Justified by God’s Grace through Faith

Grace For The Journey

In today’s blog we will look at Romans 3:19-31.  Over the last few weeks, we have studied Paul’s introduction to his Gospel presentation in chapters 1,2 & 3.  Remember that . . .

The Gospel of God

Is centered in

God’s righteousness

Being revealed.

Paul begins his presentation by showing the righteousness of God’s wrath against all who are ungodly and unrighteous.  And who are those people?

  • Those who are outwardly immoral are obviously unrighteous.  
  • Those who claim to be moral turn out to also be unrighteous because they actually do the same things as the obviously immoral.  They are just less flagrant about it.  They do not even live up to their own standards resulting in their consciences condemning them. 
  • Religious Jews thought they were righteous before God due to their ethnic heritage and being those to whom God had entrusted His law.  However, they did not obey the law, and though they had great privileges as the descendants of Abraham, a right standing before God cannot be inherited.

In our study of 3:9-18 yesterday, we saw the final conclusion that there are none righteous, no not one.  

No mere human has every lived up

To God’s standard of holiness because

Man’s very character is sinful resulting

In sinful speech and conduct.  

Man does not seek God.

He does not do good.  

Unless there is divine intervention,

All men will be condemned because

There is nothing they can do

To cleanse themselves from

Their sins and become clean before God.

Even so, men continually search for some way to do this.  They diligently strive to keep the rules of some religious system, whether one already established or of their own personal design, in order make themselves acceptable to God.

Paul addresses the futility of this in verses 19 & 20.

Man’s Unrighteousness Declared.

In The Law

The purpose of the law,

Both the Mosaic Law which

Was given to the Jews,

And the law of conscience

That God has placed in

Every human, is the same. 

The law brings

The knowledge of sin.

The word “knowledge” here is “epignosis,” and it refers to an experiential knowledge.

Law does not bring knowledge of sin

Because we can read what sin is,

But because law sets the standards

And we then fail to keep those standards.

A thief is not a thief because he can define theft, but because he has taken what does not belong to him in violation of the law.  The law removes his excuses and makes him accountable to God.  Man is not ignorant of God’s requirements.  As verse 19 states, his mouth is shut and he is brought under God’s judgement, which is what it means to become accountable to God.  He will judge man according to man’s very deeds (2:6).

The tragedy here is that the very thing that so many people think will make them acceptable to God is what will condemn them.  

All false religions and cults

Can be boiled down

To this essence . . .  

They seek to gain

God’s approval through

Their own effort.  

They are religions

Of human achievement.

The particular list of rules varies from religion to religion, but in the end, all of them hope that their good deeds will balance out their sinful deeds and in that way earn themselves a ticket for heaven.  The problem with this idea is twofold: 1) Any sin would outweigh all your good deeds.  James 2:10 is specific in stating that, “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one [point,] he has become guilty of all;” and 2) You have no good deeds.  Isaiah 64:6 states, “all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.”  Even man’s best effort to perform some righteous deed falls short and is filthy before the Holy God that created him.  That is why it is impossible for anyone to justify themselves before God by keeping some system of law.  Whether it is the Mosaic law, or the law of their conscience that Paul spoke of back in chapter 2, they fail to keep it, and so are left condemned.

What hope then is there?  

You must be perfectly clean

In order to have

A right standing with God

And

Be acceptable in His presence.

The smallest stain disqualifies you,

And the reality is that you

Are filthy with no means

By which to become clean.

Man left to himself has no hope.

If this was the end of Paul’s message,

Man would be left in despair,

For there would be no Good News.  

But this is only the

Introduction to Paul’s message.  

There is Good News!

There is hope!

In the effort to win people to Jesus Christ, many today leave out this bad news in order to concentrate on the Good News.  That may be a good way to market a product that is in competition with similar products.  But we do not market Jesus.  We do not sell the gospel.  

The whole point of beginning the Gospel

With the bad news first is that

There is no competition for it.

Man has no hope apart from

God’s intervention, and until a person

Understands this, the offer of salvation

Will not make complete sense because

They will not know what

They are being saved from or to.

Escaping hell and going to heaven is only a benefit of salvation.  

Salvation itself is from

Sinful unrighteousness

To

Holy righteousness.  

