but Jesus was no creature. He was the Creator who humbled himself to suffer and die as one of his own offensive creatures. He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might have righteousness in him. God’s righteousness is credited to us freely, and our guilt is credited to him.
This was not a new idea. It is the consistent message of the whole Bible. God always promised to provide righteousness to unworthy sinners by grace alone through faith. It was witnessed to by “The Law and the Prophets” (an expression used for the whole Old Testament). Noah was called a preacher of righteousness in 2 Peter 2:5, and is called an ” heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.” in Hebrews 11:7.
In the next chapter of Romans (Chapter 4) Paul shows how Abraham was made righteous by faith alone. The whole Levitical system of regulations and sacrifices under Moses points to the coming of Jesus Christ, the lamb of God, to pay for his people’s sins. The Psalms and the Prophets base their whole idea of righteousness not upon our earning it, but upon the work of a promised Messiah, which is applied to individuals by faith in this promise.
But how is this Just? How can sinners be justly counted as righteous?
Romans 3:24-26, “being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
There are several principles here that explain how Christ justifies us while remaining just.
This Justification is a gift of God’s grace. This means there is no merit to it. Nothing a person does even contributes to it. It is wholly the work of God by grace alone.
The work of Christ is called “redemption”. He paid the awesome price we owe for our offenses.
There is a hint in the Old Testament law to help us understand what Jesus did. Leviticus 25 presents the law of redemption. Sometimes people got into deep financial debt. They would have to give up their possessions or bond themselves as slaves to work off the debt. In time they could redeem back their possessions, or their freedom, by paying the price of redemption. No one had the right to redeem by this law, except the person himself, or a close relative. The price of redemption had to pay the debt in full.
This law, like the others, was given to lay the foundation for the redemption of souls by Christ. Here God defined the language he would later use in explaining the gospel.
For our spiritual redemption from sin the debt had to be paid in full, but the price is infinite. No one can pay it. Even though a person suffers in torment for all eternity, his debt is never satisfied. Jesus, the infinite God in human flesh, could pay it in moments on the cross. What we cannot satisfy in all eternity, was satisfied by our infinite Redeemer on the cross.
Therefore the redeemeer of a lost soul cannot be the person himself. He can never pay the price. However, Jesus was made of Adam’s family, kinsman to the race of Adam. As the only kinsman-Redeemer able to meet the price of our debt, he has redeemed all those of the race given to him by the Father (John 6:37).
Our Redeemer provides us with the Righteousness of God by “propitiation”. To “propitiate” means to appease God’s wrath. To remove God’s holy anger, our offensive sin and guilt must be removed. As long as the offense remains, there can be no restoration to fellowship with God.
Jesus, by shedding his infinitely precious blood for those the Father had given to him, paid their debt, removed their guilt, and took away the cause of offense before God. God is “propitiated” because the cause of his wrath is removed.
All through human history, God had purposed the death of Christ as the way of Righteousness. In the past, sin was passed over by the forbearance of God awaiting the fulfillment at Calvary. Now, in the ages after the cross, the way of Righteousness is fully disclosed.
This truth has practical results — there can be no excuse for boasting
Romans 3:27a, “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. …”
Since our righteousness is from Christ by grace, and not from ourselves, there is no place for bragging. No one on his own is better than anyone else. No one is more corrupt. If we come to Christ by repentance from sin and by faith in his work, we have come by God’s grace, not by anything that we have done.
The principle by which we become righteous is “Justification by faith alone”
Romans 3:27b-30, “… By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.”
The word “law” has 3 different uses in this passage.
1. It means the written Books of Moses. In the last part of Romans 3:21 it speaks of the “Law and the Prophets” which is a term used for the whole Old Testament.
2. It means the stipulations of God’s covenant in Romans 3:21, 28 and 31. These are the moral commandments, the ceremonial laws, all types of revealed law. These are the rules God has given at various times for his people to live by.
