4. Balancing Grace and Law (Romans 3:21-26)


Audio (42:57)

Pantocrator mosaic from the Deesis Panel of the South Gallery of the Hagia Sophia (1185-1204).
We will all stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ. Pantocrator mosaic from the Deesis Panel of the South Gallery of the Hagia Sophia (1185-1204).

Grace characterizes nearly everything Jesus does, as we saw abundantly displayed in Lesson 3. Now we return to Paul, who helps us understand how grace fits into God's overall plan for the Jews and for the Gentiles who will come to faith.

"... And are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:24)

God is the ultimate Judge. He is righteous. He is just121 and the Justifier, that is, he is the one who declares people justified, righteous in his sight. So how does God's grace actually work so that justice is fulfilled rather than just set aside? Let's look at some of the "mechanics" of grace.

Lucas Cranach the Elder, 'Martin Luther' (1529), tempera on beach wood, 37.5 x 24 cm, Ludwig Roselius Museum, Bremen, Germany
Lucas Cranach the Elder, 'Martin Luther' (1529), tempera on beach wood, 37.5 x 24 cm, Ludwig Roselius Museum, Bremen, Germany.

Martin Luther (1483-1546), whose insights helped spark the Protestant Reformation, had been a monk, then a priest, before later becoming a theology professor at the University of Wittenberg, Germany. Like nearly all Western Christians in the first fifteen centuries of the Church, he was Catholic. At one point, Luther was in deep despair about his salvation, since he believed that it all depended upon him obeying God's law -- and he was acutely aware of his sins. As he studied Paul's Letter to the Romans, however, the lights seem to go on for him, especially Romans 1:17, which contains a quotation from Habakkuk 2:4.

"For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.'" (Romans 1:17)

Saving righteousness, Luther realized, is a gift from God by faith, not something that we have to produce in ourselves by being good enough. (We'll probe the role of faith further in Lesson 5.3, when we study Ephesians 2:8-9.) Luther had rediscovered God's grace and is instrumental in bringing this understanding to the Church as a whole. It was an historic moment!

Righteousness through Faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21-22a)

As we study grace, it is important to grasp what righteousness has to do with faith. Perhaps the best passage to help us understand this is Romans 3:21-26 where we'll take a deep dive.

To understand these verses, we'll need to explore several core theological concepts which they introduce.

  • Pervasive Sinfulness (sec. 4.1)
  • Justification (sec. 4.2)
  • Reconciling justice and love (sec. 4.3)
  • Righteousness by faith (sec. 4.4)

Let me warn you, these verses in Romans 3:21-26 are full of "compressed theology." There is a lot here to absorb and unpack. So, if you don't get it the first time, don't be discouraged. Look at these verses again and again until you understand the concepts. Of course, if you're familiar with these concepts, you can move through it faster. But I make no apology for spending time here. We're looking at the core of the Good News.

Let's begin by understanding this "righteousness from God."

"21 But now a righteousness122 from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe." (Romans 3:21-22a)

"Righteousness" (dikaiosynē) generally refers to "the quality of being upright." The word can be used in the sense of "fairness, justice, equitableness," but here it is the "quality or state of juridical correctness with focus on redemptive action, righteousness."123

In most Old Testament passages, the idea of righteousness and uprightness refer to people who act according to God's commands or law. Those who are obedient are considered "righteous," while those who live in disobedience are considered "unrighteous" or "wicked."

But in Romans 3:21, Paul declares that the Old Testament speaks of a righteousness that does not come through obedience to the Law. Rather, it comes through faith. He supports this from the Law (Genesis 15:5-6) and the Prophets (Habakkuk 2:4). We'll talk more about this in a moment. But first, we need to consider sin in verse 23.

4.1 Pervasive Sinfulness (Romans 3:22b-23)

The Jews, especially the Pharisees, were big on Law. Some of them actually tried to obey the Law scrupulously in order to earn God's approval. So, we ask the question, if righteousness before God can come through obedience to the Law, why does there need to be another way to obtain it? If we can save ourselves, is the cross really necessary?

All Have Sinned (Romans 3:22b-23)

Paul explains rather simply.

