In the previous passage, Romans 3:9-18, Paul proves from the OT that every person has inherited from Adam a depraved character, mind and heart that is manifested by corrupt communication and conduct. The root cause of mankind’s corruption is that “there is no fear of God before their eyes.”
In God’s eyes, all mankind has turned away, we have together become worthless, that is spoiled fruit— rotten from the inside out! Hence, no one is righteous, not even one. No one is good, not even one.
Those who go about to establish their own righteousness, or seek to justify themselves, will be judged by God according to their works, and they will justly suffer the consequences.
The Law exposes the depravity of human character, communication and conduct. Man is convicted and his conviction stems from his violation of God’s Law. Romans 3:19—
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.
Paul announces two primary purposes of the Law: (1) To silence every mouth; and (2) to hold the whole world accountable to God.
There will be a deafening silence to the evidence on the Day of Judgment. To the amazement of all who stand before the Great White Throne of Judgment, there will be no defense. There is uninterrupted silence. Every mouth is silenced. The world is guilty before God. And this guilt means not only that the world stand convicted, but is also obligated to suffer the penalty commensurate with the crime.
THE LAW of God as written in the consciences of men and in the records of the OT passes the final judgment. In 3:10, Paul declares IT IS WRITTEN and then he pulls fourteen sweeping statements from the OT to indict every member of the human race.
These indictments are the voice of God speaking. All Law ever did was to give knowledge of sin, and in this case it has taken the measure of every man and now pronounces him guilty. He is obligated to suffer the penalty, which is death!
Neither Gentile nor Jew is acquitted. Israel enjoyed the privileges of knowing the written Law and it will be held accountable to God. If given the same privileges enjoyed by Israel, the rest of the world would likewise fail to keep the God’s Law.
The Gentiles’ human nature is no different from that of the Jews. In fact, both Jew and Gentile have the same record of failing to keep God’s righteous standards, whether written on the conscience or in the Law. Neither can fancy themselves as better. Jesus pointed out in John 7:19—
Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law.
When human achievement is measured against what God requires in the Law, there is no place for pride or boasting; there be the silence of those who will stand before the Righteous Judge. No person on His own merit and deeds will stand as righteous or good before the LORD. To the contrary, Isaiah 64:6 affirms—
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
Isaiah asserts that mankind is unclean and Paul proves that man is rotten and a sinner. Consequently, we are DIRTY-ROTTEN-SINNERS! No one does good; no one is righteous. We are guilty!
Truly, man’s condition is helpless and his case is hopeless. Verse 20—
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
It is sheer folly for a person to cling to the forlorn hope that somehow, even yet, his good deeds will outweigh his bad ones; that somehow he will be able to conduct himself acceptably before God. Man is condemned by God’s own code—the Law. The best, the sincerest, the most strenuous attempts to please God by keeping His law fail—and the Law itself exposes that failure.
Not a single person by human effort will be declared righteous in God’s sight, that is JUSTIFIED. The Law is powerless to make anyone right, and it is weakened by our sinful nature. The Law could not make man pure and perfect, but rather serves to kindle the flame of sin than put it out and extinguish it.
There are many things the Law cannot do; it cannot expiate and atone for sin; nor remove the guilt of it. It cannot cleanse the filth of sin away. It cannot take away our rottenness. Though it can, and does accuse of sin, can convince of it, can curse, condemn, and condemn us to death.
The Law cannot restrain from sin, nor change a sinful nature, nor sanctify an impure heart; nor free us from the guilt of sin, nor comfort a distressed mind under a sense of it. It simply cannot give life, or save from death; the reason being, the Law cannot make anyone righteous in God’s sight.
Doing everything God requires is impossible since we have a sinful nature. By the Law is the knowledge of sin. The Law makes sin known, but can’t save. Would it be better for us not to know the Law? Romans 7:7—
What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.”