3. It means a principle by which things operate. In Romans 3:27 it is used that way. We use the word “law” similarly when we speak of the law of gravity, the law of supply and demand, etc.
So then, by what kind of principle are we Justified before God? Not by a principle of works. No one can qualify by law-works because no one is without sin. We are re-born by the principle of faith.
This is not “faith” as the world sees it. No one is justified by a blind leap in the dark. That is foolishness, not holiness. No one is justified by scientific analysis. Faith is not a judgment based upon experiences. Trusting in a chair to hold you up, or in a bridge to hold you up is not what is meant by “faith” here.
This faith is a special quality implanted into us by the grace of God when he makes us alive in Christ. John Calvin reviewed the Scriptures about faith and came up with this description: Faith is “a firm and sure knowledge of the divine favor toward us, founded on the truth of a free promise in Christ, and revealed to our minds and sealed on our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Institutes 3.2.7).
Since faith is a grace implanted into unworthy sinners based on the propitiation of Christ, it is not the cause of our justification, it is the instrument God uses in justifying us. By grace, God grants faith to us so that by it he might justify us through our resting not in anything we have done, or in any merits of our own, but in the shed blood of Christ alone.
How this humbles us! Even our faith and the desire to come to Christ is ours as an undeserved gift of God! There is absolutely no grounds for boasting at all.
There is only one God. He is Creator and Lord of all humans. Those who remain in sin and have no faith in Christ as their Redeemer still answer to him. This also means that no one has an advantage. All who are saved are saved by grace.
This is the answer to the dilemma: God’s Justice is not set aside in saving us. Its demands are fully met! God does not just pardon us from the penalty of sin. He pardons us by satisfying sin’s penalty by the Savior.
In the work of the Gospel, God’s perfect justice and mercy are blended into one glorious message.
Paul adds one last thought …
By this amazing grace, the holiness of God’s law is established
Romans 3:31, “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.”
He realizes that some will dig up a problem here to attack his reasoning. If we say that no one can be justified by keeping the law, then do we nullify or make void the law of God? He quickly answers: “May it never be!” — This is an idiom common at that time, “mae genoito” (μὴ γένοιτο). We might say, “No way!”
The whole Bible, Old and New Testaments, the writings of Paul and James, the sayings of Jesus, all teach but one way of justification, one way only that lost sinners can be counted as righteous. The one perfectly obedient and infinite Savior, who is God incarnate with a full human nature, paid the price of redemption to meet the demands of the law and propitiate God’s wrath.
So the law is not set aside or nullified. Its demands are fully met!
There is an immensely practical lesson in this gospel of grace. Not only is it a call to the unsaved to come to Christ and find deliverance. It is also a warning to redeemed believers to have a right attitude toward themselves and others.
Since we are redeemed by grace and not by our merits, this makes us all equal, equally lost that is. Undeserving, unworthy, unrighteous, criminally condemned before God. Therefore no one has the right to demean or ridicule another.
When conversations turn to ridicule of friends, neighbors, co-workers, or our national leaders, we need to take a different path than the world that boasts in its own works and worth. We need to remember the doctrines of total depravity and of grace.
If not for the grace of God, and the awesome price paid by our Saviour, we would be as blind, and as unbridled in sin, as anyone else. Holiness and spiritual understanding are not special talents or personality traits. They are graces of God upon undeserving sinners.
May God forgive us when we forget that, and while professing to believe in grace alone we live as if we are better or have earned our standing before God. May we never be among those putting others down or ridiculing those who do wrong.
This does not mean we excuse sin or by-pass right civil punishments for crimes. It does mean that we treat even the criminal, the perverse, and the foolish with the humility that refuses to gloat over grace, and demean what we too would be if not for Christ’s love.
How humbly and thankfully we all ought to live if we are to represent the good news, the gospel of Grace, which justifies unworthy sinners by faith alone in Christ alone.
(The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)