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Righteousness Through Faith January 17, 2011

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Romans 3:21-31.

Summary: In this passage, Paul describes the (actual) method of justification for mankind. Based on the preceding passages, we know that men cannot be justified by works; now we see that God has revealed His plan for justification, which has been foreshadowed in the Old Testament. More precisely, justification comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who put their trust in Him as their Lord and Savior. In fact, justification is available for both Jews and Gentiles and is a free gift of God. Of course, a price had to be paid to satisfy God’s justice due to the sinfulness of mankind; that price was Jesus’ blood. The sacrifice of Christ made God’s justice more clear and actually brought glory to Him, since He had graciously overlooked the sinfulness of those who lived under the former dispensation. Now, under the new dispensation, we view Him as being both just and the One who justifies those of us who put their faith and trust in Him as our Lord and Savior. To conclude, we see that because of God’s great plan of justification,

  • men have no inherent merit and must rely completely on faith, which is apart from the law
  • God allows both Jews and Gentiles to be justified by the same faith in Christ Jesus
  • the Old Testament law is fulfilled, and its core elements (in particular, the two greatest commandments) still guide believers today.

Thoughts: Verse 21 marks one of the greatest (if not the greatest) transitions in the Bible. Up to this point in Romans, Paul has conclusively demonstrated that all men, both Jews and Gentiles, are guilty of sin and are exposed to judgment (i.e. eternal death). Nobody can be absolved of their guilt in this regard, either by performing works or by trusting in external factors such as their ethnicity. One would naturally conclude that all of humanity is, to put it mildly, “hosed.” Now Paul presents the one factor that we have not considered, that is, God’s ability to rescue us from judgment. Though He is the judge, He is also the One who justifies by the actions of the second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ.

The concept of salvation through “faith in Jesus Christ” is presented in verse 22. It is relatively easy to interpret this saving faith as being the basis of our justification; indeed, this is a concept that I struggle with. To counter this notion, Hodge writes

Faith is not the basis of our justification…Faith is indeed the principle of evangelical obedience, the source of holiness in our hearts and lives, but such obedience or holiness is not our justifying righteousness.

It can be inferred that by making faith even the smallest part of the basis of our justification, we glorify ourselves at the expense of the one who deserves all praise, Jesus Christ. Hodge supports this by noting

A man may believe whatever else he wishes, but unless he receives and rests on Christ alone for salvation, receives him as the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us, he has not the faith which the apostle is speaking about here as the indispensable condition of salvation.

Clearly Christ demands all of our praise and adoration for His mind-boggling sacrifice, and we must remember that his sacrifice is mind-boggling because He is the Son of God.

In verse 25, we see that Jesus Christ has been “presented” as a “sacrifice of atonement.” Apparently the meaning of “sacrifice of atonement” has been the source of much debate among fellow Christians through the centuries, and Hodge addresses that debate as follows:

Therefore the obvious meaning of this important passage is that God has publicly shown the Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of the intelligent universe, as a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of men. The essential idea of such a sacrifice is that it satisfies justice. It terminates on God. Its primary intention is not to produce any subjective change in the offerer but to appease God.

This is perfectly in tune with the legal overtones of the discussion in Romans. Basically, man is incapable of satisfying God’s justice by his own means. Jesus, though, came to this earth and lived a perfect life. He was then qualified to be the perfect sacrifice who could satisfy God’s justice and “cover” the sins of the world in a “once for all” act. It is apparent that man is not immediately “made righteous” by this act, but that it has immediately met the demands of God’s justice. Therefore God now has no grounds for applying the punishment of eternal death to sinful man, and so He declares man to be righteous (and to be qualified to receive the blessings of righteousness, e.g. eternal life).

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