The book of Romans teaches us about the gospel as a good news message about Jesus who saves us by the grace of God through faith. The thesis statement which tells us what the book of Romans is about is found in Romans 1.17:
This verse serves as the outline of the book of Romans.
In the first major section of the book in which we read about how one is made right with God, the author begins by discussing sin.
Beginning in Romans 3.21, Paul launches into a new subject, and the subject he begins addressing is justification. He has established that everyone is guilty of sin, and because of sin, we are not right with God. However, there is the solution for sin that allows me to be right with God again. The idea of justification is to be right with God again.
In the next few chapters we are going to find that we are justified by grace through faith. What is going to bring about our justification? What is going to make us right with God? What is going to get us to heaven? It is God’s grace coupled with our faith.
If I back up to verse 20, I find that there are two emphatic statements that are made about the law which introduce us to these thoughts on justification. There is a negative statement, and a positive statement.
You just cannot get any simpler than that. You are not justified by law.
Whether you are talking about the Law of Moses or the Law of Christ, obedience is always part of it. You must obey the commands of God. The Israelites were required to obey the commands of the Law of Moses, and Christians are to obey the commands of the Law of Christ.
That being said, you are not saved because you kept the law perfectly. You are not justified by a system of merit. We tend to think that we are saved by our own merits. How many of us wonder if we are doing enough? Do you think that if you do more of this or that then God will let you into heaven? That is the exact opposite of what the book of Romans teaches.
To say that being right with God and going to heaven is dependent on your own merit of keeping the law is not a good news message. It is a message of hopelessness, because it is something that none of us have ever been able to do. We cannot do enough to deserve heaven. No one has ever been able to say that they deserve to go to heaven because they did everything that God wanted them to do.
Paul writes that no one is justified by the deeds of the law. Suppose that you have broken the commandments of God and am now guilty of sin. Then you decide that you are going to turn your life around and start living the way God wants you to live. Your new found compliance to God’s commands will not grant you forgiveness. All the good that you do can never override all the bad that you have done. Keeping the commandments of God will not cause God to overlook those times when I failed to obey His commandments. I can’t be made right with God by earning His favor doing everything right.
If the Law of Moses, this system of merit, does not justify, then what is the purpose of the Law? It helps us to understand the concept of sin. You have a law from God. It is disobeyed. That’s sin. God was working with the children of Israel through the Law of Moses so that He could teach them what sin is all about. I would not know that it was a sin to covet except that I go to the law and read, “You shall not covet.”
Verse 20 introduces our thoughts in verses 21 to the end of the chapter by reminding us that we are not justified by keeping the Law. Our previous failures are not erased because, from this point on, we kept the law overriding your past sins. So do you become justified? You are justified by God’s grace.
Being justified by God’s grace rather than by earning salvation through perfect law keeping was predicted in the Old Testament.
The Old Testament tells us to get ready for a new system in which one is made right with God. This new system would be very different than the system of merit that is the Law of Moses. Notice one such prediction from Jeremiah.
The Old Testament predicted that there was going to be a new system. It would not be a system of salvation by works where you earn your way to heaven.
Who can be justified? To whom is this new system made available of being saved by grace rather than being saved by a system of merit?
The answer is everyone. Salvation by grace is offered to everyone. Nobody is forgiven by God in any other way except by grace. Nobody earns God’s forgiveness. Being made right with God through faith in Jesus Christ “to all and on all.”
Then it says, “and on all who believe.” The grace of God is the reason why I am forgiven of my past sins. It isn’t because I earned it through perfect law keeping. I am saved by grace, and this grace is offered to everyone. However, only a select group of people get to enjoy the forgiveness which comes through the grace of God. Who are those people? Those who believe in Jesus.
This connects to what was just said in verse 22. There is no difference whether you are a Gentile or a Jew. You need the gospel. You need the grace of God. You need to access the grace of God by believing in Jesus. If makes no difference who you are because all of us, Jew and Gentile alike, are guilty of sin. This point was made emphatically in the previous chapters.
To fall short of the glory of God means that we have failed to give God glory. When we sin, we miss the mark that God has given to us in scripture. Our actions fail to glorify God. We sin and fall short of giving Him glory. We have all done that, and that is why we all need the grace of God through the gospel.
