JUSTIFIED FREELY BY HIS GRACE
The righteousness of God’s judgments.
The advantage of the Jewish people.
In chapter two Paul carefully explained that the possession of the law or circumcision will not save a Jewish person. It is probable that some Jews protested this statement from Paul. If this is the case, as it is, what then is the advantage for the Jew to be God’s “chosen nation? If God, shows no partiality (Romans 2:11), then what good is it to be Jewish? Paul being a Jew and well versed in the Jewish culture knows that there are many advantages to being a Jew. In particular, He entrusted them with the oracles of God, which speaks of God’s written revelation before the time of Jesus. He gave the Jewish people His Word, and that is an indescribable gift. “This was their prime privilege, that they were God’s library-keepers, that this heavenly treasure was conceited to them.” (Trapp)
Paul was proud that he was a Jew. So he answered that there were many advantages. He spoke first about the honor that God had given to the Jews. Later in Paul’s letter to the Romans he will expand on the advantages of the Jewish people, (Romans 9:4) explaining that Israel also had the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises. God had trusted the Jews with all his messages. (Deuteronomy 4:8) God wanted to use the Jews in order to benefit the whole world
(Genesis 12:2-3). God wanted the Jews to show the rest of the world what God is like. Poole on the word oracles: “Profane writers make this word to signify the answer that was given by the demons, or heathen gods; and yet the Holy Ghost doth not disdain to make use of this word (as well as divers others,) though abused to heathenish superstition.”
Jewish unbelief does not make God wrong.
What then? “If some did not believe.” It is a fact that the Jewish people as a whole rejected the gospel message. Some Jews did not obey the covenant. They did not remain loyal to God. But God always does everything that he promises to do. Still if they did not believe does not mean that God’s faithfulness to them was in vain. God’s work was not futile or without effect. “I have to say, with Paul, ‘What if some did not believe?’ It is no new thing; for there have always been some who have rejected the revelation of God. What then? You and I had better go on believing, and testing for ourselves, and proving the faithfulness of God, and living upon Christ our Lord, even though we see another set of doubters, and another, and yet another ad infinitum. The gospel is no failure, as many of us know.” (Spurgeon)
God is just and therefore all His actions are justified. In the end time even our unrighteousness will demonstrate and proclaim His righteousness and glory, even if only in judgment. “Should any man say that the promise of God had failed toward him, let him examine his heart and his ways, and he will find that he has departed out of that way in which alone God could, consistent with his holiness and truth, fulfill the promise.” (Clarke)
Paul emphasized that God’s promises are certain. God’s words are always true, even if every person tells lies. Paul refers to two passages from the Book of Psalms in this verse. Psalm 116:11 says, ‘All men tell lies.’ And in Psalm 51:4, David became aware of his sin. So he prayed to God, ‘You are right when you speak. You are right when you judge.’ Spurgeon on let God be true but every man a liar: “It is a strange, strong expression; but it is none too strong. If God says one thing, and every man in the world says another, God is true, and all men are false. God speaks the truth, and cannot lie. God cannot change; his word, like himself, is immutable. We are to believe God’s truth if nobody else believes it. The general consensus of opinion is nothing to a Christian. He believes God’s word, and he thinks more of that than of the universal opinion of men.”
Paul presents the counter argument of an opponent. “If my unrighteousness will demonstrate God’s righteousness, how can God judge me? My sin ultimately serves to bring Him more glory, and that is good!” Paul was aware of the thinking of some who say that God is in control of everything so even my evil will demonstrate His righteousness. With this thought then it would be unjust for God to inflict His wrath on man, as man would be but a pawn in His hand.
This argument would have worked for Judas. Even in his betrayal of Jesus he would have been acting under the control of God. Judas would have said “you were glorified Lord by my betrayal therefore why should I suffer your wrath?” We must remember that man has the free will to choose. Man can choose to obey God or to reject him. The answer to Judas would be, “Yes, God used your wickedness but it was still your wickedness. There was no good or pure motive in your heart at all. It is no credit to you that God brought good out of your evil. You stand guilty before God.” If God is true to his nature, he must judge human sin. ‘The judge of the entire world shall do what is right’ (Genesis 18:25).
Paul speaking as a man does not mean he is no longer under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he is explaining that he is but a man, a fallen man, in equal need of God’s grace as that of his readers.
