THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS, CHAPTER 3, VERSES 21 TO 26
3:21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;
3:22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:
3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
3:24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
3:25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
3:26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
SECTION 5 ROMANS 3:21-26
THE WORK OF CHRIST IS CENTRAL TO THE GOSPEL
STRUCTURE OF SECTION 5
5 (a) 3:21 The righteousness of God and the law.
5 (b) 3:22 The righteousness of God and faith.
5 (c) 3:23 The righteousness of God and sin.
5 (d) 3:24 The righteousness of God and redemption.
5 (e) 3:25 The righteousness of God and propitiation.
5 (f) 3:26 The righteousness of God and justification.
SUBJECT OF SECTION 5
Having shown that man deserves nothing but wrath because of his sin, the apostle now shows that God is willing, in grace, to bestow upon men that which they do not deserve, which they can never earn, and which they will never be able fully to repay. How He does this, whilst still maintaining His just character, is detailed for us in the next few verses.
The expression “righteousness of God” is used in two ways in this passage. In verses 25 and 26, it is the attribute of righteousness which God possesses which is in view, the righteousness which is His intrinsically. In verses 21 and 22, however, the idea is of that righteousness which He reckons or imputes to a person when they believe. Divine righteousness reckoned, is in direct contrast to human righteousness demanded, as when men were under the Law.
The English language is derived from various sources, one of which gives us the adjective “righteous”, and another which gives us the adjective “just”. They mean the same thing, namely that which is right. The same is true of the words “faith” and “belief”- they mean the same. Righteousness was originally spelt right-wise-ness, meaning that which corresponds to right, just as clock-wise means that which corresponds to the direction the hands of the clock travel. This passage, then, assures us that in the salvation of sinners, God acts in perfect conformity to the absolute standard of right that He represents in His own person. It also assures us that through faith a person is reckoned by God to be in conformity with that right character of His, not because he has attained such a position by their own efforts, but because God in grace blesses in this way on the basis of the work of Christ.
It is important to notice the emphasis on the righteousness of God, for this leading theme of the gospel is being forgotten today, and is being replaced by an over-emphasis on the love of God. It is indeed important to proclaim the general love of God for sinners. We should note, however, that the love of God is spoken of in John 3:16 as being in the past, and that historic display of love which took place at Calvary is the once-for-all declaration of God’s attitude towards men. The grace and mercy of God which are based upon His love, Ephesians 2:4-7, should not be preached at the expense of announcing His righteous demands. The love of God is the expression of His nature, 1 John 4:8; but His nature is righteous, and there cannot be conflict between the two. Divine love must act righteously, for God is light, 1 John 1:5.
3:21 But-the word presents us with the divine alternative to the failure of man in 1:18-3:20. The apostle now resumes where he broke off in 1:17, and having shown conclusively that man is totally unable to attain to personal righteousness, and deserves nothing but wrath from God, begins to unfold the wonder of the gospel which brings sinners into a right relationship with God. Man deserves wrath but… Now- a different situation altogether prevails at the present time compared to the age of the Law. See verses 25 and 26, “sins that are past…at this time”. The righteousness of God without the law is manifested- not human righteousness demanded, as under the law of Moses, but Divine righteousness manifested. Without the law- totally apart from attempts to keep the law to earn salvation. Being witnessed by the law and prophets- the Old Testament gave abundant testimony to the righteous requirements of God. The law gave the directives, the prophets exposed the deviations. Paul is careful to emphasise that the gospel does not overthrow the righteousness of God expressed in the Law, just as he emphasised in 1:1,2, that the gospel is in harmony with the Old Testament scriptures.
5 (b) THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD AND FAITH
3:22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ- not the unattainable righteousness through works, but that which is freely available to those whose faith is in Jesus Christ. It is not belief about Christ that saves, although obviously the facts concerning Him must be accepted, for Christianity is based on historical events; but it is faith in, or upon, the Lord Jesus Christ which saves, involving unreserved reliance on Him alone for salvation, on the basis of His death at Calvary. Unto all- the gospel makes a universal offer to men- none are excluded, for just as none are good enough in themselves for God to accept them, so none are too bad. And upon all them that believe- belief in Christ is the unvarying principle God acts upon. “Upon” signifies that there are objects in view, namely those who are given the opportunity to believe. Gospel blessing is only available on the condition that it is for those who believe, just as a shopkeeper displays his goods on the understanding that people will pay for them, not steal them. The goods are displayed with that condition in mind. The gospel is sent in the direction of, and arrives at, those who believe. For there is no difference- each individual, of whatever background, must take his place amongst the “all”, for there are no exceptions to the rule that righteousness can be received only by faith. There is no difference, for all need to believe; there is no difference, for all have sinned.
