Justification and the source of righteousness

by Mike Ratliff

19 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. Romans 3:19-20 (NASB) 

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 through the law that 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. Romans 3:21-26 (NASB) 

Because of the universal sinfulness of man, which we looked at in 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 some 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, “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which 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 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; 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.” 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 the 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.

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 3:27-31 (NASB) 

More to come!

Soli Deo Gloria!