Paul’s answer to the objection raised.
If the previous argument was to stand, then God could judge no one. Evil did not and does not come from God. Evil comes from man who fell to the temptations of Satan and rejected God’s Law. Paul then has dismissed his opponent. God will use the unrighteousness of man for His glory and to bring praise to His name. The betrayal of Jesus by Judas is a perfect example. We must realize that part of the way that God glorifies Himself is by righteously judging that unrighteousness.
The Judgment day is coming and on that day some will be acquitted and others condemned. Even in the culture of Paul’s day this was understood. The problem for the Jews way of thinking was that they thought God save them in spite of their sins while the Gentiles would be condemned for their sin.
The argument seems to never end that man will rationalize his justification for his sinful ways rather than face the truth of God’s Word. Man does not create good through his sin, only God can take something that is evil and transform it into something good. Because all have sinned and fall Short of the glory of God we can only be justified through faith in the Word of God. Paul freely preached forgiveness and salvation by grace through faith in Jesus, not works. If we find ourselves accused of preaching a gospel message that is to open and too centered of faith and grace and God’s work, then we will find ourselves in good company with Paul.
Man’s salvation is through the free gift Of God’s Son, whose atoning blood brings man into fellowship with God through His grace towards man. Anyone who teaches a different path to justification before God is teaching a false doctrine and their condemnation is just. God rightly condemns anyone who teaches or believes such a thing. Twisting the glorious free gift of God in Jesus into a supposed license to sin is perhaps the summit of man’s depravity. It takes the most beautiful gift of God and perverts it and mocks it. This twisting is so sinful Paul saves it for last, because it is beyond the depravity of the pagan (Romans 1:24-32), beyond the hypocrisy of the moralist (Romans 2:1-5), and beyond the false confidence of the Jew (Romans 2:17-29).
Conclusion: the universal guilt of mankind before God.
Paul had a Jewish heritage by birth, (Philippians 3:4-6) therefore he addresses his readers as we. By nature the Jew was no more upright with God than the pagan or the moralist. Paul has proclaimed that the Jew, the pagan, and the moralist are all under sin and therefore, under condemnation.
Under sin speaks of our slavery to sin. The literal meaning of the phrase “Under sin” is to be “sold under sin.” Morris on under sin: “He is regarding sin as a tyrant ruler, so that sinners are ‘under’ it (JB, ‘under sin’s dominion’); they cannot break free.” “Under the power of sin, but chiefly under the guilt of sin.” (Poole) Under the power of sin means this. Sin was like a master who had complete control over his slave. Everybody both Jews and Gentiles is like a slave because of the power of sin.
‘Under the power of sin’ means this. Sin is like a master who has complete control over his slave. Everybody both Jews and Gentiles is like a slave because of the power of sin. These verses explain the nature of sin. Sin is the result of actions against God. Nobody tries to discover what God is like.
Nobody cares about what God wants. Everyone has turned away from the right way to live. And that is why people sin. (Ecclesiastes 7:20)The quotations Paul in using in these verses come from Psalm and from Isaiah. (Psalm 14:1-3 Psalm 5:9 Psalm 140:3 Psalm 10:7 Psalm 36:10 Isaiah 59:7-8) All of these verses support Paul’s opening statement that “There is none righteous, no, not one.” Paul is looking at the human condition from top to bottom. He begins with the heard and moves to the feet. Warren Wiersbe calls this passage “An X-ray study of the lost sinner, from head to foot.” The human condition is depressing and Paul wants us all to understand man’s complete inability to save himself. Man’s fall touches every part of his being and this is demonstrated by the inventory of body parts in this passage.
God finds there is no man that is righteous. This is not because there may be some who are righteous and God can’t see them. Apart from Jesus there has never been a truly righteous person. “Even Adam was not righteous: he was innocent – not knowing good and evil.” (Newell)
Many on the human race admit that there is a God but few actually seek God. With all of man’s religion and rituals and practices from the beginning of time one might think that he is seeking God but this is an error in his thinking. More often than not when a man is seeking God he seeks an idol that he has made for himself. “You have gone through this form of worship, but you have not sought after God. I am sick of this empty religiousness. We see it everywhere; it is not communion with God, it is not getting to God; indeed, God is not in it all.” (Spurgeon)
With Paul’s references to these verses from the Old Testament Paul is calling every part of the body, throat, tongue, lips, mouth, feet, eyes are all shown to be filled with sin and rebellion against God. “For further details, read your daily papers!” (Newell)
Because man does not have a proper respect for God we see the effects of his rebellion towards God and His law. Whenever a man sins he is showing a lack of respect and fear towards God. John Calvin on the fear of God: “In short, as it is a bridle to restrain our wickedness, so when it is wanting, we feel at liberty to indulge every kind of licentiousness.”
