Series on Romans, IV The Gospel and the Law, A Explanation of Righteousness, Text: 3:21-26, Title: An Alien Righteousness


Paul has made clear that the law cannot save us because it demands perfect obedience. It condemns us. Law makes us servants; grace makes us children. Law says thou shalt love God; grace says God loves you. Law demands holiness; grace gives holiness. Law deals with wages; grace bestows gifts. Law says do; grace says it is done. Law shows us sin; grace shows us a Savior. Paul is preparing the way to explain what we call justification which is the teaching that a sinner can be constituted righteous and declared not guilty in the sight of God because he is given the gift of God’s righteousness. We can compare the law to a shrinking room in which there are no windows or doors. The more familiar we become with the room the more desperate our situation becomes. There is no way out, no escape, no loophole. The more we know the more it condemns us. Then a low door appears in one wall. It is Jesus who said in John 10, “I am the door.” Now we have a way of escape. We must not think, however, that by going through the door we can then resume our old sinful ways. No, we go through the door to meet a loving Savior who claims our allegiance because he gave His life for us. A few years ago there was a story in the paper of a businessman who was flying in a chartered jet over the state of Missouri. At one point he got up from his seat and was proceeding toward another compartment. Inadvertently he opened an exit door and was sucked out by a powerful air stream and plunged to his death. His body was never found. I thought to myself  about the consequences of missing the right door and then about the tragedy of those who are locked in the room and never see the only door our through Jesus Christ. As Paul begins to present the truth of justification there are several thoughts which require our attention. Consider the righteousness, the requirement, the redemption, the remission and the reconciliation.

I The Righteousness

The righteousness which is the subject of Paul’s discourse is described in verse 21, But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. The most important thing about this righteousness which is made known in the gospel is that it is alien. It is not produced by anything that we do. We contribute nothing to it because it is “apart from the law.” It is also the main theme of the covenant of grace which is revealed in the Old Testament and fulfilled in Christ. You notice Paul says the law and the prophets testify to or talked about this righteousness. An example is Jeremiah 23:5 and 6, “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.” Also in Daniel 9:24 where Daniel is predicting the advent of the Messiah which did come to pass as he said, we read,  “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy. Notice among the things the Messiah will do is “bring in everlasting righteousness.” This is coupled with His putting an end to sin and atoning for wickedness, and he seals up vision and prophecy because He is the fulfillment of all that has been predicted. This righteousness “from God” is the centerpiece of all Biblical history.

II The Requirement

The requirement is faith according to verse 22, This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference. Because the righteousness is from outside of us and independent of what we do, it must be a gift and it is indeed a free gift. It does not matter whether we are Jew or Gentile, and it does not matter whether we are great or small, and it does not matter whether we have sinned greatly in the eyes of society or are considered upright. There is no difference. Everybody needs this gift from the greatest to the least and regardless of our heritage or our past. Faith is simply the opening of our eyes. We exercise the faculty of faith everyday in commonplace situations. But this faith is specifically faith in Jesus Christ as the way out of sin and death. When this truth, and only this truth, dawns upon our benighted souls, that is faith. There is no merit in faith. It is simply recognizing and accepting the truth. It is transforming, but only after we have it.

III The Redemption

The concept of redemption reminds us that we have been purchased and this is essentially what Paul says in verses 23 and 24, For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Since the forgiveness of sin and our acceptance with God depends entirely on what Jesus did and not on what we do, it must be free to us. One translation of this section by Weymouth says, For all alike have sinned, and all consciously come short of the glory of God, gaining acquittal from guilt by His free unpurchased grace through the deliverance which is found in Christ Jesus. But that translation is not correct because the grace is not un-purchased, it is simply un-purchased by us, because Jesus paid the price. The redemption has come through Him alone and it is free to us who have been redeemed not with corruptible things such as silver and gold, but by the precious blood of Christ as a lamb without blemish or spot.

IV The Reconciliation

The reconciliation is described in verses 25 and 26, God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. When we think of our salvation we are usually thinking of it in terms of its benefits to us. However, in the Bible and in the overall scheme of things, the key ingredient is the benefit to God. Though this may be a coarse way of putting it, it is undoubtedly true. The word reconciliation is used frequently in the New Testament to describe our salvation. In a customary fashion we think of our being reconciled to God. The main point of these verses is that God needs to be reconciled to us first. God’s holiness and justice has been offended by our sin. God does not change. He cannot simply cease his anger and indignation at our sin. There must be a way for Him to preserve his holiness and justice and yet forgive sin. In other words, a way as Paul says in verse 26, for Him to be just and justifier at the same time. He must punish sin and yet forgive it. First God must be reconciled to sinners and then sinners can be reconciled to Him. This is accomplished as Paul says in the atonement. God punished Jesus on the cross and thus satisfied His justice, and at the same time released mercy toward sinners. In the atonement God demonstrated His justice in two ways as the Apostle says. First, He had forgiven sins in the time before Jesus even though there was not yet an adequate expression of his wrath, as Paul puts it in verse 25, “in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.” So  now with Christ’s atoning death God’s justice has been demonstrated for all to see and He is reconciled. Secondly, That justice is displayed in the present as Paul writes, he did it "to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus." Therefore no one can come to God for forgiveness without realizing that a price has been paid to atone for our sin in order to save us. In this God is merciful and just at the same time. It is all forensic. Jesus is declared guilty although he is perfectly righteous, while we sinners through faith are freely declared innocent and righteous because of Him.