We began last week to look at the section in Romans that runs from 3:21-4:25. This section shows us HOW God has been faithful to the covenant that He made with Abraham. Remember that we have been saying that the righteousness of God is a reference to God's own righteousness, or we could say His covenant faithfulness. The covenant was there to deal with the sin of the world. And sin was dealt with through the faithful Israelite, Jesus the Messiah.
We are looking at the subsection of 3:21-26. It is no exaggeration to say that this is one of the greatest and most important sections in the whole of Scripture. This is the normative passage on the subject of justification by faith. This section is the heart of Romans.
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, Romans 3:21 NASB
"But now"--this is an adversative and marks a turn in the argument. He moves from the subject of sin and judgment to God's remedy in Christ. From 1:18 through 3:20 Paul deals with the subject that all men are under condemnation. Man, because of his sin, is under the wrath of God. We must understand Romans 1:18-3:20 before we can appreciate 3:21-26.
God's righteousness has been manifested apart from the Law. The promise of the New Covenant has now arrived, just as the Law witnessed that it would. God announced through Jeremiah a New Covenant, setting aside the first. The promise associated with the New Covenant was the removal of Israel's sins (Jer.31:34).
even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; Romans 3:22 NASB
We could translate this: "Even the covenant faithfulness of God, which comes through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah for all who believe." All those who trust in Christ share Christ's status as faithful Israelites.
Now the end of verse 22 and 23 is a parenthetical summing up of 1:183:20:
for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:22b-23 NASB
"No distinction," refers to Jew and Gentile alike, for all have sinned. A literal rendering of this would be "all sinned." It is in the past tense. The same Greek word and tense is used in Romans 5:12 where God is looking back to our sin in Adam as our federal head. There is no distinction, all sinned in Adam.
If we recognize that at the end of verse 22 through verse 23, Paul is adding a parenthetical reminder of the plight of depravity so that verse 24 actually is a continuing explanation of what he had stated in verse 22, then it makes much better sense grammatically. Let's read it that way:
even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe... being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; Romans 3:22 & 24 NASB
What is so great about these verses is that they are all about what God has done to save us, NOT what we do to save ourselves. Some great event has happened that manifests the righteousness of God--What is that great event? What happened in history that makes Paul say, "NOW, the righteousness of God has been manifested"? Verse 24 tells us what that great event is and what the effects of it are.
"Being Justified"--who is being justified? Back up to verse 22, "all those who believe." The verb here is passive; it says "being justified," not "justifying." We are not doing this; it is being done to us. Justifying is something that God does, not something that we do. We are "being justified." God is justifying. He is the actor here. We are the ones acted upon. This is the way salvation is. It is finally and decisively the act of God the Father.
This Greek term dikaioo does not mean to be righteous, and it does not mean to make righteous; it means: "to declare righteous." It is a legal term. Justification describes a person's status in the sight of the law, not the condition of his or her character.
Justifying is something that a judge does. The opposite of justify is condemn. When you condemn someone, you declare their guilt and assign them their punishment. You don't make them guilty. And when you justify someone, you declare their innocence and assign them their freedom. So justify means: "to declare righteous."
It's a forensic or legal term, not a moral or ethical term. So when Paul referred to "being justified," he did not mean that Christians are made virtuous or made morally acceptable. God has declared guilty sinners just.
To Paul and the first century saints, righteous was a declaration. Is it the same for us? Remember Paul was writing in the transition period. At the time of Paul's writing to the Romans the Second Coming, Resurrection, and Judgement had not yet taken place, eternal life had not been consummated. To us it has been. So does this make a difference? Yes! You and I are not "declared" righteous, we ARE righteous. We have been made righteous by God for all eternity. It will never be reversed or changed. Today all believers have Christ's righteousness, we are "in Him" we share all He is and has.
We looked last week at how the exodus out of Egypt was a type of a coming spiritual second exodus. There are two forty year exodus periods talked about in the Bible. One is a type: Physical Israel was removed from bondage to Egypt at Passover, and they were put in the wilderness on a physical journey to a physical promised land.
