Romans 3 v 21 – 31
Please turn with me in your Bibles this morning to Romans. We’re going to read together from chapter three this morning as we continue our series in the book of Romans. We’ll also be continuing our series in the book of Malachi Lord willing, this evening. This morning we’re going to read together those wonderful verses about the righteousness of God revealed, as we find it in Romans chapter three from verse 21 to 31.
21But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it– 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom 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. 26It 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.
27Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30since God is one–who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. (ESV)
We read only so far. Those last words: “we uphold the law” are very, very important in this passage. Notice the words of it: the law, the law of the Lord is perfect, and needs to at all times be honoured and loved and obeyed. It needs to be heard, it needs to be understood, it needs to be accepted, it needs to be acted upon. That’s the law – it needs to be upheld in the ways that I just described to you. But there’s that little word ‘we’ in the final clause of that final sentence – we – who are we? There’s the problem! The problem is not with the Law, the problem is not with God, the problem is with those identified by that little word we – we, who are we?
We are the people about whom the Lord spoke earlier on: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” I want to pause there a moment, in that little one: “they use their tongues to deceive” – we’ll return to that this evening in the series of Malachi. But there we have what M.Scott Peck calls ‘The People of the Lie’. They use their tongues to deceive, and it’s this reality that made a great thinker like Socrates say that he doesn’t want to speak – he doesn’t want to write anything, because in every word that we speak or write, there is always a measure of malice. Even the great philosophers and the great psychiatrists agree: “they use their tongues to deceive“.
The internet, news channels are cesspools of deceit. And that’s not to point a finger at anybody in particular – that is to include everyone. It gets worse: “The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” In contrast to that there is the righteousness of God that He now reveals to people who are called upon to uphold the law and we see you fail in these miserable ways to do so.
How do we then uphold the law? How is the righteousness of God revealed to us? That’s a major theme in the book of Romans. And it is mentioned in connection with the Gospel of Christ.
In the first chapter, verses 16 and 17, where Paul says: “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.” The righteousness of God is the major theme in chapters 1 to 11 of this letter to the Romans.
Now we can understand this phrase ‘the righteousness of God’ in two ways. The first way is that it refers to God’s own personal righteousness – in other words, His justice. Or secondly, it could refer to God’s plan of making man righteous. That means forgiving man of sin. That is the righteousness of God: Either God’s own personal righteousness or God’s plan of making man righteous, forgiving man of sin. Both of these concepts are addressed in the book of Romans, but the latter one is addressed in particular. In chapters 1 to 3 Paul describes man’s need for righteousness, and we’ve looked at that. He’s pointed out to us graphically how the Gentiles are in need of salvation from chapter 1:18, to chapter 2:16. The Gentiles are in need of salvation, they have no righteousness of their own.
In chapter 2:17 to chapter 3:20, he pointed out to us how the Jews also are in need of salvation. And he concluded that all the world is guilty, even Israel who have the Law. But now he comes in our text in verse 21, and explains how the righteousness of God has been revealed. And it’s a wonderful turning point. It’s what Dr Martin Lloyd Jones calls that wonderful ‘BUT’. After reading the dark picture that we see in the preceding chapters, he comes to this little word ‘but’ – but now, things are changing now. And he explains how the righteousness of God has been revealed. And he tells us it was reviewed, in part, even by the law and the prophets.
- God’s righteousness is apart from the Law
It’s a righteousness that does not spring from perfect obedience to the Law, and we can praise God for that, because who can be perfectly obedient to the Law? It does not mean that God abandoned His Law, or that Jesus did not regard the Law, because we read in Isaiah 42:21 that He would come to magnify the Law, or that sinners after they are justified have no regard to the Law. That’s not what this means. Those who are saved love the Law of God.
So this righteousness apart from the Law means simply what the Apostle had been trying to show, and that is that justification could not be accomplished by personal obedience to any law – any law of any Jew or any law of any Gentile – it must be accomplished in some other way. I just said to people in this past week, that biblical anthropology – the nature of man – to understand people, as they really are – we are so seriously lacking in that. We have very little idea of just the intensity, and the wideness of the evil that dwells in every fibre of our beings.
And so we praise God that this righteousness apart from the Law, is a system of justification that does not depend on anyone’s perfect obedience. So that’s the first point the Apostle makes: this righteousness of God was revealed, in part by the Law and the prophets, but it’s a righteousness apart from this Law, even though secondly:
- God’s righteousness is witnessed by the Law
How? Through shadows and figures, through the animal sacrifices. We read about this in Hebrews 10:1-4. These animal sacrifices showed that our perfect obedience was inadequate. We know that animal sacrifices themselves, were not adequate – they were merely shadows. How were they shadows? They were shadows through things that the prophets said. In Genesis 15:6 Abraham’s faith was reckoned for righteousness. In Isaiah 53:4-6, that the suffering Servant would bear our iniquities. And as we’ve seen in Habakkuk 2:4, that the just would live by faith.
So God’s ultimate system of justification (that means of making us righteous) was spoken about and attested to throughout the Law and the prophets. But what was witnessed through figures and prophetic utterances, Paul tells us has now been fully revealed by the Gospel and the Apostles. And in a world that is in such a mess as it is at the moment – if anybody does not agree that when we listen to what people are saying around about us – when we read our newspapers – when we go on the internet – when we switch on our television sets and listen to the news – if ever there was a time that we were in need of righteousness, and we have no idea what it is, it is now. This revelation of the righteousness of God by the Gospel and the Apostles is more needed than ever before.
