We Are Justified By The Righteousness of God
All men and women are under bondage to sin, in debt to God’s court for our lifetime of sin. That debt must be paid or else a verdict of innocence would be a miscarriage of justice. We know God is perfect, without sin Himself, and therefore He can only declare us innocent of our sin should our debt be paid. Paul says our justification is legally possible because Christ paid our price redeeming us from the penalty we rightly deserved.
Romans 3:21-26 (NKJV) **
God’s Righteousness Through Faith
21 But now God’s righteousness apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely (it’s a gift) by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
** All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.
And He was able to do so because Jesus Christ was willing to pay the price for my sins. What was the payment? Paul explains the payment in part six of his summary found in verse 25. The payment God required was for a blood sacrifice to satisfy God’s justice. The Bible word for this concept is propitiation, and it’s a very important concept in our faith. The idea of propitiation is found all across the Bible, and it’s one of the most prevalent concepts in the Old Testament. Remember, we asked how can God be fair in erasing our record of sin and assigning us His righteousness? Isn’t that unjust, by definition? If justice means the guilty are punished and the innocent are set free, then wouldn’t it be unjust for God to set us free, the guilty? Yes it would, unless a satisfactory payment is made on our behalf.
If a payment were offered that satisfied the Judge’s demand for justice,then the Judge could be just in allowing the guilty to go free. Imagine if you were guilty of failing to pay taxes, but as you arrive for your day in court, you learn that a neighbor has paid all your back taxes and even the penalties for you. Since the demands of the court have been met, the judge could set you free justly. And that’s where Christ’s propitiation comes in for us. Paul says God publicly displayed Christ as a blood sacrifice, or propitiation. The penalty God decreed for sin was death.
16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
The penalty of death God decreed for sin was spiritual death, which means eternal separation from God. When Adam brought all mankind into sin, he brought us all under this penalty. We may escape this penalty by God’s grace manifested through our faith in Jesus, but still the wrath of God must be satisfied. Wrath is the Bible’s word for a holy God’s just response against that which is not righteous. To remain just, God’s holy wrath against sin must be satisfied and since the penalty for sin is death, God demands a substitutionary payment of death, a propitiation.
But the death that substitutes for us cannot be that of another sinner, since their death would merely become payment for their own sin. No, our propitiation must be someone who was innocent of sin. They can neither share in our sinful behaviors nor even in our sinful nature. Jesus Christ is the One God prepared to be our propitiation. Scripture testified that Jesus shared neither our nature nor our record of sin. The gospels tell us Jesus was born of a virgin, which was necessary to ensure Jesus was not a descendant of Adam and therefore He didn’t inherit the sin nature of Adam. And therefore Jesus never participated in the rebellion of Adam.
Jesus was innocent and undeserving of the penalty of death, and yet the Father displayed Jesus publicly as a sacrifice for us. Christ’s public suffering and death satisfied the wrath of God for sin. Notice Paul adds again “through faith.” The application of that payment to our heavenly account is made known to us through our faith. You can know that you have been justified before God in the court of Heaven because you possess faith in that payment.
Finally, we come to Paul’s seventh and final point in his summary in the second
half of verse 25 and into verse 26. Paul says God has made belief in Christ’s substitutionary death the necessary means of salvation so that God’s justice could be understood. Notice at the end of verse 25, Paul says that in forbearance, God passed over the sins previously committed. Forbearance means delaying a response. God delayed His judgment of humanity for their sin, passing over generations without bringing a final judgment upon the world. Of course, the Lord was forbearing because He knew the time had not yet arrived to bring His Son into the world to make His payment on the cross. While He waited, Paul says He passed over the sins previously committed. Passing over doesn’t mean forgiving. Passing over mean not having acted to bring an end to sin. But when the time was right, God manifested His grace publicly as Christ gave Himself as our payment. And furthermore, God established that faith in that payment would be the means by which He manifests His grace at the present time.
So today the world may know that God is still at work declaring people righteous on the basis of Christ’s propitiation. And the evidence of God’s grace is seen by a person’s faith in Christ. The point in this exercise is to ensure the world understands that God has remained just through this process even as He justifies sinners. We can see how God is connecting the dots. He made a payment on a certain day, a payment that satisfies His wrath for sin. And then God assigned that payment to men and women as a matter of His grace alone declaring them justified, innocent.
