God’s Remedy for Mankind’s Condition Part 1 – Romans 3:21-23
Pastor Mark Hardy February 26, 2012
Warren Wiersbe once said that one of his friends gave the best illustration of justification he had ever heard, which was this: A man in England put his Rolls-Royce on a boat and went across to the continent to go on a vacation. While he was driving around Europe, something happened to the motor of his car. He cabled the Rolls-Royce people back in England saying, “I’m having trouble with my car; what do you suggest I do?” The Rolls-Royce Company immediately flew a mechanic from England to where he was in Europe to repair the car, so that the man could continue his vacation.
Upon fixing the car the mechanic politely left without giving him a bill. As you can imagine, the man was wondering, “How much is this going to cost me?” So when he returned to England from his vacation, he wrote the company a letter and asked how much he owed them. He received a letter from the office that read: “Dear Sir: There is no record anywhere in our files that anything ever went wrong with a Rolls-Royce.”
Justification is the judicial act of God by which He declares those sinners who believe in Jesus Christ to be righteous, and treats them just as if they had never sinned. He has no record anywhere that “anything ever went wrong.” This is what we are going to begin looking at this morning.
As we continue on in our study of Romans, remember that the theme of the book is: The gospel of Jesus Christ.” We saw this back in 1:16-17 where Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”
Then immediately from 1:18-3:20 Paul made it devastatingly clear why the entire human race desperately needs the gospel by describing the bad news that all mankind, Jew and Gentile alike, is guilty before God, under the wrath of God, and presently awaiting the horrible sentence of eternal punishment. Therefore, sinful man in himself is utterly hopeless and helpless to do anything to bridge the great gulf that exists between him and the holy God of the universe.
However, as we now come to 3:21 a radical change occurs. Streaming into the pitch black spiritual darkness of mankind’s hopeless condition is the bright light of the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ whereby sinful man is given the hope of salvation. And the heart of the gospel message is the wonderful doctrine of justification. Turn with me in your Bibles to Romans 3.
In Romans 3:21-26 we see six characteristics of divine justification whereby God imparts the gift of righteousness to believing sinners. This morning we will look at only the first three characteristics in vv. 21-23.
The first characteristic of divine justification is this:
I. Righteousness is Apart from Legalism
A. Look at v. 21: But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested… (Stop there)
1. In stark contrast to all that Paul has declared about sinful mankind (1:18-3:8), and finally resting his case in 3:9-20, he now declares in v. 21 the two words, “But now.” These words are similar to the “But God” passages in the New Testament and simply mean that God Himself has intervened!
2. In His great love (1 Jn. 4:8), God has taken the initiative to do what mankind could never do for himself. John Stott says it this way, “After the long dark night the sun has risen, a new day has dawned, and the world is flooded with light.” (pg. 108)
3. Verse 21 is the great turning point of the letter. Drawing a big heart in his Bible over vv. 21-26, Donald Grey Barnhouse said, “I am convinced today, after these many years of Bible study, that these verses are the most important in the Bible.”
4. He is in good company. Martin Luther said that this passage was “…the chief point and the very center place of the epistle and of the whole Bible.”
5. C.E.B. Cranfield rightly calls it, “The center and heart of the main division to which it belongs (pg. 199)
6. And Leon Morris states that it may be “…possibly the most important single paragraph ever written.” (pg. 173)
7. No wonder Martyn Lloyd-Jones declared, “There are no more wonderful words in the whole Scripture than just these two words ‘But now.’”
B. Now notice that Paul goes on to say, “…apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested…”
1. Although righteousness is an attribute of God Himself, here the “righteousness of God” refers to the God-given status of a right standing before God, which is also known as justification. Righteousness is the key word in this whole passage, occurring four times (vv. 21, 22, 25, 26).
2. The Greek the word “righteousness” (dikaiosune) is practically identical to the word “justified” in v. 24 (dikaioumenoi), for they come from the same root word and both emphasize the idea of righteousness.
3. The phrase “righteousness of God” (dikaiosune theou) takes us back to 1:17 where the focus is on the saving righteousness of God that is continually revealed through the preaching of the gospel. However, in this context God’s righteousness “has been manifested.”
4. The word “manifested” (pephanerwtai) is in the perfect tense, instead of the present tense of 1:17, which means that God revealed or made known His righteousness in the past two thousand years ago at the cross of Christ and it has on-going, continuing consequences in the present.
5. And the passive voice of the word “manifested” shows that it is God Himself who has manifested this saving righteousness. This is all part of God’s predetermined redemptive plan.
6. Now with the coming of Jesus Christ and His death on the cross a new epic of salvation has dawned. The cross is the pivot point of all history upon which everything turns, for history itself is divided into before Christ and after Christ.
