The word justification is an important term in the Christian’s vocabulary. To be justified refers to the legal act in which God declares a guilty sinner just. This is done by God imputing righteousness to their account by means of faith in Christ. It is for this reason Martin Luther said, “justification is the article by which the church stands and falls”. Romans 3:21-31 introduces the reader to the beginning of the second major section in Paul’s letter (Righteousness and Salvation 3:21-8:39). In it Paul clearly outlines God’s provided way of salvation. With the sound of the words “but now” (3:21), the reader goes from night to day, hopelessness to hope, and from sorrow to joy. The question answered in this passage is, “How can a sinner be right with God?”
1. THE REVEALING OF RIGHTEOUSNESS (3:21-26)
In verses 21-26 Paul discusses the amazing reality of the righteousness of God being revealed. He does this by dealing with the way to receive it (3:21-24) and then the work that achieved it (3:25-26). How does a sinful person who is guilty before God receive a right standing before God? Firstly, it does not come by us trying to obey the Law (3:21). The Law of God does not save us, but it does convict and condemn us (cf. 3:19). Instead, the Law and Prophets point to the way salvation is received. Secondly, it comes by means of faith alone in Jesus Christ (3:22). This is necessary because all have sinned (3:23). Thirdly, this right standing before God comes by God’s gift of grace (3:24). This means that salvation is not something we deserve – it is a gift.
In 3:21-24 Paul shows the way to receive a right standing with God, but how can God justify sinners and maintain His justice? In verses 25-26 Paul shows how a right standing with God was achieved. The solution to this is found at the cross of Christ. Jesus Christ was “put forward as a propitiation by His blood” (3:25). The word “propitiation” is an important term meaning that Jesus Christ appeased the wrath of God on our behalf. Interestingly, this word appears only on one other occasion in the NT and it is translated “mercy seat” (Heb. 9:5). In the OT the mercy seat was hidden behind the veil and was only seen by the High Priest once a year. But in our text Jesus’ act of sacrifice was in public view as it paid the price for sin once and for all (cf. Heb. 9:28). By means of the cross of Christ, God demonstrated His justice and was proven to be both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (3:26).
2. THE RECIPIENTS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS (3:27-31)
This gift of having a righteous standing before God is a gift of grace to all who believe (both Jew and Gentile), which was achieved by the work of Christ on the cross. For this reason, the cross excludes all boasting (3:27-28), eliminates distinctions (3:29-30), and establishes the law (3:21).
- Dr. Guy Waters defines justification by faith as “a legal declaration in which God pardons the sinner of all his sins and accepts and accounts the sinner as righteous in His sight. God declares the sinner righteous at the very moment that the sinner puts his trust in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:21-26, 5:16; 2 Cor. 5:21).” Discuss the blessedness and richness of this term.
- How does this section show a transition from bad news to good news? See esp. 3:21a.
- Though the Law does not provide us with righteousness, what did the OT provide us with? See 3:21.
- Why is faith in Christ the only way to receive justification? See 3:22-24
- How does the death of Christ achieve salvation for sinners? See 3:25-26
- What influence does the doctrine of justification by faith have on boasting? Why? See 3:27-31