So how is this righteousness of God revealed by the Gospel in the Apostles? Well, in the first place, it demands something that God gives. It demands faith in Jesus. God’s way of making us righteous requires faith in Jesus Christ. That’s what we read in verse 22. In John 8:24, we read that we must believe in Jesus, or we must die in our sins. John 8:24: “Therefore I said to you, that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I AM He, you will die in your sins.” If we don’t believe in the Lord Jesus, we will die in our sins. We must believe in Him if we desire eternal life. You need to say to all your family members, you need to say to all your friends, you need to say to everybody you love, and especially to everyone you hate, and you need to say to yourself every day: If you do not believe in Jesus, you will die in your sins. But in Jesus, we have a way of salvation available to all who believe in Jesus. That’s what the Apostle has been telling us here in Romans 3:22-23. There is no difference between the Jew and the Gentile, because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Yes, you too – you sinned this morning a few milliseconds after you woke up. It’s not just faith that saves, but faith in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins.
So the righteousness of God as it is witnessed by the Gospel and the Apostles demands first of all faith in Jesus. And secondly, it involves justification by God. It is offered freely by His grace in verses 24 and 25: “We are justified by His grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness.“
A little while back, I read that again to somebody who’s been a Christian for a long time. He said: ‘Yeah, you know, we hear these things over and over.’ My response to him was: ‘My friend, I’m reading it to you, because I don’t think you’ve ever heard it once.’ These things become like Shibboleth to us. They become glib sayings that we repeat. It’s a kind of a fire insurance. Do you know what it means that justification by God is offered freely by His grace? It’s not free in the sense that it’s cheap, because it came at a great price – through redemption in Jesus by His blood. God gave His only begotten Son to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved, Paul says to us in Ephesians. Peter says the same in 1st Peter 1:18-19. The Apostle Peter says the same thing to us: “knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things like silver or gold…” – your money is not going to save you from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers – your culture is not going to save you – “but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” It came at a price to God.
What did it do? It demonstrated God’s righteousness, Paul says in this letter to the Romans chapter 3:25-26. How does it demonstrate God’s righteousness? He’s just – how could God be righteous when He passed over sins previously committed? He knew that Christ would one day bear the sins of the world. He is the justifier – the one who makes others righteous. And His grace makes redemption possible. His propitiation (that means the putting down of wrath) makes forgiveness possible.
I want to for the sake of our children, just explain to you this big word propitiation. You must understand this word, boys and girls. Let me explain it to you: I think it was Dr D. James Kennedy, who used the story of the man who bumped into the back of another man’s car, and they both got out of the car and the man who was bumped into was obviously very angry. He was full of wrath, as we would say – he was angry because of the wrong the man behind him had done. He got out and said: ‘Now look what you’ve done…’ And before he could continue this man say to him: ‘I’m so sorry, sir.’ ‘Yeah well, sorry is not going to do it!’ He said: ‘Sir how much do you think the damage on the car is?’ He said: ‘Well, I don’t know. It must be at least R5000.” The man took out his check book, and he said: ‘Will R10000 do it, sir, to pay for your damages?’ The man said: ‘Yeah, thank you very much!’ The man said: ‘Thank you, and I’m so sorry for putting you through this.’ ‘It’s okay, we all make mistakes.’
You see what has happened? The man who bumped into the back of the other one by his behaviour had propitiated the wrath, the anger of the man in front of him. He put down the anger. That’s what propitiation means. It means to put out the flames of the anger – to take the anger away. Jesus by His blood took the anger of God away, that blood paid everything that God was angry about. You see why the Apostle then goes on and he concludes by saying that it makes it impossible for us to boast about anything. That’s the third thing we need to learn this morning.
- God’s righteousness eliminates boasting by man
It’s excluded by the law of faith. Paul tells us in verses 27 to 30: “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of Law? By the law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” You see, we can’t even boast. None of us can boast about the works we do. Faith is required, and that implies that works cannot save us. That law of faith – that principle of faith revealed that Christ’s sacrifice was not only necessary, but it was sufficient. And that establishes the principle of law, as we see in verse 31: “Do we then overthrow the Law by this faith? By no means, on the contrary, we uphold the law.”
Now, justification by faith does not mean that we don’t have to be obedient and seek to do good works. Whether it was the Law of Moses under the Old Covenant, or the will of Christ under the New Covenant, God calls us to obedience. It doesn’t mean that God abandoned His Law or that Jesus Christ did not regard the Law, because He came to magnify it. It also doesn’t mean that sinners after they are justified have no regard for the Law. We are called upon to hold the Law.
You see, that cross in which we can have faith in the Lord Jesus, how it justifies us before God! I heard this week – I think it was Dr Don Carson who said something a while back – just a few years back: The most famous Bible verse in the world was John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Less than a decade ago, Dr Carson says you could stop people in the street and ask them: ‘What’s the most famous verse in the Bible?’ And almost without hesitance, even unbelievers would recite John 3:16 to you. Now, now we’ve abandoned that gift. Now we have come to a place where we think that doing wrong and being wrong doesn’t matter anymore. Because the most famous verse in the Bible now – and people have done experiments with it – they’ve done surveys with it – Dr Carson says, you go into the streets, you stop people, believers and unbelievers, you ask them: ‘What is the most famous verse in the Bible?’ You know what they say? ‘Thou shalt not judge.’ Thou shalt not judge! Everybody’s right now. There’s nothing wrong. That is a lie brothers and sisters – everything is wrong! The same law that says we must not judge also tells us to not cast out pearls before swine. That means you need to distinguish between what are people and what are swine.
The most famous verse is ‘Thou shall not judge’ because righteousness does not matter anymore. No, it does! The righteousness of God is set out for us in His Law. We all fall short of it, and we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone. You’ve once again heard the Good News this morning from the Lord’s Word. Are you sure that you put your trust in Him alone, that you are justified by faith in Christ alone in this righteousness of God, that He is revealed to us so wonderfully in Christ?