Pastor Scott Andrews | August 8, 2021
21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,
22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction;
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;
25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed;
26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
If the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the apex of all history – and it is – then these verses are perhaps the apex of both the book of Romans and the entire Bible. Consider what some have said of this passage:
Reformer Martin Luther – it is “the chief point, and the very central place of the Epistle, and of the whole Bible.”
New Testament Scholar C. E. B. Cranfield – “…it is the center and heart of the whole of Romans…”
Pastor Donald Barnhouse said, “I am convinced today, after these many years of Bible study, that these verses are the most important in the Bible.”
New Testament Scholar Doug Moo says the paragraph is of “unparalleled significance.”
New Testament Scholar Leon Morris says it is “possibly the most important single paragraph ever written…”
Bishop John R. W. Stott – “After the long dark night the sun has risen, a new day has dawned, and the world is flooded with light.”
Yes, I want to say it again – this passage in Romans 3 is of unparalleled importance. It is impossible for me to overstate the supreme significance of this passage. It has been for many years my very favorite in the Bible.
In a section stretching from Romans chapter 1 verse 18 to chapter 3 verse 20, Paul has painted a bleak picture of the plight of humanity as he highlighted the clear need for the good news. One by one, he brought every person on the planet, no exceptions, before the divine bar of justice, to the heavenly court, and found them devastatingly guilty – the immoral person, the self-righteous person, the religious person. Such that, in the middle of Romans 3, he read this verdict: every mouth is stopped and the whole world is accountable to God.
Nothing to say – nothing to do – nothing to offer in our defense – speechless – inexcusable. Hopeless, helpless. All is dark. No flicker of hope, no prospect of rescue. But now. Paul said it this way in Ephesians 2, also one of my favorite passages, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sin…we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath…[eternal thanks the text does not end there]…but God…” (Lloyd Jones) even when we were dead, intervened and saved us.
Nowhere does Paul pile term upon term like he does in Romans 3: righteousness, faith, believe, justified, grace, redemption, propitiation, just, justifier. He uses the term righteousness four times in these verses, the word faith three times, the name God, five times, the name Jesus, three times. My concern is we hear these familiar words and tune out. But these verses contain the very essence of the Christian faith. If you want to faithfully share the gospel, it is found here. We should come to the end of this passage and fall on our knees, exclaiming like Paul, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”
Having finished I, II and III John where we were encouraged, over and over, to love one another, I’ve wanted these three weeks to remind us, we are also to love the lost. Because, you see, if we believe the Bible, the majority of people are going straight to hell. Broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many there be that find it. And narrow is the road that leads to life, and few there be that find it.
The first week, we looked at who – starting with John the Baptist – the greatest man who ever lived. But then, incredibly, we heard Jesus say even the least in the kingdom can be the who – be greater than John, by pointing people to Jesus and His gospel. Last week, we saw how – how John pointed to Jesus, Andrew and John pointed to Jesus, Peter pointed to Jesus, Philip pointed to Jesus – and even Nathaniel believed, overcoming his objection, when he looked at Jesus. And that chain has continued to the present day – brother telling brother, friend telling friend – those who have found Jesus inviting others to come and see Jesus. Someone told you, now, whom will you tell?
But what will you tell them? That leads to what. What is it that we share? What is the gospel?
There is only one way prescribed by God – indeed, given by God – that people can find forgiveness and acceptance by Him, and it is not through any man-made religion of self-righteous merit or achievement. It is not even found in a false Christianity that believes going to church and occasionally reading the Bible and saying grace before meals leads to salvation. There is only one way the righteousness of God has been manifested. You may know Paul introduced the theme of his letter to the Romans 1:16-17, which reads:
16 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.
17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.’
In the gospel, Paul says, the righteousness of or from God is revealed. And it is revealed by faith. And from there, he took a sharp right turn – “For the wrath of God is [currently being] revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Then taking two chapters to explain why the wrath of God was revealed against all of humanity, Paul now returns to his theme – the righteousness of God revealed in the good news.
Like last week, we won’t cover all this, but let me give you the outline of the entire text:
- The Revelation of God’s Righteousness (21)
- The Way of God’s Righteousness: Faith in Jesus Christ (22-23)
- The Source of God’s Righteousness: Justification by Grace (24a)
- The Purchase of God’s Righteousness: Redemption in Christ (24b)
- The Cost of God’s Righteousness: Propitiation in His Blood (25a)
- The Demonstration (or Vindication) of God’s Righteousness: The Justice of God (25b-26)
I hope you’re overwhelmed by all that’s on the screen – you should be – this is overwhelming, climactic, historic, eternal truth. This is the good news – purchased for rebellious, unworthy people by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Again, in the first couple of chapters, Paul shows the need for the gospel, now we see the hope of the gospel, the Revelation of God’s Righteousness.
The perfect righteousness required by God is not available to sinners through the works of the Law – any law, whether that Law is written on tablets of stone given to the nation of Israel, or whether that law is written as moral code on the hearts of people. There is a sense we all know right from wrong. But we still don’t do the right. In ourselves, we often choose the wrong. Which means, a righteousness by doing is not possible for the likes of you and me.
