Response of Grace
In the previous chapter we looked at Paul's summary of man's spiritual situation before God:
- Man, by rejecting God's original offer of grace, finds himself condemned and helpless to change. In other words, man knows what God wants (a sinless life) but is unable to give this to God even if he wants or tries to with all of his might.
This dilemma ushers in God's second offer of grace, which is to save mankind from condemnation and spiritual death through Jesus Christ. Paul explains this second offer of grace in Romans 3:21-25.
Text — Romans 3:21-25a
21But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets
In previous verses Paul has shown the different ways that God's righteousness (rightness) has been revealed in the past: creation/conscience/the Word or the Law. These, in various ways, demonstrate how good God is and how sinful man is. Now, Paul says, God's righteousness is manifested in yet another way which is not dependent on the Law, but a manifestation that was pointed to or signaled by the Law. In other words the Law, which was necessary to reveal and condemn sin and thus demonstrate how righteous God is in comparison to man, is not necessary to demonstrate God's righteousness in this instance.
22aeven the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe;
Even (means yes or yea) the righteousness of God that is manifested when a sinful man becomes righteous because of faith/belief in Jesus Christ. God's righteousness is on display when an unrighteous sinner is transformed into a righteous saint through the power of faith without reference to or help from "works" of the Law (human effort). The fact that this transformation is possible and offered to all shows how righteous God really is.
22bfor there is no distinction; 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Paul reaches back to previous conclusions made about man's true condition: that he is guilty, helpless and lost. "Falling short of glory" means that man (mankind) is unworthy of God's praise, and Paul has already listed the reasons why this is so:
- All are guilty of sin.
- No one is searching for Him.
- All efforts to reach Him are based on "works of law" strategies.
- Human efforts to please and appease Him are all doomed to failure because they lack purity and timelessness (the two elements that indicate spirituality and divinity). What God's justice requires (a perfect/eternal gift), man can never supply because he is doomed to die (not eternal) and he is impure (imperfect). A perfect and eternal offering is required because this is the result of salvation; man becomes "perfect" again in God's eyes and he will be equipped to live "eternally" with God in heaven. The offering necessary to purchase this state for sinful man must therefore be equal in value to the intended result.
24being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25awhom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.
Paul explains why this transformation/re-creation was accomplished and how. Man is declared justified (innocent and therefore righteous) as a gift from God. This status, which is undeserved and unattainable for man, is offered to him by God as a gift because of His compassionate, loving attitude (grace). This is the why. Paul then explains the how. This gift is made possible because Jesus Christ satisfies the justice of God by becoming the appeasement (propitiation) that fulfills the requirements of God's justice which demands punishment for those guilty of sin. God satisfied the demands of His justice publicly by the historical nature of Jesus' death on a Roman cross.
If you were a Jew reading Paul's letter you would understand that God now uses Jesus as the "mercy seat" which was the object upon which the spiritual transaction of atonement was made, formerly located in the Holy of Holies, a dedicated room in the Temple at Jerusalem. Now, this spiritual transaction of atonement is made at a new location: the cross where Jesus was crucified. In addition to this new location, it is Jesus's precious blood that is offered as the appeasement/propitiation for the sins of all men and not the blood of an animal sprinkled on the mercy seat as was the former custom.
If you were a Gentile, you would understand that God pays off man's moral debt by providing Jesus, His only Son, as the payment for sin since we are bankrupt morally and cannot offer to God what is necessary for our own salvation: a perfect and eternal life. God appeases Himself by allowing His Son to suffer and die instead of ourselves.
This gift, Paul says, is received on the basis of faith, it cannot be earned. To see this more clearly in the text it is helpful to place a comma after the word "grace" in verse 24 and after the word "blood" in verse 25.
That man is transformed/re-created from being a helpless, guilty and condemned sinner to a righteous, eternal saint as a gift from God, received on the basis of faith, this shows how righteous God is. Fallen man cannot appease God or move Him with any quality or quantity of human effort. However, man can believe. It is within his emotional, intellectual and spiritual capacity to do so, therefore, God has made this the universal basis for all who seek salvation through Christ.
The proper response to God's free offer of forgiveness is to believe because it is the only thing that all humans can do in an acceptable manner before Him. That God has worked out this plan, accomplished it through Christ, and made it available and attainable to all men through the gospel, this reveals how righteous God truly is. This is God's response to man's rejection of His initial offer of grace, He offers all men the possibility of salvation based on a system of faith, not works. This demonstrates not only His grace towards sinful men but also His personal righteousness.
Text — Romans 3:25b-31
In verses 25b-26 Paul summarizes the whole affair by declaring that this plan, this method to save man, this second offer of grace does two things.
25bThis was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26for 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.
- It demonstrates God's true righteousness. God shows how wonderful He is by offering not just one offer of grace but two offers of grace. The second offer results in the "passing over" of sins previously committed for those who believe. (This doesn't mean that God ignores the sins committed, it means that He forgives the sins committed by those who believe. Unbelievers' sins, however, remain unforgiven.)
