Through the Bible in One Year

Day 254

Romans 3:21-31

Paul has now finished laying out the case that every person is not righteous, and now he is moving on to deliver Good News, a solution to the problem of our unrighteousness.  And that righteousness comes from faith in God.  This phrase refers to God’s redemptive activity as it relates to human sin.  Since we could never deserve his mercy or favor by our own efforts, through his grace God has provided a way for us to be restored to a right relationship with him.  It is a way that satisfied his perfect justice—which required a penalty and punishment for our sin—and yet provides forgiveness, freedom from guilt and victory over the power of evil.  God’s plan of spiritual salvation saves people from the final consequences of sin and provides them with the gift of eternal life through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ.  Receiving this gift is what makes a person righteous or right with and empowered to live right by his standard.  Spiritual salvation and righteousness are so directly related that throughout the Old Testament, God’s work of salvation and his display of righteousness are basically the same thing.  God’s righteousness, as revealed through the New Testament message of Jesus Christ, is still available to all who accept the forgiveness and new life made possible through Jesus’ personal sacrifice, which paid the full penalty for our sin against God.  The power of this message to provide spiritual salvation and to bring people into a right relationship with God is constantly fresh and relevant.

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood —to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.  Romans 3:21-31

Now let’s explore this most important passage, so far, in Paul’s letter to the Roman church more in depth.  And to do that we are going to look at three sections within this passage that build on one another as Paul develops this most important concept in all of Christianity.

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God—3:21-23

The verdict of the universal sin and guilt reached in verses 19-20 is the backdrop to this glorious presentation of the Good News expressed in verses 21-23.  Paul begins with a “But now” to highlight what God has recently done: he has revealed his righteousness—that is, his character as manifested in a particular action.  God sending, Jesus Christ is something the Old Testament foretells.  The death and resurrection of Christ is appropriated by faith in Jesus Christ through trusting in what Christ has done for us.  Since we are mired in sin, trusting in something outside of ourselves is our only hope.  Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection are exactly what we need, as Paul goes on to explain (the cross in this chapter and the resurrection in chapter 6).  And just as Paul has pronounced that all alike are universally guilt, so the same salvation is available by faith to all alike.  We all share the same plight: falling short of, and losing access to, God’s glory.  And we all need the same solution to that plight, a divine solution spelled out in Romans 3:24-26.

and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood —to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.—3:24-26

These verses highlight three aspects of God’s saving action.  First, Christians have been justified.  Using legal language, God has not pressed the case to judgement but has mercifully forgiven the offense, and he has even brought forgiven sinners to his own side in his ongoing contention with others who have not accepted his claim.  God has justified freely, purely of his own free will, unprompted by any human behavior.  Justification is rooted in his grace, displayed best in the gift of his Son and his Son’s death on the cross.

Second, Christians have experienced redemption.  The concept of redemption moves us away from the court of law into the realm of freedom from slavery.  The exodus was God’s rescue of his people from slavery in Egypt.  The move from slavery to freedom was also a transfer of service—from serving a harsh taskmaster (Pharaoh) to serving God.  Because the Lord redeemed the Israelites from slavery, they were to serve him (Deuteronomy 6:12-13).

Third, God has set forth Jesus as a “sacrifice of atonement” (Romans 3:25).  The NIV footnote on Romans 3:25 explains that the Greek for “sacrifice of atonement” refers to the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant.  The atonement cover was the place where the whole sacrificial system was activated when the animals blood was sprinkled on it.  Since Jesus’ own blood is highlighted in verse 25, he is both the place of atonement and the sacrifice as well.  The annual Day of Atonement sacrifice dealt with all sin that piled up throughout the year (Leviticus 16); in the same way, the death of Jesus deals with all human sin, even the sins committed before hand that God had left unpunished.  Because those sins had not been dealt with, the question arises: Is God unjust in leaving those sins unpunished?  Romans 3:26 answers this question: in the death of Jesus on the cross, God is bringing his judgment on those sins to demonstrate his righteousness.  The miracle of the Gospel is that the same act—the death of Jesus—is God’s judgment on sin and God’s saving justification at the same time.

Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.—3:27-31

Paul draws out one true conclusion and guards against a possible false conclusion.  The true conclusion is that any claims to confidence in anything other than Christ are unwarranted.  This is because the benefits of Christ’s death are received by faith—trusting in something outside of ourselves, not in our own obedience.  Justification does not take place in any other way than through faith.  If it were through works, then the impossible conclusion would be that only Jews could ever have a chance of access to hope.  But God is not a local Near Eastern deity.  He is Lord the whole of creation and of everyone in it, and there is only one God, who treats Jew and Gentile the same: justification is through faith for both.  Another question, similar to the beginning of the chapter, arises in verse 31: if Jews and Gentile are equal, then is Israel’s law insignificant?  Paul insists that justification by faith is not some new idea but is actually witnessed to in the Old Testament.  Paul defends this claim that the Good News does not do away the law (meaning the first five books of the Bible) in chapter 4, which is where we will pick up tomorrow as we see Paul lays out the case for Abraham being justified by faith.

Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:

Isaiah 10-11, 2 Corinthians 12:11-21, Psalm 56:1-13 and Proverbs 23:6-8

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