Romans 3:21-31
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21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, - Romans 3:21


"But..." Paul, having just indisputably driven home that we are sinners, transgressors of the law and therefore not righteous before God; having made known to us that such people deserve condemnation now delivers this simple yet profound word.. "But". What should this mean to us? In the face of what Paul has made light of so far in Romans, we are sitting in the defendant's seat in court, God's the judge, the law is the jury, the angels are in the audience, and Satan is the prosecuting attorney (Rev. 12:10). Satan just got done presenting his case against us. He didn't need much effort, it was an airtight case leaving us with no ground for us to stand on. It was the fastest a jury has ever reached a verdict. The facts, the evidence, and even our own conscience all spoke in one accord, "guilty". The jury returns to the courtroom with their verdict, "We the law find the defendant guilty your Honor." Satan, knowing the heart of the Judge, hastily reaches into his briefcase to pull out the decree the judge handed out earlier in Romans 2:6 which demands the punishment be just according to the crime. This was in case the Judge, because of His compassion, might be hesitant. We can tell by Satan's smile that he's got grounds for the death penalty. After all, it doesn't take a lawyer to deduce that our offense deserves nothing less (Rom. 2:5). After the brief moment of noise from papers shuffling and people shifting in their chairs there remained nothing but a long eerie silence (Rev. 8:1). We see the long face on the Judge for as He reaches for the gavel. We, in a justified panic, knowing we were unable to endure what was coming (Gen. 4:13) cry out, and then, just then, sitting next to us is our Defense Attorney (Rom. 8:27, 34) who's been calm throughout the entire trial, He stands up and speaks with a still small voice (1 Kings 19:12 KJV) this one word that would resound in our hearts through all the ages... "But" He says. Such a short word yet we latch onto it; the jury latches onto it, Satan is thrown off by it, the angels rise quickly to their feet (Luke 15:10, 1 Pet. 1:12) in order to get a better look. The Judge, well the Judge's eyes start welling up with tears, He's actually smiling (Isa. 53:10). What could this be?!?!?! we ponder in desperation. "Butttt what!!!" Satan throws at our Attorney. "But Me Your Honor." Jesus replies.


Question to ponder: What makes, is making, has made you panic before the court of God? What is it that makes you feel that your panic is justified?


21 But God has a way to make people right, and it has nothing to do with the law. He has now shown us that new way, which the law and the prophets told us about. - Rom. 3:21 (ERV)


I imagine this is where Satan's jaw drops. His entire argument was on the basis of the law. Such a notion of righteousness apart from the law would undermine his entire case, (Heb. 2:14) after all, what power does an "accuser of the brethren" have (Rev. 12:10) if righteousness is imparted apart from the law? Not only that, but this plan has been in the making for a long time even being witnessed to by the old testament prophets and even the law itself. Now the big reveal!


22 God makes people right through their faith in Jesus Christ. He does this for all who believe in Christ. Everyone is the same. - Rom. 3:22 (ERV)


God makes people right with Himself solely on the basis of faith in Jesus. This has always been God's intent (Rom. 4:3). While the news of how He accomplished it is new, being through Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross, (John 19:30) that is, the plan of righteousness which would come on the basis of faith is even true of old testament prophets like Abraham who "believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." (Gen. 15:6, Rom. 4:3).


Christians have often struggled with feeling forgiven. Unfortunately this is solely because they are listening to Satan who's lying to them, to us. It's the lie that God's forgiveness is based on the law when God is making it clear here it has nothing to do with the law and it has everything to do with His free gift in Christ Jesus. As written on Romans 11:6, grace earned is no longer grace, forgiveness earned is no longer forgiveness. When we don't feel forgiven it's because to the same exact degree we fail to recognize this truth of God's character and that is His grace! God's grace has never, will never, ever, be given based on the works or lack there of (Rom. 11:6). God's forgiveness can never be earned, if it can be earned than it's no longer forgiveness but what is due. The answer to not feeling forgiven is not to mull over the feeling nor is it to do good deeds to some how "make up the difference", but rather it's coming to the realization of the truth that Christ really did suffer for us and died for us and no works or lack thereof will effect His finished work on the cross on our behalf in any way! Once we realize how big God's grace is we'll no longer concern ourselves with our failing to measure up (Rom. 5:20). Perfect love cast out all fear!