"22b There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned
and fall short of the glory of God...." (Romans 3:22b-23)

Jews (who try to become righteous by means of obeying the Law) and Gentiles (who don't have the Law as a standard) need another way to obtain righteousness. We are all on the same level before God -- without any excuse. Because, in fact, no one, not even pious Jews, really keep the Law fully.

None Is Righteous, No Not One

Keeping the 98% of the Law while failing on 2% of it isn't good enough. James (in the context of showing favoritism) tells us:

"For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." (James 2:10)

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus contrasts the Pharisees' so-called righteousness with the heart righteousness that God requires. The Pharisees come up short, he says (Matthew 23:25-26). Even Nicodemus, a sincere Pharisee, "must be born again" by the Spirit (John 3:1-8)

Paul has developed this theme rather thoroughly earlier in Romans 3, demonstrating from Scripture that Gentiles and even Jews don't really keep the Law. (We saw this when we reviewed the outline of Romans 1-5 in Lesson 2.1.)

He quotes from the Psalms several passages that speak of the unrighteous.

"None is righteous, no, not one..." (Romans 3:10, quoting Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3)

"Their throat is an open grave... (Romans 3:13, quoting Psalm 5:9), that is, they are deceitful and self-deceived.

"The venom of asps is under their lips" (Romans 3:14, quoting Psalm 140:3). Their words are bitter and evil.

"Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness" (Romans 3:14, quoting Psalm 10:7 in the Greek Septuagint). Their words toward their enemies reflect an evil heart.

"Their feet are swift to shed blood..." (Romans 3:15-16; quoting Proverbs 1:16; Isaiah 59:7-8). When in crisis they revert to violence and destruction. Their inner life is "There is no fear of God before their eyes." (Romans 3:18, quoting Psalm 36:1)

Some Jews might protest that these Scriptures apply to Gentiles (and indeed many of them do in their original context). The Jews contend that they, righteous and observant Jews, walk uprightly, but Paul knows better. He has been a strict Pharisee himself, a trained rabbi. He knows the hearts of even the most zealous Jews. And he knows that:

"The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9)

So-Called "Original Sin"

I find it interesting that in some of David's earlier psalms, he seems to come to God on the basis of his own righteousness and integrity.124 But later, when his heart's corruption is revealed in adultery, deceit, and murder, David recognizes his internal spiritual bankruptcy (Psalm 51). He recognizes that he has always been sinful, even though he didn't know it at the time.

"Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me." (Psalm 51:5)

He is utterly dependent upon God to restore him.

"Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me." (Psalm 51:10)

"Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him
and in whose spirit is no deceit." (Psalm 32:1-2)

Pride causes us to imagine that we are okay, that we can come to God on our own. But we are self-deceived.

St. Augustine (354-430 AD) first came up with the term "original sin." Essentially, the Doctrine of Original Sin holds that humans, through the fact of birth, inherit a tainted nature in need of regeneration, as well as a proclivity to sinful conduct. Paul teaches that this sin nature has been transmitted to us, generation by generation from Adam and Eve (Romans 5:12-14). Whether or not you believe we've inherited sin itself or inherited a flawed and fallen nature, the fact is that we are surely guilty of sins we've actually committed ourselves. There is no human who has escaped sin except Jesus himself.125

This morning I met a two-year-old boy at the crafts table in the children's section of our local library. He had a pair of child's scissors and was cutting the corner of a coloring page. Then he put the scissors back in the scissors can, looked up at me, and said, "My mommy doesn't let me use scissors. But I do anyway!" Cute. But revealing of the way that sin originates and shows itself in us human beings. Those who rave about the innocence of children haven't spent much time around children lately.

The Fallen Human Condition (sometimes called 'Total Depravity')

A doctrine related to "Original Sin" is sometimes termed "Total Depravity." Note: Total Depravity is point #1 of so-called TULIP Calvinism. (To see how the various elements of this set of doctrines fit together, see Appendix 2. A Brief Look at TULIP Calvinism.)

We began looking at man's sinfulness in Lessons 2.2 and 2.3. Let's go further. Wayne Grudem objects to the term "Total Depravity" -- and I agree with his objection.