The Law itself is not evil. It reveals the divine standard, and as sinners and believers compare themselves against that standard, they can accurately identify sin, which is the failure to meet the standard. Paul said his knowledge and understanding of what coveting really is came from the Law. The Tenth Commandment made him conscience of that particular sin in his own life.
Since Law makes us conscious of sin, it serves to deepen our awareness of failure. What a black picture Paul has painted of human sin; how heavy the storm clouds in the sky and how fearful the lightning flashes of wrath! But Look! There is a rift in the sky where the sun breaks through.
The Law loudly proclaims our need of the Gospel and God has a plan for salvation for sinners, even the worst of sinners. Verse 21—
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.
Mark well the BUTs of the Bible. Just as great doors swing on very ordinary hinges, so dramatic changes in the Scripture often hinge upon this very common word.
Let’s look at one of those BUTs. It doesn’t take long until we read in the Bible of total depravity of mankind—man has become rotten to the core. Turn to Genesis 6:5-8—
The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the LORD said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them.” BUT Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.
The whole world is guilty in the sight of God! BUT Noah found grace in the eyes of Yahweh. Why? Verse 9 gives the answer—
Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.
Noah had separated himself from the world and its ungodliness and wickedness.
Noah was born a sinner like everyone else, but he was perfect in his generation, that is he was in all things a consistent character, never departing from the truth in principle or practice.
Furthermore, Noah walked with God. He was not only righteous in his conduct, but he was pious, and had continual communion with God. The same was true of Enoch, who was taken to heaven without dying. Enoch and Noah are the exceptions to Romans 3:9-18. What made them different? They feared God and lived by faith! Hebrews 11:7 records—
By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
It was Noah’s faith that condemned his generation, not the Law. He feared God, the world did not; he walked in the way God had commanded, the world did not. Noah repeatedly admonished the world by his conduct and with his character. The wicked regarded it not; this aggravated their crimes while it exalted Noah’s faith and righteousness.
Genesis records again and again that “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” God saved mankind through this righteous man. The human race would have come to an end if were not for Him. Noah’s faith and obedience saved Him as well as his family.
Therefore, we read BUT NOAH! BUT NOAH is the second greatest BUT of the Bible and all of history! For there is no BUT as momentous as Paul’s of Romans 3:21.
To add to its importance Paul adds NOW—BUT NOW what? THE GOOD NEWS—THE GOSPEL OF GOD! The Bad News of the first chapters of Romans is NOW dispelled by the Good News.
The One Noah typified saves the human race from perishing! This time not from a flood, but from the fires of Hell. He is righteous and perfect; He is faithful and obedient in everything the heavenly Father commands; He walks with man, instead of God. For He is God walking with men—Immanuel—God with us! Like Noah, His work saves His family from the wrath of God.
BUT NOW is a change of dispensations or economies: Before Christ—Law & Death—BUT NOW— Grace & Life!
God is righteous; God demands righteousness; God provides righteousness!
Noah was the first heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. God judicially imputed or credited righteousness to Noah because he feared the LORD. Noah’s works did not make him righteous in God’s sight; his faith did. He believed God and lived his life accordingly.
Since gaining righteousness is impossible by human efforts, it must come from God. This righteousness is unique; it is a RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD. The genitive case of Greek is used instead of the preposition, and it may be accurately translated: “Righteousness FROM God” or “Righteousness OF God.”
The OT testifies to a righteousness of God. Its testimonies are numerous. I have selected a few examples from the Psalms:
Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of YOUR RIGHTEOUSNESS (Psalms 51:14).
They rejoice in your name all day long; they delight in YOUR RIGHTEOUSNESS (Psalms 89:16).
My mouth will tell of YOUR RIGHTEOUSNESS, of your salvation all day long, though I know not its measure. I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, O Sovereign LORD; I will proclaim YOUR RIGHTEOUSNESS, yours alone (Psalm 71:15-16).
God’s salvation is an exchange of our sin for His righteousness. Corinthians 5:21 explains—
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
This righteousness of God is apart from the Law. It not only comes from God, but it is the essence of God—the righteousness He possess. God imputed His righteousness to us, then He implanted His righteousness in us, which is in every sense is the righteousness of God.