5 (c) THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD AND SIN
3:23 For all have sinned- the reason why salvation is made available to all. It is man’s sin, not man’s merit, that causes God to offer blessing to all, hence the “for,” or because. Sinned- in the past. And- the consequence. Come short- the present situation because of past failure. It is too late for man to begin to earn merit, for he has a sinful record, and “God requireth that which is past,” Ecclesiastes 3:15. Man in his sin comes short of possessing the glory of God, whereas those who believe will be glorified, 8:30, which involves being in harmony with God in all His glory. Of the glory of God- that sum total of God’s attributes and character which make Him alone worthy of worship. The glory of God demands that man be righteous if he is to be accepted with God, but man falls short because of his sin. The demands of God’s glory, however, have been met fully by Christ, hence the apostle goes on to speak of justification through Him. And those who are justified are as good as glorified, 8:30, and no longer come short.
5 (d) THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD AND REDEMPTION
3:24 Being justified- a person is reckoned right in the sight of God through God reckoning that person to be righteous because of the merit of Christ’s work. Freely- translated “without a cause” in John 15:25. There is no reason in man why God should justify him; the cause is found in Christ, for God forgives sins for the sake of Christ, Ephesians 4:32. By His grace- the motive in the heart of God. Grace is unmerited favour to those who can never repay it, and is an expression of Divine love, Ephesians 2:4,5. Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus- the means by which we may be justified. Sins committed put us under an obligation to God, for His righteous character demands that they be dealt with. We have no means of doing this, and so are constantly in debt to God. In Old Testament times, when a person was without resources, then his near kinsman could act as his redeemer, provided he had both the resolve, and the resources, see Ruth 4. In Christ Jesus- the redemption is found in the One who gave His life a ransom for many, Matthew 20:28. He gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, Titus 2:14. Notice it is “that He might”, for His death gives Him the right to redeem when we believe. God says “I have found a ransom”, Job 33:24.
5 (e) THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD AND PROPITIATION
3:25 Whom God hath set forth- this verb is in the Middle Voice, which indicates that the one acting has a personal interest and involvement in the thing that is done. In this case, God has a personal interest in setting Christ Jesus forth in the proclamation of the gospel. To be a propitiation- this and connected words occur seven times in the New Testament in relation to the death of Christ. Here and Hebrews 9:5, (mercy-seat), the idea is of the place where propitiation takes place. Propitiation is effected in His person. In 1 John 2:2; 4:10, the idea is of the sacrifice that effects propitiation, the propitiatory offering for our sins. In Hebrews 2:17, (reconciliation), the idea is of the act of propitiating. In Luke 18:13; Hebrews 8:12, (merciful), the attitude of God expressed because propitiation has been made is in view. Through faith- the means by which the benefits resulting from propitiation are gained. In His blood- the blood of Christ is that which does finally, what the blood of bulls and goats did typically, on the Day of Atonement, Leviticus 16:15,16. Christ’s blood effects propitiation, faith secures the benefit. Propitiation is “through faith” only in the sense that only those who exercise faith are in the good of Christ’s work. This was the case on the Day of Atonement, for only those who afflicted their souls, (repented), and abstained from work, (the essence of faith, see Romans 4:5), could continue in the nation, and be in the good of the propitiation made, see Leviticus 23:26-32.
PROPITIATION is that aspect of the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus at Calvary, whereby He gave to God the full and satisfactory answer to the demands which the righteousness of God made against sins. By so doing, He enabled God to maintain His own integrity and at the same time justify those who believe the gospel.As the “pro” at the beginning of the word suggests, it is a work done towards God, i.e. in relation to what He is Himself. The results manward are secondary. Indeed the work of propitiation would be glorifying to God even if there were no results manward. In this verse, Christ is the propitiation in the sense that He is the personal means whereby propitiation was effected. The sacrifice of Christ must give God the answer to the presence of sin in the universe, or else the matter will never be resolved, and God will be eternally liable to the charge that He has not acted righteously as the Moral Governor of the universe in relation to all sins.
To declare His righteousness- God’s attribute of being right is declared by the work of Christ, for at Calvary every Divine attribute was brought out into fullest display, John 12:28;13:31. This is why the gospel can be called the gospel of the glory of God, 1 Timothy 1:11. For the remission of sins that are past- this means “because of the passing over of sins done before”, in Old Testament times. Done before- this does not mean done before conversion, but done before Christ came. Remission here is not forgiveness, but a passing by of sins, not dealing with them in immediate judgement. There was not, generally, the instant dealing with sins committed before Christ’s death which we might have thought a righteous God would have put into effect. Through the forbearance of God- His tolerance, a not-occupying-oneself-with. See Acts 14:16; Acts 17:30. The work of Christ at the cross vindicates God for acting like this. At the present time the reason why sins are not instantly dealt with is because of His longsuffering and grace.
3:26 To declare, I say, at this time His righteousness- having shown that the work of propitiation vindicates God’s past dealings, we learn here of God’s righteous dealings in the present. That He might be just- that is, might maintain His righteous character, even while He is blessing guilty sinners. And the justifier- the work of Christ enables God to be two things at once, namely, to be just, and also the one who reckons sinners just. It is part of His glory that He does not clear the guilty, Exodus 34:5-7, but He can with true justice forgive the guilty when they plead the work of Christ on their behalf. Of him which believeth in Jesus- note the use of the historical, personal name of Christ, in connection with the historical and personal work He did on the cross of Calvary. Those who are “of the faith of Jesus”, who are committed in faith to Him, are justified before God.