Romans, All are Justified by Faith

Justified by His GraceAll are Justified by Faith

Lesson 4

Romans 3:20-31

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Romans 3:21, 22).

The Important “But Now” (Romans 3:21, 22

“But now.” With those two words we have arrived at a major turning point in the book of Romans. During the first section (Romans 1:1-17) we met Paul and his gospel. In the second section (Romans 1:18-3:20) he demonstrated, at times in excruciating detail, that every person is a sinner headed for judgment, the wrath of God, and eventual death.

Not a very bright future. That’s where Paul’s “but now” comes in. Some believe, and I do as well that there are no more beautiful words in the Bible than Paul penning these two words “But Now.”

Why make such an emphatic statement? The answer lies in the context. Paul has left his readers in a state of hopelessness and helplessness. In Romans 3:19 he noted that every person stands under God’s just condemnation. Then in verse 20 he emphatically stated that people couldn’t get right with God even if they wanted to be good and zealously kept the law. At that very point Paul drops in his “but now.”

“But now,” he writes, “apart from the law the righteousness of God has been manifested” (verse 21 NASB). With those words Paul introduces his gospel and sets the agenda for step three of his presentation in Romans. This stage picks up the righteousness by faith theme of Romans 1:16, 17 and fills out its meaning in a mighty passage that runs from Romans 3:21 to 5:21. His initial treatment of the topic extends from Romans 3:21 to verse 31 in what might be the most important single paragraph ever written.

The plan of salvation through Christ that we discover in Romans 3:21 was not an afterthought. To the contrary, “the law and the prophets (i.e. The Hebrew Scriptures) bears witness to it.” The first glimmer of the Old Testament witness to righteousness apart from the law comes in Genesis 3:15, in which God tells us that the Seed (i.e. Christ – Galatians 3:16, KJV) would bruise the head of the serpent (cf. revelation 12:7-11). That glimmer becomes brighter in the experience of Abraham, whom God counted righteous because he believed Him (Genesis 15:6), a topic that Paul treats extensively in Romans 4. But perhaps the most explicit showcase of the plan of salvation in the books of Moses is the sacrificial system. Along that line, it is of interest that John the Baptizer refers to Jesus as the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) and that Paul describes Christ as “our paschal lamb” who “has been sacrificed” for us (I Corinthians 5:7).

And David speaks of the “righteousness from God . . . apart from law” (Romans 3:21 NIV) when he relies on God’s mercy to “blot out (his) transgressions and to wash him from his iniquity (Psalm 51:1, 2; KJV). Isaiah 53 foretells the One who will justify individuals by bearing their iniquities (Isaiah 53:11). Again, the same chapter notes that “he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (verse 5 KJV).

Jeremiah also spoke of this topic, by referring to the coming Branch of David who would be called “The LORD our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:5,6 KJV). And the great prophetic chapter of Daniel 9 notes: “Seventy weeks of years are decreed concerning your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put to an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness” (verse 24).

Paul knew what he was talking about. God’s plan for saving people by means other than obedience to the law is the theme that runs throughout the Old Testament.

Romans 3:22 and its statement that “this righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ (NIV) we have come to the beginning of an absolutely central part of Paul’s argument in Romans. Verse 21 notes that God had a righteousness “apart from the law.” That is the negative side – What righteousness is not. But with verse 22 we come to the positive explanation that Paul has wanted to get ever since romans 1:16-17. In that passage the apostle said that he was “not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith” (verses 16, 17).

Paul did not stop to explain what he meant because he had a task that he had to accomplish first. He wanted to make clear that everybody needed God’s righteousness and that we could not obtain it by any human condition or achievement – not by birth into the covenant people or by having to keep the law.

Since the law’s function was to point out sin (Romans 3:20), it had no power to save but could only condemn. Everybody even the good synagogue attending Jew – was under the condemnation with no way out.

Now that Paul has made those points he can pick up on his statement about the gospel or righteousness by faith, which he had set forth in Romans 1:16, 17. He is now ready to explain what he meant by the phrase. And by now everybody should be ready to listen since they now know that they have no hope outside of God’s gracious offer.

Now we should point out that “God’s righteousness,” or the “righteousness of God,” can refer to either God’s character or his gift. In the context of Romans 3:21, 22 it primarily means that righteousness which God provided and offered to sinful humans. To Paul such righteousness is humanity’s greatest need. Thus, it stands at the very center of his presentation of the gospel message.