How does God’s righteousness become operative in our life? Verse 22—
This righteousness from/of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
Salvation for man is not the product of human reasoning and effort. This imputed and imparted righteousness of God comes through faith. Not just faith, but faith in Jesus Christ.
Faith is simply “the hand of the heart.” It takes what God bestows but adds nothing to the gift.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no-one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
GRACE (God’s Righteousness at Christ’s Expense) is the gift, not faith! FAITH is BELIEVING. The GIFT is the work of God.
TO ALL WHO BELIEVE is a present active participle in the Greek that denotes an ongoing and continuous action: TO ALL WHO ARE BELIEVING.
The NOUN of salvation is FAITH and its VERB is BELIEVING. Faith is the object while believing is placing one’s trust in the object.
FAITH is that conviction that God exists and is the Creator and Ruler of all things, the Provider and Bestower of eternal salvation through Christ. Believing is acting upon that faith. For instance, Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:14-15—
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Jesus referred Nicodemus to Numbers 21:8-9 to illustrate FAITH and BELIEVING—
The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.
Believing is conviction transformed into actions. Those with believing faith looked at the bronze snake and lived.
Man is helpless, our case in hopeless, but there is hope. Since we cannot save ourselves, God will save us. Verse 23—
There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
Let’s suppose we play a game called “Jumping to Shippensburg.” Shippensburg is four miles from the Church. Will go out on the front porch of the church and take one big jump, and we’ll see who can with one jump reach Shippensburg. Someone’s bound to say that’s impossible! Of course, nobody can jump to Shippensburg. Some will jump further than others and they might say, “I jumped further than you did. I’m better than you are, and I’m better than half the church members.” Suppose you are—and you may well be—but what difference does that make? You have missed the mark.
Sin is coming short of the glory of God. Some people come far short and are obviously unfit for the kingdom of heaven. Others, to the eye of the beholder, are moral and upright, sincere and conscientious and, by humans standards, might be thought to have a good chance of winning the approval of God. However, they are not measured by human standards but by God’s glory. That fact is fully established in Romans 1:18-3:20.
There may be differences in the nature or the degree of men’s sins, but not in the basic fact that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Those, who, in God’s mercy, have been sheltered from grosser forms of sin sometimes feel that they are not sinners. These should consider the fact that as it takes only one murder to make a man a murderer, one robbery to make a robber; it takes one thought of hatred or one thought of coveting a neighbor’s property to make a sinner!
The Good News of the Gospel is that God delights to save sinners. God Himself made full provision to save us and now invites us to come and be “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
The Greek word for FREELY means WITHOUT CAUSE. Jesus used this word in John 15:25— But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: `They hated me without reason/freely.’
Paul is saying we are justified freely—without cause—there is no basis for God making us righteous in His sight. It is by grace, which means there is no merit on our part. Grace is unmerited favor; it is love in action.
We are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. REDEMPTION is always connected with the grace of God. The reason that God can save you and me is that Christ redeemed us, He paid a price. He died upon the Cross to make salvation available to us. You see, justification by faith is actually more than subtraction of ours sins—that is, forgiveness. It is the addition of the righteousness of Christ.
In other words, we are not merely restored to Adam’s former position, but now we are now placed IN CHRIST. His righteousness is credited to our account because the debt of sin has been paid with the redemption price of His blood.
REDEMPTION indicates deliverance, by means of the payment of a ransom, form the guilt, punishment, and power of sin.
I like the way Paul explains this transaction in 1 Corinthians 1:30—
It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.
Christ Himself fully met every demand of the Law, and His right standing before God is placed on our account when we trust Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. What we could not do, Christ did.
We who stand guilty before the Law in our depraved character, communication and conduct are, through the righteousness provided in Christ, acquitted from guilt and enabled to stand before God clothed in Christ’s righteousness.