Romans 3:21-31

Deliverance From the Guilt of  Our Sins
Romans 3:21 – 5:11
Execution? or Gracious Intervention? vv.9-20 are much like a courtroom scene (see Rom. 3:9-20). We have heard the evidence, the charge, the indictment read aloud, the opportunity for defense, the “guilty” verdict, and declaration that there is no possibility of appeal. The only thing left is the execution of the sentence. But at the last moment God opens His mouth in grace. If the criminal was taken out and executed, there would be no “good news”. But instead, in the following chapters of Romans we have all the blessings of the Gospel unfolded! We find the guilty sinner, not only justified from every charge that could be laid against him, but brought into a new standing before God “in Christ” that he never had before, even in innocence in the garden of Eden. Three main subdivisions:
God’s Righteousness for Justification
Romans 3:21-31
The Righteousness of God. Up until this point we have been looking at the unrighteousness of man, “but now” we are going to be looking at the righteousness of God. The word “righteousness” means “equity of character” and has the thought of consistency. It is the same root word as “just”. The righteousness of God is God’s total and absolute consistency in His actions with who He is, in His own character. The righteousness of God is not something that can be communicated to man. It is a question of how God can remain consistent with His holy character and still save lost men. It is defined in v.26: “his [God’s] righteousness” = “that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” A beautiful hymn that expresses this truth is L. F. #67 Appendix:
God could not pass the sinner by,
His sin demands that he must die;
But in the cross of Christ we see
How God can save, yet righteous be.
God has “devised means that the banished be not expelled from him” (2 Sam. 14:14). The “means” that God devised was the gift of His own Son. In this way, the Gospel declares God’s consistency. Read more…

God’s Righteousness Toward All & Appropriated by Faith (3:21-23)

¶ 21 But now without law righteousness of God is manifested, borne witness to by the law and the prophets; v.21 “But now” is an expression that occurs often in Romans, and it means “after the cross”. What God is offering to the sinner is “without law”, or not on the principle of law. Christ’s keeping the law for us is not what saves us or manifests God’s righteousness. God has a plan of salvation that has nothing to do with the law whatsoever! This righteousness of God is “witnessed by the law and the prophets”. That is, it was hinted at in a limited way in the Old Testament, where God spoke of His intention to save and yet maintain His righteousness. The prime example Paul will use from “the law” is Abraham (in Rom. 4) who was declared righteous because of his faith. But also see “the prophets” for other examples: read Isa. 45:21; 56:1; Dan. 9:24. Old Testament saints knew that “every sin and disobedience must receive its just recompense of reward” (Heb. 2:2), yet apart from the Gospel (Rom. 1:17) they didn’t see the key as to how God could remain righteous.
22 righteousness of God by faith of Jesus Christ towards all [Jew and Gentile], and upon all those who believe: for there is no difference; v.22 The salvation provided through God’s righteousness is obtained “by faith”, that is, belief in the testimony of God is how justification becomes effective for a person. The direction of God’s salvation is “toward all”, offered to all mankind, Jew and Gentile alike, because all alike have sinned (v.23). This universal offer is the effect of the propitiatory work of Christ. In reality, it only becomes effective “upon all that believe”. This limited application is the effect of the substitutionary work of Christ. The expression “no difference” here is not saying all sins are equal (quite the opposite is proven in Rom 1:18 – 3:20) but rather that man’s need is universal.
Two ‘No differences’. In Rom. 3:22 (from our side) there is no difference between Jew and Gentile because all have sinned. In Rom. 10:12 (from God’s side) the heart of God abounds in grace to Jew and Gentile equally.
The righteousness of God “upon” those that believe. God’s righteousness is something I wouldn’t have wanted anywhere near me when I was in my sins. But the work of Christ has flipped that around so now His consistency is in my favor. God would have to be unrighteous (inconsistent) to send me to hell! His righteousness is “upon me” as a garment, shielding me from every charge (see Rom. 8:31-39). The most stable thing in the universe – the character of God – would have to change for me to be lost!
23 for all [Jew and Gentile] have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; v.23 The standard we have “fallen short” of is far higher than the law. The “glory of God” is perfect fitness for His presence (Rom. 5:2). Some people are worse than others, but all come short. Both a 6’ 6” person and a 5’ 0” person come short of the Empire State Building. Jew and Gentile are brought together.
Propitiation and Substitution.