It is from not

Understanding to understanding,

From not seeking God

To seeking God,

From being useless

To being useful,

From not doing good

To doing good.

You are saved from being

An estranged enemy of God

To being His loved adopted child.

Hopelessness and despair are then replaced with hope and joy in Him.

But how can this be?  

How can the holy God

Accept those who are

Unrighteous and have

No means by which

To make themselves righteous.

If God freely accepted the ungodly and unrighteous, then He would violate His own standards and would then be unrighteous Himself.  If God choose to just overlook the
sins of man, then He would be condoning man’s evil and would be unjust.  Paul has already answered that charge earlier in the chapter.  God is righteous and just.  The answer to that question is what Paul begins to explain in verse 21.

God’s Righteousness Displayed

Apart From The Law

In contrast to the condemnation that law brings upon man, God makes His righteousness evident apart from man’s effort to keep law.  This truth is not new, for the Law and Prophets, that is, the Old Testament, also proclaimed the same thing.  

Man has never and will never

Make himself right before God

Through obedience to law.

Moses himself called on the people to, “circumcise [their] hearts and stiffen [their] necks no more” (Deuteronomy 10:16).  The life of the godly Jew was to be centered on loving God with all their heart, soul and might (Deuteronomy 6:4).  Obedience to God’s commands were to arise from this love for and faith in God, not as an effort to appease God.  The prophet Habakkuk proclaimed that the soul of the proud was not right, but, “the righteous will live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).  Even the sacrificial system
was built on faith and not on trying to earn God’s favor.  David expressed this well in Psalm 51:16-17, “For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”

Paul makes the point in verse 22 that . . .

The righteousness of God comes

Through faith in Jesus Christ

For all those who believe.  

It does not matter your background

Or how bad you had been in the past,

For no one meets God’s standard

Of holiness on their own.

Verse 23 sets out the condition of all humans in their natural state, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  The past of every human is marked by sin.  Everyone has disobeyed God.  The present condition is the same.  The grammar here of “fall short” is continuous.  We are falling short of God’s glory.  

It is not just that sin

Has caused us

To fail in the past,

But that it continues

To mark our life

And cause us

To fail in the present.

God does not make distinction in extending His righteousness to those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ because all come to Him in the same sinful condition and are granted righteousness for salvation on the same basis.

What is the condition for being made righteous?  Verse 24 tells us, “Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”  

All have sinned,

But all who have

Believed are justified.

This is not by anything

They have done,

But by a gift

Of God’s grace.

To be justified means “to be made or declared righteous.”  There is a judicial aspect to the word.  It does not mean that you have been made perfect and will no longer sin, for we will see later in Romans that Christians do still sin.  

It means that God has rendered

A verdict on you

Of not guilty

Based on something

He has given to you.  

You have not earned it.  

You have not paid

The penalty of sin yourself,

For the penalty of sin is death.  

Instead, God declares you not guilty

Because He has given you a gracious gift.

By definition, a gift cannot be earned.  

If you earn it, then it is wages and not a gift.

By definition, grace is getting something

Positive you do not deserve.  

If you deserve it, it is a debt paid

To you and not from grace.

This gift of grace comes to you through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. Redemption is the payment made in order to get something back for one’s self.  We tend to think of redemption in terms of redeeming coupons and getting some of our money back, but . . .

Redemption at that time was thought of

In terms of paying the price necessary

To gain back a piece of land or

A person who had been sold

Into slavery (Leviticus 25:24f, 47f;

Ruth 4:3-4; Nehemiah5:8).

We could not redeem ourselves for the price is too great, but we can be redeemed through Jesus Christ who Himself paid redemption price for us.  1 Peter 1:18,19 tells us that this redemption price was not perishable things like silver or gold, but the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless.

Jesus gave up His life and died

In order to redeem you from

Your sins so that you could

Be righteous before God.

You have not earned it. You do not deserve it. He gives it as a gift by His grace.

Verse 25 tells us that this same price was also the necessary propitiation, “Whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.”  

A propitiation is the price paid

To appease the anger or satisfy

The justice of someone

Who was wronged.

Perhaps we can get a sense of redemption and propitiation through our own laws concerning personal injury and property damage.  If someone injures you or your property, you are entitled not only to the price it would take to fix what was broken – i.e. redeem it – but also a payment for the pain, suffering, or inconvenience it causes you – a propitiation. 