"This total lack of spiritual good and inability to do good before God has traditionally been called 'total depravity,' but ... it is easily subject to misunderstanding. It can give the impression that no good in any sense can be done by unbelievers, a meaning that is certainly not intended by that term or by this doctrine."126

Rather, Grudem states the doctrine in this way:

"Every part of our being is affected by sin -- our intellects, our emotions and desires, our hearts (the center of our desires and decision-making processes), our goals and motives, and even our physical bodies."127

Another author puts it this way.

"As a consequence of the Fall of man, every person born into the world is morally corrupt, enslaved to sin and is, apart from the grace of God, utterly unable to choose to follow God or choose to turn to Christ in faith for salvation."128

This kind of pervasive sinfulness -- by whatever name -- is clearly taught in Scripture. Though humans were created in God's image (Genesis 1:26-27), humankind soon fell into sin, resulting in God's curse and the fall of man (Genesis 3). Thus, while elements of God's image surely remain in us, his image and goodness are now distorted, bent, leaving us incapable of pleasing God with pure, unmixed motives. Yes, outwardly our actions can be good most of the time, but inwardly, without Christ's help, we are compromised.

Isaiah writes:

"All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags."129 (Isaiah 64:6, NIV)

This doesn't mean that we have no good shining through. We do. But flaws in our character from the Fall are pervasive throughout our being. Moreover, we are helpless to lift ourselves out of this condition.

The Flesh (sarx)

The image of God (Latin imago Dei) in us is flawed, fallen. We are broken. John Wesley described it as "a bent to sinning." Paul referred to our unredeemed human nature as "the flesh" (sarx) that we looked at in Lesson 2.3. Let's review what we learned and then go a bit deeper. This Greek word is used in several senses in the New Testament: (1) literally, of the skin and muscles covering our bones; (2) then, of the body itself; (3) of the human or mortal nature, then mankind, the "world" as it stands opposed to God; and (4) especially in Paul's letters, "sinful, fallen human nature."130

According to Ladd, flesh represents for Paul, "... man as a whole, seen in his fallenness, opposed to God.... unregenerate, fallen, sinful man."131 Bruce describes this use of "flesh" as "that self-regarding element in human nature which has been corrupted at the source, with its appetite and propensities...."132 Ridderbos calls it "the description of man in his sin and depravity ... sin in the whole of its purport, as turned away from and averse to God."133 Paul characteristically uses sarx in this sense of human corruption.

Several verses underlie our understanding of our condition. I'll mention just a few.

"I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature (sarx)." (Romans 7:18, NIV)

"They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts." (Ephesians 4:18)

Add to these the verses quoted by Paul in Romans 3 cited above.134 I could multiply verses, but these are sufficient.

Wretched Man that I Am

Now let's go back to our passage. Remember, Paul quotes the Psalms to the effect that, "None is righteous, no, not one..." (Romans 3:10) and concludes that there is no difference between Jew and Gentile. We are all tainted by sin.

"All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23b)

"I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" (Galatians 2:21)

Paul has stated the problem. Both Jews and Gentiles sin and are guilty of sin. And, what's more, they can't help themselves out of it. In Romans 7, Paul expresses this frustration:

"What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24)

The answer, the only answer, is God's Son. At the end of chapter 7, Paul cries out victoriously: "Thanks be to God -- through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:25). Jesus is the answer to our dilemma.

Q16. (Romans 3:22-23; Romans 5:12-14; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9) Is humankind basically "good" because of the image of God in us? Or basically evil because of deceitful hearts and our corrupt nature ("flesh") that is "bent to sinning"?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/2151-q16-good-or-bad/

4.2 Justified by Grace (Romans 3:24-25)

We have got a bit off track exploring the pervasive nature of sin in us, but now let's get back to our core passage. Verse 23 reveals the problem -- all have sinned. Verses 24 and 25a explain the solution -- action on God's part to deal with the sin.

"24 ... And are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement...." (Romans 3:24-25a)

This verse explains how God reconciled us using three rather different word analogies.