Wick Broomall states,"A type is a shadow cast on the pages of Old Testament history by a truth whose full embodiment or antitype is found in the New Testament revelation" (Baker's Dictionary of Theology, p. 533).
The second exodus is the Anti-type: This is a spiritual exodus that runs from the Cross to A.D. 70. In this exodus, Spiritual Israel left its bondage to the law of sin and death and begins a forty year spiritual journey to a spiritual inheritance; the Kingdom of God or the New Heavens and New Earth.
This second exodus was foretold by God through Isaiah:
Then in that day The nations will resort to the root of Jesse, Who will stand as a signal for the peoples; And His resting place will be glorious. Then it will happen on that day that the Lord Will again recover the second time with His hand The remnant of His people... Isaiah 11:10-11 NASB
Jesus also talked about this second exodus:
who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Luke 9:31 NASB
The word for "departure" is the Greek word exodos. There was another exodus that Jesus was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. This was another forty year journey, not a physical one, but a spiritual one. When did this second exodus begin? To answer that we need to know when did the first exodus begin? Passover!
Now back to the topic of justification and the fact that the first century church was justified, declared righteous, but that we are now righteous. We must understand that the Passover deliverance was not consummated until they entered the promised land. The Passover began with the sacrificing of the Passover lamb introduced in Exodus 12, while Israel is still in bondage. They ate the first Passover while they were still in Egyptian bondage. In Numbers 9:5, they ate of it again, while they are wondering in the wilderness. And then in Joshua, they entered the land:
Then the LORD said to Joshua, "Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you." So the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day. While the sons of Israel camped at Gilgal they observed the Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day of the month on the desert plains of Jericho. Joshua 5:9-10 NASB
Throughout the history of Israel, the Passover recalled not only the sparing of the houses marked with the blood of the Passover lamb, but also Israel's subsequent deliverance out of slavery in Egypt; a deliverance that was consummated forty years later in the crossing of the Jordan River. Once their redemption was consummated by their being in the promised land, only then were they truly redeemed from Egyptian bondage. This is true of the second exodus generation. Their redemption was not consummated until the Lord returned for His bride.
Back to our text. Now notice how we have been justified. "As a gift by His grace"--"gift" is from the Greek word dorean, which means: "for nothing, gratuitously, or gift-wise." Dorean is used nine times in the New Testament. Let's look at a few of them to get its meaning:
"I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly [dorean--for nothing]." Galatians 2:21 NASB
nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying [dorean] for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; 2 Thessalonians 3:8 NASB
Then He said to me, "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost [dorean] . Revelation 21:6 NASB
I think that one of the most striking uses is by our Lord in:
"But they have done this to fulfill the word that is written in their Law, 'THEY HATED ME WITHOUT A CAUSE [dorean].' John 15:25 NASB
The cause of their hatred of Christ was in them, not in Christ. In this same way the cause of our justification is in God and NOT IN US.
We see here the Reformed doctrine of "Unconditional Election"--God chose those whom He would save according to His purpose, according to His sovereign will. Election is not based upon some foreseen condition that some of us meet and others fail to meet. God's choice of the elect was "without a cause"; in them, the cause was in God.
Now watch what Paul does, "Being justified as a gift by His grace"--the word "grace" is the Greek word charis which means: "unmerited favor, or kindness shown to one who is utterly undeserving." In the phrase "as a gift by His grace", the idea of "free" is redoubled to show that our justification is all of God.
Grace is one of the most important words in the letters of Paul. He uses it 95 times. What does he mean here that God's act of justifying is "by His grace"? The easiest way to see it is to look at a few verses later in Romans 4:4, because here is a fundamental insight:
Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. Romans 4:4 NASB
In other words, if you work for somebody, you don't get grace, you get wages. If you work for someone, what you bring about is not grace, but debt. They owe you wages. This is why it's an abomination to try to work for God. God cannot be put in anyone's debt.
The Catholic Church combines the work of Christ with one's works and the merit of various saints in order to achieve a right relationship with God. This is only partial grace.
Herbert W. Armstrong says, "We're saved by grace in Christ plus keeping the Ten Commandments." Grace plus is an oxymoron!
There is a tendency in all of us to revert to trust in our works or confidence in our level of performance or lean toward the idea that we find more favor in God's eyes because of something that we do.
