Pastor David B. Curtis


God's Faithfulness

Romans 3:21-23

Delivered 03/06/2011

This morning we begin a new section in the book of Romans that runs from 3:21 thru 4:25. This section shows us God's faithfulness to the covenant. The first sub- section runs from 3:21-26 and deals with God's righteousness being revealed through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse called this passage, "The heart of the Bible." Martin Luther called it, "The marrow of theology."

This passage is the normative passage on the doctrine of justification by faith. As the older theologians used to say, "It's the seat of the doctrine." It's the passage which most fully and completely sets forth the doctrine of justification by faith.

We have spent the last twelve weeks in Romans1:18-3:20, which deals with man's sinfulness. Hopefully, you are aware of the sinfulness of man. This is where the Gospel begins--all men are sinners, under the wrath of God.

In this section on God's covenant wrath we have seen that Paul redefines what a Jew is:

But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. Romans 2:29 NASB

The question that this raises is, If there is a true Israel, for whom circumcision and the possession of the Law are irrelevant, than what is this saying about ethnic Israel? So then Paul goes through the key questions that this raises in chapter 3:1-9, which he doesn't answer until chapters 9-11.

What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? Romans 3:3 NASB

The Greek word translated here as "unbelief" is apistia; it can also be translated: "unfaithfulness." Their unfaithfulness will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? To which Paul answers: "May it never be!" or "God forbid!"

Israel was entrusted with the oracles of God. They were to be the light of the world. In God's covenant plan Israel was to be the faithful one through whom the covenant plan was put into operation. But Israel has been unfaithful. Does this mean that God's covenant plan has failed? Has He given up on Israel and moved to the church? Does He keep His word? What is God going to do?

God doesn't give up on His covenant plan, what He does is provide a faithful Israelite to fulfill it. The covenant faithfulness of God is revealed through one who will do and be what Israel should have done and been. God will be faithful to the covenant with Abraham, through the one faithful Israelite--Jesus through whom the light will shine to all the world.

So now in Romans 3:21­4:25 Paul is telling us how the covenant is fulfilled. The purpose of the covenant was to deal with the sin of the world, which was to happen through Israel. Israel was faithless, but Israel's representative, the Lord Jesus Christ, does for Israel what she failed to do.

God made a covenant with Abraham, God promised to Abraham great things about what will happen in and through his family. And about the exodus, a time when He will reveal His covenant faithfulness. Though his seed will be in exile in a foreign land, God will bring them out in fulfillment of the covenant. Keep this in mind, the Abrahamic Covenant promised a return from exile:

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

Through the exodus God will redeem His people.

Paul ended the section on God's covenant wrath by bringing all men into God's court and pronouncing all "guilty":

Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. Romans 3:19-20 NASB

All the world stands before God as guilty, with no defense. They all stand with their hands over their mouths.

What we need is to be justified in God's sight. We need to be found "not guilty" rather than "guilty." We need to be declared "righteous" or "just" instead of unrighteous. But the Law cannot do that: "by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight". And so all men stand guilty before God, under His wrath. Man is condemned and without hope.

The Roman poet Horace, laying down some lines of guidance for writers of tragedies in his day, criticizes those who resort too readily to the device of bringing a god in to solve the problems that have developed in the course of the plot. "Do not bring a god on to the stage," he says, "unless the problem is one that deserves a god to solve it".

Martin Luther found those words of Horace and took them up and applied them to the forgiveness of sin, and he said: "Here is where you've got to bring God on the stage because you've got a problem that takes a God to solve it."

Surely man's problem as Paul summarized it is one that needs God to solve it. So the question that all men should be asking is the one that Job asked:

"In truth I know that this is so; But how can a man be in the right before God? Job 9:2 NASB

Bildad, the Shuhite, one of Job's so called friends, echoed Job's question. His cry was:

"How then can a man be just with God? Or how can he be clean who is born of woman? Job 25:4 NASB

These are questions that every person with a functioning brain should be seeking an answer. The problem is that religion attempts to tell man how he can be right. The religions of the world tell him he can be right with God if he does certain things. To religion, being right with God is based upon his human effort.

Somewhere in the world a man is cutting himself with a knife, hoping by his pain to win the approval of his deity. Somewhere in the world a man lies on a bed of nails, proving by his mastery of pain to prove his worthiness of eternal life. In the Middle East millions of believers pray toward Mecca this morning, following the dictates of their religion. In Haiti followers of Voodoo kill chickens and place the carcass before a makeshift altar, hoping to cause God to smile upon them with good fortune. Somewhere in the world this morning a man is pressing beads through his fingers, hoping to earn favor with God.

