02/09/14 AM, Sharon OPC
Dr. Jeffrey K. Boer
[Cf. Herman Hoeksema, #17, “The Righteousness of God Manifested”]
Back in Romans 3:9-20, Paul painted a picture of doom. His point was that all mankind, Jews and Gentiles of every nation alike, are all, by nature, wretched sinners. Those verses don’t describe only the worst sinners and the lowest dregs of human society. Those verses describe the total depravity of every man, woman, and child apart from Jesus Christ. This, says Paul, is what we all are, in and of ourselves, by nature. We’re all totally depraved!
And therefore Paul’s conclusion in vv. 19-20 is this, “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. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”
In other words, by nature, all men are doomed, all are under sin, all are held
captive by their own sinful human nature, all are accountable to God for their
sin, and all are guilty and deserving of eternal condemnation.
Paul wrote this section of Romans under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in order to help us to recognize our spiritual condition apart from Jesus Christ. Standing on our own, we’re all totally without hope of the righteousness necessary to enter heaven. Only those who are perfectly righteous may enter heaven. That meant that, by nature, we’re all totally and completely doomed to Hell! And justly doomed, I might add!
Paul apparently would not agree, therefore, with today’s popular psychologists who try to teach people, “I’m O.K. and you’re O.K.” Paul would not agree with those who tell people, “Now it’s very important that you have a positive self-image and that you learn to love yourself and accept
yourself if you’re ever going to be happy.”
“No,” says Paul, “the truth is, you’re not O.K.! The truth is, in and of yourself, in your sinful human nature, apart from Jesus Christ, you’re downright despicable! You’re evil through and through, down to the very core of your
being! You’re completely and totally depraved, apart from Jesus Christ! And because of that, you’re justly condemned to Hell for your sins!”
That’s not very pleasant news for the average sinner to hear, is it? Who wants to hear, “You’re no good!” “You’re a rotten person!” “You’re despicable in God’s sight!” Nobody wants to hear that.
So why does Paul take such pains to say that in the opening of this letter to the Romans?
Paul puts all of this, “up front,” because he knew that for the Gospel to take root in the hearts and lives of men, men first have to see their need for it. If we go on telling men, “I’m O.K. and you’re O.K.” – if we go on telling them, “You’re a valuable, worthwhile person; you just need to learn to love yourself” – what we’re really doing is pushing people over the cliff and sending them on their way to Hell. Apart from seeing their need of a Savior, men will never be willing to hear the Gospel!
So Paul pulls the rug out from under every human excuse known to mankind. He slashes every false hope – he trounces every lame excuse – he demolishes every argument that would commend us to God, all in order to make room for the Gospel, which says: “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known...”
In other words, “But now...” the Gospel! Now Paul is ready to proclaim to us the glorious good news of the Gospel. Now he’s ready to bring us from a cry of despair and, “Woe is me, for I am undone!” to a shout of victory! “Hallelujah! What a Savior!”
In Psalm 121, the Psalmist goes through this same process. He writes in v. 1, “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?”
We have a situation Psalm 121 where a man is surrounded and trapped by his enemies, much the way that Moses and Israel were trapped at the Red Sea. Remember when the angry Egyptians were bearing down on them with all their horses and chariots? There was no place to turn. The Israelites were helpless and hopeless in the presence of their enemies.
In the same way, the Psalmist is saying, “What am I to do? I’m doomed! My enemies have overpowered me! There’s no one else to help me – not even one. I look to the hills. No one is coming to my rescue. No one!”
And then, suddenly, that cry of despair is turned into a shout of victory in Psalm 121:2, “My help comes from the LORD the Maker of heaven and earth!”
That’s the Gospel! That’s the story that the OT teaches over and over again: “There’s no hope! We’re all doomed!” And then God comes to the rescue!
We see it in the story of David and Goliath. We see it in the story of Esther.
We see it in the story of the battle of Jericho. We see it as the Red Sea
parts for Moses and the Israelites. We see it in the stories of Samson and Gideon and barren Abraham and Sarah. This is the glorious story of the Gospel. When all human hope is lost, God comes to the rescue!
