Romans 3:21-31
Righteousness Based On Faith

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

Re-Translated In November 1999

1.  Paul presented and wrote the following theme in the Epistle To The Roman Disciples in chapter one and verses sixteen and seventeen:  "I am not ashamed of the gospel because the gospel is the power of God which brings salvation to everyone who believes beginning with the Jew and also the Greek.  The righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel, but still it becomes real through faith from beginning to end.  It is written 'The righteous person will live by faith.'"  However, Paul does not immediately begin to expand from here on the topics "the power of God," "the righteousness of God," and "faith," instead he begins to speak on human sinfulness and unrighteousness.  Furthermore, he clarifies that it is not just the outright sinful who are unable to bear up to God's judgment, but also that those who self-righteously judge others and those who are devout won't make it either.  A concluding statement to [his] chain of thought is summarized in chapter three and verse nine like this:  "As I have already pointed out, both Jew and Greek are under sin."  Thus, this epistle thrusts before our eyes first of all the truth that all of us are in the darkness of sin's control.

2.  But, when we begin to be aware of the deep darkness [we are in], another message resounds in our ears.  It is the message, "But now."  With that, we hear the message of salvation.  "The righteousness of God," "the power of God," and "faith," which have already been presented as themes, break through into the darkness with an overwhelming light and draw close to us again.  At that time the reason becomes clear why Paul was preaching hard concerning humanity's sin.  A sin exposing message of the conviction of humankind for its sins is not the last message [humankind] is supposed to hear.  Salvation does not lie in this world's messages of empty encouragement and consolation.  Salvation will not [be found] in a message that speaks as if sin isn't sin.  Salvation is not in a message that only puts a lid on the stink [of things] without taking a good look at the actual situation.  That's not where it is, but rather, after we have admitted we are human beings under the rule of sin and death, salvation is more to be found at the very place where we are able to say, "But now!"  Why isn't the sin exposing message of the conviction of humankind for its sins the final message for humanity?  Why can he preach a completely brand new "now?"  From verse twenty-one Paul begins to elucidate on something that happened that God did which is foundational to [why Paul could preach a new "now"] and on what happened in that one event that decisively altered the relationship between God and humanity.

Without Any Relationship To The Law

3.  Let's begin by reading up to verse twenty-four.

"But now the righteousness of God has been revealed without a connection to the law, but more so it has been substantiated by the law and the prophets.  That is, by believing in Jesus Christ there is a righteousness of God given to everyone who believes  There is no discrimination here at all.  All people have sinned and cannot receive the glory of God, but just through the work of redemption by Christ Jesus we are justified for free in accordance with God's grace."

4.  The Jews were a people entrusted with God's word, (3:2).  They were a people who got a revelation into the will of God  and were given the law of God.  But, their history was also a history that clearly showed that humanity is under sin and is unable to keep the law of God.  Whether it is the law written down literally or the law recorded in the heart, a human cannot live in a righteous relationship with God by the keeping of the law.  Because all are under sin.  In verse twenty the scriptures put it like this:  "Because by putting the law into practice no one will be justified before God.  Only an awareness of sin is produced by the law."

5.  This is put another way in verse twenty-three as follows: "Everyone has sinned and cannot receive the glory of God..."  If translated literally it means "fall short of the glory of God."  In order to understand this phrase, I would like for us to take a look back a bit to chapter two and the verses beginning with six and following.  The major principle of God's judgment is recorded there.  "God will repay according to each and every deed.  That is, to the one who patiently performs good deeds and seeks glory, honor and immortal things, he will give eternal life, and to the one with a rebellious heart and who obeys unrighteousness without the truth, he will show anger and wrath.  To everyone who practices evil, to the Jew first as well as the Greek, he will let down troubles and hardships, and to all who practice good, to the Jew first as well as the Greek, he will give glory, honor, and peace," (2:6-10).  As we see how "glory" is written in the text along side "honor" and "immortal things," we understand this to be related to salvation at the end time.  Therefore, taking part in the glory of God we could put in different words such as "being let into the kingdom of God," "being saved," and "having a part in life eternal."  Therefore, "Everyone has sinned and cannot receive the glory of God" means no one by himself or herself will be able to stand up to the great principle of God's judgment.