The men and women who do these things desperately want to be right with God. They do what they do because they hope to appease God or to please God or to pacify God or to somehow manipulate God into favoring their cause.

From killing chickens to bowing to Mecca, from resting on a bed of nails to praying the rosary, from going to church to saying the Lord's Prayer, people do what they do because they want to be right with God. And they don't know how to do it!

Paul now moves from all men's condemnation to God's solution:

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 marks a turn in the argument. "But" being an adversative. The apostle has been talking about the sinfulness and thus the guilt of all men. The word "now" takes us into a welcome present tense. And now he is going to talk about the remedy for sin.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones says of these two words, "There are no more wonderful words in the whole of the Scripture than just these two words 'But now'" (Romans: Atonement & Justification, Exposition of Chapters 3:20-4:25, vol. 3, 25).

And if you have been following Paul's argument from 1:18 these two words are a very welcome relief. We see this same idea in Ephesians 2:

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. Ephesians 2:1-3 NASB

Dead in sin, children of wrath--that is not a good place to be. Notice the next verse:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), Ephesians 2:4-5 NASB

But God changes everything. And that is what we have in Romans. Guilty sinners, but now--It's a phrase of contrast and transition. In our case, it's a phrase that takes us from death to life, from wrath to righteousness, from prophecy to fulfillment, and from shadow to substance.

"But now" carries an element of time, too. Now, in the present time, God's covenant faithfulness has been manifested. The "now" points specifically to the revelation of Christ in the Incarnation, perfect obedience to the Law, suffering of death at the cross, burial, and triumphant resurrection.

Back in verse 17 of chapter 1 he had said that the righteousness of God had been revealed. But now he speaks of that righteousness as being manifested. In other words, that which was revealed is now made plainer through the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul tells us that this righteousness of God is "Apart from the Law"--the Torah has been the main theme of verses 19-20. So Paul is emphasizing the newness of the good news. The First Testament acknowledged that the promises of salvation would not come under the Old Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34). The New Covenant is "apart from the Law."

The Torah pronounced the Jews guilty and was a barrier to the Gentiles. So this new news is good news for both. If God's covenant faithfulness came through the Law, then only those who had the Law would receive it. But since it is apart from the Law, it is available to all, Jew and Gentile.

"The righteousness of God"--the word translated: "righteousness" or "just" or "justifier" or "justified" is all from the same Greek root. This word is used nine times in this brief passage, and it's used over 60 times in Romans.

This phrase, "the righteousness of God," which dominates Romans, has been taken in two different ways in the history of the Church. In Greek the phrase is simply, "God's righteousness." The trouble with this phrase is that Greek genitives can go one way or another. Is this a subjective or an objective genitive? Is it God's own righteousness--the subjective genitive, or the righteousness that God gives--the objective genitive? So scholars have debated whether the phrase "the righteousness of God" is God's own righteousness or whether it is a righteousness that God gives.

The mainstream view is that this righteousness that Paul speaks of here is not God's own righteousness, but is a righteousness "from" God, the righteousness which God gives on the basis of faith, the righteous status we have because of Christ-imputed righteousness.

One commentator writes, "The righteousness of which Paul writes in verses 21-26 may be defined as: The gift given to every man who trusts in Jesus Christ which enables him to stand before the Holy God uncondemned and in His favor."

The NIV treats this as a righteousness FROM God:

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, Romans 3:21-22 NIV

The Bible does teach us about the righteousness that is from God, for example in Philippians 3:

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, Philippians 3:7-9 NASB

Paul says that this righteousness is "from" God. But in Romans Paul does not use this phrase "the righteousness 'from' God" but says, "the righteousness of God."

Paul certainly teaches that God's people are righteous:

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21 NASB

So I am not questioning the fact that God gives believers His righteousness. What I am saying is that the phrase that describes that is not "the righteousness of God." If you trace this phrase back to its Jewish roots, you'll find it has many different connotations, but is never used of a righteous status which is a gift of God. And in our text, Romans 3:21-31, a righteousness from God doesn't make sense.