But receiving that righteousness is not automatic. It must be accepted. It has a condition, and that stipulation according to verse 22 is “faith in Jesus Christ’ described as “for all who believe.”

But, what is faith? In the context of Romans that faith is defined as the opposite of man’s self-confident or self-despairing attempt to establish a proper relationship between himself and God by legal (that is by moral or religious) means. Instead of concentrating his hope upon himself he directs it towards God, particularly toward His saving act of grace through Jesus Christ.

Faith, is nothing else than the simple acceptance of God’s salvation. In another connection it is described as “the hand of the heart. Thus, it is believing faith that appropriates God’s free gift. Here we must beware of understanding faith as some kind of human work. People are not saved on account of their faith, but rather through their faith as it takes hold of God’s gift in Christ. Thus, faith receives what God bestows but adds nothing to the gift. Paul even describes faith itself as a gift from God (Romans 12:3). The only function of the individual is to decide how to use the gift.

Biblical faith includes both believing and trusting. In fact, we might think of it as trust based on belief. Just as the first step in sin involved distrust of God (Genesis 3:1-6), so the first step toward Him is trusting faith. Faith is coming to grips with the fact that we must trust God because He has our best interests at heart and because there exists nothing else completely trustworthy. As a result, accepting righteousness through faith is not faith in an abstraction but trusting faith in a person. In that sense, because Jesus is the personal manifestation of God’s righteousness, righteousness must be received through a relationship of faith in God’s Son.

Finally, we should note that saving faith is single-minded in it fixation on Christ as one’s only hope. Faith is not the acceptance of a legal arrangement; it is the abandonment of the soul, which has no hope but in the Saviour, to the Saviour. It includes the absolute renunciation of everything else, to lay hold on Christ.

Such was the faith of Paul whose life was captured and transformed on the road to Damascus. So it will be in the experience of each of those who truly accept Christ as their only hope.

All are Justified by Faith

Lesson 4

Romans 3:20-31

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Romans 3:21, 22).

The Important “But Now” (Romans 3:21, 22

“But now.” With those two words we have arrived at a major turning point in the book of Romans. During the first section (Romans 1:1-17) we met Paul and his gospel. In the second section (Romans 1:18-3:20) he demonstrated, at times in excruciating detail, that every person is a sinner headed for judgment, the wrath of God, and eventual death.

Not a very bright future. That’s where Paul’s “but now” comes in. Some believe, and I do as well that there are no more beautiful words in the Bible than Paul penning these two words “But Now.”

Why make such an emphatic statement? The answer lies in the context. Paul has left his readers in a state of hopelessness and helplessness. In Romans 3:19 he noted that every person stands under God’s just condemnation. Then in verse 20 he emphatically stated that people couldn’t get right with God even if they wanted to be good and zealously kept the law. At that very point Paul drops in his “but now.”

“But now,” he writes, “apart from the law the righteousness of God has been manifested” (verse 21 NASB). With those words Paul introduces his gospel and sets the agenda for step three of his presentation in Romans. This stage picks up the righteousness by faith theme of Romans 1:16, 17 and fills out its meaning in a mighty passage that runs from Romans 3:21 to 5:21. His initial treatment of the topic extends from Romans 3:21 to verse 31 in what might be the most important single paragraph ever written.

The plan of salvation through Christ that we discover in Romans 3:21 was not an afterthought. To the contrary, “the law and the prophets (i.e. The Hebrew Scriptures) bears witness to it.” The first glimmer of the Old Testament witness to righteousness apart from the law comes in Genesis 3:15, in which God tells us that the Seed (i.e. Christ – Galatians 3:16, KJV) would bruise the head of the serpent (cf. revelation 12:7-11). That glimmer becomes brighter in the experience of Abraham, whom God counted righteous because he believed Him (Genesis 15:6), a topic that Paul treats extensively in Romans 4. But perhaps the most explicit showcase of the plan of salvation in the books of Moses is the sacrificial system. Along that line, it is of interest that John the Baptizer refers to Jesus as the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) and that Paul describes Christ as “our paschal lamb” who “has been sacrificed” for us (I Corinthians 5:7).

