Romans 3:21-31

Chatswood Baptist Church

Now we have probably all seen a tv drama that shows a court of law in action. Whether it is suits, law and order, Boston legal or countless others, I think we have a general idea about what is meant to happen in a court of law. In a court of law that is working as it was intended, the evidence will be assessed, and a person’s guilt or innocence determined. I watched a report on the news yesterday stating that it has been two years since the terrible fire that engulfed  the Grenfell Tower block in London due to faulty building materials. It has been two years, yet no one has been charged with negligence. 72 people died, yet there has been no justice. We expect justice, because our creator is just. When justice isn’t seen to be done, we rightly get upset. What if someone did something criminal to someone that you love? Someone in your family? Would you expect (or demand) justice?

Well today’s passage shows that God is both completely just and fully merciful. In the book of Deuteronomy, which is one of the books of the Law in the old testament, Moses in the song that he recites to the Israelites, says these words about God. Deuteronomy 32:4 “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.”

Dan showed us last week that the state of humankind is the complete opposite of God’s character and state. It’s pretty clear from Romans chapters two and three that that “Jews and Gentiles (that means all of us) alike are under the power of sin. As it is written: There is no one righteous not even one;” None, zip, nada. Not one is right with God, for if we are not righteous, we can’t be right with the righteous God. This is humankinds’ position. God the righteous judge has ruled, and the human race has been judged to be unrighteous. This by extension means that there is nothing that wecan do to be righteous. No one is made righteous through their own efforts in life.

We also saw last week that the law is good, it is God’s law and as we read it makes us conscious of our sin. In verse 20 the last verse before today’s passage we read “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” The law is good, the law is holy (Rom 7:12), yet the law cannot save.

So last week we saw that the main point of the passage is that all alike are under sin and no one is righteous! When Paul uses the word righteous he is saying that no one is declared right. No one is righteous is not just a statement, it is a verdict. It is language from a court of Law. There is no good. No righteousness. We are all guilty and have been declared guilty. The punishment that we deserve is death and judgement.

If in today’s reading the verses are sounding a little bit familiar, then there is good reason for this. Most scholars agree that this section of Paul’s letter to the Romans takes verses 16 & 17 from chapter 1, which are arguably the thrust of Paul’s message and unpacks them. This is what we will now turn to, the righteousness of God revealed, given and demonstrated. 

The great reformer Martin Luther had a note in his bible next to verses 21-26 which said the following: “The Chief point, and the very central place of the Epistle, and of the whole Bible.” 

  1. The Righteousness of God has been revealed (v21)

Verse 21 reads, “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known to which the Law and the Prophets testify.” 

‘But now’, these words are specific. It is not like when Paul uses the word therefore as he did earlier to denote that, because of what has just happened, the result is. When Paul uses the words ‘But now’ something new has happened. The ‘But now’ has put a time stamp on history. 2000 years ago the righteousness of God was revealed. Paul uses a similar phrase in 2 Corinthians 6:2 where he states, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.” God has revealed his saving righteousness. This is God’s plan in salvation history, God’s righteous plan has been revealed. Has been manifested. Or quite simply the events that were promised have happened. We know this, because it was not unexpected, no far from it, for Paul says that the Law and the Prophets had testified to the righteousness of God. God is indeed righteous. Yet the righteousness of God that has been revealed, is a specific righteousness that the Law and the prophets testified to. We could say that the prophets preached about, that the law pointed to. In essence this is what the message that the Old Testament had been pointing to. It is God’s saving righteousness revealed in Jesus. 

And it is ‘apart from the Law.’ This righteousness of God is apart from the law. Not just any law, let’s be specific, it is the mosaic law that is in view here. The Law that is contained in the first five books of the Bible, known to Jews as the Torah. So the righteousness of God has been made known separately from the law. God’s righteousness is not however disconnected completely from the law, for the Law and the Prophets testify to this revealed righteousness. This is well understood through Jesus own words in Luke 24:44 “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” There is a sense in which this witness and prophetic function of the law have now been realised, fulfilled in Christ’s life, death and resurrection. For what was being pointed to, testified to, has happened.

