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Romans Lesson 4: 3.21-4.3

Romans Lesson 4: 3.21-31, 4.1-3 - JUSTIFIED

LAST WEEK: In Rom. 2:17-29, Paul described two groups of people: (1) Gentiles who sin apart from the law, and (2) Jews, who sin under the law. After having explained the sinful and lost condition of the idolatrous Gentiles two weeks ago (Rom. 1:18-32), Paul made it clear last week that the Jews were not exempt from God's judgment either. Here are the four major points of application:

  • No one can obtain eternal security through ancestral heritage. Paul was referring to religious Jews in these verses, but by the same token, if someone says I'm a "Christian" because he or she grew up in a Christian home, went to church, and was even baptized, they are deluding themselves if they have not believed in and confessed-inwardly-Christ as Lord and Savior.
  • The fundamental reason the Jews received the revelation of the Law was to bring glory to the name of God. Instead, by disobeying the Law, they brought contempt and dishonor on His name.
  • According to apostolic interpretation, OT Scripture plainly required perfect conformity in keeping the Law. Since that is impossible, no one escapes the final judgment unless their sins are, by grace, forgiven by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.
  • True Jewishness and circumcision are not ethnic or physical attributes but matters of the heart, by the Spirit. While the Law can never transform anyone (i.e., regenerate them), the working of the Holy Spirit can and does. A believing Christian, without regard to ethnicity or background, is enabled by the Holy Spirit to live a new life characterized by obedience to God.

THIS WEEK: In the previous chapters of Romans, Paul established the scope of humanity's problem: (1) The reality-as Gentiles-of our guilt before God (Rom. 1:18-32); (2) the righteousness of God's judgment (Rom. 2:1-17); and (3) the failure-as Jews-of those who rely upon the Law (Rom. 2:17-29), which reaches the conclusion that none can be righteous. Having established the problem, in our lesson verses today, Paul explains that we all have sinned and can be "justified" only by God's grace as a gift (vv. 21-26); based on this truth, we have no ground for "boasting" (v.27-28); and Jew and Gentiles are in the same boat, both being justified by faith, not Law (vv. 29-31). Finally, in Rom. 4:1-3, Paul concludes his point with the example of Abraham as reported in Gen. 15:6.

Read Rom. 3:21-23 - ALL THOSE WHO BELIEVE, FOR ALL HAVE SINNED

21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

v. 21: "But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets" - The two words "But now," mark a monumental paradigm shift in the history of the world: the era after Christ's coming-the Church Age-and the ministry of the Holy Spirit in God's redemptive plan, and this time of fulfillment of God's plan has come "apart from the law"-that is, apart from works based on Mosaic Law. The phrase "the righteousness of God" refers to the position of those who have been declared righteous by God through no merit of their own. Using the phrase "witnessed by the Law and the Prophets," Paul declares that both (another way of saying all OT Scripture) point to the righteousness of God.

v. 22a: "even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe" - Under the Old Covenant, Jewish people assumed they could achieve righteousness by keeping the Law; but, last week we heard Paul tell them (in vv. 2:17ff) that observing religious rituals would not exempt anyone from the final judgment. Paul proclaims that now-in this new age-the righteous of God has been unmistak-ably revealed "through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe." And notice, it's through faith-we can't earn righteousness by faith but receive it as a free gift of God.

v. 22b: "there is no distinction" - This is a parenthetical expression which proclaims that this "righteousness" is available to "all who believe," whether Jew or Gentile (= everybody on earth).

v. 23: "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" - We need to remember that we were created in the first instance to share God's glory in paradise but lost it when Adam and Eve disobeyed God's express command not to eat the forbidden fruit. God likewise created us to live obedient lives as His children, but instead, we rebelled and chose the wide road to leads to destruction and fell short of the glory for which we were created-the glory that God desires to share with us.

TRUTH 1: We cannot earn righteousness by faith but receive it through faith as a free gift of God. Paul proclaims that now-in this new age-the righteous of God has been unmistakably revealed "through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe." And notice, it's through faith-we can't earn righteousness by faith but receive it as a free gift of God.