As we receive His gift of justification, we manifest His grace through our faith in that payment. In that way the world can see that God is just in His forgiveness as He justifies sinners. It’s often called the Great Exchange. Christ took our penalty and we were assigned credit for His perfect righteousness nature. Our Heavenly account is credited with Christ’s righteousness. That’s how we receive the righteousness of God. Our account of sin is wiped clean and we are credited with Christ’s work because God by His grace grants it to us. That grace is manifested through our faith, which demonstrates to the world that we trust in Christ’s payment for our sake. And in that way, we testify to the world that God remains just in justifying us. This is the one and only true Gospel. It explains our predicament, the need for a God-provided solution and how we may obtain it. It offers explanation for how we find spiritual truth despite our fallen nature. How we can receive something we don’t know about and weren’t seeking. It explains how we might merit Heaven when we are sinners. But, we’ve only touched the surface of these concepts. We will see this when we get to Romans chapters 4 & 5 as Paul delves into these seven points in greater detail. And then there are a host of other questions that come to mind. For example, how can one man’s death be enough to pay for the sins of millions of people? And how does God’s plan go beyond merely paying the price for our sin to correcting our sin nature? And if God declared us innocent, why do we still sin and will our new sin disqualifying us from Heaven? Paul answers these questions in chapter 6-8 that we will spend time exploring in upcoming posts.
For now, let’s look at how Paul elaborates on the first points in his summary: salvation is apart from Law having been witnessed by Law and Prophets.
27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. 29 Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, 30 since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.
Paul begins with a preemptive strike against any who might object that salvation is separate from good works. Because it makes sense to us that our path to holiness depends on our own actions. We must put away sinning and seek for doing good so that we might be like God. How can a plan to save us ask nothing of us? That thinking conceals it’s source, because while it sounds generous and self-sacrificing, it’s actually the result of pride. We prefer to be captains of our own ships, responsible for our own future. And then when we reach our goal, we can take pride in our accomplishment. That’s what Paul is referring to when he mentions boasting. But God will not share His glory with anyone, nor will He allow us to perpetuated our self-deception that we play a part in His plan of redemption.
First of all, we have no part because we could do nothing at all anyway. But more over, the plan God has constructed to save us excludes the possibility of boasting, Paul says, had God devised a plan that required something of us, then we could rightly boast about our part. Such a plan would be a law of works, but God devised a plan or law for salvation that excluded (prevented) such boasting. God has established a law (or means) for bringing men into righteousness. Remember, this law doesn’t yield human righteousness. Rather it imputes God’s righteousness to men. And this law has only one rule or requirement – faith in Christ. And that faith is the manifestation of God’s grace, so even it is not of us.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
God’s plan leaves men with nothing whatsoever to boast about. Paul says clearly in verse 28 that we maintain that men are justified apart from the works of the Law. “We maintain” means this is the Christian position, the orthodox view of Christianity. Such that, should anyone try to change this precept, they are no longer preaching Christianity or the true Gospel (e.g., Mormons, Catholics, certain other factions). Any other view that introduces the requirement of human works according to any law as a means to righteousness has departed from Christianity. For God is working in all mankind through the same means. Both as God of the Jews and as God of the Gentiles. He will justify both the circumcised and uncircumcised the same way.
Finally, Paul asks does salvation by faith nullify (i.e., make empty, void) the law? He’s addressing the question some might pose in light of salvation by faith. Does the plan of God render the law of God that was given to Israel in the Old Covenant meaningless or useless? Has it any purpose? To that Paul answers “on the contrary,” the true answer is exactly the opposite. When we acknowledge that we cannot meet the demands of the law and may only be saved by our faith in Jesus Christ, we’re affirming the law. We’re agreeing that the Law must be met AND that we can’t meet it. Ironically, when a Christian (or unbeliever) attempts to follow a law they have already broken, and continue to break it daily, yet still expect to enter heaven, they are the ones nullifying the law. In following the law, they affirm that meeting its requirements is a necessity. But then, when they break the law (as all men do), they still maintain that God will approve them and grant them heaven. They are nullifying the very law they claim to follow when they assume God will overlook their failure to keep it perfectly.
So as Paul says, on the contrary, agreeing with a law of faith establishes (or affirms) the unyielding requirements of the law. Because the Law is true and demanding and uncompromising, we must depend on faith in Christ. Christ fulfilled the Law’s requirements perfectly because we couldn’t, so we turn to God in faith rather than trusting in our works under Law.
“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry Interviews may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”
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