- God is totally responsible for our salvation. He is just and requires payment for sins, so in this way He upholds justice. He is also "justifier" (offers mercy), meaning that He works out the way that His justice will be satisfied.
The result is threefold: a) The Law is fulfilled and served; b) Man is saved; c) God is shown to be righteous through it all.
After presenting his case for the Christian faith, Paul goes on to answer questions that would naturally arise from this argument. One such question would be, "What about the Law?" In other words, does a person not accomplish innocence by obeying the Law? Many Jews thought that they were declared innocent by virtue of the fact that they had adequately obeyed the Law of Moses. The best example of this was the attitude of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus asking about eternal life and how to obtain this gift:
17As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" 18And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. 19You know the commandments, 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" 20And he said to Him, "Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up." 21Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, "One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." 22But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. 23And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, "How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!" 24The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." 26They were even more astonished and said to Him, "Then who can be saved?" 27Looking at them, Jesus said, "With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God."
- Mark 10:17-27
This young Jew believed that he had complied with the demands of the Law and yet was somehow dissatisfied with himself. In calling the young ruler to give away his riches to the poor and follow Him, Jesus brushed aside this person's reliance on his superficial compliance to God's commands. What Jesus asked of him reflected the true meaning of the Law which He had previously summarized in Matthew 22:36-40 by saying that to "love God with all your heart, soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself" was the greatest of the commandments, and what God (in the person of Jesus) was actually asking this man to do in order to find the answer to his question. Sadly, the young ruler recognized the true demand of the Law in his case but not the identity of the One making that demand. He received the answer to his question, but in doing so discovered that he was unwilling to do what was required and walked away from the One who could give him what he sought after.
In verses 27-31 Paul responds to the question about the possibility of obtaining innocence by complying to the Law by saying that they were mistaken about this point. He reiterates that a person cannot achieve innocence/righteousness through a system of compliance with rules (Law). Righteousness can only be achieved through the system of faith which he outlined before. From now on when he talks about faith and saved by faith, he is including the whole idea of God's grace and offer of forgiveness based on believing in the Savior.
27Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith.
Paul asks another potential question, "What has eliminated the element of pride concerning man's salvation?" He answers by saying that man's pride is eliminated because he cannot earn his own salvation. Paul argues that each person must receive it based on faith. This system eliminates the possibility of anyone taking credit for their own salvation because no one can do or offer to God anything more than someone else. All can believe, however, and the same thing is thus required of everyone.
28For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.
Here, Paul summarizes and confirms his position. He also emphasizes that compliance to rules merits nothing insofar as gaining innocence is concerned because compliance to rules never gives you back the purity that sin causes you to lose. This purity is given back to you as a person saved by faith, and once you have it you can then have a relationship with God once again. This is the essence of salvation. It is not an object that you obtain through personal effort, it is an experience you are permitted to have because of what God, through Christ, has done for you.
29Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.
The system of salvation by faith is universal in that both Jews and Gentiles are saved in the same way and by the same God.
Another question: "Do we abolish the Law (Law of Moses/Principle of Law) if we accept salvation by faith?"
31Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.
The true nature and purpose of the Law is fully explained and established when we understand the principle of salvation on the basis of faith. Paul clarifies this in chapters 5:20 and 7:7-25. Basically, the purpose of the Law is to reveal sin and pronounce judgment upon it. He teaches that there is a sequence to this:
- The Law reveals how and to what extent we fall short.
- The Mosaic Law did this in a historical context for the Jews.
- The Principle of Law did this in a philosophical context. (We do not do what we ought to do. We know this through observation, reasoning and the urging of our conscience.)
- Once the Law reveals sin, it then reveals to the sinner the consequences of sin: guilt, shame, dread of death and eternal suffering.
- At this point man has several options in his reaction to the Law's accusation and condemnation of personal sin:
- Ignore it and face the consequences.
- Embrace sinfulness fully despite the knowledge and warning of the Law. This leads to the cycle of falling Paul talked about earlier.
- Try to obey the Law and thus avoid judgment and punishment. If someone attempts to do this, several things may occur.
- They may become hypocrites thinking they have succeeded. (Those who are as comfortable in the pew as they are in the world. The Pharisees were a good example of this type of hypocrisy.)
- They may become slaves to the Law, always trying to live up to its demands. Religious people who are active in their religiosity without joy. These are usually against any move towards compassion and grace because these mean freedom, and they do not want anyone to be free while they themselves are slaving away at perfect law-keeping. The older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son is one of these.
- Some become discouraged and fall into spiritual depression when faced by the unbending demands of the Law. In the modern day these are the ones who go from church to church looking for the right answer, or the perfect situation, and usually end up quitting and angry at the church instead. Judas was this type of person.
- Those who cry out for mercy, who realize that they are helpless before the demands and judgment of the Law. These say to God in all honesty, "I am not able to do what you want; I want to but I am not able; I need your mercy; I need your grace or else I am lost." The person who is at this point will finally meet Jesus and understand what salvation by "faith" really means.
Paul explains that the Law brings you to the threshold of grace, but faith in Christ is what brings you into the state of grace.