So I think that Paul is speaking here of God's righteousness, His character. God is a righteous God. There are several scholars, Williams, Dunn, Kaylor, Davies, O'Brian, Holland and Wright to name a few, who suggest that the term "righteousness of God" is referring to God's covenant faithfulness. In other words, His saving actions are rooted in His faithfulness to the covenant enacted with His people. That the righteousness of God involves His loyalty to the covenant is shown in many First Testament passages:

"I bring near My righteousness, it is not far off; And My salvation will not delay. And I will grant salvation in Zion, And My glory for Israel. Isaiah 46:13 NASB

When the phrase "the righteousness of God" occurs in biblical and post-biblical Jewish texts, it always refers to God's own righteousness. Or we could say "God's own faithfulness to the covenant."

Tom Holland writes, "His righteousness refers to 'his right acts' in being faithful to His promises. Yahweh--who promised to act to secure deliverance for Israel through His servant David--had now fulfilled His promises (Gen.15:13-14; Isa.55:1-13). His righteousness was universally displayed and His covenant faithfulness blazed abroad when His own Son was given up to death."

So, apart from the Law, God's faithfulness to the covenant "Has been manifested"--this is a perfect tense in Greek, "stands manifested." Manifested is from the Greek word phaneroo, which means: "to render apparent." It means the unveiling of God through a historical event. The covenant faithfulness of God is revealed through one who will do and be what Israel should have done and been. God will be faithful to the covenant with Abraham, through the one faithful Israelite--Jesus! God's plan of salvation had always required a faithful Israelite to fulfill it.

"Being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets"--this covenant faithfulness is apart from the Law, but witnessed by the Law. "Law and the Prophets" was a regular way of summarizing the whole Jewish Scripture. If you trace these terms through your Bible, you will find that wherever this expression is used it includes the entire First Testament.

God's faithfulness to fulfill His covenant promises is witnessed all through the Law and the Prophets. The Gospel is found throughout the Fist Testament. It shows up in the promise that the serpent's head would be crushed by the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15). It's found in the promises given to Abraham that all the earth would be blessed through his seed (Gen. 12:3). Jesus declared that Abraham rejoiced to see His day, and that he saw it and was glad (John 8:56). It's found in God's deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt, especially by the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb. When you come to the sacrificial system in Exodus and Leviticus, we find the Gospel latent in them. As Lloyd-Jones comments, "It is nothing but a foreshadowing of the Lord Jesus Christ and all that He has done; it is the Law witnessing to this thing that God has done once and for ever in the Person of His only begotten Son."

Read Psalm 2 and 110 and see the Son as the exalted, eternal King. Read Psalm 22 and see the description of His suffering and crucifixion. Read Isaiah 9 and 11 concerning His deity and exalted office as Messiah. Read Isaiah 53 where it predicts the suffering life and substitute death and bodily resurrection of the Servant of the Lord (Jesus) and says in verse 11:

As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. Isaiah 53:11 NASB

Read of His kingdom in Daniel 2, 7, and 9. Read of His saving grace and electing love in the book of Hosea. See the Gospel in Zechariah's symbolism and in Malachi's forthright declarations.

When Paul preached in Pisidian Antioch on the first missionary journey, he cited the story of the First Testament as evidence of the Gospel. It was promised by God that one of David's descendants would sit upon the eternal throne. So Paul could say:

"From the descendants of this man, according to promise, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, Acts 13:23 NASB

Jesus Christ's death took place because "they" (the Jews) had carried out all that was written concerning Him:

"When they had carried out all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb. "But God raised Him from the dead; Acts 13:29-30 NASB

And so Paul could say:

"And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, 'YOU ARE MY SON; TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU.' Acts 13:32-33 NASB

We must understand that the apostles and early Christians that preached the Gospel did so with the "Law and Prophets" as their only Bible. They expounded the Law, Prophets, and Wisdom literature in relationship to the final revelation of God in Jesus Christ and His finished work.

Please understand this: Apart from understanding the First Testament,"you will never completely understand the Second Testament. The writers of the Second Testament all suppose that their readers understood the First Testament.

So it seems like we can learn a lot about Jesus from the First Testament. Notice what Matthew says in:

And he arose and took the Child and His mother by night, and departed for Egypt; 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, "OUT OF EGYPT DID I CALL MY SON." Matthew 2:14-15 NASB

The NASB's all caps tells us that this is a quotation from the First Testament. This one comes from:

When Israel was a youth I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son. Hosea 11:1 NASB

Who is the author of this passage? According to the first verse of Hosea, it is the prophet by that name. But how can we know what his intention is in the passage? First, we know approximately when he lived. We also have the broader context of the whole book, which gives us a fuller idea of what Hosea intended to say in this one verse. When we study his text in the context of his entire book, we find that Hosea is referring to the Exodus described in the book of Exodus.