Read Rom. 3:24-26 - JUSTIFIED BY FAITH

24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 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; 26 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.

v. 24: "being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" - Let's examine the elements of Paul's statement: (1) "being justified" - this has to do with being declared righteous as when a judge acquits someone as "not guilty," or even better, when a president or governor "pardons" someone and completely strikes their conviction from the record; (2) "a gift by His grace" - we must understand that as guilty parties, we have no way-powerless-to be pardoned from our sin except by this free gift of God's grace; (3) "through the redemption" - this has to do with being set free as when someone pays a "ransom" (i.e., a price) for our freedom; and (4) "which is in Christ Jesus" - God sacrificed His only Son to pay the price for our ransom once and for all.

TRUTH 2: When we are justified, it means we've been declared righteous by God. By analogy, this is similar to when a judge acquits someone-hands down a sentence-of "not guilty," or when a president or a governor "pardons" someone and strikes their conviction from the record.

v. 25a: "whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith" - The Greek word Paul uses for "propitiation," (hilast─ôrion), literally means to make something favorable or acceptable. In OT times, it described the Mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant within the Holy of Holies on which the blood of the sacrificial lamb was sprinkled for the atonement of sins; in the NT context, it represents the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross as atonement once and for all.

v. 25b: "This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed" - The death of Christ demonstrates God's righteousness, because, instead of pardoning people for their sin without making sacrifice, God provided a sacrifice Himself, and by doing so, upheld His deep-seated hatred of sin while simultaneously making it possible for people to be "passed over" and thereby forgiven of their sins.

v. 26: "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" - In a nutshell, this statement means that God's action in the present is now consistent with his action in the past (judgment for sin under the Old Covenant). Pure justice would have been cruel and pure mercy would have lacked divine uprightness, so God established a middle ground where He can maintain righteousness while showing mercy. The cross established that middle ground, and faith opens the door to receive the mercy created at the cross.

TRUTH 3: Under the New Covenant, God established a middle ground where he can maintain His righteousness while showing His mercy. Under the Old Covenant (judgment against sin), true justice would have been cruel, but pure mercy would have lacked divine uprightness. The cross established that middle ground, and faith opens the door to receive the mercy created at the cross.

Read Rom. 3:27-31 - JUSTIFIED BY FAITH APART FROM WORKS OF THE LAW

27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.  31 Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.

v. 27: "Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith." - Paul quite obviously addresses this question the Jews. Last week in 2:23, Paul exposed the Jews as hypocrites for boasting in the Law when they simultaneously dishonored God in breaking it. He answers the question by declaring that boasting-a self-righteous attitude-"is excluded." There is absolutely no place in any person's salvation for boasting by reason of the fact that salvation is from beginning to end a work of God on behalf of a depraved, lawless people. The rhetorical questions "what kind of law...Of Works" simply discredits the idea that if righteousness came through works, then human beings could boast about what they had done, but since salvation is through faith alone-totally on God's initiative-no one can boast before God about anything.

TRUTH 4: There is no place in any person's salvation for boasting. The fact is that our salvation is from beginning to end a work of God on behalf of a depraved, lawless people. Salvation comes to us through faith alone-totally on God's initiative-and no one can boast before God about anything.

v. 28: "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law - When Luther translated this verse, he added the word "alone," which, though not in the Greek manuscript, still accurately reflects its meaning: that we aren't justified by faith plus something, just faith alone.

vv. 29-30: "Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one." - Paul fields more rhetorical questions that answer themselves. Inasmuch as the oneness of God was a belief properly basic to Judaism, Paul here appeals to this doctrine with the stipulation that God has the same concern for Gentiles as He does the Jew, and despite the mistaken Jewish notion that Gentiles have no natural claim to their God, the Gentiles are in fact saved by the same faith that saves a Jew.

v. 31: "Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law" - To rephrase the question, while it's true that salvation is by grace through faith apart form the Law, does this mean that it has no essential relationship to the Law? No, justification by faith does not nullify the Law but establishes it. Specifically, the Law itself points to the fact that human obedience to the Law cannot save and that righteousness can only be achieved through faith in Christ, because Christ Himself has achieved this righteousness on behalf of all who believe in Him, through His perfect fulfillment of the Law and His atoning death on the cross. Moreover, when Paul says, "we establish the Law," he likewise affirms the moral standards of the law and refutes any idea that grace releases Christians from the obligation of observing moral law. More on this in Chap. 6.

