In Part 1 of this series on justification, we looked at the bad news that the apostle Paul has been teaching us from Romans 1-3.
Well Paul is about to blast us with the good news. Notice the big change introduced at Romans 3:21. With the words “But now…” Paul is making a huge turning point in his letter. “But now…” things are different. The Messiah has come and been hung on a cross to die and was raised again in the third day. Now a new era has dawned where salvation is given freely to those who believe. Verses 21-26 are what some argue to be the greatest paragraph in all the Bible. My former Pastor, Tommy Nelson at Denton Bible Church, once said if someone breaks into your house and tries to take everything you’ve got, including your Bible this is the one page you rip out and memorize this paragraph.
Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones, the great British preacher, who spent 13 years preaching through the book, said that “there are no more wonderful words in the whole of Scripture than just these two words, “But now.””
Let’s look at 2 (out of) the six major points we need to understand about this foundational doctrine of Christianity.
#1. A righteousness apart from the law.
“But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been manifested”. At this point in his letter, Paul’s finally picking back up on the gospel, the good news, that he proclaimed back in chapter 1. See that phrase “apart from the law”, that’s the thing that would have shocked most 1st century Jews and even Gentiles.
In this new era after Christ’s death God has acted to bring about salvation for his elect people apart from the law. This is totally opposite of human instincts. We do everything in this world by working for it. We get our degree by working hard. Our jobs by working hard. But it doesn’t work that way with salvation. This phrase, “apart from the law”, is what separates Christianity from every other religion. There are only two types of religion in the world. One that says man will save himself. The other that says man is saved by a righteous God.
Salvation is not earned. It is revealed, it is manifested by God. God’s righteousness, his justice, is manifested through Christ for those who believe and therefore declared righteous, declared just before God.
Some of the Romans reading this letter might have been asking themselves “did the OT really teach this righteousness ‘apart from the law’?” Paul affirms it was when he says it was ” witnessed by the Law and the Prophets”. Who are the Law and the Prophets? This is a Hebrew way of saying “the Old Testament Scriptures”. So the Law and the Prophets testified to salvation through the coming Messiah, but details were not clear. Now, this side of the cross it has been completely revealed. But it’s not a new concept since it’s the underlying theme of the whole Bible. The next chapter is all about examples of faith in the Old Testament. And the Psalms are full of examples, like Ps. 103 where David says ” He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.”
#2. Justification is by faith alone
Now on what grounds are we justified?
If you ask this question to Roman Catholic Church today, they will say it’s a combination of your faith and your merit earned by good works throughout your life. They teach that faith is poured into you at baptism, usually as an infant, before you an even understand the gospel. Then you must cooperate with that faith by your works and give penance for your sins. They say you’ve got to work to make yourself righteous before God can actually declare that you are righteousness. Rome says you can’t tell people they are already justified and declared righteousness before God, then they might go and live an immoral life. In Martin Luther’s day, the church said the benefits of good works could be obtained by donating money to the church. Luther began to study the books of Galatians, Romans, Hebrews and the Psalms and realized what the church was teaching a false doctrine of justification. He began to teach his students that it was God alone who did the work of justification and it was not due to any merit on man’s part. And that’s how the burning flame of the Reformation began.
So on what grounds are we truly justified? By our faith in Christ. Notice that v. 22 says “through faith in Jesus Christ”. Not “because” of faith, as if our faith is the ultimate work in which we can boast. But the word here is “through” which means your faith is the means, the instrument that God uses for justification. And what is the ultimate source of faith? God Himself. If you want to go deeper on that I recommend you get on the church website and listen to Chris’s sermon a couple of months ago entitled “The Ultimate Source of Our Faith”.
Who is this justification available to? All those who believe, whether Jew or Greek “because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We all have sinned. Paul used the past tense, it’s already happened. Even if you could just sin once, which we all come into the world a sinner through Adam, that’s enough to fall short of His glory. This is why Paul says in v.9 says that “we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin because there is none righteous, not one.” No one is righteous. Not the Pharisee with all his laws. Not the pagan who worships idols. Not the atheist who holds evolution up to deny God. Not even the person in the middle of a jungle who’s never heard of Jesus. Because both chapters 1 & 2 taught us that even if they don’t have the law, they are created in the image of God and have a conscious of right and wrong. This is why they all are guilty of sin, of being unrighteous before a Holy God.