6.  We understand this clearly if we actually think about our own selves.  Can we consider ourselves fit for eternal life as we stand before the judgment of a "God who will repay according to each and every deed?"  Can we think of the hope of taking part in the glory of God as something we naturally have part in?  I don't think we can.  Instead, aren't we people who are hopeless and powerless with "anger and wrath" shown to us?  We cannot make exceptions of ourselves to the words "all have sinned and cannot receive the glory of God."  In that "all" naturally, it includes both you and me. This again is none other than "by putting the law into practice no one is justified before God," which I stated before.  One does not reach the glory of God by any means by actions which go from human to God and actions which go from below to above.  Nothing can be done by our part in the direction that goes from below to above; it is the relationship between God and humans.

7.  But, then he begins to speak amidst that desperate situation, "But now, the righteousness of God is shown... without any relationship to the law."  That we can't do anything in the direction that goes from below upward or in the direction where a human goes to God has been decisively revealed in the actions of God which go from above downward.  It says "it has nothing to do with the law."  Since it is produced by God "without any relationship to the law," it is thoroughly up to humans to receive it.  Since it is "the righteousness of God" by way of God's creative work of salvation, a righteous relationship with God is not produced by humans at all, rather, it means that God produces it and gives it to humans.  A human being just believes and receives.  It is written in verse twenty-two:  "That is, by believing in Jesus Christ comes the righteousness of God which is given to all who believe."

8.  I mentioned before how humans are equal before the judgment of God.  To speak further on it, all humans are equal in that they are under sin and unable to save themselves by their own power.  They are equally in despair.  But, because of that they are equal in salvation as well.  The righteousness of God has appeared without any relationship to the law.  Therefore, all people can believe and receive.  That's how the anger and wrath of God no longer exists for us and we can obtain a righteous relationship with God and can have fellowship with him.  "There is no discrimination here at all,"  (verse twenty-two).  There is no discrimination here at all because it (i.e. the righteousness of God) is not based on our actions or accomplishments, but it is based on the work of the redemption by Christ Jesus.  "All have sinned and cannot receive the glory of God, but through the work of redemption by Christ Jesus one is justified freely based on grace," (verses twenty-three and twenty-four).

9.  What is "the work of redemption?"  The image being given here is the slave trade.  There we have a person who became a slave due to his debts.  This is you and me.  Slaves cannot release themselves.  We can't begin to save ourselves.  As long as we depend on ourselves, only despair is there present.  But, there came one man for us.  He paid the appropriate amount for us, purchased us, and released us free.  We call "redemption" the price of this purchase.  In other words, what [the Bible] is saying here is that every square inch of salvation comes totally from the work of redemption by Christ and that it comes from the grace of God.  Because it is based on grace, it is without charge or free.  The words translated "without charge" were originally the words "as a gift."  Since it was a gift we should receive it.

The Offering That Atones For Sin

10.  As we continue let's read verses twenty-five on.

"God raised up this Christ and made an offering by which he atones for the sin of all who believe by his blood.  He did it to overlook the sin which a person has committed up to now and to show the righteousness of God.  God has in this manner been patient, but the one who has shown righteousness at this time has made clear that he himself is the righteous one and he has justified the one who believes in Jesus," (verses twenty-five and twenty-six).

11.  The image which Paul's words begin to illustrate here shifts from the slave trade to the ritual in the temple of Israel.  It is the ceremony of redemption which is held once each year on "The Day Of Atonement."  On that day the high priest would slaughter a bull and a goat for himself and for the sins of the people of Israel as an offering to pay for sin.  With the bulls and the goats screaming, suffering, and their blood flowing, they came to their death.  Then the high priest took the shed blood of the animal behind the curtain of the Holy of Holies in the sanctuary and waved it in front of and over the "seat of redemption," that is, the cover of the ark of the covenant.  The phrase translated here as "offering which pays for sin" is also a word that indicates this "seat of redemption."  But besides that as we imagine this scene we can't deny one of our feelings. We can't help but think, "How unreasonable this whole thing is!"  The one who committed sin was human, but yet a bull without any sin whatsoever suffered and died.  How unreasonable is this?

