Romans 3:25b–31 (ESV) — This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.
Last week, we saw that Christ is the “but now” righteousness of God.
- Yahweh’s righteousness as revealed in the OT now finds its center in Christ.
- Therefore, the way to be put right or “righteoused” by God is to be joined to Christ through faith.
- Christ is the only thing that brings the “none righteous” into righteousness.
In today’s text, Paul wants us to know something else about the “but now” righteousness of God.
- We will highlight at least two things, one from verse 25b and one from verse 26.
25b This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
(1) God Hasn’t Winked at Sin:
Paul has been describing in detail the severity of humanity’s unrighteousness.
- A number of weeks ago we saw how mankind is plagued with idolatry.
- We saw a couple of weeks ago that there are “none righteous”.
- And last week we saw that all have fallen short of God’s glory.
Naturally, a question arises concerning God’s character and His apparent wink at all this unrighteousness.
- If it is so bad, why hasn’t He done what every Jew expected He would do – judge and vindicate?
- Or more to the point, how does a crucified Messiah demonstrate God’s “divine faithfulness to covenant partners” – Robert Jewett.
Douglas Moo puts it like this:
- Given the fact that there hasn’t been any judgment and vindication, “some aspect of God’s character” is “called into question” – Douglas Moo.
- It appears that God has “treated sins in the past with less than full severity” – Douglas Moo.
But, Paul says that all of this “righteousing” through Christ “was to show” (vs. 25b) God has acted righteously both now (in Christ) and in the past.
- God has not winked at sin.
First, God has acted righteously against sin.
- He has done so by His “righteousing” of creation through Jesus.
- Specifically, the justification, redemption, and propitiation Paul just spoke about in verses 24-25a.
- Jesus’ work on the cross is how God has dealt with sin.
Secondly, given that in Christ sin has been dealt with, God’s actions prior to that weren’t negligent.
- Paul says what God was doing was expressing “his divine forbearance” (vs. 25b) because he “passed over former sins” (vs. 25).
- “Divine forbearance” is “a holding back” or “temporary cessation” – BDAG.
- “Passed over” is “letting go unpunished” “former sins” – BDAG.
In other words, Paul concedes that before His “but now” righteousness, God did withhold judgment and vindication.
- But this withholding was not a lack of divine activity.
- It was, in fact, an intentional divine act on God’s part – it was righteousness and grace.
This echoes what Paul has already taught.
- Romans 2:3–4 (ESV) — 3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
- God’s apparent inaction had a Gospel purpose.
Therefore, since Christ was always Plan A, God’s actions with “former sins” didn’t compromise God’s character.
“In the death of Jesus, God has shown himself (1) to be in the right in dealing properly and impartially with sin; (2) to be faithful to the covenant; (3) to have dealt properly with sin; and (4) to be committed to saving those who call out in helpless faith” – N.T. Wright.
- “God’s righteous verdict against sinners has been meted out against the faithful Israelite, Israel’s representative: the Messiah, Jesus” – N.T. Wright.
Now on to the second thing Paul wants us to know about the importance of the “but now” righteousness of God.
26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
(2) Future Judgment & Vindication Brought Into the Present:
But there is still a problem.
- Through Christ’s work on the cross vindication and judgment did take place.
- And even beyond that, through God’s divine activity on the cross, He has shown how He “can mercifully save people without compromising his justice” – Tom Schreiner.
- Because in Christ, “the saving and judging righteousness of God meet” – Tom Schreiner.
However, there is still a sense in which vindication and judgment have not yet been completed.
- The Jews were awaiting a day of judgment when Torah followers/Israel would be vindicated and the nations would be judged.
- This was also the day from Daniel 12 when the righteous dead would be resurrected.
- On this day, all of creation would be put right.
So how can Paul speak of the righteousness of a crucified Christ accomplishing anything, if this final vindication and judgment has not happened?
Paul’s answer is verse 26.
- The “but now” righteousness of God was to show that this vindication and judgment (God’s righteousness/divine activity) has begun to happen “at the present time” (vs. 26).
Just like Jesus split resurrection history in two with His resurrection coming before the final resurrection.
- As Paul says in 1 Corinthians, Jesus’ resurrection is the “first fruits” pointing to the believers resurrection.
So too has Jesus’ work on the cross split vindication and judgment history in two.
- In the work of Christ, “The final judgment day has been brought forward into the middle of history” – N.T. Wright.
- So that “those who put their own faith in God’s act in Jesus are marked out thereby as God’s people in the present” – N.T. Wright.
- The result of this is that, “The promises made in the OT about the vindication of Israel have been fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ” – Tom Schreiner.
So vindication and judgment “is both present and future, for the future declaration seals the present reality” – Tom Schreiner.
This is why Paul can say God can be seen through Christ as…
- “just” and “justifier” of those in Christ.
- In Christ there is both a present reality in effect and the certainty of a future reality.
- In the future – the age to come – all things will be put right.
- God will be shown as having been “just” and “justifier” both in Christ and in the “age to come”.
- This includes a complete and final judgment and vindication.
- Vindication of those in Christ.
- Judgment of those under God’s wrath.
27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.
Having shown us two very important implications of God’s “but now” righteousness, Paul turns his attention back to the inadequacy of the law and the impartiality of God.
Because of everything that the “but now” righteousness of Jesus is…
- All boasting “is excluded” (vs. 27).
- One’s entry into the house of the vindicated has nothing to do with one’s own efforts.
- Remember, Paul has already said the works of the law stop the mouth.
- They testify against us all.
Paul makes this clear when he says the exclusion of boasting is based on…
- “the law of faith” not “a law of works”.
- It is faith in the “but now” righteousness that justifies not “works of the law” (vs. 28).
- The “law of faith” is the deathblow to the “law of works”.
And importantly, it is this reason that vindication is open to Jew and Gentile.
- As God’s covenant with Abraham indicated – God is not just the God of the Jews but the Gentiles.
- God will “justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith” (vs. 30).
Does all this mean “we then overthrow the law by this faith?”
- Paul says, “By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.”
- The law is not throne under the bus!
How can this be?
- I love how N.T. Wright puts it.
- He suggests that the law was taken by Israel and put to the wrong tune – the tune of works.
- The law, he says, “was always designed to be sung to the tune called ‘faith’.” – N.T. Wright.
- Sung to the right tune – faith – the law becomes a beautiful song of worship and gratitude.
Moreover, the law still is the thing that shows us what the straight line of God’s objective morality looks like.
- “Righteousness apart from the law’s commands does not mean that believers can dispense with the moral norms of the law” – Schreiner.