Righteousness Through Faith, Rom. 3:21-31
We noted in our study of the theme text of this letter that Romans is about being justified or made right with God (Rom. 1:16-17). Paul uses the term “justified” in various forms 22 times in his letters, primarily in this section of Romans. The world was adrift in sin and unrighteousness before the coming of the Messiah, the Anointed One. God designed and implemented a plan for bringing sinful mankind into a right relationship with himself. Righteousness comes by faithful obedience, and not by keeping the Law of Moses.
In our context for today Paul sets out four principles of God’s plan for justifying mankind. It is apart from the Law. It is attested or witnessed by the Law. It is bestowed through Christ, and it is divinely just. God’s own character is the basis and standard for the justification of sinful man. Salvation, or justification from sins does not come by keeping the Old Testament Law. Paul says this repeatedly in Romans. Sadly, we must say this repeatedly today as well. How often do men point to the 10 Commandments as the ultimate law? Neither is salvation based on the good deeds of any person. Salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ (3:22).
In chapter 3, Paul states the inadequacy of man in the negative (3:10), and in the positive (3:23). We are not righteous on our own, and we have failed to live up to God’s moral code. This is true of all people. We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. What does Paul mean by this statement (3:23)? The glory of God is the essence and display of his righteous character. His glory was visibly obvious in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. When Jesus’ appearance was altered at the Transfiguration, his inner quality shone through in a visible demonstration (Matt. 17:2). We do not measure up to the goodness of God. To fall short of God’s glory is to fall short what he expects of us. Even man’s best attempts at meeting God’s expectations fail miserably. We are created in the image of God, but we have all “sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). The Law of Moses demonstrated man’s inadequacy to the Jew. No one could measure up to the 10 Commandments or the hundreds of details contained in the Law. Apart from the Law, God introduced his means of solving the sin problem. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
In the sacrifice of Jesus, two things happened. God’s sense of justice was satisfied; the penalty of our sins was carried out on Jesus (Isa. 53:4-5). Also, Jesus’ death became the means of our justification. We are forgiven of our sins when we obey the gospel (Acts 2:38). Thus, God is both just and the justifier of the one who believes (3:26). Jesus took our punishment and granted salvation to all who trust and obey him! Salvation is for Jew and Gentile alike (Acts 10:34-35).
Paul emphasizes salvation by faith as opposed to works—works of the Law and works of merit. The theologian Martin Luther added the word “only” to his translation of 3:28, and the world of Christian scholarship has followed the music of the piper. But salvation is not by faith alone. Saving faith is trust that leads us to obey Christ, at baptism and throughout life. Genuine faith is trust in God, not our own goodness.
My comments are not an inspired commentary, but rather a few words to draw attention to the background, context, and dynamic situation of the book of Acts. May God bless your reading of His Word. T.C.