An Alternative Analysis:
Rom 1:1 – 5:11 God is Righteous, illustrated in judgment (1:1 – 3:20) and in justification (3:21 – 5:11).
Rom 5:12 – 8:39 God is Holy, illustrated in sanctification.
Rom 9:1 – 11:36 God is Sovereign, illustrated in the nation of Israel.
Rom 12:1-16:27 God is Supreme, illustrated in the obedient lives of believers.
Romans 3:21. In judgment, the world is found guilty before God. In justification, the believer in Christ is found righteous before God. The former is law, the latter is grace. Law required and demanded righteousness, “but now” grace has revealed and deployed it. The “but now” (v 21) is a contrast between two dispensations, for this “Hebrew of the Hebrews” delights to think that this subject of justification by faith was illustrated in the Old Testament. We will see later that chapter 4 expounds this point.
Justification and Righteousness.
It is essential to know that the verb “to justify” and the noun, “Justification” come from the same Greek root from which we get “righteous”. To be justified means to be declared righteous, so justification is a righteous standing before God. Righteousness in this case is clearly forensic rather than moral. It describes a legal transaction accomplished by the “Judge of all the earth”, with both a negative and positive aspect. These charges against the sinner, having been found to be true, are removed (negative, Acts 13:38-39), and the sinner, once guilty and condemned, is now declared to be “righteous” which is the positive side of the truth.
A Dilemma: But this transaction raises questions about the Judge. How can One, whose character is eternally righteous, righteously condemn the sinner, then simply forgive those sins, remove the record that condemned, and declare the sinner to be righteous? Has He no scruples? Does He simply have the power to change at will and violate His own character? Clearly, if the sinner is unable to obtain such blessing, it must of necessity be given freely, and if unworthy (“worthy of death”, Rom 1:32), it must be grace. Further, if God is perfect, that grace must be in harmony with righteousness, and find a way to satisfy the penalty already pronounced by the Judge. If this seems to be a dilemma, it is only in our minds. It was for Bildad in job 25:4. But the cross holds the answer, and the Lamb slain there was “verily foreordained before the foundation of the world”. Philip R Bliss caught the weight of these issues as he stood by faith at the cross and wrote:
Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood,
sealed my pardon with His blood:
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!
Guilty, vile and helpless we,
Spotless Lamb of God was He,
Full atonement can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!
Lifted up was He to die,
It is finished” was His cry;
Now in heaven exalted high;
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!
Paul addresses this moral dilemma in these verses and shows that God gives righteousness in response to faith which lays hold of Jesus Christ (v 22 a).
1) Without distinction, to all who believe whether Jew or Gentile, since he has already proven in these first three chapters that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (v 22 b, 23).
2) As a free gift (v 24 a).
3) By the agency of sovereign grace (v 24 b).
4) On the grounds of the redemption in the blood of Christ Jesus, who is Himself the propitiatory (the mercy seat meeting place), as the sinner comes near by faith (v 24 c, 25 a).
One cannot help but sense the relief that Paul felt as he wrote these things and realized that “His blood” solves this moral dilemma and shows that God thereby maintains His moral character of righteousness.
5) By passing over the sins of OT believers in view of Christ’s propitiatory work (v 25 b)
6) Now justifying (declaring righteous) all who believe in Jesus (v 26).
1) It is necessary to distinguish here between God’s righteousness and His holiness. As holy, God is separate from sins; “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you that He will not hear” (Isa 59:2). As righteous, God must deal with sins. So this passage shows that in the cross and the shedding of the precious blood, God’s righteousness is manifested. Thank God, He has dealt with our sins in our Substitute, so that “Mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psa 85:10).
2) Similarly, we should distinguish in this passage the righteousness as a moral attribute, and the righteousness of God, or rather “a righteousness which is of God”, given as a free gift to the one who “believes in Jesus”. The former is found in Romans 3:25, 26, whereas the latter is found in 1:17; 3:21,22, and in chapter 4. This is imputed righteousness. Righteousness is eternally true of the character of God, whereas righteousness imputed has a forensic, accounting sense. Notice that in the former, the definite articles precedes, whereas in the latter, it is missing. The former is pictured by the tabernacle in the term, “pure gold” (Exod 25:11, 17, etc). The latter is seen in the “gold” (Exod 26:29).
1) Boasting, that both Jew and Gentile were prone to do, is excluded by the law of faith. If the sinner is justified simply by relying on what Another has paid, he has nothing whereof he can boast because he has freely received righteousness as a gift. “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6:14).
2) A man is justified only by faith and not be deeds of law keeping. The law condemns; faith in Christ justifies.
3) God is the God of both Jew and Gentile, without distinction, since He justifies both by faith.
4) Justification by faith established the law, in that it acknowledges the work of the law in establishing guilt, so that the sinner comes humbly to the Mercy Seat, trusting only in the blood, and receives there the gift of righteousness.
Israel’s Tabernacle Illustrates These Truths.
We cannot leave this passage without noticing a few allusions to the tabernacle. When we consider that Romans in the NT is the equivalent of Exodus in the OT, and that this Epistle brings us to Mount Sinai (3:20), it is not surprising that the following verses imply in their every expression various parts of the tabernacle. As the seven descriptions of the tabernacle follow the arrival of Israel at Mt. Sinai, where they received the law of God, so the subject of salvation in Romans follows the law and its judgment in Romans.
V 21, “Righteousness which is of God” – the boards standing upright overlaid with gold.
V 21, “The law” – two tables of stone in the ark.
V 21, “Manifested” (made clear) the lampstand.
V 22, “By faith in Christ Jesus” the boards’ two tenons (hands) resting on the silver sockets.
V 23, “Come short of the glory of God” – the nine feet high white’ court of the tabernacle.
V 25, “Propitiatory” and “His blood” – the mercy seat, sprinkled before and on with blood.
V 25, “Whom God set forth” – the shewbread is the bread of the “setting forth”.
Vs 25, 26, “To declare His righteousness” – The cherubim in the holiest and woven in the curtains.