  1. "Justification" comes from the field of law, the concept of right standing before a court or judge.
  2. "Redemption" is used when talking about prisoners of war and slavery, the concept of being freed by payment of a ransom or purchase price.
  3. "Sacrifice" is a word from temple worship, the concept of making an animal sacrifice to provide atonement for sins.

All of these concepts -- justification, redemption, and sacrifice -- are surrounded by grace.

"... And are justified freely by his grace" (Romans 3:24b)

The guilty one, the slave, the sinner cannot free him or herself from an overwhelming burden. Rather, the burden is dealt with by the offended party -- God. And it is done "freely by his grace." "Freely" (NIV, KJV), "as a gift" (NRSV, ESV) is dōrean, used as an adverb, "pertaining to being freely given, as a gift, without payment, gratis."135 "By grace" (Greek charis, a word we're now familiar with) indicates that this is done solely because of God's favor towards us, not because we in any way deserve it.

1. Justification (Romans 3:24a)

Roman magistrate. Illustration by Dudley Heath, 'She carried in her arms nine books,' in Mary MacGregor, The Story of Rome (New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co., 1912)
Roman magistrate. Illustration by Dudley Heath, 'She carried in her arms nine books,' in Mary MacGregor, The Story of Rome (New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co., 1912)

Now let's dig a bit deeper into how God's grace saves us.

"... And are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:24)

"Justified" is dikaioō, "to practice justice," here in the sense of, "to render a favorable verdict, vindicate." When God is the subject, it means "be acquitted, be pronounced and treated as righteous" and thereby become dikaios, "righteous."136 This is a legal term.

A prisoner comes before the judge. How do you plead?

"Guilty, your honor." (A prisoner with no defense would be a fool to try to make excuses for his offenses, so he throws himself upon the mercy of the court.) The judge, checks his notes, and then declares the verdict:

"Acquitted! Jesus has prepaid the penalty for your offenses. You can go free. So far as this court is concerned, you are a full citizen of the Kingdom, with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereunto."

The prisoner, amazed, looks up at the judge and asks, "Why?"

The judge responds, "Grace, young man, and love -- crazy love."

This is justification, being made right with God, with all your offences pardoned and removed from you -- "as far as the east is from the west" (Psalm 103:12).

2. Redemption (Romans 3:24b)

'Roman Slave Market,' unknown artist
'Roman Slave Market,' unknown artist.

Now let's move to the concept of redemption.

"... And are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:24)

"Redemption" refers to freeing a slave by payment of a ransom price.

First century culture in Paul's world was vastly different from ours. Slavery was pervasive. Roman armies had gone out to conquer Gaul (present-day France), Germania, the British Isles, Judea, Egypt, and beyond. Every place they went, they captured thousands.

of prisoners of war that were transported back home to appear in slave markets in Rome and in other chief cities of the empire. Slaves provided a great source of wealth to compensate armies for their service and enrich the officers.

Most of these slaves were foreigners to the Romans, but slavery wasn't based on race. They acquired white-skinned slaves from Britannia, Gaul, Germania, and the Balkans; swarthy slaves from Greece, Egypt, Cyrene, and the Middle East; and dark-skinned slaves from Ethiopia and Nubia. By the end of the first century BC there were an estimated two to three million slaves in Italy, perhaps 35% to 40% of the population.

By Paul's day, the Pax Romana meant fewer wars to acquire new slaves, but the existing slave population was still significant. Christian churches in the cities of the empire often included large numbers of slaves.

"Redemption" is the noun apolytrōsis, originally, "buying back" a slave or captive, that is, "making free" by payment of a ransom. Here it is used figuratively, "release from a captive condition, release, redemption, deliverance," -- "redemption, acquittal, also the state of being redeemed."137 Often "redemption" is used generally in the New Testament for the idea of "deliverance," but the purchase-from-slavery analogy is occasionally made crystal clear:

"You are not your own; you were bought at a price." (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20)

"For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect." (1 Peter 1:17-19)

Q17. (Romans 3:24; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 1 Peter 1:17-19) In what sense have we been redeemed from slavery? What slavery have we been freed from? What was the price of our manumission or freedom? In what sense are we free? In what sense are we still slaves?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/2152-q17-redeemed/

3. A Sacrifice of Atonement (Romans 3:25a)

Francisco de Zurbaran (1598-1664), 'Agnus Dei' (1635-40)
Francisco de Zurbaran (1598-1664), 'Agnus Dei' (1635-40) ,Canvas 38 x 62 cm. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. Larger image.