This is so important. You talk to many today – even in the church – and ask them if they will go to heaven when they die. Yes, they say, I think so. Then you ask them why? Here’s where it goes off the rails. Well, I’m pretty good. I try my best to do right, I even read my Bible and go to church. Okay, you say, but what about Jesus? Well yeah, they may say, I believe in Jesus. But if He is not the first and only answer that comes from your mouth when asked why you will go to heaven, you don’t know the gospel. You’re only hope of salvation is the righteousness of God given to you as a gift by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The only thing you bring to the table is your sin – and you get His righteousness in return.
And so, the righteousness of God or from God has been manifested – has been made known, revealed – apart from the Law, or more literally, apart from law – any law. Let me say it again – law cannot bring salvation. It shows us the problem – it even incites the problem – but it can do no more. It shows us we are sinners. And so, the righteousness of God is manifested apart from law.
But notice, this righteousness of God by faith, apart from law, is not something new – it’s been witnessed or spoken of by the Law and the Prophets – that is, throughout the Old Testament. Some point to the great example Paul uses in chapter 4, Abraham, who comes from the Law; and the great text Paul uses from Habakkuk, that is, the Prophets. Here’s the important point: salvation has always been though faith in the gracious provision of God. Even when God gave the Mosaic Law to the nation of Israel, at the same time, He gave them the sacrificial system so that when they failed to keep the Law, there was grace provided through faith. And of course, that system pointed to the ultimate sacrifice of Christ.
You see, when Paul says those two important words, but now the righteousness of God has been manifested – he doesn’t mean that before righteousness came some other way, like keeping the Law, and now it’s by faith. Remember, he quoted Habakkuk, “The righteous man shall by his faith live.” The just have always been so by faith. So rather, Paul means now, righteousness through faith is in Jesus Christ.
We arrive, in time and event to the manifestation of salvation through the finished work of Jesus on the cross, through the gospel. The wrath of God has been rightly poised against humanity, but now, God has intervened in the apex of history. From now on, salvation will be this one way. Remember Galatians 4:4-5, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law.”
So, this is not something new. When the fullness of time came, Paul says the righteousness of God was manifested – now through the cross of Christ. But this has been the eternal plan of the ages. Even before the creation of the world. It was always His plan to redeem us through the cross – the cross was not an afterthought to man’s rebellion. It was always God’s plan. Ephesians 1:3-6 says:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,
4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love
5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,
6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
This was His plan before the foundation of the world. The gospel is no afterthought – what is now manifested is the way of the cross. But, this righteousness of God has always been by faith, but now is received by faith in Jesus. And by faith, we get such gifts as justification, redemption and propitiation. And God’s glorious righteousness is demonstrated and vindicated.
Now, faith is one of those words we use a lot. Faith and believe are really the same word in the Greek: the word faith is a noun, the word believe is a verb. So, to believe is to have faith. Here, it is to believe in Jesus Christ – that is, who He is and what He has done on our behalf – namely, what we were unable to do ourselves. To make sure we get it, Paul is redundant: the righteousness of God is through faith in Jesus Christ – that is, for all who believe or express faith in Him. Be sure and note that – this righteousness of God is for all – without exception – who believe. Believe in Jesus, and you can be saved.
For there is no distinction – between Jew and Gentile, moral and immoral, religious and irreligious – for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. This is the point he made in the lengthy section of chapters 1 through 3 – all have sinned – there are no distinctions – there are no exceptions – this is the human predicament – this is the human tragedy. It’s interesting – he uses the past tense – we have all sinned at some point in our past – and as a result, we are currently – present tense – we are continually falling short of God’s glory.
Again, more words with which we’re familiar. The word sin speaks of falling short of the mark. It doesn’t mean we surpass it or even reach it to the left or to the right – it means we fall short of it – we fall short of the standard of God’s perfection. This is really important. We were created in the image of God to reflect and share in His glory – to highlight His glory as His image-bearers. But we irreparably marred that image by our sinful rebellion. And so, we fall short of that for which we were created – to bring Him glory. Glory, meaning the display of God’s awesome, majestic attributes, foundational of which is holiness. And we have willfully damaged and marred that display. When Adam and Eve sinned, every person following them – except one – have been born sinners – in need of a savior.
All have sinned and fall short. As Bishop Moule put it, “The harlot, the liar, the murderer, are short of [God’s glory]; but so are you. Perhaps they stand at the bottom of a mine, and you on the crest of an Alp; but you are as little able to touch the stars as they.”
So, we are all in need of His righteousness since we have none of our own. And that righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ is further described, verse 24, “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” More wonderful terms.
Being justified. This, of course, is our great need – to be justified. Again, in the Greek, just or justify is related to the word righteousness. The problem is, we are not righteous, and have no way of making ourselves righteous. So, God justified us – that is, He declared us righteous. This is a forensic or legal term that means to be declared in right standing.