Summation: the law cannot save us from our sin and the penalty it deserves.
The point is made by Paul that our knowledge of sin has come from our knowledge of God’s Law. The intention of the law is that man will realize his sinful ways and to silence the critics of the law. The Law of God therefore demonstrates the universal guilt of mankind and show us that all the world is guilty before God. “We may add, that though all the vices here enumerated are not found conspicuously in every individual, yet they may be justly and truly ascribed to human nature, as we have already observed.” (Calvin)
Those who have the law and attempt to obey the whole law soon realize that no man can be justified by the law. We must remember that in Paul’s day the Jews took every passage of the Old Testament which described evil and applied it only to the Gentiles and not to themselves. Paul makes it clear that all are under the Law of God.
The law then cannot save us and only convicts us, neither can the law justify anyone. The law can only give us knowledge of our sin. Since the beginning people have tried to justify themselves by the deeds of the law. Adam in the Garden of Eden tried to make himself presentable to God by covering himself with fig leaves, but his attempt was a failure. In the oldest book of the Bible the problem is presented clearly, how can a man be righteous before God? (Job 9:2) Paul answers part of this question here. The answer is not in the performance of good works, in the deeds of the law.
How we need to deeply understand this – that by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified!
This means that the law, having been broken, can only condemn us – it can never save us
This means that even we could now begin to perfectly keep the law of God it could not make up for past disobedience, or remove present guilt
This means that keeping law is NOT God’s way of salvation or of blessing under the New Covenant
For by the law is the knowledge of sin: J.B. Phillip’s paraphrase of this phrase is striking: it is the straight-edge of the Law that shows us how crooked we are. “Lest any should think that the law hereupon is useless, he goes on to show its use, but a quite contrary one to what they intended. It convinces us of our guilt, and therefore is far from being our righteousness.” (Poole)
Some Jews would think that these verses were only about wicked Gentiles. Gentiles did not have the law. But Paul explains that the law cannot make people righteous. That was not its purpose. The purpose of the law was to show the meaning of sin to people. The law proves that everyone is guilty. So the Jews could not become righteous by means of their Jewish ceremonies. And they had many such ceremonies, for example circumcision, the Sabbath, and the food laws. And nobody can become righteous by means of their own good works. Everybody has sinned. And sin controls everybody’s life.
The revelation of the righteousness of God.
In verse 21 we begin a glorious transition from the judgment of Romans 3:20 to the justification of Romans 3:21. Paul’s use of “but now” speaks of the newness of God’s work through Jesus Christ. It truly is a New Covenant. The witness of the law and the prophets shows us that there is continuity in God’s work with the former times. The righteousness that God revealed, a righteousness that will save us, is apart from the law. This is the essence of God’s plan of salvation in Jesus Christ. God’s salvation plan is apart from the law, is apart from our own earning and deserving, and apart from our own merits.
‘Now’ (In verse 21 can mean:
1) The next part of Paul’s discussion
2) The time at which Paul was writing
3) The new age that had come with Jesus
The righteousness that God is offering and Paul is speaking of is not a novelty. This salvation is not the invention of Paul, as it was predicted long ago. God’s salvation plan is witnessed by the law and the prophets. The Old Testament said that this righteousness was coming.
Apart from the law does not mean that this righteousness is apart from the Old Testament. But that is revealed apart from the principle of the law. It is apart from a legal relationship to God. Apart from the law: It isn’t that the righteousness of God is revealed apart from the Old Testament, but that it is revealed apart from the principle of law. It is apart from a legal relationship to God, based on the idea of earning and deserving merit before Him. “The Greek puts to the very front this great phrase apart from law (choris nomou) and this sets forth most strongly the altogether separateness of this Divine righteousness from any law-performance, any works of man, whatsoever.” (Newell)
The righteousness that God is offering is not something that will take up the slack of our own ability to keep the law and God’s perfect standard. It is not something given to supplement our own righteousness but is given completely apart from our own attempted righteousness.