18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. - 1 John 4:18


If that isn't deflating enough to Satan, Paul even agrees with Satan in regards to this legal dispute.


23 All have sinned and are not good enough to share God’s divine greatness. - Rom. 3:23 (ERV)


Basically, it's like going up to the prosecuting attorney and saying "we agree with you and the law" this person is definitely not good enough to inherit the kingdom of God. But God's got a way to make them right that has nothing to do with that!


24 They are made right with God by his grace. This is a free gift. They are made right with God by being made free from sin through Jesus Christ. - Rom. 3:24 (ERV)


So yes we haven't earned it, yes we don't deserve it, on that God, the law, the prophets, and Paul here agree (and we should too), but yes God is giving them the right for free, by His grace, through Jesus Christ. Know that God does not redeem apart from Jesus Christ. It is only through Him and in Him that we are justified (John 14:6). I like Chuck Smith's definition of justified. It's "just-as-if-I'd never sinned". Notice, and do not let it escape your notice the fact such status is freely given. Romans 6:23 sums this up nicely.


23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 6:23


Wages are what's due, gifts are always undeserved. Gifts therefore are always free, if they are earned they are no longer a gift but become a wage. God is making it very clear that this gift of righteousness is not earned. If anyone wants what's earned then they are brought back under the old wineskins, (Mark 2:22,Gal. 5:4) and what they've earned is death. On the contrary, this gift of eternal life is solely by the grace of God and is only received by faith (Eph. 2:8-9). So then the big question is, how can God do this? How can God justify us the sinner and still remain just Himself. How can He justly justify the guilty? This is summed up in the next two verses.


 God gave Jesus as a way to forgive people’s sins through their faith in him. God can forgive them because the blood sacrifice of Jesus pays for their sins. God gave Jesus to show that he always does what is right and fair. He was right in the past when he was patient and did not punish people for their sins. And in our own time he still does what is right. God worked all this out in a way that allows him to judge people fairly and still make right any person who has faith in Jesus. - Romans 3:25-26 (ERV)


Yes we're guilty, and yes God punishes sin and the wages of sin is death. One only needs to look to the cross to see the severity in which God regards sin. But that's precisely why and how God can justly forgive us, because He's already dished out the punishment on Jesus, the death our sin earned has been paid up! On the cross is where Him who is just justified us who were not.  Max Lucado put it well in His book "In the Grip of Grace" when he writes, "Ponder the achievement of God. He doesn't condone our sin, nor does He compromise His standard. He doesn't ignore our rebellion, nor relax His demands. Rather than dismiss our sin, He assumes our sin and incredibly, sentences Himself. God's holiness is honored. Our sin is punished... and we are redeemed. God did what we cannot do so we can be what we dare not dream: perfect before God."


21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. - 2 Corinthians 5:21


Question: What does the word imputed mean? It means to transfer ownership of something from one person to another. In the case of the above verse God imputed to Christ our sin, in other words, He transferred ownership of our sin to Jesus. He didn't merely go through a ritual or somehow just cover Jesus in our sin. No! It says He became sin. You see, in order for God to justly punish Jesus who did no wrong Jesus had to take ownership of our sin as if He did those wrongs, our record of sin actually became His record of sin. It wasn't a mere ritual as if He was still clean in His flesh, clothed in white underneath some outer garment of sin that we gave Jesus. God the Father who knows all things would have seen through that. Rather, Jesus was imputed with our sin in His flesh as if it were His and the Father justly judged Him in the flesh. God was actually mad at Jesus because of what we have done and therefore He rejected Him (Matt. 27:46).