To live by grace is to recognize that in myself I bring nothing of worth to my relationship with God. Many Christians base their standing with God on their performance. Due to this, they never really feel like they are accepted by God. Their performance is never good enough.
Grace is the good that you get from someone when he owes you nothing. So what Paul means when he says that we are "justified as a gift by His grace" is that we can't work for justification. So the phrase "as a gift" means: "you can't pay for it." And the phrase "by His grace" means: "you can't work for it."
How can God declare a sinner to be righteous? If we don't pay for it, and we don't work for it, then what's the basis of it? How can it be just to justify the ungodly? "Through the Redemption which is in Christ Jesus"--we need to pause here and focus on the word redemption. What does redemption mean? The word "redemption" here is apolutrosis, which means: "a releasing effected by payment of ransom." It means: "deliverance at a cost" or "release by payment of a price." In redemption, someone's release or deliverance is accomplished at the cost of a ransom payment.
This is a word that comes from the slave market. A slave would be held by his master until someone redeemed him by the payment of the price demanded to set the slave free. To any Jew who knew the Scriptures, this word "redemption" would not mean just any old slave market, it would mean Egypt. And the way that God redeemed His people who were slaves in Egypt was by coming down in fulfillment of the covenant with Abraham:
God said to Abram, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. "But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions. Genesis 15:13-14 NASB
God redeemed His people through the Passover, shedding of blood and the crossing of the Red sea and the giving of Torah. Redemption is also a word tied to the exodus. The indisputable theme of the Passover is about how Yahweh delivered His people. The Passover was about redemption secured through the shedding of blood.
I think that it is safe to say that most believers think redemption was completed at the cross. But this is not what the Bible teaches, redemption is tied to the Second Coming:
"Then they will see THE SON OF MAN COMING IN A CLOUD with power and great glory. "But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." Luke 21:27-28 NASB
When Christ returned, He brought redemption. As long as the Old Covenant existed, the believers were not perfect and did not have access to God.
"Which is in Christ Jesus"--by "Christ" first in the title, "Christ Jesus," Paul emphasizes that Jesus is the Messiah--the promised One who would deliver His people from bondage. To Paul "Jesus" refers to the historical person, Jesus of Nazareth, who died on the cross under Pilot. "Christ"--the Messiah, the King.
What's the ransom? The word "ransom" (lutron) is used only in Mark 10:45 (and its parallel):
"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." Mark 10:45 NASB
The answer is that the life of the Son of Man is the ransom paid in redemption. That's what Paul means when he says, "Christ redeemed us." The redemption is in Christ Jesus, because Jesus is the ransom. He gave His life so that there could be release and deliverance.
Christ gave His life as a ransom for many. He paid the price for our release from sin and guilt and death. This is why God now, as a gift by His grace, justifies the ungodly. Everything is owing to the death of Christ. The basis of your justification is not in yourself or anything you do; it is "Christ who redeems us."
knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 1 Peter 1:18-19 NASB
God redeemed us with the blood of Christ. Notice what Peter calls Christ in verse 19, "a lamb unblemished and spotless." If you read Exodus 12:1-6, you'll see that when God gave Moses instructions for the first Passover dinner (on the night He would redeem the children of Israel from bondage to Egypt), He told Moses to have each household take a lamb from their flocks and keep it for several days. The lamb was to be without spot or blemish, and they were to examine it for three days, then kill it at twilight. This was to be their Passover meal. The Passover lamb was a "type" of Christ, who would be God's sacrificial Lamb to take away the sins of the world and deliver us from bondage of sin.
In God's instructions to Moses, He said the people should drain the blood of the lamb in a basin at the foot of the door and place some blood on the two doorposts and the top of the door, then go inside and eat the Passover lamb. He promised:
'And the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. Exodus 12:13 NASB
If you think about where the blood was placed on the doorposts, top and foot of the door, you'll realize that they were making a form of a cross over their doors, and this about 1500 years before the crucifixion style of execution was introduced into the world by the Roman Empire.