To review. How is God's grace shown to us?

"[They] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement (Romans 3:24-25a)

Justification (legal), redemption (slavery), and now sacrifice of atonement (temple worship138).

The word variously translated "sacrifice of atonement" and "propitiation" in secular Greek literature is hilastērion, that which serves as an instrument for regaining the goodwill of a deity; concretely, a "means of propitiation or expiation, gift to procure expiation."139 One problem for translators is that we don't often use these technical words in everyday English.140 So perhaps the most understandable translation is "sacrifice of atonement" (NIV, NRSV). God puts forward the sacrifice's shed blood. We put our faith in the efficacy of this sacrifice made for us.141

Under the Old Covenant, God graciously provided for forgiveness when an animal sacrifice was made to atone for the sins of the offerer. I've simplified and summarized the elements of such a sacrifice for sin from Leviticus 5:5-6 and Leviticus 4:32-35.

  1. Bringing an animal that has no defect that might decrease its market value (Leviticus 4:32). It must be healthy and whole or it is not fit to offer to God.
  2. Confessing the offerer's sin over the animal (Leviticus 5:5)
  3. Laying his hands on its head (Leviticus 4:33a). By this act the offerer's sins are ritually imparted to the animal (see Leviticus 16:21).
  4. Slaying the animal by cutting its throat (Leviticus 4:33b).
  5. Collecting the blood, done by a priest who puts some blood on the horns of the altar and pours out the rest at the base of the altar (Leviticus 4:34).
  6. Burning the animal on the altar in the case of a burnt offering, else just the "fat portions."

New Testament writers are unanimous in seeing Jesus as the ultimate Sacrifice for our sins, following John the Baptist's prophetic word,

"Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." (John 1:29)

Jesus himself understood this, and saw his death as providing "a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45, which we examined in Lesson 3.5). He understood that he was fulfilling the role of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53 where our sins were placed on him.

"5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
" (Isaiah 53:5-6)

Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins! Thank you, Lord!

Q18. (Romans 3:24; John 1:29; Mark 10:45; Isaiah 53) In what sense is Jesus a sacrifice for our sins? Why is he punished for our sins instead of us? Why is he called the Lamb of God?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/2153-q18-sacrifice/

4.3 Reconciling Justice and Love (Romans 3:25b-26)

Now Paul moves from the problem and solution to God's motive.

"25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand142 unpunished -- 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just143 and the one who justifies144 those who have faith in Jesus." (Romans 3:25-26)

Problem "All have sinned" (Romans 3:23).
Solution "An atoning sacrifice" (Romans 3:25).
Motivation "To demonstrate God's justice" Romans 3:25-26).

We might say that God's clear motivation is love. And we would be right. But God is both loving and just. So whatever solution God finds to the problem of sin, it has to be understood as both loving and just.

God is the Lawgiver. He could just say, "Their sins are pardoned because I say so." Or as might happen in your house when your children question your decisions: "Because I'm the Mother, that's why!"

But if he did that, there would be sins unpunished (verse 25). Love might have triumphed, but justice would not have been carried out.

Forbearance until Christ Appears

In his forbearance,145 God withholds the punishment for a time (verse 25). This is the reason, that in his mercy Yahweh promised forgiveness to the Jews when the death of an animal sacrifice was substituted for their own death for sin. But, as the writer of Hebrews reminds us, "It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (Hebrews 10:4). When you think about it, the death of the lesser (the bull) wasn't an adequate substitute for the death of the greater (the human sinner).

God's grace has been the subject of many prophetic utterances.146 All the sacrifices of the Old Testament look forward to the fulfillment of God's Son bearing the sins of the whole world on the cross -- the greater (Jesus, the Son of God) for the lesser (us humans). Only his sacrifice is fully adequate, way more than adequate! What's more, anything we do to try to atone for our own sins is a pitiful insult to God for what he has done for us on the cross -- once and for all.