We have all sinned and failed to bring glory to God. But we can be justified, made right with God, by His grace. What is grace?
If you turn to Ephesians 2 and start reading in verse 4, you will find the a chapter that is all about the grace of God.
It is because of God’s mercy, love, and kindness that moved Him to offer us salvation through Jesus. I could not be made right with God without His mercy, love and kindness.
Notice that Romans 3.24 says that we have been justified “freely by His grace.” What does that mean? If I were to turn to John 15.25, Jesus said,
The words “without a cause” is the same Greek word translated as “freely” in Romans 3.24. To be justified freely by His grace means to be justified without a cause by His grace. Without my doing anything to earn it or deserve it, God’s mercy, love, and kindness toward me was expressed and thus forgiveness was made possible. God didn’t send Jesus and make forgiveness available because I deserved it. That’s the good news.
Here in Romans 3.21-24, I am being told that I am made right with God because of God’s grace. I am justified by His grace. Then there is a shift, and the author begins to show another component to my justification. I am justified by grace, but I am also justified by faith.
The word “propitiation” carries the idea of appeasing the wrath of God. Verse 25 says that God set up a system where the sacrifice of Jesus satisfied the wrath of God (propitiation). When God sent Jesus to be the sacrifice that satisfied His wrath, He did so to demonstrate His wanting to do the right thing for man.
There was a time when God would overlook sin. God had passed over sins that were previously committed. He did this because He knew there would come a day when Jesus would be sacrificed and forgiveness would be made available.
When God sent Jesus, that allowed God to be a just God by punishing sin. It also allowed God to be the Justifier because God could forgive sin. That leads to an interesting question that is asked in verse 27.
The question is asked, “Where is boasting then?” He answers by saying that boasting is excluded. In other words, you do not have the right to boast. If you were saved by merits of your own works, then you could pat yourself on the back and say that you deserve to go to heaven. But that isn’t the case. You are not saved by your own works. You are saved because God was moved by His grace to send Jesus. Therefore, you have no right to boast.
But do we not boast? We talk about our forgiveness, and we start listing all the good things that we did and do. We start patting ourselves on the back. If you believe that you are saved because you obeyed, and by virtue of your obedience, you have earned the right to go to heaven, then you are boasting. All the obedience in the world would not save you without Jesus. You can be baptized over and over again, and it will not do a thing for you without God’s grace making forgiveness available.
The question is asked, “Where is boasting then?” The answer is that boasting is excluded. You don’t have the right to boast.
We are not justified by this law based system where you earn your way to heaven by perfect law-keeping. We are justified by a system where we believe, and it is faith that moves me to obey. I don’t obey to earn my way to heaven. I obey because I believe. It is not a system of merit. It is a system of faith.
It is a system where I do what I do because I believe. It is my obedience that is done out of faith coupled with what God did because of His mercy, love, and kindness (grace) that makes it possible for me to be right with God. This is how one is justified regardless of who you are. If you are a Jew, then you are justified by believing in Jesus. If you are a Gentile, then you are justified by believing in Jesus. It makes no difference.
What is faith? There are three components to faith.
Crispus believed and the Corinthians believed and were baptized. Let’s take this to 1 Corinthians 1.14:
Paul baptized Crispus. Crispus had this faith that led to his obedience. The Corinthians believed and that led to their obedience.
Faith as it is used in the Bible is accepting the facts, and because you accept the facts, you trust. Because of that trust, you obey. Obedience is integrated into the very concept of faith.
In the rest of Romans 3, the Jews and the Gentiles are identified by two terms.
Simply put, God does save the Jews by the Law of Moses God saves everyone, Jew and Gentile, by the Law of faith. Being justified by grace through faith does not eliminate the need to obey the commandments of God. It establishes a new system where you justified by an obedient faith.
Summary: We are in a section of Romans where he is talking about the concept of justification. In this section, I am told that I am not justified through a law system where I have earned salvation through works. That’s not what justifies me. I am justified because of the mercy, love, and kindness of God which moved God to send Jesus who would be offered up as a sacrifice to satisfy the wrath of God. When Jesus died, His blood was shed. Because of that blood, my spiritual freedom can be purchased so that I can be made right with God again by a faith that accepts, trusts, and obeys. It is God’s grace and my faith together that makes me right with God.
To Further Study the Book of Romans:
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