Romans 3:21-25 – “But Now” Righteousness of God

Last week we saw the hopelessness of the unrighteous.

  • “Something has happened. The court was in session; all were standing guilty in the dock; what more could be done? But something had to be done” – N.T. Wright.

 

 

Romans 3:21–25a (ESV) — 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25a whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith

 

 

Verses 21-22a:

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

 

God’s righteousness has a new manifestation.

  • Paul calls it the “but now” manifestation of God’s righteousness.
  • A righteousness “apart” from “the law” (for the Gentiles sake), but not severed from it – “the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it” (vs. 21).
    • Exodus from Egypt
    • Blood Sacrifice

 

What is this “but now” manifestation?

  • It is “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (vs. 22).

 

This is a remarkable statement!

  • The OT has been pointing forward to this ultimate promise fulfillment since Genesis.
  • “The OT itself promises again and again that God will fulfill his saving promises and looks forward to the day when they will become a reality” – Tom Schreiner.

 

And now Paul is reshaping the righteousness of God and its fulfillment around Jesus Christ.

  • Israel, as Paul taught, failed as “entrustees” of God’s righteousness.
  • There had to be a “but now” for God to be faithful!
  • The significance of this can’t be overstated.

 

In this context, how are we to understand this “but now” righteousness of God?

  • To get at the answer…
  • We need to remember what we have learned thus far about God’s righteousness.

 

God’s Righteousness:

We saw some weeks ago that God’s righteousness consists of…

  • God’s “…divine activity in which God vindicates his people” – Tom Schreiner.
  • This activity transforms and establishes right within all of creation – N.T. Wright.

“From God’s side, this includes his eschatological intervention to vindicate and deliver his people, in fulfillment of his promises. From the human side, it includes the status of acquittal acquired by the person so declared just” – Douglas Moo.

 

We found that this idea could be fleshed out as follows:

  • God’s righteousness is all of God’s saving work and activity in and for all of creation – promise fulfilling, covenant faithfulness, etc. – His saving righteousness.
  • This also included God’s wrath – His judging righteousness.
    • God’s holy wrath upon evil is part of putting things right.

 

Given all this we can see how Christ embodies the “but now” righteousness of God.

 

Jesus is the promise, and the promise fulfilled.

  • Jesus is now the inaugurator of the new covenant from Jeremiah 31.
  • Jesus’ death, resurrection and return are how all of creation will be put right.
  • Jesus’ work, righteousness and obedience (His faithfulness) are how God’s people will be vindicated.
  • Jesus’ work is how all of creation will be returned from Garden Exile.
  • Jesus’ return and subsequent judgment will fully and finally defeat death and evil.
  • And all of this “but now” righteousness of Christ connects directly to all that was anticipated in the OT.
  • To sum up… God is now “righteousing” creation through the risen Jesus Christ (and the Spirit).

 

I love how N.T. Wright sums this up:

“The faithful death of the Messiah unveils, before an unready and shocked world, the way in which the one true God has been true to the covenant [with Israel] and has thereby provided the answer to a world gone wrong, and to humans lost in sin and guilt” – N.T. Wright.

 

Through Faith:

God’s people are connected to this “but now” righteousness only “through faith in Jesus Christ” (vs. 22).

  • When we are joined to Christ “through faith” we are then “righteoused” by this “but now” righteousness of God.
  • It is not the law, circumcision, our conscience, culture, obedience, abstaining from alcohol, reaching out to the orphans and widows, or anything else that will “righteous” us.
  • We are only “righteoused” “through faith in Jesus Christ”.
  • And as Paul has made clear, we all need “righteousing” because none are righteous.

 

Rabbit Trail:

Given all this, what is the Gospel?

  • Is the Gospel “how we get to heaven”?
  • NO!

 

The Gospel is the good news that God is actively “righteousing” creation through the done work of Christ and the Spirit in fulfillment of OT expectations.

  • All the works of Christ – signs and wonders, teachings, the cross, the resurrection, His exaltation and Lordship – are ways God is “righteousing” creation.
  • All the works of the Spirit – drawing, regeneration, comforting – are ways God is “righteousing” creation.

 

These things are the Gospel!

  • And from them flow things like justification, sanctification, glorification and the ever popular “how we get to heaven”.