Justice for all the sins committed in the past -- and in the future -- is satisfied by the all-sufficient sacrifice of the Son of God. God's period of forbearance over dealing with sin adequately is finally over; Jesus the Son of God dies for the sins of all.

4.4 Righteousness by Faith (Romans 3:22)

"This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe." (Romans 3:22a)

We're almost through these amazing verses of compressed theology. Thanks for persevering this far! But we have to ask one final question of our passage. How does this "righteousness from God" (Romans 3:22a) come to us? All Christians agree that we sinful humans being declared righteous is a miracle of grace, not something we can achieve on our own.

Imputed Righteousness

An understanding of imputed righteousness seems to have begun with the Reformers, from Erasmus, Luther, and Calvin on. This model holds that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to believers, that is, treated as if it were theirs through faith.147 Such an understanding of justification as imputed righteousness seems to be supported by Paul's teaching in several passages. Paul longed for a deeper walk with Jesus, to

"Be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ -- the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith." (Philippians 3:9)

"What does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.' Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness." (Romans 4:3-5, based on Genesis 15:6)

Verses 3, 4, and 5 introduce an accounting term -- "credited" (NIV), "counted" (ESV, KJV), "reckoned" (NRSV) -- the Greek verb logizomai. Originally, this verb was a mathematical and accounting term, "reckon, calculate." Paul often uses it in the sense, "count, take into account something." But "place to one's account" can also mean "credit." So the verb can mean "credit something to someone as something."148

But our righteousness is not a mere legal fiction. When we put our trust in Christ, we are joined to Christ, we are united with Christ, we are "in Christ." Thus, what is his is ours, his righteousness is now our shared righteousness. And as we continue "in him," the Holy Spirit works Christ's brand of righteousness into our character, so that we are becoming more and more righteous in thought and behavior. This is what Protestants refer to as the process of sanctification.

What is the role of faith? We put our trust in Jesus as our Savior. We rely on him fully for our salvation. And God counts our faith as righteousness! Is it that easy? Yes, that simple, but oh so costly! (More on the role of faith in Lesson 5.3.)

Through Grace We Are Saved through Faith (Acts 15:10-11)

In summary, though we honor God's law, we do not rely on obedience to the Law to save us. This matter came before the Jerusalem Council in about 50 AD, where Jewish Christians who had been Pharisees insisted that circumcision of Gentile converts was essential to them being saved. The Jews thought of circumcision as a symbol of placing on a person under obligation to fulfill the Law of Moses, called "the yoke of the law" (Galatians 5:1-4). Peter, who had seen the Holy Spirit fall on Gentiles at Caesarea (Acts 10:44-48; 15:8-9), finally spoke out before the assembled elders.

"Why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are." (Acts 15:10-11)

As we have seen, Martin Luther struggled with his sin until he discovered that we are made righteous in God's eyes (justified) by faith. Not by faith and works of righteousness. But faith alone, expressed in the Latin phrase sola fide, "only faith." I pray that you have a spiritual breakthrough like Luther did to understand that Jesus did it all. All you have to do is believe and accept it for yourself. It is a gift of grace.

Summing It Up

We've spent quite a bit of time discussing how we are "justified freely by his grace" (Romans 3:24). It was hard for the Jews to see salvation by any other means than by fulfilling the Law. And in our day, many Christians suffer under guilt when they are unable to meet the "Christian standards" required by good Christians. All this is because they have yet to understand that we are saved not by obedience to the Law at all. Rather, we are saved by God's favor to us, his grace, which cannot be earned by obedience or deserved by being good little boys and girls. This grace, this favor, can only be received by faith. My friend, do you believe that this amazing grace is active on your behalf?

Dear friends, I know that what we've discussed in this lesson can be complicated and hard to understand. But two verses sum it up for us:

"23 All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:23-24)

Here's the basic Good News in a nutshell.

  1. We have sinned.
  2. Jesus died for our sins.
  3. Salvation is freely given to us through God's grace.

Hallelujah!

Lessons for Disciples

There is much to understand about God's graciously-given gift of salvation that we've looked at here.