TRUTH 5: Justification by faith does not nullify the Law but establishes it. While righteousness can only be achieved through faith in Christ, as opposed to obedience to the Law, the moral standards of the Law (e.g., the Ten Commandments, etc.) still apply to Christians today.

Read Romans 4:1-3 - IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS

1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? "ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS."

v. 1a: "What then shall we say that Abraham" - Paul's "What then" links Chap. 4 to what he had covered in Chaps. 1-3, where he established: (1) the reality of human guilt [1:18-21]; (2) the righteous judgment of God [2:1-16]; (3) the relationship of Jews to the Law [2:17-3:8]; the fact that none is righteous [3:9-20]; and (4) the fact that righteousness is possible only through faith [3:21-31]. Now, to demonstrate that what he's been explaining isn't actually something new, Paul uses the example of Abraham, the great forefather of Judaism as a case in point. Observation: What Paul says in these verses about sin and grace sharply disagrees with traditional Jewish beliefs about Abraham, in part, based on Gen. 26:4-5, where God promised Isaac a blessing "because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws." But here, Paul will show that it wasn't Abraham's works that made him righteous before God, but his faith. By doing this, Paul challenged Judaism's central premise: that obedience to the Law determines a person's relationship with God.

v. 1b: "our forefather according to the flesh, has found?" - Although Jewish people are biologically descended from Abraham, that is, "according to the flesh," when Paul says, "our forefather," he's not just referring to the Jews but includes all Gentiles as well, which, by extension, included everyone in the church at Rome.

v. 2: "For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God" - Yes, Abraham made huge leaps of faith, obeying God when called to leave his homeland (Gen. 10:12) and when commanded to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22:1-14), but he was also unfaithful to God at times as when he lied about Sarah being his sister (Gen. 12:10-20) and took Hagar as his mistress in order to have a son (Gen. 16). Thus, he had nothing to boast about in terms of being righteous.

v. 3: "For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness" - Paul quotes Gen. 15:6 to make his point. The Greek word used for "credited" (elogisthe) is an accounting term, which imparts the meaning that God credited Abraham's account to give him the status of righteousness in the same way a generous father might cancel a wayward son's debt to grant him the status of solvency. In both cases, Abraham and the wayward son are beneficiaries of a generous gift and neither could claim that they earned their new status in any way. Therefore, if it is true that Abraham did not earn his righteousness by his deed, neither did he earn it by his belief; his righteous status cannot be earned but is a gift from God.

TRUTH 6: Through the example of Abraham, God demonstrated that justification through faith is not something new. When God "credited to...[Abraham]...as righteousness" (Gen. 16:6), he received it as a free gift of God that he did not earn by his good deeds or by his belief.

PRAYER: God, our Father in heaven, we come before your throne this morning with thankful hearts, praising You for the love, mercy, and grace You constantly show toward us as individual Christian believers and as a Church. We thank You also for allowing us another opportunity to learn and indeed, apply to ourselves, these fundamental truths of Your holy Word. I ask, Lord, that You will use this time of study and learning to encourage and convict every one of us as Your witnesses-to share this truth with the lost people right outside the doors of this church. We ask, God, for Your divine direction in the future of this church today and specifically, for the continuing efforts of our Pastor Search Committee-that they will find the man who You have chosen to be our new shepherd, and we look forward to what You haven planned for us. I ask these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our precious Lord and Redeemer, AMEN.