“Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. 21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.31 Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.” (Romans 3:19-31)
“But now” – What a welcomed phrase after Paul’s stinging indictment of all mankind’s sins (see 1:18-3:20) and the just wrath of God due man because of our guilt against Him. Verses 21 – 31 are some of the most profound verses in all of Scripture. These truths (the gospel of grace) are not seen any other religion or in any philosophy of man but it is the radical truth of God Himself (in Christ) becoming the needed sacrifice for our sin. (He is Just and is the Justifier of sinners – v. 26) In the gospel we not only see the deep depravity of man and high cost of sin but we see how deeply God loves and values mankind and gives us dignity through the life of Christ in us. “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col. 1:27) “Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.” (1 Peter 1:18-19)
“But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.” (this phrase is a euphemism that refers to the entire Old Testament).Throughout the OT from Genesis 3 on we see the failure of man to be right with God (righteous). When God killed an animal (showing that a blood sacrifice is required for sin) and clothed Adam and Eve with the garments made from its skins (a picture of being clothed in Christ’s righteousness) we see that man cannot make himself right with God (and every religion but Christianity says we can). No, God has to act on our behalf to make us right with Him. And since Adam and Eve went from being naked (innocent) and unashamed to being naked and ashamed (knowing they were no longer right with God) man has being trying to cover up his nakedness (sin) with “fig leaves”- works righteousness, false religions, good works, and/or outward things, trappings of success, education, the right clothes, and compare themselves to one another versus the Perfect Man –Jesus Who alone embodied the righteousness of God. Read Isaiah 53, 59 and 64 to see the righteousness of God versus the righteousness of man and the need for the gospel seen in the OT. “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment (menstrual cloth).” (Isa. 64:6) And these are our good deeds.
“Even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption (liberation procured by the payment of a ransom) which is in Christ Jesus.” Justified means to be declared not guilty and even declared righteous by God. And the righteousness we have (which we receive by faith) is the very righteousness of God Himself. Paul the former self-righteous Pharisee says his legalistic righteousness was like rubbish (dung) and now rejoices in the righteousness he received from God: “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” (Phil. 3:8-9) As believers we have been declared righteous to Satan and his demons who accuse us to God (see Col. 2:13-14; Rev. 12:10-11); to the world which wants to conform us to its unrighteousness so we want convict them of it (John 3:19 20) and we need to remind ourselves of this and repent of self-condemnation. (Rom. 8:1)
“Whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation (satisfied His just wrath against sin) in His blood through faith.” How does God change us from condemned criminals to beloved sons? By the blood of Jesus (God the Son). This of course refers to the sacrificial death of Jesus when He became sin and took on Himself the sins of mankind and received the just wrath of God for us so God could justly forgive us. And more than that, He credited to us (imputed) Jesus’s perfect righteousness. “He (the Father) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21) The word “propitiation” refers to the mercy seat which was placed over the Law (the Ten Commandments) in the Ark and on which the high priest poured the blood of the lamb on the Day of Atonement. But that was done privately and the cross was public adding humiliation to physical torture. (The OT sacrifices only postponed the sin debt for another year as the sinner continued to store up wrath for God’s final judgment.)
And as the next verse says it was done publicly to “demonstrate” God’s righteousness by justly and fully punishing sin that our Savior voluntarily chose to bear for us. God’s righteousness is also demonstrated through the only perfectly righteous human that ever lived, Jesus; His sinless life and substitutionary death. He is “the radiance of His (the Father’s) glory and the exact representation of His (the Father’s) nature.” (Heb. 1:3)
“This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” God doesn’t forgive sin He forgives sinners after He pays the debt Himself making Him both Just and the Justifier – the One who can declare sinners righteous.
“Of the one who has faith in Jesus ” (V. 26) – So God’s justice and love is the motivation for the cross; the blood of Jesus (meaning His sacrificial death) is the basis for man’s forgiveness and faith is the response of man to receive forgiveness and Christ’s righteousness. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” (John 1:12) Verses 27-31 reiterate that faith (5x in these five verses) in what God did in and through Christ (the cross) and not works (as the unsaved Jews boasted in) is the only way to be right with God (righteous).
The phrase “passed over the sins previously committed “ means that “God would have been just when Adam and Eve sinned to destroy them and with them the entire human race. But in His goodness and forbearance He withheld His (final) judgment for a certain period of time.” (See Psalm 78:38 – 39; Acts 17:30 – 31; 2 Peter 3:9) John MacArthur – The MacArthur Study Bible.
What about God’s moral law? (V. 31) “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.” [“Salvation by grace through faith in Christ’s sacrifice does not denigrate the law, but underscores its true importance: 1) By providing a payment for the penalty of death which the law required for failing to keep it; 2) By fulfilling the law’s original purpose, which is to serve as a tutor to show mankind’s utter inability to obey God’s righteous demands and to drive people to Christ. (Galatians 3:24) 3) And by giving believers the capacity to obey it (by grace through faith). ” (Romans 8:3–4) The MacArthur Study Bible ] Keeping God’s moral law is not the source of salvation but a course for the saved. Some people feel like they can live like hell and still go to heaven.
Applications for unbelievers: “I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.” (Galatians 2:21) A superficial diagnosis leads to a superficial cure. If man is basically good and simply needs education and economic opportunity, etc., to be “good” then it will lead to a superficial cure. False religions say the same, telling man that they can work their way to being righteous in God’s eyes. That is an insult to His holiness and an exaggeration of man’s goodness. Thus we must tell people of their desperate condition (and its consequences) from which we ourselves came.
Applications for believers: [“Christianity is a religion of rescue, designed for the desperate. Just as an awareness of one’s depravity is essential for holiness, so too a feeling of desperation, manifested in perpetual brokenness and dependence, is the heart of the believer’s life in Christ.” Walt Henrichsen, Diary of a Desperate Man.] The truth we see from Romans 3:9-18 (which quotes OT passages on the depravity of man) is that all mankind is desperately wicked and needs much forgiveness. That includes you and me not just the “big sinners.” Why are we not more like the unnamed “sinner” woman who was unabashedly grateful and passionately in love with Jesus for what He did for her? (Luke 7:36-50)
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1. Explain the words justification, redemption and propitiation and how they each apply to our lives.
2. “Christianity is a religion of rescue, designed for the desperate. Just as an awareness of one’s depravity is essential for holiness, so too a feeling of desperation, manifested in perpetual brokenness and dependence, is the heart of the believer’s life in Christ.” (Walt Henrichsen) From Henrichsen’s quote, explain how faith works for both salvation and ongoing spiritual growth (sanctification). See Galatians 3:1-5.
3. Read Matthew 18:21-35 and discuss how the man missed the message of the gospel seen by how he treated a fellow sinner. How should the gospel affect the way we treat others?
4. God declares us not guilty and more so, perfectly righteous. In Luke 7:36-50 we see how a fellow sinner responded to this. Read this account and ask yourself, am I more like the Pharisee or the “sinner woman” in my expressions of love for Jesus? What was his problem and how can we avoid it?