How this righteousness is communicated to man.
In the previous verse (21) Paul told how Righteousness does not come. Righteousness does not come from obedience of the Law, as righteousness is apart from the Law. Here in verses (22) Paul tells us how this saving righteousness does come. It is through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all who believe. God’s righteousness does not come to us by our faith but comes to us through our faith. We do not earn righteousness by our faith but receive it through faith in Jesus Christ.
Faith “points to the fact that faith is not a merit, earning salvation. It is no more than the means through which the gift is given.” (Morris) “But faith is not ‘trusting’ or ‘expecting’ God to do something, but relying on His testimony concerning the person of Christ as His Son, and the work of Christ for us on the cross . . . After saving faith, the life of trust begins . . . trust is always looking forward to what God will do; but faith sees that what God says has been done, and believes God’s Word, having the conviction that it is true, and true for ourselves.” (Newell)
This is the only way to obtain righteousness. Righteousness is not earned through obedience of the law, we receive righteousness that is gained through faith in Jesus Christ. “There is a little book entitled, every man his own lawyer. Well, nowadays, according to some people, it seems as if every man is to be his own savior; but if I had, say; a dozen gospels, and I had to sort them out, and give the right gospel to the right man, what a fix I should be in! I believe that, oftentimes, I should be giving your gospel to someone else, and someone else’s gospel to you; and what a muddle it would all be! But now we have one universal cure . . . The blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ will save every man who trusts him, for ‘there is no difference. “(Spurgeon)
The law and the prophets are the two main parts of the Jewish Old Testament. People wrote down the Old Testament centuries before Jesus was born. But they did not merely write their own ideas. The Holy Spirit guided them (1 Peter 1:10-11). The Holy Spirit showed them what Jesus would do (for example, Psalm 22 and Isaiah chapter 53). And Jesus’ death is the only way for people to become righteous. This was God’s plan. And everyone who receives Jesus into their lives receives God’s gift of righteousness.
People need God’s righteousness. And everybody needs it, because everybody has sinned. This is a more important matter than anything else in a person’s life. Jesus taught that righteousness is even more important than food and drink (Matthew 6:31-33). Moreover, it is impossible for anyone to earn righteousness. But God offers it as a free gift to everyone who trusts him.
Man’s universal need and God’s universal offer.
Salvation is developed around three themes in Paul’s teaching of being justified before God.
- Justification is an image from a court of law.
- Redemption comes from an image of the slave market.
- Propitiation is an image from the world of religion, appeasing God through sacrifice.
The problem of man’s guilt is solved by justification before a righteous judge. Man’s slavery to sin, the world, and the devil. Is solved by his redemption. Offending our God the creator is solved by propitiation an atoning sacrifice. The problem of man’s sin is universal; all of mankind has fallen short of the glory of God through sin.
The offer of being justified freely is by God’s grace and is available to all who will believe. Morris, quoting Moule: “The harlot, the liar, the murderer, are short of it; 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.” Everyone falls short, but everyone can be justified freely by His grace.
Among the many ways that man falls short there are four important ways to describe how man falls short of God’s glory.
- We fail to give God the glory due Him, in our words, thoughts and actions.
- We fail to qualify for, and thereby reject, the glory and reward that God gives faithful servants.
- We fail to properly reflect God’s glory, by refusing to be conformed into His image.
- We fail to obtain the final glory God will bestow on His people at the end of all history.
Man is in such a sinful sate that there is only one way that he can be justified and that is to be justified freely. It would be impossible to purchase it by our good works. If it isn’t made free to us, we can’t have it all.
So we are justified freely by His grace – His unmerited favor, given to us without regard to what we deserve. It is a giving motivated purely by the giver, and motivated by nothing in the one who receives.
The Greek word used for freely is Dorean. The meaning of this word is interest in that it means to give without cause. Another way to look at this definition is to receive a gift gratuitously and the giver expects no compensation. In other words there is nothing man can do to receive the free gift of salvation except accept it from God. Calvin on the use of both the words freely and grace: “He thus repeats the word to show that the whole is from God, and nothing from us . . . lest we should imagine a half kind of grace, he affirms more strongly what he means by a repetition, and claims for God’s mercy alone the whole glory of our righteousness.”