Here is the foundation of our justification: Christ gave His life as a ransom for many. He paid the price for our release from sin and guilt and condemnation. This is why God now, as a gift by His grace, justifies the ungodly. Everything is owing to the death of Christ. The basis of your justification is not in yourself or anything you do; it is "through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."
Paul now begins to describe the means of this redemption:
whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; Romans 3:25 NASB
We are declared righteous through redemption on the basis of propitiation. To understand propitiation is to understand the Gospel, and without it, you have no Gospel. The Greek word used here is hilasterion, which means: "the removal of wrath by the offering of a sacrifice." It is the turning of God's wrath away from the sinner by a sacrifice made to satisfy God.
Hilasterion is only used one other place in Scripture and that is:
and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat [hilasterion]; but of these things we cannot now speak in detail. Hebrews 9:5 NASB
Here it is translated: "mercy seat." It is also the same Greek word which the LXX uses to translate this word "mercy seat." This word hilasterion involves the meaning and significance and purpose of the mercy seat. The mercy seat was a top for the Ark of the Covenant, and in the Ark was the ten commandments. An uncovered Ark is a throne of judgment. This might explain a very difficult First Testament passage:
He struck down some of the men of Beth-shemesh because they had looked into the ark of the LORD. He struck down of all the people, 50,070 men, and the people mourned because the LORD had struck the people with a great slaughter. The men of Beth-shemesh said, "Who is able to stand before the LORD, this holy God? And to whom shall He go up from us?" 1 Samuel 6:19-20 NASB
In order for them to look into the Ark, the mercy seat had to be removed. If you saw the movie, Indiana Jones, you may remember the scene where they took the mercy seat off of the Ark, and all who looked into it died. In removing the mercy seat, they exposed the law; and apart from the mercy seat, the law is death to all who break it. The Lord Jesus Christ is our mercy seat. He stands between the sinner who violated the law and a holy God.
Where was the Ark of the Covenant in Paul's day? No one knows. The Ark of the Covenant disappeared sometime immediately prior to the Babylonian Captivity in the 6th century BC. In the Tabernacle and in Solomon's Temple, the Ark of the Covenant resided in the Holy of Holies, and the Shekinah Glory of the Lord rested above it. After the Babylonian Captivity, the Ark was never recovered. Some say the Ark was hidden by priests who foresaw the coming desolation, and its mysterious whereabouts have been the source of myth and legend ever since.
In the second temple period the Holy of Holies remained an empty room with only a singular stone (called the "foundation stone") projecting three fingers in height (2 1/4 inches) up from the pavement:
'Return, O faithless sons,' declares the LORD; 'For I am a master to you, And I will take you one from a city and two from a family, And I will bring you to Zion.' "Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding. "It shall be in those days when you are multiplied and increased in the land," declares the LORD, "they will no longer say, 'The ark of the covenant of the LORD.' And it will not come to mind, nor will they remember it, nor will they miss it, nor will it be made again. Jeremiah 3:14-16 NASB
In the New Covenant the type of the mercy seat will not be remembered or come to mind because we have the anti-type the Lord Jesus Christ.
Many see hilasterion as a reference to the Day of Atonement, but Paul says, "whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation." How does "displayed publicly" fit with the Day of Atonement? What happened on that day was only seen by the high priest and really not even by him because the Holy of Holies was filled with smoke when it happened.
Here, we have another hint that Paul is describing Jesus as the Passover victim. Of all the sacrifices the Levitical Law legislated for, the Passover sacrifices were the only ones that were displayed for all to see. While the Passover lambs' blood was daubed on the doorposts and lintels of Hebrew houses, the blood of all other sacrifices was offered to God within the temple.
Also the words "passed over," which is from the Greek word paresis supports the Passover model. On the night of the eschatological Passover, God "passed over" the family of mankind, but visited Calvary, where He struck His beloved Son.
The translators of Isaiah, who, in a second exodus context, used this same term paresis to speak of Yahweh keeping back His anger from Israel (Isa 64:10-12; 42:14 [LXX]; 63:15 [LXX]).