7. Thomas Schreiner accurately states, “The Mosaic covenant belonged to an era of redemptive history that has now passed away (2 Cor. 7-11; Gal. 3:15-4:7). Its passing away is inextricably bound up with its inability to effect righteousness….The OT acknowledged that the promises of salvation would not come to fruition under the covenant with Moses (Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:26-27; Deut. 28:30). A new covenant would fulfill and surpass that covenant.” (pg. 180)
8. In Christ the era of the Old Covenant has passed and the era of the New Covenant has arrived.
C. Therefore, God’s saving righteousness cannot be obtained by keeping the law. Notice again that Paul says righteousness is, “apart from the Law.”
1. The Greek word translated “apart from” (choris) is a very strong word that means righteousness is totally “independent of” and has “no relation to” law. The same word is used of Jesus in Hebrews 4:15 where He was “…tempted in all things as we are, yet without (or apart from) sin.”
2. Paul makes it very clear that God’s saving righteousness can never come by trying harder in our own self-effort to earn God’s favor by law-keeping, which is called “Legalism.” We saw last time in v. 20 that “…by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”
3. Therefore, just as sin and Jesus have absolutely nothing in common, so too, righteousness and the Law have absolutely nothing in common. And as good as God’s Law is, all it can do is show us that we don’t have the ability to keep it, and thus we are sinners.
4. God’s standard for mankind is the absolute perfection of Christ’s righteousness who kept the Law perfectly in every part. Therefore, it doesn’t matter how moral a person may be, James 2:10 says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.”
5. God demands sinless perfection, therefore being right with God can never be achieved by human effort. The cross of Christ is God’s final refutation of all of mankind’s attempts at a works-righteousness system of salvation.
6. There are only two religions in the world—the religion of divine accomplishment or Biblical Christianity, and the religion of human achievement, which includes all of the world religions and cults. But even under the Old Covenant, good works based on God’s own standards were worthless as far as salvation was concerned.
7. God’s plan of salvation “apart from the Law” was and is the same throughout all salvation history. This isn’t anything new.
D. Look at what Paul says at the end of v. 21, “…being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.”
1. God has always planned to save people “apart from the Law.” This was not some divine afterthought.
2. The Greek word translated “being witnessed” (marturoumene) here means “to give testimony to, to render evidence to the fact.” The present tense of the word indicates that God Himself in His Word has continuously made this clear.
3. Therefore, Paul proves his point stating “the Law and the Prophets,” which is often used to refer to the entire Old Testament (Matt. 5:17; 7:12; 11:13; 22:40; Lk. 16:16; 24:27; Jn. 1:45; Acts 13:15; 24:14; 28:23).
4. The Law (the first five books—the Pentateuch) is the heart of the Jewish religious system and the Prophets (the other books) are its religious teachers. Both point to the fact that God’s saving righteousness or right standing before Him has absolutely nothing to do with the Law.
5. Paul will illustrate this beautifully and irrefutably by referring to the lives of Abraham and David in chapter 4.
6. The Old Testament looked forward to the day God’s saving promises would be fulfilled through the work of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, not through the Mosaic Law. Although the full revelation of salvation through Christ was not given in the Old Testament, He had always been the way of salvation to which that testament pointed (Isa. 53).
7. For example, the entire sacrificial system bore witness to the righteousness of God in Christ. Alva J. Mclain said it well, “When a man took his sacrifice as a sin offering to the Temple, laid his hands upon the animal, confessed his sin, then killed the animal, he witnessed by that very act to the fact that he had faith in a righteousness that was not his own; and by faith he looked forward to the cross of Christ where the righteousness of God was manifested.” (pg. 103)
8. Even Jesus Himself said to the Jews in John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me.”
9. Now it was during the Reformation that the true, biblical gospel was recaptured. And one of the watchwords of the Reformation that we see here was sola Scriptura, which means Scripture alone.
10. If we are going to have a correct understanding of salvation then we must strictly stay with only what the Bible says, not some writing of man. For 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.”
11. The second characteristic of divine justification is this:
II. Righteousness requires Faith in Christ
A. Look at v. 22: even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ… (Stop there)
1. God’s saving righteousness comes only to sinners through the channel or means of faith. From the human side faith is the requirement.
2. The word “faith” (pisteos) here is not faith in general. It is not simply having faith or even having intellectual faith in the belief that there is a God, such as the well-known deist Benjamin Franklin.
3. James 2:19 says, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” And obviously they aren’t saved!
4. Faith is only as good as its object. Here we see that the object of faith is “Jesus Christ.”
5. True saving faith is relying upon and putting our trust and confidence “in Jesus Christ” to forgive our sins and to make us right with God. Therefore, our salvation does not depend on the greatness of our faith but on the greatness of the One we believe in.
6. Jesus Himself is the very embodiment of God’s righteousness as He lived a perfect sinless life. And it is Christ’s righteousness that is imputed to believer’s account in justification.
7. For we read in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He (God the Father) made Him (God the Son) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
8. And 1 Corinthians 1:30 states, “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.”
9. Faith’s only function is to receive the saving righteousness that God has offered. It is personal, individual faith in Jesus Christ that saves the lost sinner.