Now I’ve said before, but we misuse the term pardon. We say, having been found guilty, what we needed was a pardon. And I suppose that’s true – that is what God could have done. But that’s not what He did. You see, to pardon someone is to “exempt a guilty party from punishment” or to “officially release from any, or any further, punishment somebody who has committed a crime or wrongdoing.” Further, “it is to forgive a guilty party.” And you say, well, that sounds like what God has done for us – and it does. But that’s not what He did. He justified us. That is, He declared us righteous.
You see, what God did was acquit us! You see, the word acquittal means “to find a not guilty verdict,” or, “a judgment given by a judge or jury that somebody is not guilty of a charge.” Now listen, that is exactly what God has done by justifying us. By virtue of His taking our sin and placing it on His Son, we have been acquitted of all charges – we have been justified and found not guilty. This is incredible.
Doug Moo said it this way, “No ‘legal fiction,’ but a legal reality of the utmost significance, ‘to be justified’ means to be acquitted by God from all ‘charges’ that could be brought against a person because of his or her sins.”
Are you getting this? No matter what you’ve done – no matter how egregious, rebellious and sinful – your sins can be removed – cast into the depths of the deepest sea, removed as far as the East is from the West. Even though we are guilty – that’s what Paul spent so much time proving – even though we are guilty – because of what Christ has done for us, our guilt has been removed, the verdict has actually been changed, and we are found not guilty.
Our guilt and our punishment were placed on Christ. So, justification means not only have our sins been removed, but in turn we receive the righteousness of Christ. It is impossible for me to overstate the significance of that truth. We know the verse, II Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God [there’s that critical phrase] in Him.”
Martin Luther called it the great exchange – Jesus got our sin and guilt, and we got His righteousness and were acquitted. When we stand before the judgment bar of God, the verdict read will be not guilty because of the saving work of Christ appropriated by faith. Please understand what I am saying – you are not saved by your works of any kind – you are saved by His work, by which alone you are accepted by God.
One described it this way: Pardon is to release from punishment; justification is to say there are no grounds for punishment. To be pardoned is to say – you may go, I will not punish you. To be justified is to say, you may come, you are not guilty. Thanks be to God.
And this justification comes as a gift. Meaning freely, without charge, without cost to us, through no merit of our own. In fact, it comes as a gift by His grace. Another term we throw around – grace. Do you see how easy it is to read through this passage with its familiar terms and put our minds/hearts in neutral? Don’t do it – this is the gospel.
Justification comes as a gift, without cost to us, by His grace. Grace is totally unmerited favor; it is getting what we do not deserve – namely, being justified as a free gift. We don’t deserve it because we are all in sinful rebellion, falling short of God’s glory. But in His generous goodness, He gives it to us anyway.
Through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. Redemption. You see, Paul strings all this together because while salvation comes to us without cost, it doesn’t mean there was no cost. The word redemption means, liberation through payment of a price. It was first used of soldiers taken captive by the enemy and through negotiations and payment, the captive soldiers would be released, redeemed, ransomed. It also spoke of paying a price to redeem condemned criminals. It then came to speak of slaves being redeemed from the slave market.
Paul makes the case that we were slaves to sin. In the slave market of sin. And we had nothing with which to purchase our freedom. We could not do it by good works. The works of the Law, any law, would never suffice to buy our freedom. And so, the redemption – freedom from the tyranny of sin – was purchased by Christ Jesus.
So, we understand that while salvation came as a free gift of God’s grace to us, that does not mean it was free. It was quite costly. Jesus paid the price with His own blood. Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe, sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.
Now, there’s been lots of discussion through the years as to whom Jesus paid for our redemption. Who got the payment? Early on, the church fathers were fond of saying Jesus paid Satan for our ransom. That has since been rightly abandoned – it’s not as if God had to pay Satan for anything.
Others suggest God the Son paid God the Father for our freedom. That Jesus paid the Father the redemption price. There may some truth in that. But notice – we fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace – who is the antecedent to His? It’s God. It is God’s grace we have freely received. You see, the problem with seeing Jesus paying God off is you have this God who didn’t want to save us, but did so when His Son paid the price for us. The truth is, salvation is all a work of the Triune God – we receive God the Father’s grace freely.
So, more common today, it’s accepted that Jesus paid the price for our redemption, but it’s not really necessary to press the word home in every point. Meaning, it’s not necessary to define the payee – whom Jesus paid. The point of redemption is the price: Jesus paid with His own blood.
God displayed Him publicly as a propitiation. That simply means – because of our unrighteousness and rebellion, God’s wrath was rightly pointed toward us. That’s what chapters 1-3 talked about. We deserved God’s eternal wrath. But, because of the work of Jesus, He turned God’s wrath away – and we can be saved forever from God’s righteous anger.
We are out of time. Listen to the words of John R. W. Stott:
“So then, over against the unrighteousness of some and the self-righteousness of others, Paul sets the righteousness of God. Over against God’s wrath resting on evil-doers, he sets God’s grace to sinners who believe. Over against judgment, he sets justification.” This is the gospel we share.
Here’s my question – do you know, have you believed the gospel? Are you trusting Jesus and His finished work alone, for you salvation? If someone were to ask you, will you go to heaven when you die, what will you say – and why?