But as we have just seen in Matthew 2:15, the writer applies Hosea 11:1 to Jesus as a youth returning to Judea from Egypt. This reference does not seem in keeping with the intention of Hosea. It is here we must remember where the meaning of a text ultimately resides--in the intention of its author, God Himself. And as we read the Scripture in the context of the Bible as a whole, we see that He has made an analogy between Israel, God's son, being freed from Egypt, and Jesus, God's Son, coming up from Egypt; a pattern that runs throughout Matthew's Gospel. "Out of Egypt I have called my son" is Exodus typology, where Jesus is the New True Israel.

If we don't know the First Testament, we'll never see this Exodus typology in Matthew. Let's briefly look at this typology: The setting for the New Testament story is the return to the desert, or wilderness, for Israel, and the 40 years between A.D. 30-70 can be directly compared to the original wilderness wandering of Old Covenant Israel.

Like Moses, Jesus will grow up in Egypt. Like the story of Moses, Herod slaughters the male children (2:16-18). Like Moses' exile to Midian, Jesus' exile to Egypt will end with the death of Herod-Pharaoh. And then we have a New Exodus foretold: "Out of Egypt I have called My son."

Jesus is baptized (Matthew 3:12-17). As Jesus emerges from the water, we hear, "This is My beloved Son," which evokes a related image: Israel was adopted and became God's son at the Exodus from Egypt at the crossing of the Red Sea, and so this is New Exodus typology in which New Israel is born.

When we come to Matthew 4:1-11, which describes Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, if we are familiar with the First Testament, we will see this pattern again. When we read that Jesus, the Son of God, spent 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness, this reference may remind us of the Israelites' 40-year trek in the wilderness. But the comparison goes beyond the number 40. The Israelites also were tempted in the wilderness in the same three areas in which Jesus was tempted: (1) hunger and thirst, (2) testing God, and (3) worshiping false gods. Jesus, however, shows Himself to be the obedient Son of God, where the Israelites were disobedient. Indeed, Jesus responded to the temptations by quoting Deuteronomy, the sermon that Moses gave the Israelites at the end of their 40-year sojourn.

What does Jesus do next in Matthew?:

And when He saw the multitudes, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2 And opening His mouth He began to teach them, saying, Matthew 5:1-2 NASB

Jesus goes up on a mountain, like Moses, and gives the New Torah--the "Sermon on the Mount." Jesus is the New Israel, and this typology can only be seen if we are familiar with the First Testament. Over and over Matthew says that all this information about Jesus is from the First Testament.

even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; Romans 3:22 NASB

The phrase "The righteousness of God" here is the same as the previous verse and refers to God's covenant faithfulness that comes--

"Through faith in Jesus Christ"--I think this is best seen as a subjective genitive referring to Jesus' faithfulness. This phrase would be better translated, "Through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ." Rather than an objective genitive that shows us that Jesus Christ is the object of our faith. Constructions that have pistis and a genitive of person always refer to the faith or faithfulness of the individual, never faith in the individual. How can the righteousness of God be manifested in human faith?

John Murray writes, "It would be alien to the whole teaching of the apostle to suppose that what he has in mind is a faith that is patterned after the faith which Jesus himself exemplified, far less that we are justified by Jesus' own faith, that is to say, by the faith which he exercised" (NICNT: Romans, 111).

Murray misses the point, it's not that we pattern our faith after Jesus' faith or that we are justified by Jesus' faith It is that we are justified by the faithfulness of Jesus if we trust in Him.

Tom Holland writes, "In saying this righteousness comes through faith in Jesus Christ, the NIV (like many other translations) has sidestepped the conclusions of much recent scholarly work. Many scholars accept that the expression should be translated: 'by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.'"

The inner dynamic of Romans 3:1-20 is that in God's covenant purpose Israel was supposed to be faithful as a means of dealing with the sin of the world and so being the light of the world. But Israel has been unfaithful so what is needed now is not a different covenant, but a faithful Israelite. This is what God has provided in Christ.

We are saved by God because of the faithfulness of His Son, who achieved through obedience and death, the great work of salvation.

