Justification: The Source of Righteousness

by Mike Ratliff

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:19-20 ESV)

The real Gospel is not entertaining. It is not “fun.” It is not hip. It is not cool. No, it is blunt and abrupt and not politically correct. It calls everyone a sinner with no exceptions and those who are justified by God are so on the basis of the righteousness of another while they remain completely undeserving. Not one of them can take credit for their own salvation. After they have been baptized into Christ, they remain “sinners saved by grace.” They are not perfect or perfected. They have not somehow become “better than” anyone else. They have the mark of the Saviour upon them. They belong to Him. They are His bondservants or slaves and He is their Lord, but in the interim until they go home to be with Him forever, they remain in this life both declared Holy and Righteous by God in their justification, but also still sinful and imperfect as they go through the fires of sanctification. What is the source of this righteousness since it is not by any works of the law that it comes as we read in the passage above? In fact, it is the through the law that comes the knowledge of sin. 

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it– the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26 ESV)

Because of the universal sinfulness of man, which we looked at the earlier posts, God has graciously provided a righteousness that comes only from Him on the basis of faith alone. It cannot be earned or deserved. In Greek, Paul begins v21 with Νυνὶ δὲ or “now but.” This is not a time reference. Instead, it refers to the place in Paul’s argument in which he changes from exposing the problem to giving us God’s solution.

The word “righteousness” in v21 is translated from the Greek word δικαιοσύνη or dikaiosunē. This is the state or condition of perfectly conforming to God’s perfect law and holy character. The root of this word is also the root of the word most often translated as “justified” or “justification” as we shall see. God is the source of this righteousness. It fulfills both the penalty and precept of God’s law. Our Lord’s death as a substitute pays the penalty exacted on those who failed to keep God’s law, and His perfect obedience to every requirement of God’s law fulfills God’s demand for comprehensive righteousness. Because God’s righteousness is eternal, the one who receives it from Him enjoys it forever. Paul makes it very plain throughout all of his epistles that this righteousness is never imparted to anyone on the basis of law keeping. No, it has been manifested apart from the law.

What does it mean, “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe”? Right standing with God is declared to all who through faith in Jesus Christ believe. (Romans 1:16,17, Ephesians 2:8,9). Then Paul makes a parenthetical comment explaining that God is not limited to whom He can bestow His righteousness. He does so on all who believe regardless of whether they are Jew or Gentile. No matter what race or nationality it is, when put to the test of God’s divine standard, we all fail miserably and God saves from all people without those distinctions because, as Paul says in v23,  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. That “all” includes all of us. No exceptions.

In v24  Paul says, “and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” The word “justified” here is translated from the Greek word δικαιουμενοι a present passive middle participle form of δικαιόω or dikaioō. This is a legal or forensic term that comes from the same root as δικαιοσύνη which is translated above as “righteousness.” This word, however, means “to declare righteous.” This is like a judge issuing a verdict that includes a pardon from guilt and penalty of sin, and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer’s account.  This provides for the positive righteousness man needs to be accepted by God. This declaration is made solely on the basis of the merits of Christ’s righteousness. What happened to the believer’s sin? It was imputed to Christ’s account when He hung on that Cross. He was made sin on their behalf in His sacrificial death. God also imputes Christ’s perfect obedience to God’s Law to the believer. How does all this happen? The sinner receives this gift of God’s grace by faith alone (Romans 3:22, 25; 4:1-25). On the other hand, believers are not taken to heaven right away, but are left here to live the rest of their lives as Christians. This is where Sanctification comes in and it is also where so much false doctrine comes to bear. Sanctification is the work of God by which he progressively makes righteous those whom He has already justified. This is distinct from Justification, but always follows it (Romans 8:30). Justification is a gracious gift God extends to the repentant, believing sinner, wholly apart from human merit or work.

In vv25-26 Paul says, “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Our Lord’s crucifixion was no accident. It was a great sacrifice accomplished publicly for all to see. Our Lord’s death and substitute for sins of the elect was as their propitiation. This word in Greek carries the idea of appeasement or satisfaction. Jesus’ violent death satisfied the offended holiness and wrath of God against those for whom He died (Isaiah 53:11; Colossians 2:11-14). The Hebrew equivalent of this word was used to describe the Mercy Seat, which was the cover to the ark of the covenant. This was where the high priest sprinkled blood of the sacrificed or slaughtered animal on the Day of Atonement to make atonement of the sins of the people. I believe these verses show us how great the grace of God is. It is still beyond our comprehension. We really do not deserve His divine forbearance. I am so grateful that He has justified me and made it possible for me to have this faith in Jesus that I might believe the Gospel and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. It is all His work.

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one–who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:27-31 ESV)

We will continue here in our next post. God willing.

Soli Deo Gloria!

12 thoughts on “Justification: The Source of Righteousness

  1. Thanks for this, Mike, and for the previous post as well and amen to both. Why would anyone who sayd they are Christian want to change this good news or leave out parts?! Seems very plain to me…justification is by His grace as a gift to be received by faith. No faith in this redemption provided by Jesus Christ and His propitiation…no justification. Can someone simply say they believe in Jesus and be justified in His sight while not accepting how He acomplished that justification?
    God bless!!

  2. “After they have been baptized into Christ, they remain “sinners saved by grace.”

    I have always been greatly disturbed by preachers who tell their listeners not to refer to themselves in that manner since it is demeaning. As Spurgeon once said, “They called Him Beelzebub and you must be called reverand sir?”

    Being called a “sinner saved by grace” is the highest moniker any one of us could ever have or deserve.

  3. Thank you so much Mike. The Savior and His precious gospel just keep getting more profound and amazing, seemingly more rich and full of love and grace. At the same time, the things of the world continue to lose their attractiveness and value.

  4. “They have the mark of the Saviour upon them. They belong to Him. They are His bondservants or slaves and He is their Lord, but in the interim until they go home to be with Him forever, they remain in this life both declared Holy and Righteous by God in their justification, but also still sinful and imperfect as they go through the fires of sanctification”.

    Yes Mike, this sentence succinctly says all that we will ever need to know!

  5. The world inspires us to greatness.
    God inspires us to His greatness.
    And I am inspired today by all these great comments! Thanks!

  6. “The real Gospel is not entertaining. It is not “fun.” It is not hip. It is not cool. No, it is blunt and abrupt and not politically correct. It calls everyone a sinner with no exceptions and those who are justified by God are so on the basis of the righteousness of another while they remain completely undeserving. Not one of them can take credit for their own salvation.”
    I love that paragraph!
    The UNCOMPROMISED Gospel.

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