In this case, it is our sin that has wronged God and brought His wrath upon us.  In false religions, this effort to appease God’s wrath is made through various gifts or even blood sacrifices given to the god or gods of their religion.  But man cannot appease God’s wrath and still live.  His justice demands that all the ungodly and unrighteous be sent to hell.  It is Jesus who gives His own life as the propitiation that satisfies God’s wrath. This was done publicly when Jesus was crucified on the cross and bore God’s
wrath upon our sins in His own body.  As 1 Peter 2:25 puts it, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.”

We refer to Jesus’ death on the cross

As His substitutionary atonement for sinners.

Jesus gave Himself as our substitute.  

We are the ones that deserved death,

But He paid that price on our behalf.

The Bible declares in 1 Peter 3:18, “Christ died for sins, once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God.”  Jesus atoned for our sins in that His death covered our unrighteousness and imputed (gave) to us His righteousness – 1 John 1:6, “The blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin;” and 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin [to be] sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

The idea of imputed righteousness

Is that of needing a perfectly clean robe

In order to be in God’s presence,

But yours is filthy and you can’t clean it.

Jesus takes your filthy robe and

Gives you His own clean one so

That you can be with God.

He takes the filth of your sin away

So that you can stand

Righteous in Him before God.

All of this demonstrates the righteousness of God.  It explains how God can be both just and forgiving.  As verse 25 points out, in times past God’s righteousness was displayed in overlooking the sins previously committed.  This idea of “overlooking sins” is not one of ignoring them, but is the displaying of His forbearance with man.  2 Peter 3:9 comments on this, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”  If God’s justice were instantaneous all of us would be in hell.  Instead, God is patient with us and endures our sin while He works out His plan of redemption in our lives.  In the present time God’s righteousness is displayed in being the just and justifier of those who have faith in Jesus.

It is in the redemption and propitiation that come through Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death that explains how a holy God could make man acceptable to Himself without violation of His justice.  God remains holy because the demands of His justice and the penalty on sin are both carried out.  Yet at the same time, God displays His righteous love for the creatures He has made by being the one that justifies them Himself by paying the price that redeems man from His sins and satisfies His own wrath upon sin.  God is therefore both just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus.

The false religions and cults teach people to work hard in order to achieve  righteousness.  Though such people can never meet God’s standards, they can attain lives that are relatively more moral than other people.  This often becomes a cause of boasting about how good they are compared to others and what they have achieved. Paul points out here in verse 27 that . . .

Because God is the just and

The justifier of sinful men

There is no basis for men

To boast about their own

Righteousness achieved through

Keeping any kind of law.

You simply cannot become

Righteous through your own efforts.

It is something that is given to you

As a gift of God’s grace through faith

In the Lord Jesus Christ and His work

Of atonement on your behalf.

Christians must also be careful to remember this for such boasting can also occur within the Christian community.  When people let their eyes focus on themselves and others instead of God, they can easily start comparing themselves to others and forget what makes them righteous before God.  It seems inevitable that people usually compare themselves to those not doing as well and then begin boasting about how good they are.  Be wary of ever boasting how good you are, for that is when you are most in danger of falling (1 Corinthians 10:12; Proverbs 16:18).  This is also one of the characteristics of legalism.  There is a pride displayed in how well they keep the written and unwritten rules they have made for themselves.  

The Gospel of righteousness imputed by faith through God’s gift of grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus excludes all causes of boasting.  Even though I may be more mature in my walk in the Lord than others, there is no cause for boasting, for I am no better than anyone else.

I am what I am because

Of God’s grace toward me.

I am not to live by any kind of law, but rather by the law of faith.  The hard work I do at being obedient to God is done out of love for Him in response to His love already given to me.  I desire to please Him, not appease Him.  Jesus’ sacrifice has already done that on my behalf.

Let me expand a moment on this idea of the law of faith.  Paul states in verse 28, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”  The only way in which a person can be made right before God and enter into a personal relationship with Him is by faith.  No effort in keeping any kind of law can achieve that.  As Paul states in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, [it is] the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.”

What Is This Law Of Faith?

Faith always has an object,

And the object in saving faith

Is always God Himself alone.