10. This is why another watchword of the Reformation was sola fide, which means faith alone. To believe in Jesus is the same as receiving Him as one’s personal Savior and Lord.
11. For John 1:12 says, “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.” (Rom. 4:5; 10:9-13; Gal. 2:16; 3:26; Eph. 1:15; 2:8; 3:12; Phil. 1:29; Phil. 3:9; Col. 1:4; 2:5; 2 Tim. 3:15; Philem. 5)
B. The Bible makes it very clear that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation. There is no other way!
1. We see this in numerous place in the New Testament:
• Before His birth an angel said to Joseph in Matthew 1:21, “…She will bear a Son; and you shall call his name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
• At His birth an angel proclaimed to some shepherds in the field in Luke 2:11, “For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
• Jesus Himself declared in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (v. 36) “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (14:6) “…I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
• Speaking of Jesus Christ, Peter said in Acts 4:12, “And there is salvation in on one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
2. Therefore, God’s saving righteousness or right standing before God comes only according to Scripture alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Sola Christos). Have you received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord?
3. The third characteristic of divine justification is this:
III. Righteousness is Available for Everyone
A. Look again at v. 22: even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction.
1. God’s remedy for mankind’s condition is available “…for all those who believe.” The word “all” (pantas) here refers to the entire world, regardless of one’s background or past behavior.
2. This is why Paul states, “…for there is no distinction.” God’s saving righteousness is available for everyone, both Jews and Gentiles, on an equal basis.
3. There is only one plan of salvation—not one for the Jews and another for the Gentiles. The saving righteousness of God fulfills the promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 that in him “…all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
4. Therefore, Christ’s saving work on the cross can be stated like this: “Sufficient for all, but effectual for the elect.” Christ’s atonement is both “general” in that Christ died for all men (2 Cor. 5:19; 1 Tim. 2:6; 2 Pet. 2:1; 1 Jn. 2:2) and “particular” in that Christ’s death has special reference to the elect (Jn. 10:11; Acts 20:28; Eph. 5:25).
5. We see both in 1 Timothy 4:10, “For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.”
6. Since we as believers don’t know who the elect are that God will draw to Himself (Jn. 6:44) according to Mark 16:15 we are to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”
B. Paul then states why the whole world needs “faith in Jesus Christ.” Look at v. 23: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
1. The word “all” (pantes) speaks of the universality of sin for both the Jews and the Gentiles. Paul is again summarizing what he has said in 1:18-3:20 about the sinfulness of all mankind.
2. The word “sinned” (hemarton) here literally means “to miss the mark” and is the most comprehensive term for moral deviation from God’s righteous standard. It is in the aorist tense, indicating all of the sin of the entire world from Adam to the present is viewed as an historical fact of the past.
3. Now not only “all have sinned” in the past, but also they “fall short” (husterountai—present tense) “of the glory of God” continuously in the present. Sin is an on-going reality in everyone’s lives, and in doing so they “fall short of the glory of God.”
4. The “glory (doxes) of God” here refers to “falling short” or failing to reflect the perfect moral image of Jesus Christ. God created us in His own image, so that in dependence on Him we might reflect His personal and moral excellence thereby bringing glory and honor to Him in everything we do (1 Cor. 10:31).
5. However, sin destroyed all of that. Since the fall, everyone continually falls short of reflecting the moral image of God. Even we as believers fail to do this when we sin.
6. Hadley Moule dramatically said it this way, “The harlot, the liar, the murderer, are short of God’s glory; but so are you. Perhaps they stand at the bottom of a mine, and you on the crest of an Alp; but you are as little able to touch the stars as they.” (Stott FN pg. 109)
7. Although we as believers belong to Christ and have been imputed His righteousness, we are still sinners who struggle daily with the on-going reality of sin. To those who deny this, and I have met some with such a shallow and unbiblical view of sin, John makes it clear in 1 John 1:10, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.”
8. John then goes on to say in v. 9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Keeping short sin accounts with God and living in dependence on Him is how we as believers maintain intimate fellowship with God and conform us more and more into the image of Christ.
9. This is what God is all about in our lives. He is more interested in our Christlike character than our comfort.
10. We see this in Romans 8:28-29, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren”
11. In 2 Corinthians 3:18 we read, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (Col. 1:27-28; 3:10; 2 Thess. 2:14)
12. And one day every believer is promised to be conformed completely into Christ’s image. For we read in 1 John 3:2, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when he appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.”
13. What a day that will be!
In closing, we have seen that divine justification or God’s saving righteousness is apart from legalism, requires faith in Christ, and is available for everyone. Have you personally received this wonderful right standing before God through saving faith in Jesus Christ? This is the only way of salvation!
If not, you can! And if you already have, I encourage you to lovingly take the initiative to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ with those who haven’t, just as God Himself took the initiative to make it known to you.