12.  We may certainly feel such a ritual from the Old Testament is impossibly hard for us to accept.  However, as we look at it through the events in Jesus Christ the meaning of this hard to accept rite becomes apparent.  Yes, it does.  This extremely unreasonable rite points to the most unreasonable and unfair death in this world, that event when a righteous person died on the cross.  The very death of Jesus Christ himself was "an offering which atoned for sin," which God had prepared and it was "the seat of redemption."  We understand that the Old Testament sacrifices and the place in which they atoned for sin were meant to be set patterns of examples so as to point [Christ's atonement] out in advance.  Therefore, Paul also stated here that "God appointed this Christ and made him an offering to atone for sin  for the one who believes by his blood."

13.  However, as we come to understand the design by which Paul speaks concerning "the offering which atones for sin," one more problem still remains, which is, "why do we need an offering to atone for sin?"  Actually, I can't tell how many times I have heard inside the church and outside the church the following questions:  "Why does God require an offering to atone for sin?  Why is the cross of Christ necessary?  If God wants to forgive the sins of humanity and make them righteous, why can't he just declare a pardon for sin?"  There is an idea among Japanese of "letting bygones be bygones."1  So, we think if God wants to forgive sins, why doesn't he simply let bygones be bygones and let our sins flow into the waters of forgiveness and forgetfulness without going through some complicated process?"  We feel a relationship founded on paying the price of sin is "cold."

14.  Because we live in a country [where people think] like that, in regard to "the offering that atones for sin" we should keep on understanding its connection to "the righteousness of God" whenever the Bible speaks on it.  What does Paul say in the last part of this text?  He says, "... but the one who has shown righteousness at this time has made clear that he himself is the righteous one and he has justified the one who believes in Jesus."

15.  "The righteousness of God" [could] certainly [be defined as] God's work of salvation in which he justifies the sinner and restores right relationships with God.  In that sense "the righteousness of God" is a synonym with "the salvation of God."  But, "the righteousness of God" is at the same time "the justice of God."  "The justice of God" and "the salvation of God" are not two different matters, but are one and the same matter in which is included the same phrase "the righteousness of God."  That is, it means that God does not justify a sinner by abandoning his own justice. He does not discontinue "being a just God" and save sinners.  No, that's not the way it is, rather, God saves sinners by thoroughly carrying out his justice and righteousness.  "He made clear that he himself is a righteous being" and "he justifies the one who believes in Jesus."  It was only in the events belonging to Jesus Christ when that kind of righteousness was revealed.  In the first place, there is no true salvation when God's justice is not thoroughly carried out.

16.  Please look to the Christ of the cross who became the offering to atone for sin.  There is where a sinner's forgiveness lies.  But, at the same time, the justice of God is manifested to its extreme.  On the cross of Christ, we see God is a God who hates sin.  On the cross of Christ, we see God is a righteous God who judges sin.  Because our being made to recover a righteous relationship with God is a free gift at no charge to us and at the same time it is "the righteousness of God," we see in the cross of Christ the truth that he had to go through a severe process, to say the least.

17.  "But now the righteousness of God has been revealed without a connection to the law, but more so it has been substantiated by the law and the prophets."  It's true, the righteousness of God has certainly been revealed "without any relationship to the law."  But, because it is a deed which the righteousness of God has thoroughly carried out, we know that the gospel of the cross is unmistakenly different from the world's messages of empty encouragement and consolation.  Also, we know it is not an easy appeal that says, "You don't have to pay attention to sin" or a deceptive message that speaks as if sin isn't really sin.  Therefore, we know that we have true salvation in it.

End Note

1.Literally, "it drains into the water" or "it flows into the water."  Sin and past indiscretions "flow into the water" or disperse into the deep sea forgotten and forgiven.  It seems very much like an idiom we have in English, "It's water under the bridge."

 
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