In Romans 3:21, we have the turning point in the book of Romans.
Here’s where we see God’s grace parting our Red Sea of despair. Paul says, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.”
The whole OT is referred to here by the phrase, “the Law and the Prophets.” You see, the OT people of God had this Gospel already, in seed form, and the OT testified concerning that Gospel in all those stories of God’s miraculous deliverance of His people. “Now,” says Paul, “Now it’s here!” “Now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known!”
That Gospel was there already in the OT, of course. It was like a beautiful canvas painting with a veil over it. But now, the veil has been removed. Now the Gospel has been unveiled in all its beauty and glory for all to see. Now, Christ has come – the promised Messiah has come!
We, in ourselves, had no righteousness. We were lost. We were doomed. But
now, Christ, our righteousness, has come. Christ came to earth to be born as a man in order to bring to us the righteousness of God! The Gospel tells us
that there’s a way that we may actually possess the righteousness of God!
“So how do we get this righteousness?”
There’s probably no more important question you’ll ever consider in all your life, since the answer to this question will determine whether your eternal destiny will be in Heaven or in Hell.
“How do we get this righteousness?”
Paul gives us a two part answer. He says that this righteousness comes “through faith” and “by grace.”
First of all, this righteousness comes “through faith.” In Romans 3:22-23, Paul has already said, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”
Our own righteousness is nothing more than filthy rags. But through faith, we can receive the righteousness of God!
And then Paul reminds us that this is the only possibility of salvation for anyone. He says, “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
In other words, nobody is “good enough” to go to heaven, because all men are sinners, in and of themselves.
But then Paul makes clear that this perfect righteousness of God is for
all those who believe and for only those who believe.
You see, some people have the mistaken impression that Jesus Christ’s death on the cross was for everyone, without distinction, whether they believe it or not. These people teach that Christ died for all men and that His sacrifice was for all men. They tell people, “Jesus Christ died for you, but now the rest is up to you. You have to believe in Him, you have to accept Him to be saved. This is what the Arminians teach. They teach that Christ died for everyone, but that it’s up to men to decide to have faith and to decide to receive this death of Christ for themselves.
Paul says, however, that this righteousness from God is “to all who believe.” Notice, it’s not “to all men,” but it’s “to all who believe.”
Now it’s true that this righteousness of God is to be proclaimed to all men. And, indeed, all men are commanded to have faith in Jesus Christ, but this righteousness of God is not given to all men. Christ died only for His chosen and elect people. The benefits of His sacrifice on the cross are only received “through faith.” We must believe in Jesus Christ in order that we may receive this righteousness that comes “through faith.”
So in answer to the question, “How do we get this righteousness from God?” Paul replies that we get this righteousness “through faith.”
But I said that Paul gives a two part answer to that question.
Paul goes on to emphasize that this righteousness also comes to us “by grace.”
V. 22 says, “This righteousness from God” “comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe...” and then v. 24 adds, “…and are
justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by
Each phrase of v. 24 points out the gracious nature of our salvation: Paul says that we’re “Justified freely.”
To be “justified” means to be “declared righteous” by God. Some of those same people that Paul has just finished describing in vv. 10-18 as totally depraved and wicked sinners, are now declared to be “justified.”
Picture a man, accused of brutally killing his wife and children. He’s guilty. He’s been found guilty by a court of law. He knows he’s guilty. He knows he deserves the death penalty. But then he hears these words from the judge.
“I hereby declare you, ‘not guilty!’ I hereby declare that this man is absolved of all the charges of murder, and I declare that, as a fine and upstanding citizen, he’s free to go!”
“Justified freely,” means that this righteousness is a free gift. It’s not something that’s earned or deserved. It’s something that’s given to him, free and clear.
The next phrase is “by his grace.”
The word, “grace,” also points out the fact that this is something unmerited, undeserved. If the judge declared an innocent man to be, “not guilty,” that wouldn’t be grace, would it? That wouldn’t be mercy in that case. If the man was innocent, he deserved to be declared “not guilty.”
But this guy actually killed his wife and children, and everyone knew it. He was totally guilty. And yet, the judge officially declared him to be, “not guilty.” How can this be?