Yet, God’s righteousness isn’t gained through the law. For a Jew this would have been very hard to comprehend. We have seen how Paul effectively explains this problem to his Jewish readers. For firstly he says that there is an advantage in being a Jew because they were trusted with the very oracles, the very commandments of God (3:2). But then in verse 9 Paul explains that it is not being a Jew that means you’re saved, and we’ve already seen that it’s not the law. But the law is good, for it shows us our sin. 

  • The Righteousness of God is received by faith (v22-24)

This righteousness from God has not just been made known, it has been revealed so that those who believe, those who have faith in God’s Son receive this righteousness as a gift. God righteousness isn’t just seen, it is available by faith. Read verses 22-24 “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

Through faith in Jesus Christ. It is given, it is gifted. The righteousness of God is given, through faith in Jesus Christ. There is no other way of receiving this righteousness. Later on in the letter to the Romans Paul shows this same idea expressed slightly differently Romans 10:9 “If you declare with your mouth that “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” It is by faith in Jesus Christ that you receive the righteousness of God. And this is for all who believe. Paul was making a valid point about there being no difference between Jew and Gentile in terms of receiving God’s righteousness through faith. Perhaps for us today we might say that there is no difference between any human being for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Yet, by faith the righteousness of God is available to all who repent and believe. By Faith this righteousness is given, it is given freely, and it is not deserved. 

Have you ever been given something that you didn’t deserve. I remember many years ago on the harbour bridge in Sydney there used to be toll booths, before the electronic tags came in. I know, I’m showing my age. Anyway, I remember once driving up slowly to the toll collector with my hand out to give him the $1 for crossing the bridge, only to be told that the person in the car in front of me had paid my toll for me. I must be honest as a young man I was shocked. Why would someone pay for me? Don’t get me wrong, I was happy that they had, I just didn’t really know why. I didn’t know them, I hadn’t done anything to deserve it. They just showed me undeserved favour, kindness. Now this was just a $1 act of kindness, how much more should we value and stand in awe at God’s kindness of sending his own Son to die in our place.

Grace is a great word, and not just a good name to call your child. But we should remember this word every day, because grace speaks of God’s love for us. You see we are justified, made right with God, because of his action in sending his own Son to die for us. A gracious gift action that we don’t deserve. It is often called unmerited or undeserved favour. Cause that is what it is. When God pours out his grace on us, we didn’t deserve it and we certainly didn’t do anything to earn it. It is the free gift. As verse 24 states “and all are justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.” Isn’t this a wonderful verse. God has made a way, freely by his love for us to be with him.

The righteousness of God that verses 21-24 speaks about, is God’s righteousness in the Gift of Jesus Christ through which we are redeemed, justified through faith. This righteousness of God is a saving righteousness. 

So then how does this work. How does this righteousness of God have its effect? Well it has already been stated, I would say emphatically, that we all alike are under sin. And if we missed that then verse 23 reminds us that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” By the way that is our memory verse if you didn’t already know. Paul reminds us of why we need the righteousness of God, of why indeed God has given us this righteousness though his Son. It is because we are sinful, we are unrighteous. In fact verse 24 says “and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ. So we are redeemed or counted righteous by Jesus Christ. We are counted righteous freely, apart from the law, by Jesus Christ, not by anything that we have done. So let’s look at verse 25 and see in more detail how this justification, this redemption comes to be.