 

News Flash…this means that we are not the Gospel!

  • We can never forget that we are mere creatures in need of “righteousing”.
  • We, who are in Garden Exile, can never be the Gospel.

 

So if the Gospel is the “righteousing” work of God on creation through Christ and the Spirit…

  • How do we share it with our neighbor?
  • BTW – the answer to this is why I prefer to say, “speak” instead of “share” the Gospel.

 

 

Verses 22b-25a:

For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

 

As Paul unleashes the effects of this “but now” righteousness of God for the people of God, he alludes back to some previous themes.

  • there is no distinction” (vs. 22) alludes to God’s impartiality.
  • Jew and Gentile are in the same boat.
  • Everyone is in need of the “but now” righteousness of God.

 

Why?

  • all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (vs. 23).
  • Remember, all are “under sin” (vs. 19) – under sin’s power.
  • So it’s not just that we “have sinned”, but that under sin’s dominion (in Garden Exile) we can only “fall short of the glory of God”.

 

What does “fall short of the glory of God” mean?

  • Failed as image-bearers.
  • Failed as “entrustees”.

 

But just as “all have sinned” – Jew and Greek…

  • Also, all “are justified by his grace as a gift” (vs. 24) – both Jew and Greek.
  • So God’s impartiality extends to both judgment and justification.

 

Paul then expands on the “but now” righteousness of God that is Jesus Christ.

  • He does so by unleashing a bunch of “righteousing” words.
  • justified by his grace” (vs. 24)
  • redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (vs. 24)
  • propitiation by his blood” (vs. 25)

 

All of these are expressions of God’s righteousness in Jesus Christ!

  • his grace
  • in Christ Jesus
  • his blood

 

And even more incredible is that all of these demonstrate that…

  • Jesus Christ is God’s righteousness personified!
  • I suspect a mind blowing idea for the Jew.

 

So what do these “righteousing” words tell us?

 

Propitiation refers to the turning away of God’s wrath – His judging righteousness.

  • This is the idea that Christ bore the wrath of God in our stead while on the cross, thereby paying the penalty for our sins.
  • BTW – “The presence of propitiation does not exclude the concept of expiation. Both are present in 3:25. The death of Jesus removed sin and satisfied God’s holy anger” – Tom Schreiner.

 

Justification is a at least two things.

  • (1) It is how we are “declared to be in the right” before God – N.T. Wright.
  • We are declared “in the right” in God’s law court because Christ’s alien righteousness is imputed to us.
  • (2) But, importantly, justification also entails that our unrighteousness is put on Christ.

 

I do want us to notice something Paul adds to the idea of justification.

  • He says that we are justified “by his grace” (vs. 24).
  • Why doesn’t he say we are justified by being declared righteous in God’s law court?
  • Or we are justified by the imputation of Christ’s alien righteousness?

 

What Paul is doing here is showing that grace itself is part of God’s saving righteousness.

  • What motivated God’s saving righteousness toward creation to begin with?
    • Certainly, the answer is Love.
  • What has directed His saving righteousness towards you in particular?
    • Why are you “righteoused” by God and thus justified?
    • Certainly, the answer involves Grace.

 

So what is redemption?

  • Redemption is language that alludes to slavery or being captive.
  • Paul has told us that all are “under sin” (vs. 19).
  • We are all enslaved to sin and its power and dominion (6:6).
  • All of us are its captives and we need a new Exodus.

 

But the “but now” righteousness of God in Jesus Christ has redeemed us from this captivity and dominion.

  • Wright tells us that Paul means to tell us that Christ is our new Exodus.
  • God in Christ has paid the ransom on our behalf with His own life.
  • To be redeemed “in Christ Jesus” (vs. 24) is to have the chains of sin’s dominion over us smashed once for all.
  • But more than that, it is to be placed into the dominion of God’s “but now” righteousness.

 

So all of these words – justification, propitiation, redemption – are results of God’s divine activity of saving righteousness that is Jesus Christ.

  • They are all ways creation and we are “righteoused” by God.

 

It seems to me it would be more fitting to say, “I was righteoused by God” instead of, “I was saved by God”.

  • “Saved” just doesn’t seem to do justice to the enormity of God’s righteousness.