Bible Passage: Romans 3:21-31

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.

 22 This righteousness is given through faith in h Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile,

 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, i through the shedding of his blood - to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished

 26 - he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

 27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the 'law' that requires faith.

 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too,

 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.

 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law. (Rom. 3:21-31 NIV)


Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

Throughout the Old Testament and from the time of the Fall, God began to reveal how he was going to deal with sinful humanity. On the one hand, he shows that he is a just judge who must reject and punish sin – he will not acquit the guilty (Exodus 23:7). On the other, he makes promises to Abraham that he will give him a land, and be a blessing to many nations (Genesis 12:2-3). At first sight, this looks like a contradiction – how can God both punish sin and bless sinners?


In the law and the prophets, there are themes that emerge that begin to answer this question. The day of atonement in Leviticus 16 shows a goat carrying away the people’s sin. The suffering servant of Isa 53 appears to bear the punishment that belonged to others. It is only at the cross, though, that sin is justly punished, and sinners are counted as worthy of blessing. That is how God can fulfil his ultimate promise of blessing in a new heavens and earth with his Son (Revelation 21).


Brief note on context/key themes of book

The book of Romans was probably written in Corinth in about AD 57, while Paul was in Corinth (see Acts 20:2-3). Two significant things are going on. First, Paul is looking for a church that will support him on his missionary journey to Spain (see 15:25). Secondly, he knew that the church in Rome was facing tension between Jew and Gentile – it seems that Claudius has expelled Jews from Rome from AD 49 to his death in AD 54, so it’s possible they have recently returned. His two intentions in writing the letter are to prepare the church to be mission partners, and teach them to live in harmony with one another. The way that he will do that is to teach and apply the gospel, which will build humility, and so prayerfully produce unity and mission-mindedness.


Structure of the passage

The passage is all one long sentence in the original language, but here it’s broken down into smaller units to follow the sense of the argument.


God makes wrong people right with him (21-23)

The ‘righteousness of God’ is ‘God’s right way of putting people right with him’. In an extraordinary turnaround of events, universally condemned humanity now has an opportunity. It is to be put right with God in a new way, which was only hinted at in the Law and Prophets. It’s not through religion, and it’s not just available to a few. It is a free gift, given simply through faith in Jesus Christ.


God makes wrong people right with him, through the cross (24-25a)

How did this come about? It had to be through the brutal death of Jesus. Because he died as a sacrifice of atonement, and his blood was shed like the Passover sacrifice (Romans 3:25), so people can be set free from slavery to sin, and declared righteous (‘justified’) in the heavenly law-court. All of this is by grace (his undeserved kindness), not earned but given freely, and received simply by trust.


God is right to make wrong people right with him, through the cross (25b-26)

The major issue throughout Romans has been God’s reputation and character (e.g. Romans 3:3). In other words, although we benefit greatly from God’s grace, it is also essential that God should demonstrate his righteous character and faithfulness to his promises. God, however, can be both “Just and the one who justifies” (Romans 3:26). God’s solution is perfect from every angle. He has provided his Son, so that his wrath is totally appeased, and he can provide a perfect source of righteousness which depends on him and not us. He is both righteous himself and the provider of righteousness to others.


So, be humble

We’ll deal with this in much greater detail next week, but this view of the cross must radically humble all who accept it. Universally condemned people can do nothing but accept a gift which was costly to provide but free to receive.


Suggestions for any tricky bits?

Is it really fair for God to ‘present Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement’?

People have caricatured this view of the cross as unkind and abusive. In reality, the Father and Son are acting together as members of the Trinity. As John Stott puts it, “God himself gave himself to save us from himself, so that we could be restored to himself”


Summary of author’s main point

There is no place for boasting in the gospel, by which all who believe are justly saved by the cross of Jesus Christ.


Aim/purpose for original audience

Be radically humbled by the gospel, by which all who believe are justly saved by the cross of Jesus Christ.


Aim/purpose for us today

Be radically humbled by the gospel, by which all who believe are justly saved by the cross of Jesus Christ.


Key area of application

Firstly, we should be humbled that the gospel is provided by God for us, entirely by his grace – such is our condemnation under sin that we can nothing except receive it with empty hands. Secondly, we should be greatly assured that this gospel is provided freely by a God of great integrity, who saves everyone who believes. This is God’s glorious and effective solution which the gospel makes known.