Some critics say that propitiation is a pagan notion. Hilasterion, in its classical form, was used of the act of appeasing the Greek gods by a sacrifice. Prince Paris had carried off Princess Helen to Troy. The Greek expeditionary force had taken ship to recover her, but was held up half-way by persistent contrary winds. Agamemnon, the Greek general, sent home for his daughter and ceremonially slaughtered her as a sacrifice to mollify the evidently hostile gods. The move paid off; west winds blew again, and the fleet reached Troy without further difficulty.
This bit of the Trojan War legend, which dates from about 1000 B.C., mirrors an idea of propitiation on which pagan religion allover the world, and in every age, has been built. They would take a present to their god and try to bribe him. They would try to turn the god's favor toward them by a sacrifice.
This is not the biblical idea. There is no sacrifice we can offer and nothing we can do to turn away God's wrath. But God Himself has done what we never could. "Whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation..." It is God Himself providing the propitiation in His own Son. It is God contriving a way whereby His own wrath upon sin has its full vent, and yet that sinners might be saved. The very God whom we have offended has provided the way whereby the offense has been dealt with. His anger, His wrath against the sinner, has been satisfied; He is appeased.
whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; Romans 3:25 NASB
Notice here the purpose of Christ's death--to demonstrate God's righteousness or as we have been saying His covenant faithfulness. Notice that it is clearly, "God's righteousness, His own righteousness." Now, why does God need to demonstrate His righteousness? Because in the forbearance of God, He passed over the sins previously committed. The problem that needed solving was that God, for some reason, seemed to be unrighteous, and wanted to vindicate Himself and clear His name. Indeed, verse 26 says He would have been unrighteous, or unjust, in justifying sinners, if Christ had not been put forward as a propitiation by His blood. God's righteousness is at stake. His name or reputation or honor must be vindicated. Before the cross can be for our sake, it must be for God's sake.
Why did God face the problem of needing to give a public vindication of His righteousness? The answer is in the last phrase of verse 25 and at the end of verse 26: "because in his forbearance He had passed over the sins previously committed;" and because He is "the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." Now what do those two phrases mean? They mean that now, and for centuries, God has been doing what Psalm 103:10 says:
He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. Psalms 103:10 NASB
He has been passing over thousands of sins. He has been forgiving them and letting them go and not punishing them. King David is a good example. In 2 Samuel 12, he is confronted by the prophet Nathan for committing adultery with Bathsheba and then having her husband killed. Nathan says, "Why have you despised the word of the Lord?" (2 Samuel 12:9).
David feels the rebuke of Nathan, and in verse 13 he says, "I have sinned against the Lord." To this, Nathan responds, "The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die." Just like that! Adultery and murder are "passed over." It is almost incredible. Our sense of justice screams out, "No! You can't just let it go like that. He deserves to die or be imprisoned for life!" But Nathan says, "The Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die."
That is what Paul means in Romans 3:25 by the passing over of sins previously committed. But why is that a problem? A righteous judge cannot let guilty sinners go unpunished. Remember what we saw in verse 23: "All have sinned."
So God appears to be, and indeed would be unrighteous if He passed over sin without saving us in a way that demonstrates His infinite righteousness. But according to Paul, this is the most basic problem that God solved by the death of His Son. Let's read it again:
for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:26 NASB
Stifler has written, "The chief question in saving man is not how the man may be accounted just, but how God may remain so in forgiving sins."
God could have settled accounts by punishing all sinners. This would have demonstrated that He is just.
Why did Jesus die? It was "so that He [God] would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." To be righteous, and to declare as righteous those who are guilty seems like an unrighteous decision. God's righteousness would dictate: pour out your wrath on guilty sinners--that would be righteous. But if God is going to justify the ungodly, then someone, namely Jesus Christ, had to bear the wrath of God to show that God is just. That's why the word "propitiation" in verse 25 is so important. Christ bore the wrath of God for our sins, and turned it away from us.
Christ is our propitiation. That is, out of love for the glory of God, He absorbs the wrath of God that was rightfully ours, so that it might be plain that when we are "justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption of Christ Jesus", God will be manifestly just, righteous, in counting as righteous those who trust in Jesus.
If you ever for a moment question God's love, then muse over this text! See God doing what we could not do by satisfying His own justice through the bloody death of His Son at the cross.
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