The atoning work of Christ on the cross is one work, but it has two aspects. The word 'atonement' does not occur in the New Testament, but its two aspects – propitiation and substitution – occur many times. The word “atonement” simply means “covered up”, and doesn't give the thought of a full and final dealing with sin, because it had to be repeated year-by-year (Lev. 16). 


is required because of our sins, but it is the aspect of the sacrifice in which Christ has perfectly glorified and satisfied God according to His moral nature. The word ‘propitiation’ simply means ‘satisfaction’. All that God required and more was supplied when Christ offered Himself without spot to God. We read of both propitiation and substitution for sins (plural), but when the issue of sin (singular) is dealt with - the whole principle - it is always in the aspect of propitiation. God is satisfied as to our 'sins', and also as to the outrage of ‘sin’ in general, and because of the latter, propitiation is the grounds of God’s mercy to all mankind. As a result of this, the Gospel can go to the whole world, and anyone who comes to God in faith will be saved. “He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2). See also 1 Tim. 2:3-6; Heb. 2:9, 17; Rom. 3:24-25.


is for the believer. It is needed because our individual ‘sins’ (plural) must be accounted for. The checks and balances are perfectly kept by the righteousness of God. To stand in the presence of a holy God, our sins must be expiated, so Christ must suffer for them in the believer’s place, so that I can say “He died for me”. When scripture mentions bearing sins, the word “all” is intentionally avoided. Instead, the word “many” or “some” is used, because not “every man” will believe, and Christ could not be punished for the sins of those who believe not. Unlike propitiation, substitution is limited to only the elect. See Matt. 20:28, Mark 10:45, Matt. 26:28, Heb. 9:28, Rom. 4:24-25, Gal. 2:20, 1 Pet. 2:24. Both propitiation and substitution are brought together in Rom. 3:22.

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Justification. The verb “to justify” means 'to declare a person righteous'. A nice example of this is in Num. 23:21, where God declared that He had not seen any iniquity in His erring people. Likewise, the Christian has been justified in that, while he has not lived righteously, yet God has declared him perfectly righteous! The subject of justification is fully treated of in the book of Romans, primarily in the first eight chapters. Romans answers the question asked by Job many years ago: “How shall a man be just with God?” (Job 9:2).1

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Redemption has more to do with our condition than our standing. Redemption means to be “bought back and set free” from (1) sin, (2) the world, and (3) Satan for the purpose of doing the will of God in worship and in service. “Let My people go, that they may serve Me” (Ex. 8:1). There are four aspects of redemption given in scripture, three of which are found in Romans and Ephesians:
  1. The past redemption of our souls (Eph. 1:7; Rom. 3:24)
  2. The present redemption of our time (Eph. 5:15-16; Rom. 12:1)
  3. The future redemption of our bodies (Eph. 4:30; Rom. 8:23)
but a 4th aspect of redemption is only found in Ephesians:
  1. The future redemption of our inheritance (Eph. 1:14)

Christ’s Work is the Basis for God’s Righteous Justification (3:24-26)

24 being justified freely by his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; v.24 This is the first time you get the work of Christ mentioned in Romans. At the cross, a full satisfaction was rendered to God’s claims of divine justice. Being fully satisfied and glorified, God can come out to man with the offer of full and free pardon through the redemption in Christ Jesus. We have to pay nothing, for it is offered “freely by his grace”. This is a clear statement of the basis of our salvation: grace.
25a whom God has set forth a mercy-seat, through faith in his blood, v.25a By offering up Himself (1 John 2:2) to God, Christ has provided God with grounds to come out to man in mercy, through “his blood”. Now having been propitiated – not only satisfied but glorified – God now is for us in mercy!
25b for the shewing forth of his righteousness, in respect of the passing by the sins that had taken place before, through the forbearance of God; v.25b The “sins that are past” is a reference to sins of Old Testament saints that were “passed by” in view of the future work of the cross; c.p. “the city Adam” Josh. 3:14-17. How was God able to do this? How could He pass over their sins and still remain righteous? The gospel “shows forth His righteousness” in that it declares what God has done with the sins of those who believe. 
vv.25b-26 The leading thought is that the work of Christ and God’s setting Him forth has declared God’s righteousness in justifying both Old (v.25b), and New (v.26) Testament saints. Rom. 3:25 gives the thought of propitiation, Rom. 4:25 of substitution. 
sins of Old Testament saints 
on the “credit card”
sins of New Testament saints 
on the “debit card”
26 for the shewing forth of his righteousness in the present time, so that he should be just, and justify him that is of the faith of Jesus. v.26 A definition of the righteousness of God is now provided. “The justifier” is God Himself. He is the only One who can justify us (Rom. 8:33). The gospel declares the righteousness of God, in that it explains how God can “be just” (remain consistent with Himself) and still justify (declare righteous) the sinner that believes in Jesus. How can God pass over our sins? The gospel explains that Jesus suffered for us, so God can save and still be righteous. The faith that saves in the New Testament is “the faith of Jesus”. It means the faith that has Jesus as its object (see “the faith of Christ” in Gal. 2:16, and “the faith of the Son of God” in Gal. 2:20). It couldn’t be referring to Old Testament saints because Jesus was not come. But now, God looks for faith in His Son (see John 3:18) and we will see in Rom. 4 that we need to believe God in order to have peace.