  • The Righteousness of God Demonstrated in Jesus as the Atonement (v25-26)

Verse 25 and 26 “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

God’s will was done in sending his own Son to the cross. It is the Father’s will that Jesus accomplishes. Jesus says in John 6:38-40 “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” 

God sent his own Son to die a death when he had done nothing wrong. He was guiltless. God presented his Son as a sacrifice. Not just a sacrifice but a perfect, holy, sinless sacrifice. A sacrifice of atonement. Now atonement is one of those words that doesn’t come up in everyday conversation. But how should we understand atonement? God’s holy and righteous character requires that the rebellion and offence against God is dealt with. So there has to be punishment for sin. Sin has to be atoned for. Romans 1:18 shows that sin will be punished, God’s wrath is being revealed. “In Australia we live in a society that has law and order. Whether or not you agree with all of the laws that are in place, if you break a law, then there is punishment. You might or might not be familiar with the phrase “you do the crime, you do the time.” But generally society understands that Justice dictates that when crimes are committed there must be punishment. The Old Testament sacrificial system was put in place to deal with the sins that had been committed. After God rescued the Israelites out of Egypt, God set in place a system whereby the sins committed would be covered or atoned for by a sacrifice. (Leviticus 1:3-4) showed how this process worked. The laying on of hands on a spotless lamb symbolised a transfer of the guilt from the sinner to the animal. The animal would then be slaughtered, and the priest would splash the blood against the side of the alter. Romans 3:25 shows that now Jesus perfectly fulfils that role of the forever sacrifice. Jesus blood was spilled so that our sins could be forgiven. Where in verse 25 we read the words “a sacrifice of atonement” in the NIV, this comes from the Greek word hilastērion.The ESV (English Standard Version) translates the Greek word hilastērion as propitiation, there is a strong agreement that what is in view here is the ‘mercy seat’, the cover of the ark of the covenant where once a year on the Day of Atonement Yahweh appeared and where the sacrificial blood was poured. Jesus through his death and resurrection had become the once for all sacrifice and ultimate mercy seat. The word propitiation also has the idea of God’s wrath being appeased in the death of Christ. So the debt of sin is cancelled by Jesus death on the cross. Jesus has paid the price. We sing this in the words of the modern hymn in Christ alone. “Till on that Cross as Jesus Died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” John 3:36 “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them. God will deal with sin, either through faith in Christ where there is forgiveness and life, or rejection of Christ where there is God’s wrath and punishment.

To recap there are three ways in this passage that show how this saving righteousness of God through Jesus is applied to us through faith. Firstly, by faith in Jesus we are Justified, declared not guilty, because Jesus has taken our place, taken the punishment that we deserve. Secondly, we are redeemed by the blood of Jesus. The price has been paid for us, for our sins, by Jesus. Thirdly, Jesus death has satisfied God’s righteous wrath.

God has indeed demonstrated his righteousness, his holiness, his justice and his love for us at the Cross. The punishment that we deserved has been taken by God’s own Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

God’s righteousness is Given through faith. Through faith it Justifies. Through faith It Atones. Through faith It Redeems. In the end the Law shows us that we are sinful and in need of saving. The righteousness of God that is made known through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, through faith declares believers righteous.

In just a few chapters time Paul reminds us that what God has done shows his incredible love for us. Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

  • Boasting? (v27-31)

In the final verses of this section there is really only one question in view. Paul asks in verse 27 “Where, then is boasting?” The Jews had boasted that they have the Law, and therefore they are right with God. Paul has shown that the Law is good and makes us aware of our sin (v20), it indeed points to Jesus (v21), yet we read in this first section “Where then is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” 

Do we here tonight boast in our works, whatever they may be? We can’t justify ourselves, only God can. So if we are a follower of Jesus here tonight, let’s remember that we only have one boast. Jesus!

Or as 2 Corinthians 10:17 says “Let those who boast, boast in the Lord.”


The Righteousness of God has been revealed! This section of scripture is glorious, for in it we see how sinners are counted righteous by God, through faith in Christ. There is nothing like these verses. No other news in the world compares to this. Because the righteousness of God has been revealed, has been made known, we can now know God. 

So this passage begs the question. Where are you today? Have you received God’s saving righteousness by faith in Jesus Christ? 

If you would like to talk more about this, Matt or I would love to talk with you.