About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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Righteousness Through Faith (ch. 3:21 Ė 31)


Paul has just told his readers that the Law of Moses can never make anyone righteous.  In fact, it points out how sinful we are.  That was one reason for the law in the first place according to Paul.  


Before we go any farther, we need to understand what righteousness means.  Righteousness is being perfectly right in all things pertaining to God.  It is more than a matter of the things we do.  It's a matter of who we are.  A righteous person does righteous things.  So, when Paul speaks of righteousness in his letter to the Romans we should understand he's thinking of being like God, not simply doing good things.   


Paul previously stated that we are all worthless, all unrighteous.  He has also stated that the only way one can be righteous is to obey Godís Law in every small detail.  The problem is, as Paul also stated, obeying God's Laws in every last detail is impossible.  That puts us in a bad situation.  We thus have a problem.  God demands righteousness from us because that is His nature.  He is perfect and right in every aspect of who He is.  He expects the same from His creation.  The problem that faced God was how He can get man to be righteous.  God gave the Law of Moses to Israel so it would clearly know God's righteous standard.


Here in chapter 3 verse 21 we begin to see Godís answer to this problem.  Paul says, "But now a righteousness apart from law has been made known".  This would be a shocking statement to the Jews since they knew that righteousness came by obeying the Law of Moses.  This was one reason why the Jews attempted to kill Paul.  Paul is now telling the Jews, and everyone else, that there is a way to become righteous, and it has nothing to do with the Law of Moses.  A matter of fact both the Law of Moses and Prophets have testified to this righteousness.  Paul is saying that the Law and the Prophets foretold this new way of making man righteous.  The Jewish leaders just didn't see what Paul was talking about in the Law and Prophets.  God caused a blindness to come over them so they could not see this truth in what we call the Old Testament.  


In verse 21 Paul uses the word "law" in two senses.  According to the NIV, he uses the word "law", and the word "Law".  One thing we should understand is that the Greek language that we've translated into English does not use capital letters.  So, when the NIV or any other translation inserts a capital letter, as we see here, it's purely a matter of the translators thinking and understanding.  With this in mind, Paul says that there is a righteousness apart from "law" (no capital "L").  The probable reason for the NIV to not capitalize "law" in this phrase is because the direct article "the" isn't in the Greek text.  That suggests that Pau did not have any specific law in mind, like the Law of Moses.  I believe he was thinking of law in general, whether God's law of any of man's laws. 


Than is the second part of the verse Paul does use the term "the Law", suggest a specific law.  The NIV capitalize "Law" because the Greek has the direct article "the" before the word "Law".  This tells me that the Law Paul had in mind was the Law of Moses.  Also, associating Law with the Prophets makes it clear that he is thinking of the Law of Moses. 


In short, what Paul is saying here is that there is now a way for man to be seen righteous in the eyes of God and it has nothing to do with law, that is man's law, or, even the Law of Moses.  Again, this would have irritated the Jews exceedingly.    


In verse 22, this new righteousness comes by having faith in Jesus Christ, or, trusting Jesus Christ.  Having this faith means we trust Jesus.  Many of us just don't understand the meaning of faith, even though it is fundamental to being a Christian.  I suggest that if you substitute the word trust for faith as you read the New Testament, you'll understand faith much better.   


It's my thinking that the Evangelical world has watered down the word faith in many ways.  Faith is more than a matter of believing in your mind that Jesus existed and even died for your sins.  Faith is in fact, as the Greek word "pistis" that's translated as "faith" in the New Testament implies, trusting your life with Jesus.  I believe salvation is more than trusting Jesus for your eternal destiny.  It's trusting Jesus with your very life.  


In verse 22 Paul says that this righteousness is for all.   Why is it for all?  Because all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God, as we will see in verse 23.  If all have sinned, and all meaning both Jews and Gentiles, then all are eligible to believe and become righteous in the eyes of God.


Note that this way of becoming righteous apart from law comes from God.  Paul must say this because the Jewish leadership does not believe it is from God, and, the Gentiles, with their polytheistic paganism background, also must know that this righteousness is from God, not from the gods. 


In verse 24 Paul says that all are justified freely through the redemption that is found in Christ Jesus.  This is a great verse.  Our salvation is free because of Godís grace towards us.  It is free because we do not have to pay for it.  As a matter of fact, nothing we have comes close to the price that this righteousness actually costs.  We do not have to earn it by obeying laws and doing good.  No good work that we might be able to perform even comes close to obtaining the righteousness that Paul is talking about here.  We who are worthless and depraved can find salvation free of charge. Salvation might be free, but it's not cheap.  Jesus paid a very great price for this salvation.  It is so expensive that only Jesus has the ability to pay for it.        