How can God look at a guilty, totally depraved sinner and declare him to be “not guilty?”
The next phrase explains, “through the redemption that came by Christ
Here, the image is of a ransom from slavery. To redeem a slave, you had to pay the owner the full price for his freedom. That’s what Jesus did. Jesus Christ voluntarily paid the price for our freedom. He took upon Himself the punishment that we deserved, dying in our place, for our sin. He paid our
debt so that we might be set free from our slavery to sin. Not only that, He lived a perfect life for us, a perfect, holy, righteous life. And that’s the righteousness that we receive, through faith, by grace – we receive a righteousness from God – we receive the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ!
The next phrase also indicates the grace of God. V. 25 says, “God
Here again we see grace. God took the initiative in our salvation. We didn’t. God gave us the free gift of His only begotten Son, so that Jesus Christ could die in our place, and so that His righteousness could be placed into our account.
This phrase gives us a somewhat different picture of God the Father than many people have. Sometimes people have been given the false impression that God the Father is this harsh and unloving Being, and that His Son, Jesus, is the gentle and loving One Who somehow has to try to convince the
Father to have mercy on us. Nothing could be farther from the truth!
Jesus didn’t have to convince the Father to be loving toward us. The Father was always loving toward His chosen people. God the Father was always merciful and gracious. He didn’t have to be pleaded with and cajoled into being loving. No, Paul says, “God presented him...”
What love it took for the Father to offer up His only begotten Son on our behalf! The only reason the Judge can declare the guilty murderer, “not guilty,” and, “righteous” instead, is that the Judge has decided to give up His own beloved Son in the place of this criminal, to take his death penalty for him. Justice must be served. But justice is served, in this case, by the Redeemer, Jesus Christ, giving His life in the place of the criminal!
The verse continues, “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement.”
Here, Paul uses another image – that of a sacrifice to atone for or make up for sin, covering it over. Jesus Himself was that sacrifice. Jesus willingly sacrificed Himself to make atonement for our sinful life, to “atone for” or to “cover over” the sins that we committed and to make us right with God. That is grace!
And then Paul goes back to the first part again, “through faith in his blood.”
Again we see that this grace of God is received “through faith.” And we know, from Ephesians 2:8-9 that even this faith is a “gift of God, not of works, so that no one can boast.”
We can’t give ourselves faith. By nature, we’re totally depraved. We’re dead
in our sins – spiritually dead. Dead men can’t come to life all by themselves. It’s only after God, in His grace, brings a dead sinner to life, spiritually, that he can have faith to believe in Jesus Christ.
So this text makes it very clear that we’re not saved by anything we can say or do. In fact, by nature, all men are totally depraved and wicked creatures, deserving only wrath and destruction. There’s absolutely no hope for us if we trust in our own obedience and our own righteousness.
But God, as the righteous Judge, declares us, “not guilty,” because of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. Further, God declares us, “perfectly righteous,” because He graciously provides for us the righteousness of God, through Jesus Christ, and then He gives us the faith to receive it.
My friends, if you’re trusting in anything except that perfect, flawless righteousness of Jesus Christ for your salvation, your hopes will be dashed. If you think that somehow, by your own repentance, or restitution, or penance, you can make right all your sins before God, you’ll be sadly disappointed at the Judgment Day. Please don’t be offended that God’s Word calls you a vile, worthless sinner. I assure you, that’s the only kind of people that God saves.
God saves only those who know that they’re vile, worthless sinners, totally depraved and having nothing good to offer to God in their own behalf. It’s only those who know that they’re saved completely by the grace and mercy of God who’ll be willing to give God all the glory for their salvation.
When God gives you the gift of faith to believe in Jesus Christ, you will truly confess your sinfulness to God and you’ll turn in repentance and faith to Jesus Christ as your only righteousness, the very righteousness of God! You’ll enter into covenant with Him by becoming a member of Christ’s body, the church. And God, by His Holy Spirit, will make you a brand new person. He’ll give you a heart of love that desires to serve and obey Him. He’ll give you a spirit of thanks and praise to God, that’ll cause you to proclaim the excellencies of Him Who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light!