And David speaks of the “righteousness from God . . . apart from law” (Romans 3:21 NIV) when he relies on God’s mercy to “blot out (his) transgressions and to wash him from his iniquity (Psalm 51:1, 2; KJV). Isaiah 53 foretells the One who will justify individuals by bearing their iniquities (Isaiah 53:11). Again, the same chapter notes that “he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (verse 5 KJV).

Jeremiah also spoke of this topic, by referring to the coming Branch of David who would be called “The LORD our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:5,6 KJV). And the great prophetic chapter of Daniel 9 notes: “Seventy weeks of years are decreed concerning your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put to an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness” (verse 24).

Paul knew what he was talking about. God’s plan for saving people by means other than obedience to the law is the theme that runs throughout the Old Testament.

Romans 3:22 and its statement that “this righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ (NIV) we have come to the beginning of an absolutely central part of Paul’s argument in Romans. Verse 21 notes that God had a righteousness “apart from the law.” That is the negative side – What righteousness is not. But with verse 22 we come to the positive explanation that Paul has wanted to get ever since romans 1:16-17. In that passage the apostle said that he was “not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith” (verses 16, 17).

Paul did not stop to explain what he meant because he had a task that he had to accomplish first. He wanted to make clear that everybody needed God’s righteousness and that we could not obtain it by any human condition or achievement – not by birth into the covenant people or by having to keep the law.

Since the law’s function was to point out sin (Romans 3:20), it had no power to save but could only condemn. Everybody even the good synagogue attending Jew – was under the condemnation with no way out.

Now that Paul has made those points he can pick up on his statement about the gospel or righteousness by faith, which he had set forth in Romans 1:16, 17. He is now ready to explain what he meant by the phrase. And by now everybody should be ready to listen since they now know that they have no hope outside of God’s gracious offer.

Now we should point out that “God’s righteousness,” or the “righteousness of God,” can refer to either God’s character or his gift. In the context of Romans 3:21, 22 it primarily means that righteousness which God provided and offered to sinful humans. To Paul such righteousness is humanity’s greatest need. Thus, it stands at the very center of his presentation of the gospel message.

But receiving that righteousness is not automatic. It must be accepted. It has a condition, and that stipulation according to verse 22 is “faith in Jesus Christ’ described as “for all who believe.”

But, what is faith? In the context of Romans that faith is defined as the opposite of man’s self-confident or self-despairing attempt to establish a proper relationship between himself and God by legal (that is by moral or religious) means. Instead of concentrating his hope upon himself he directs it towards God, particularly toward His saving act of grace through Jesus Christ.

Faith, is nothing else than the simple acceptance of God’s salvation. In another connection it is described as “the hand of the heart. Thus, it is believing faith that appropriates God’s free gift. Here we must beware of understanding faith as some kind of human work. People are not saved on account of their faith, but rather through their faith as it takes hold of God’s gift in Christ. Thus, faith receives what God bestows but adds nothing to the gift. Paul even describes faith itself as a gift from God (Romans 12:3). The only function of the individual is to decide how to use the gift.

Biblical faith includes both believing and trusting. In fact, we might think of it as trust based on belief. Just as the first step in sin involved distrust of God (Genesis 3:1-6), so the first step toward Him is trusting faith. Faith is coming to grips with the fact that we must trust God because He has our best interests at heart and because there exists nothing else completely trustworthy. As a result, accepting righteousness through faith is not faith in an abstraction but trusting faith in a person. In that sense, because Jesus is the personal manifestation of God’s righteousness, righteousness must be received through a relationship of faith in God’s Son.

Finally, we should note that saving faith is single-minded in it fixation on Christ as one’s only hope. Faith is not the acceptance of a legal arrangement; it is the abandonment of the soul, which has no hope but in the Saviour, to the Saviour. It includes the absolute renunciation of everything else, to lay hold on Christ.

Such was the faith of Paul whose life was captured and transformed on the road to Damascus. So it will be in the experience of each of those who truly accept Christ as their only hope.

Published by The Bible In Your Hand

Hi, I am Pastor Lester Bentley, a devoted husband, father, and Pastor for the Northeastern Wyoming District of the Rocky Mountain Conference of Seventh-day Adventist. I am committed to the great gospel commission as stated in Matthew 28:19, 20.

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