The Greek word "dorean' is translated as "freely" in the NIV in verse 24.  The basic meaning of "dorean" means "a gift".  It's used as an adverb in this verse, thus the English translation as "freely".  Another way you might put this verse is, "God gifted your justification by faith in Jesus".  When thinking of justification being a gift due to God's grace, it always reminds me of Ephesians 1:8 where Paul says that God has lavished His grace on us.  If you understand how depraved we are, something I've mentioned previously, the idea of God lavishing His grace on us is utterly amazing.      


Note the word "justify" in verse 24.  It's another theological word that many don't seem to be able to explain.  There is the old saying that explains it pretty well.  Justification means, "Just as if I had never sinned." Justification, or to justify, is translated from the Greek word "dikoisis".  You might notice both righteousness and justify are from the same Greek root word.  To justify a person is to pronounce him to be just, or, to be living according to the just standards of God.  Justification implies that God, the just Judge, has removed the designation of guilty sinner that condemns us to eternal death.  Justification is a legal pronouncement by God.  I say legal, because God had contracted, or agreed, or covenanted with, Himself to do this for us.  A covenant is a legal contract.


Note also the word "redemption" in verse 24.  The Greek word translated as redeem or redemption in the New Testament is "exagorozo", which simply means "to buy or purchase".   There is another Greek word translated as redeem in the New Testament and it is the word "lutroo".  This is the word that is used here in Romans 3:24.  Lutroo is more specific.  It means a release once a ransom is paid. 


There is a slight difference between exagorazo and lutroo.  Exagorazo puts the emphasis on the price that has been paid, while lutroo stresses the actual releasing once the price has been paid. 


Redemption, therefore, is the purchasing of someoneís freedom.  The word is often used when someone buys out a slaveís freedom.  This is exactly what Jesus did for us.  He purchased, or bought out, our freedom from the penalty for our sin.  The price that Jesus paid was His own blood, His very human life.  The Scripture says that He "purchased our freedom with His blood".  We need to understand that Jesus purchased this freedom from God, not the devil as many think.   As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, ďGod made Him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.Ē 


In verse 25 we see the word "atonement".  The Greek word "hilaskomai" is the word that is translated as "atonement" here.  Not all translations translate hilaskomai as atonement here but the NIV does.  There's another Greek word, that being, "katallasso" is the word that is translated as "atonement" in the most of the New Testament.  This word means "to change".  "Katallasso" was the word often used in the exchange of money in Paulís day.  Today we might say, "Can you change (katalasso) a ten dollar bill into two five dollar bills?" 


Katallasso in the Biblical sense means that God has changed us from being His enemy to being His friend.  Katalasso is often translated reconcile in the New Testament.  So, when we hear the word "atonement", we need to understand it to mean becoming friends with God.  Jesusí shed blood on the cross has taken away our enemy status.  


In short, the word "atonement" is the process by which God provides what is necessary for us to be His friends.   


Verse 25 says, "God presented Him (Jesus) as an atoning sacrifice."  As I mentioned above, the Greek word translated as "atoning" here is not the one usually translated as atonement in the New Testament.  The specific thought here is that God made Jesus to be a sacrifice that turned away Godís wrath from us.  Why was His wrath turned away from us?  It was turned away because Godís wrath was poured out on Jesus on the cross.  Jesus experienced God's wrath for us. Therefore God no longer has to pour out His wrath on us who have received His provision for us on the cross.


This is my paraphrase of Romans 3:23 to 25.  "Everyone, both Jew and Gentile, have sinned and have fallen short of the glory and righteousness of God.  Therefore, God has freely and without cost, declared us totally righteous, just as He Himself is totally righteous.  He does this because He punished Jesus instead of us.  God poured out His wrath on Jesus, paving the way for us to be His friends."


In verse 25 Paul states that God declares us as righteous when we have faith in the blood of Jesus.  We must remember that in Old Testament times, the shedding of a lamb's blood provided temporary atonement for sins.  Now, the blood of Jesus provides that atonement, but there is one more thing to consider.  Paul says that it is our faith in the sacrifice of Jesus that causes us to be considered as righteous in the eyes of God.  Without faith, there is no redemption, no atonement, and no righteousness.  Simply put, the cross of Christ provides the means for anyone to be saved.  What it doesn't do is save everyone.  It only saves those with faith, those who trust the cross for their salvation.            


Paul says in verse 25 and 26 that God did all of this for us to demonstrate His justice.  What does this mean?  Paul continues to say that sins committed in the past, in Old Testament times, were not punished.  Because God is just, He cannot go on forever avoiding punishing people for their sins.  So, to satisfy His sense of justice, God punished Jesus for all of our sinfulness.  This satisfied Godís justice and showed His mercy towards us at the same time.  God could now feel good because someone was punished for sin, even though it was Jesus, His Son, who was punished.  In one moment of time God both loved us and satisfied His sense of justness.  What great love He has for us.  This is why I say that both love and justice met together at the cross.