"For all those who believe"--this is what Paul said in 1:16. The importance of believing is emphasized here. Believing is our response to the Gospel of Christ. Faith, which is the noun form for believe, is not something that we work up by strenuous effort. Faith is "an evangelical grace," it is a gift of God that comes through the regenerating work of the Spirit so that we might lay hold of what God has done for us through Christ.

John MacArthur is my favorite Lordship writer, but before I give you his quote, let me just say that I'm not trying to pick on John, I greatly respect him, I so appreciate that he teaches the Scriptures verse by verse. I quote him a lot because he is a very popular teacher, and I want you to understand where I differ from him. Especially in areas of soteroligy. Commenting on "for all those who believe" John writes, "I want to just add a note here. There is such a thing as false faith. Some people would make this faith so simplistic and so easy and just sort of say, 'Well, all you have to do is believe and that's it,' but I just want you to note that there is a false faith and there is a true faith."

"A false faith would be faith in the wrong object. Believing the wrong thing," he goes on to say, "But saving faith is not a passive agreement of the facts about Jesus. It is a placing of oneself totally in submission to the Lord Jesus Christ."

How many people do you know that live in total submission to the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you know any? I wouldn't put myself in the category, I'm a rebel when it comes to wearing a seat belt, and I would not wear one if it were not for the constant encouragement of my loving wife. If saving faith is total submission to the Lord Jesus Christ, we are all in trouble! All of us except Jesus who said:

"And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him." John 8:29 NASB

Who do you know that "always does the things that please the father"? Saving faith is understanding and assent to the propositions of the Gospel. Nothing more, nothing less.

"For there is no distinction"--Paul here, with verse 23, sums up 1:18­3:20. Jew and Gentile alike have all sinned in Adam. There is no distinction between Jews and Gentiles concerning their being "under sin" (v. 9). Likewise there is no distinction regarding the manner by which Jews and Gentiles obtain salvation. All receive salvation by faith.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23 NASB

"For all have sinned"--the tense here is aorist, indicating a single moment, "For all sinned." This is a reference to Adam, Paul will expand on this in chapter 5.

"Fall short of the glory of God"--the words "fall short" are from the Greek word hustereo Jesus uses this word in Mark 10:21 when He says to the rich young ruler, "One thing you lack." It means: "to be lacking or fall short of."

When the Jews in Rome heard this statement, they would have known it reflected part of their painful history. Not only did it refer to the head of the human family sinning and bringing all of his offspring into a state of rebellion against God, but it also alluded to Israel in exile. God had said of the nation Israel:

Everyone who is called by My name, And whom I have created for My glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made." Isaiah 43:7 NASB

Israel was created for God's glory but in exile, she was a picture of shame and sinfulness. Paul says in 1:23, "[they] exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image." Paul's kinsmen could acknowledge these ancestral sins, but could not accept they were in a state of exile too. This exile was far worse than being in Egypt or Babylon, for like the Gentiles they were dwelling in the kingdom of darkness (Acts 7:51-58). They needed to take part in another exodus. An exodus from sin and death, and they could do this by faith in Jesus the Christ.

The Greek noun for "glory" here is doxa. At first the verb meant: "to appear" or "to seem," and then in time the noun doxa, that came from it, then meant: "an opinion." In time the noun was used only for having a good opinion about some person and the verb came to mean: "the praise" or "honor" due to one of whom a good opinion was held.

If a man had a right opinion about God, this meant that he was able to form a correct opinion of God's attributes. The orthodox Jew knew God as all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present, merciful, faithful, holy, just, loving and so on with all His other perfections. When he acknowledged this, he was said to give glory to God. God's glory consisted of His intrinsic worth embedded in His character, and all that could be known of God was merely an expression of it.

Our word "worth" is somewhat equal to the word "glory." The worth refers to intrinsic character. The worth of a man is his character. Have you ever heard someone say, "That person is worthless." By this they mean he has no character. The worth of God is God's glory. When we praise God, we are acknowledging His worth-ship. We shorten that word and we get worship. That is what worship is, folks, it's acknowledging God's worth. So all have sinned and fall short of worshiping God.

But God in Christ has done something about man's condition and we'll look at that next week.

Continue the Series

Berean Bible Church provides this material free of charge for the edification of the Body of Christ. You can help further this work by your prayer and by contributing online or by mailing to:

Berean Bible Church
1000 Chattanooga Street
Chesapeake, VA 23322