The object of faith in the law of works is ultimately in itself.  It may claim other things, but it will eventually still boil down to human achievement.  There are many that claim to be Christians that want to mix faith in God with faith in what they do.  Their testimonies often repeat the word “I” a lot, and reveals that they are actually relying on what they have done instead of what God has done – “I walked the aisle.”   “I raised my hand.”  “I prayed a prayer.”  In the law of faith, it is, “God convicted me of my sin.”  “God did this and that in my life and caused me to believe.”  “God is changing me.”

True saving faith starts with a humble attitude

Generated by knowing the depravity

Of your own sinfulness and

Then looking to God for mercy.

It is the attitude of being “poor in Spirit” that Jesus speaks of in Matthew 5:3 and which was displayed by the publican in Luke 18:13, “But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’”

This faith accepts what God says as true rather than one’s own thoughts and feelings or the wisdom of men.  It believes God’s proclamations and promises and so casts itself upon them to receive both His mercy and grace.  It does not try to earn salvation, but freely accepts Jesus’ payment on His behalf.

This faith has a love for God

Because it believes and trusts Him.

Out of that love comes a desire

To both know Him more and to please

Him by obedience to what He says.

This in turn will result in

An outwardly changed life.

At the same time, this faith

Is marked by humility because

God’s glory is all

Important and not self-glory.

The law of faith has as its object God Himself.  It believes Him and all that He has revealed about Himself and how He desires man to live.  It trusts Him to fulfill all His promises. 

In verses 29 & 30 Paul reiterates once again that this good news is for both the Jew and Gentile because He is the God of both.  

Regardless of whether the individual

Is of Jewish heritage and has

Kept the proscribed rituals,

Or was raised as a pagan,

God’s justification of the sinner

Is based on the same thing for both.

It is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ

And what He has done on their behalf.

Paul concludes this section by answering the charge that would now be brought against the Gospel message.  If the basis of becoming righteous before God is faith in Him, then law is nullified, abolished, and of no value.  This charge would be serious because Jesus Himself said that He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.  

The Gospel does not

Replace the law,

It rather does

The opposite

And establishes it.

How So?  

First, understand that the Law, whether you are speaking about the Mosaic code or any other kind of law has never brought salvation from sin to anyone.  The law is incapable of doing that.  As Paul declared in verse 20, the law was meant to bring the knowledge of sin.  The Gospel of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ establishes the law because it shows how it was fulfilled and its continued usefulness today.

Second, our redemption in Jesus Christ was in complete fulfillment of the requirements of the Mosaic Law.  The Law required an innocent to be the substitute sacrifice for the guilty.  Jesus lived a sinless life and was therefore the only fitting sacrifice to pay the penalty of man’s sins.

Third, the moral aspects of the law (as compared to the ceremonial aspects) continues on as God’s revelation of Himself, what He declares to be right and wrong and how He wants us to live.  The Gospel establishes this because it actually gives man the ability to keep some of these laws which are impossible to keep apart from being regenerated by the Holy Spirit.  The Christian does not obey these commands in order to make himself righteous before God, but because He loves God, wants to please God and knows that God’s ways are best.

Fourth, the law continues in its function of brining to men a knowledge of their sinfulness and need for a Savior.  As Paul states in Galatians 3:24, “Therefore the Law has become our tutor [to lead us] to Christ that we may be justified by faith.”

How Does All This Affect Us?

If you are not a Christian, then it has been clearly stated that you have no hope apart from faith in Jesus Christ.  It is time for you to turn from your sins and seek the Savior.  If you call to Him, He will hear and respond.  Leave a comment on this blog and I will be happy to introduce you to Jesus Christ.

If you are a Christian, then it has been clearly stated.  Your salvation is all of God.  You have no basis for boasting.  In all humility, you need to daily thank God for the awesome gift of grace He has given to you in Jesus Christ.  This is the reason that we worship Him and give Him praise, and His glory is now the purpose of our existence.  Consider how well you are worshiping Him personally?  How well are you giving Him glory in your daily life by your attitudes and actions?  Consider as well how well you have done in telling others about this wonderful good news?  Man is utterly sinful, even so, God has
demonstrated His own righteousness in providing a way for man to be made righteous before Him through faith in Jesus Christ.

This is God Word … This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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