Note the word "forbearance" in verse 25.  This suggests to me that God really didn't want to punish anyone for their sins.  He waited as long as He could before He dealt with our sin problem, and, when He did, He punished Jesus instead of us.


Note again the element of faith in verse 26.  We are justified before God only when we have faith, only when we trust His provision of justification.  If one has no faith, he is not justified.  He remains guilty.      


In verse 27 Paul asks, "Where is boasting, on what principle, and, on that of observing the Law?  Paul is now wrapping up this part of his argument.  He's getting back to where he began earlier in this chapter and also in chapter 2.  He gets back to the boasting in the Law.  In Paul's mind, he has just proved that boasting in one being righteous on grounds of the Law of Moses, or, any other human law, is worthless.  He concludes, if one is to boast at all, it must be based on faith, not observance of any law.      


Verse 28 is another one of those key verses.  It says, "We maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from the law."  Again, for reasons stated earlier, I believe "the law" is in reference to the Law of Moses.  Let me say, if God says that His own law justifies no one, then any law that we make up certainly is meaningless when it comes to our salvation.  To think any differently would be telling Jesus what He did on the cross was not good enough, and we need to add a couple more things to improve on Jesus' sacrifice.  What a horrible thought.  Sad to say, we have done this many times throughout church history.


Verse 28 is a very forceful and dramatic statement.  I do not know how many Jews there were in the Roman church that Paul was writing to.  We do know from the last chapter of Acts that Paul did address the non-Christian Jewish leaders in Rome .  Those leaders, for the most part, would have been quite upset and irritated with what Paul said here in verse 28.    


In verse 29 Paul asks, "Is God not the God of the Gentiles as well?"  Again, this would have irritated the Jewish leadership, but, if the Law of Moses has nothing to do with God's salvation, then, God is indeed the God of the Gentiles too.  It's only a logical conclusion.  Besides, it was God who made all peoples anyway.  


We need to note something very important here. Your understanding of what I am about to say will determine how you view end time prophecy.  Paul says that there is no difference between Jew and Gentile here.  We need to understand that there is no difference between Jew and Gentile when it comes to faith and salvation.  That is the context of Paul's words here.  We've all sinned, and we all can be saved.  Paul is only talking about salvation by faith.  There remains a difference between Jew and Gentile when it comes to what I call prophetic history. Without going into great detail, through the Abrahamic Covenant found in Genesis 12:1 to 3 and elsewhere, God promised the nation of Israel certain things that would last forever.  He promised that they'd be a great nation and that they'd have a particular portion of land, among other things.  Some of these promises have not yet been fulfilled.  God will fulfill them.  Israel will always be a distinct and special nation in God's sight forever.  There are so many passages that point this out.  Paul also speaks to this later on, in chapter 9 through 11.  He has to clarify the Jewish place in prophetic history in this book of Romans because of what he has just said about there being no difference between Jew and Gentile in this passage.


In verse 30 Paul goes back before the Law of Moses was given to Israel.  He brings up the issue of circumcision.  He says yet another thing that would totally irritate the Jewish leaders, and that is that circumcision is meaningless when it comes to salvation.  Salvation is by faith alone, whether one is circumcised or not.  It makes no difference.   


In verse 31 Paul makes it clear that he is not nullifying the Law of Moses by what he just said.  He says that he still upholds the Law.  That is to say, Paul still believes there is a place for the Law of Moses, but its place has nothing to do with salvation of the individual.  We should remember that there is a lot of prophecy in the books of the Law.  The Law actually predicts Israel's future, which by the way, has yet to be fulfilled.  For this reason, the Law of Moses is still significant.      


Paul's words "we uphold the law" can easily misunderstood.  Some would suggest then that Paul obeyed the Law.  Paul's belief of how the Law of Moses should be understood in this New Testament era was a point of contention in the first generation church, especially among the Jewish Christians.  We can't use this verse to support the idea that Paul upheld the Law as a means to salvation.  That is clear, but, did he still obey the Law, but not as a means of salvation?


The Greek word "hisemi" is translated as "uphold" in the NIV in verse 31.  This word simply means to stand.  So, I believe Paul did not have obedience to the Law in mind.  What I believe he had in mind was that the Law of Moses still had use. It wasn't to be discarded.  It still has a purpose until all aspects of the Law are fulfilled at the return of Jesus. 


It's my understanding that while with the Jewish Christians, Paul obeyed the Law in order to not offend them.  When with the Gentiles, obedience to the Law was not as important to him because the Law was never given to them.  This is what the Acts 15 conference was all about.  The conclusion of that gathering was that the Gentiles were not obligated to obey the Law of Moses, which, Paul agreed to, thus would be fundamental to Paul's view of the Law to obey.     


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