The Roles of Law & Faith in Justification: Four Questions (3:27-31)

Faith or Law: the Right Principle for Justification. You cannot pickup a slip of paper with the largest magnet in the world because, for that material, magnetism is the wrong principle. You cannot pick up a steel paper clip with static electricity because, for that material, it is the wrong principle. But on the other hand, a magnet can pick up a paper clip and static electricity can pick up a slip of paper. Why? because those are the correct principles applied! The same is true of justification. Works of law will never succeed in justifying a person because God has told us that the law is the wrong principle. Instead faith – simple faith – is what justifies a person, because that is the principle on which God works. In Romans 4 Paul backs up this claim with the support of the Old Testament scriptures, showing that even in the Old Testament God has always justified by faith.
  Magnetism Static Electricity
Slip of paper wrong principle right principle
Steel paper clip right principle wrong principle
27a Where then is boasting? It has been excluded. v.27a Question #1Can any man boast in his salvation? Our faith is not a meritorious work. It is not that God takes one ‘work’ and bases our salvation off that… in Eph. 2:8 Paul states that our faith “is not of ourselves: it is the gift of God.” Since it is all from God, He must get all the credit. Even “faith” itself is not the subject of the gospel, but Christ and His finished work.
27b By what law [principle]? of works? Nay, but by law of faith; v.27b Question #2What principle is justification on? To make our justification in anyway to depend on works is to take it off the faith principle (see Gal. 3:18).
28 for we reckon that a man is justified by faith, without works of [the Mosaic] law. v.28 Moreover, a very simple logical proof can be made to show that the works of law have no part in justification, and that faith has everything to do with it. See note above.
29 Is God the God of Jews only? is he not of the nations also? Yea, of nations also: v.29 Question #3Is God’s justification the same toward the Gentile as toward the Jew? Having proven that God justifies on the principle of faith, Paul now moves to show that God is not exclusive when it comes to offering salvation to men. He operates on the same principle toward all sectors of the human race. Paul views this issue of “the principle of justification” as essential to the character of God. in other words, for there to be two different principles of justification for two different people-groups, it would mean there are two Gods… and that is impossible. There is one God of Jew and Gentile.
30 since indeed it is one God who shall justify the circumcision on the principle of faith, and uncircumcision by faith. v.30 And since there is one God, we must acknowledge that He will be impartial in justifying circumcision and uncircumcision by faith alone. Notice the wording: with the circumcision it says “on the principle of faith” because, in their way of thinking, the Jews were seeking righteousness on a wrong principle. A change in principles was required. But for the uncircumcision it simply says “by [or, through] faith”, because they never had a principle to start with. In believing the gospel, Gentiles begin on the right principle!
31 Do we then make void law by faith? Far be the thought: no, but we establish law. v.31 Question #4Does the Gospel invalidate Old Testament principles of law? His answer is, no, don’t even think it.” God doesn’t lower the “bar” so we can get over it. In fact, in Christianity the bar is raised! The Gospel establishes the law in that it gives the law its proper place in condemning man – rather than justifying him. In ch.4 Paul supports this with scripture; justification is by faith alone! This verse is often confused with Rom. 8:4, but it is not the same idea. The ones who were really making “void” the law were the Jews who put themselves under it for justification, and then denied that it condemned them!
  1. In Romans we get primarily justification, where in Hebrews we get primarily sanctification.