Paul’s gospel centers squarely on Christ Jesus. Salvation is only possible by the redemption found in Jesus. God cannot freely give His salvation apart from His Son Jesus Christ. (John 14:6) Redemption involves a cost. The sinner cannot be redeemed unless someone pays his debt. The wages of sin is death. In order for the sinner to be free from his sin debt someone worthy would have to pay his debt by his death. Only one was worthy, only one was willing, and that One is Jesus Christ, God’s Son and our Savior. The idea of redemption means that Jesus bought us, therefore we belong to Him. Paul expressed this thought in another letter: For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Corinthians 6:20)
How the death of Jesus satisfies the righteous judgment of God.
By the death of Jesus His blood was a propitiation (substitute sacrifice) for us. The judgment of sin was placed on Jesus by God. As Jesus took our place, the Heavenly Father demonstrated His righteous judgment against sin while sparing us the sinner, who fully deserved the judgment. Wuest on propitiation: “The word in its classical form was used of the act of appeasing the Greek gods by a sacrifice . . . in other words, the sacrifice was offered to buy off the anger of the god.”
The “mercy seat” in the tabernacle stood between the two beautiful gold cherubim. The Cherubim were the symbols of the Holy presence of the enthroned God. Upon the mercy seat the priest sprinkled the sacrificial blood on the Day of Atonement. (Leviticus 16) God’s wrath was averted from the people because a substitute had been slain on behalf of the sinners who came to the tabernacle by faith. We really can say that Jesus is our “mercy seat,” standing between guilty sinners and the holiness of God.
In the Old Testament times God, in His forbearance, passed over the sins of the saints who trusted in the coming of the Messiah. At the cross of Calvary, those sins were no longer passed over, they were paid for by the blood of Jesus. This idea of God passing over the sins of the faithful in the Old Testament was that of an IOU or promissory note. The temporary payment was redeemed for full payment at the cross. Jesus, on the cross, freed God from the charge that He passed over sins committed before the cross. Those sins had been passed over for a time but now through the blood of Jesus they have been paid in full.
At the cross God offered man complete justification, a not guilty verdict, for his sins, while God remained just because the sins of man had been paid for. “Here we learn that God designed to give the most evident displays of both his justice and mercy. Of his justice, in requiring a sacrifice, and absolutely refusing to give salvation to a lost world in any other way; and of his mercy, in providing THE sacrifice which his justice required.” (Clarke)
Justification (acquittal in the court of God) is found, for both Jew and Gentile, apart from the deeds of the law.
Therefore, we are justified by our faith and not our deeds according to the law. “Since all works of law are barred out, faith alone is left. Luther so translated, and since his time Sola Fide has become a slogan.” (Lenski)
It may seem that James is contradicting that we are saved by faith alone in James 2:14-26. It is truth that we are saved by faith alone, but saving faith has a distinct character. Obedience to the law is not just agreeing with certain facts, but it is a directing of the mind and will in agreement with God. the Purpose of the book of James is to describe the character of saving faith. Calvin explains: “What James says, that man is not justified by faith alone, but also by works, does not at all militate against the preceding view [of justification by faith alone]. The reconciling of the two views depends chiefly on the drift of the argument pursued by James. For the question with him is not, how men attain righteousness before God, but how they prove it to others that they are justified; for his object was to confute hypocrites, who vainly boasted that they had faith . . . James meant no more than that man is not made or proved to be just by a feigned or dead faith, and that he must prove his righteousness by his works.”
The offer of God’s righteousness is offered to both Jew and Gentile. Those who question this must also ask, Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Of course He is. It is up to the Jew and the Gentile as well to recognize Him as God. This righteousness is not only available to both Jew and Gentile, it is received in the same way, by faith and through faith.
What of the law then?
Does our faith make the law void? Someone might ask this, “If the law doesn’t make us righteous, what good is it? Paul, you have just made the law void. You are going against the law of God?” The answer is that Paul does not make the law void, as he will demonstrate in Chapter 4. The Law of God anticipated the coming of the gospel of justification by faith, apart from the deeds of the law. Therefore, the gospel establishes the law.