If that's not enough, I mean, to escape the wrath of God, to have someone step forward and take our punishment is a BIG deal. To go about our way without the fear of judgement is a huge relief. But that's not all. Don't let the 2nd half of 2 Cor. 5:21 escape your notice. We know what Christ was imputed with (our sin) but look what we're imputed with? " that we might become the righteousness of God in Him!" Did you know you are a walking trophy of Christ's accomplishments. Inasmuch as Christ was imputed with our sin, we who receive Him are imputed with His righteousness (notice the word "might" in that verse, we'll revisit that). Inasmuch as God was wrathful on Jesus because of our wretchedness, God is delighted in us because of His wonderfulness. Jesus always did what pleased the Father (John 8:29) and now, for those in Christ, such a heavenly gift is credited to us on the basis of faith (Phil. 3:9). When God looked from heaven and said of Jesus "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:17) God now regards you with the same heart.


17 “The Lord your God is in your midst,
A victorious warrior.
He will exult over you with joy,
He will be quiet in His love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy. - Zephaniah 3:17


Paul continues as if to address potential questions manifesting in his recipients minds.


27 So do we have any reason to boast about ourselves? No reason at all. And why not? Because we are depending on the way of faith, not on what we have done in following the law. 28 I mean we are made right with God through faith, not through what we have done to follow the law. This is what we believe. - Romans 3:27-28 (ERV)


Boasting is excluded because we did not earn salvation. If we're discussing what was "earned" than we should remember, we've "earned" wrath. Therefore there is no room for us to boast as we have no valid reason to. We in no way merited such a wonderful gift of God. Rather than depending on what we have done, that is works, we are depending on what He has done, this is faith. To rely on Christ's accomplishment testifies of faith. Because righteousness is on the basis of faith apart from works, works then, our works, have no part in our redemption whatsoever. None. Zip. Nada. If they did, then we'd have reason to boast. But as it is, we have none. People like to view salvation as a handshake deal. That God somehow agrees to do one part as long as we do another, that however would give us reason to boast. Romans 11:6 makes it clear that works of any kind that aim to merit God's favor actually destroys grace since grace is a gift. As it were, like we discussed last week, we have nothing in which to contribute, we have nothing to offer God (Matt. 5:3).


29 God is not only the God of the Jews. He is also the God of those who are not Jews. 30 There is only one God. He will make Jews right with him by their faith, and he will also make non-Jews right with him through their faith. - Romans 3:29-30 (ERV)


So who is grace for? Everyone. The law was only of benefit to the Jews if they didn't fall short of obeying it but as it were, they did (v23). So they, like us, have but one option, to receive Christ by faith. Like we discussed and what's proven with Abraham (Gen. 15:6) this was God's plan from the beginning.


31 So do we destroy the law by following the way of faith? Not at all! In fact, faith causes us to be what the law actually wants. - Romans 3:31


I've heard people say that Christ takes "away" their sins. While I understand what they mean, my OCD would encourage them to rather say that Christ simply takes our sin. Not away. To take them away is true in a sense that He takes them from us, but He doesn't just put them in a dumpster as if to mock the law like it had no authority. Rather Christ assumes our sin, and we assume His righteousness. The law then is not destroyed on either account but rather it's established. On Christ who was imputed with our sin the law executed punishment thereby satisfying it's decree of judgement against sin. On us in Christ who are imputed with His righteousness the law means rewards. Remember what Romans 2 wrote.


who will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. - Romans 2:6-8


It has been rendered to Christ according to our deeds and now it's being rendered to us according to His accomplishments. On both ends of the spectrum the law is not done away with but rather it's fulfilled. This is what's being spoken of in Matthew:


17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. - Matthew 5:17


Christ bore the "wrath and indignation" due us, and solely by the gift of His grace we are blessed with what only He earned. "glory (John 17:22, Rom. 8:16-17, Thess 2:14) and honor (1 Cor. 15:42-43) and immortality (John 8:51, 1 Cor. 15:53), eternal life (Rom. 6:23)". Boasting, as if we had a part in it, would actually be diminishing Christ's accomplishment on our behalf. It would be mocking the finished work of Christ on the cross as not being as great as it is!