  1. The righteousness from God through faith is a 'right standing' before God, and bypasses the Law of Moses (Romans 3:21-22).
  2. The Gentiles sin without any law as a guide; the Jews sin even though they have the Law. Thus all have sinned and fall short of God's glory and standards (Romans 3:22b-23).
  3. Augustine's concept of Original Sin asserts that humans inherit a tainted nature in need of regeneration and a tendency toward sinful conduct (Romans 5:12-14).
  4. The doctrine referred to as Total Depravity, might better be termed Pervasive Sinfulness. It asserts that every part of our being is affected by sin and is corrupt, unable to find salvation (Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9).
  5. The New Testament uses the term "flesh" (sarx) to describe man's unregenerate sinful nature (Romans 7:18, 24; Ephesians 4:18).
  6. Justification is a legal term describing declaration of a right standing with God. This right standing comes to us solely through God's grace (Romans 3:24).
  7. Redemption is a term from the slave trade referring to paying the purchase price of a slave to set him or her free. The cost of our freedom is Christ's death on the cross (Romans 3:24; 1 Corinthians 6:19b-20; 1 Peter 1:17-19).
  8. Atonement is a term from temple worship describing how an animal sacrifice is offered to secure propitiation before God who has been offended by our sins (Romans 3:24)
  9. The Old Testament animal sacrifice has been replaced in the New Covenant by Christ taking our sins upon him on the cross as the Lamb of God (John 1:29; Mark 10:45; Isaiah 53).
  10. Christ's atoning sacrifice demonstrates God's justice that sins committed are actually punished in Christ so that we can be freely forgiven (Romans 3:25b-26).
  11. God has shown forbearance, using animal sacrifice in the Old Covenant to typify the forgiveness of sins that actually took place in Christ for all sins, for all men, for all time (Romans 3:25).
  12. When we put our faith in Christ we are declared righteous, in the same way that Abraham's faith was credited as righteousness (Romans 3:22; Philippians 3:9; Romans 4:3-5; Genesis 15:6).
  13. In the final analysis, we are saved through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, not by obeying the Law or achieving moral perfection (Acts 15:10-11).

Prayer


Available in paperback, PDF, and Kindle formats

Father, we understand that we are lost without Christ. And though it is difficult to really understand how you have justified us and made us righteous by your grace, we humbly thank you. Your Son did on the cross what we needed to be saved. Thank you, dear Lord. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished -- 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus." (Romans 3:21-26, NIV)

"For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.'" (Romans 1:17, NIV)

"The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV)

"All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags." (Isaiah 64:6, NIV)

"I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" (Galatians 2:21)

"You are not your own; you were bought at a price." (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20, NIV)

"For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect." (1 Peter 1:17-19, NIV)

"'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.' Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness." (Romans 4:3-5, NIV, based on Genesis 15:6)

"Why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are." (Acts 15:10-11, NIV)

End Notes

References and Abbreviations

[121] Genesis 18:25; Isaiah 30:18.

[122] NIV translates it "a righteousness," though there is no indefinite article. NRSV, ESV, and KJV translate it "the righteousness," though there is no definite article.

[123] Dikaiosynē, BDAG 248, 2.

[124] Psalm 7:3; 18:20, 24; 24:4; 26:6

[125] Catholics teach the Immaculate Conception of Mary, that the Virgin Mary was free of original sin from the moment of her conception. In addition, they assert that Mary is also free from personal sin. These doctrines are not taught in Scripture, but inferred from the belief that freedom from sin was necessary in order to bear the holy Son of God. Protestants believe that Mary was subject to sin like every other human being.

[126] Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 497, fn. 13.

[127] Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 497.

[128] Theopedia.com page on "Total Depravity," accessed 13 Jul 2022.

[129] "Unclean" is the adjective ṭāmēʾ, "(ritually or cultically) unclean" (Holladay 124). "Righteous acts" (NIV), "righteous deeds" (ESV, NRSV), "righteousnesses" (KJV) is the plural of ṣĕdāqâ, "justice, righteousness" (TWOT #1879b); "righteousness = 'blameless behavior, honesty'" (Holladay 303, 1). "Filthy rags" (NIV, KJV), "filthy cloth" (NRSV), "polluted garment" (ESV) is two words: beged, "(any kind of) clothes, garment" (Holladay 33, II); and ʿiddâ, "(menstrual) period" (Holladay 265). Menstrual cloths used by women during their period would be unclean according to Mosaic Law (Leviticus 15:19-24), a rather vivid, repugnant image.