Revisiting that word "might" in 2 Corinthians 5:21 above. Notice the word "might" only applies to us becoming the righteousness of God in Him but the word "might" is absent in regards to Him who knew no sin becoming sin. That part did happen. (period) No "might" about it.


All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him. - Isaiah 53:6


This is why I can't stress enough that grace is for you! Whoever you are! Don't waste it! However God forces Himself on no man. Therefore the righteousness of God is not imputed whereas man doesn't want it.


36 He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” - John 3:36


24 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. - John 5:24


But know this. God wants to impute it to you (Isa. 30:18, Luke 12:32, 2 Pet. 3:9). I was reluctant to highlight this "might" part as people will often make faith a work and it's not. On the contrary, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17). Therefore I would rather do like we've done thus far in the study and tell you about Jesus. I don't want you to get hung up, as I have, in focusing on faith. Rather focus on Christ, listen to His word, cling to Him and His accomplishments; in doing so faith is enacted. Satan's next tactic is getting a person to be self-focused instead of being Christ-focused. When we're Christ-focused we anchor into Him. When we make faith a work or a focus, than we anchor to ourselves. It's the object of our faith that sustains us, that is Christ. Not only does He impart salvation on the basis of grace but it's through faith we obtain those things, even the faith itself is a gift from Him (Heb. 12:2, Eph. 2:8-9, Rom. 12:3). Since from Him come all great things (Jam. 1:17) I feel it's vital we keep our eyes on Him, cling to Him, rely on Him, this is the essence of faith. Yet our legalism may tempt us to make a "rule" to have faith... sneaky that legalism.


Question: How can you be confident that you are forgiven by God?


Answer: Because Christ very really paid the penalty for you. To the extent you realize that Christ was successful in being your propitiation (Rom. 3:25) is the same extent you realize you are forgiven. Struggle with feeling forgiven? Return to the cross and see! Like God said to Peter, "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy." (Acts 10:15). This means you!


In my back yard I have a cross, this time of year I have it lit up with white lights. In the shadow of that cross is an enormous boulder, just inches behind it. I neither built the cross nor put the rock beside it but the symbolism is not lost on me. That boulder is giant, that's my sin, day and night it just sits there. I'm free to roam about but my sin, well, wonderfully it always stays right there seated right at the foot of the cross. Some days though... some days I try and carry it with me, some days it's all I look at. Because of it's size it's ever before me and because of it's weight I cannot bear it. These are often dark days. Do I need it to be ever before me as some ritual penance before I'm allowed to put it at the cross? Hogwash. That's the VERY PURPOSE of the cross so I need not bear it any longer. Remember forgiveness earned is no longer forgiveness (Rom. 11:6). God WANTS you to leave it at the cross, it even pleases Him when you do so (Heb. 11:6). I'll end this week with one of my favorite excerpts from Colossians.


13 When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. - Colossians 2:13-15


What happened to our sins? Forgiven (v13). What happened to the law? Nailed to the cross (v14). What happened to the prosecuting attorney? Disarmed (v15). What happened to us? Made alive together with Christ! (v13). Knowing these truths what is there that remains to condemn us? Nothing! (Rom. 8:1, 8:34, John 3:17).


Question: In light of this, how then should we as Christians measure success?


Answer: Not on the basis of our merits, whether good or bad, that's irrelevant. A Christian's success is solely measured by the righteousness he was imputed with, since that's Christ's righteousness, we truly can rest in His finished work on the cross enjoying the success that Jesus Christ Himself accomplished!


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