[130] Sarx, BDAG 914-916.

[131] George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1974), pp. 466-476.

[132] F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians (New International Greek Testament Commentary; Eerdmans, 1982), p. 240.

[133] Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology (Dutch 1966; translated Eerdmans, 1975), pp. 94, 103.

[134] Verse 10 (quoting Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3); verse 13 (quoting Psalm 5:9); verse 14, (quoting Psalm 140:3; 10:7); verses 15-16 (quoting Proverbs 1:16; Isaiah 59:7-8); and verse 18 (quoting Psalm 36:1).

[135] Dōrean, BDAG 266, 1.

[136] Dikaioō, BDAG 249, 2bβ.

[137] Apolytrōsis, BDAG 2a.

[138] The technical word for this kind of usage is "cultic," not in the sense of a heretical group, but "a system of religious beliefs and ritual."

[139] Hilastērion, BDAG 474, 1. Of the two concepts, "propitiation" is probably more accurate here (Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 540), and is the translation used by ESV, KJV, NASB, ASV, and J. B. Phillips. The Good News Translation defines it functionally, "the means by which people's sins are forgiven."

[140] The English word "propitiation" is: "the act of gaining or regaining the favor or goodwill of someone or something." The English word "expiation" is: "the act of extinguishing the guilt incurred by something" (Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary).

[141] Translations differ a bit. What makes the most sense to me is the ESV translation ("a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith") or NRSV ("a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith"). The other option is "through faith in his blood" (NIV, KJV), but that seems harder to work through logically. Both approaches come to the same conclusion however.

[142] "Sins committed beforehand" (NIV), "sins previously committed" (NRSV), "former sins" (ESV), "sins that are past" (KJV) uses two words: harmartia, "sin," and a participle of the verb proginomai, "to originate in time before, be born earlier, happen or be done before" (BDAG 866).

[143] In verse 26, "just" (NIV), "righteous" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is dikaios means "pertaining to being in accordance with high standards of rectitude, upright, just, fair" (BDAG 246, 1bα).

[144] "Justifier" (ESV, KJV), "the one who justifies" (NIV), "he justifies" (NRSV) is the present active participle of the verb dikaioō, "to practice dikaiosynē or justice" here, in the sense of "to render a favorable verdict, vindicate," of God, to "be found in the right, be free of charges" (BDAG 249, 2bβ).

[145] "Forbearance" (NIV), "divine forbearance" (NRSV, ESV), "forbearance of God" (KJV) is paresis, "deliberate disregard, passing over, letting go unpunished" (BDAG 776). KJV "remission" isn't in the text. Neither is "of God" in the phrase "the forbearance of God" or "divine forbearance" -- it is implied.

[146] "Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care" (1 Peter 1:10).

[147] "Infused righteousness" is the traditional Roman Catholic position, going back to St. Augustine. It holds that "God bestows justifying righteousness upon a person in such a way that it becomes part of his or her own person" (Alister E. McGrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction (Oxford University Press, 1993), cited in Wikipedia article on "Imputed righteousness").

[148] Logizomai, BDAG 597, 1a. Erasmus, a contemporary of Luther, translated this word in Romans 4 as Latin imputat, "impute." In Genesis 15:6, the word "counted" (ESV, KJV), "credited" (NIV), "reckoned" (NRSV) is ḥāšab, "consider, think someone to be something, take someone for" (Holladay, 119, Qal 3). Wood says, "The basic idea of the [Hebrew] word is the employment of the mind in thinking activity. Reference is not so much to "understanding" (cf. bîn), but to the creating of new ideas.... A fourth variation [of the word] means 'to impute,' actually a specialized sense of 'to make a judgment'.... God is spoken of as imputing (Genesis 15:6; Psalm 32:2)'" (Leon J. Wood, TWOT #767).

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