With Dale Ratzlaff
We pick up our study in Romans 3:21-26.
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
This section is the very heart of the book of Romans. I think every Christian ought to memorize it. These six verses present all of God’s gospel and in a way found nowhere else in the word of God.
Martin Luther called this section of Romans “the marrow of theology.”
Leon Morris, renowned NT scholar and author of over 50 books, said this about Romans 3:21-26: “This is possibly the most important single paragraph ever written.”
I am listing all the verses in this unit as each verse relates to the others. However, it will take several weeks to mine out and refine all the spiritual gold in this section. It only takes about 37 seconds to read these six verses, but when we are done, do we really understand what we have read? These verses carry a train load of truth which have changed the history of Christianity, ignited revivals of faith, and have been instrumental in the salvation of thousands, if not millions of people.
Three metaphors are used here. But they are more than just metaphors; they present different aspects of the truth of the gospel. Justification comes from the legal court system. Redemption comes from the world of slavery, and propitiation comes from the practice of sacrifice. They are the what, how, and why of the gospel.
Together these verses give a unique perspective of the gospel. Many people say, “How could a good God possibly allow someone to go to hell?” However, the question in these six verses answer is: “How can a just God allow helpless, ungodly sinners who are enemies of God to go to heaven”? In our previous studies of Romans we have seen how Paul, over and over again, shows that all mankind—Gentiles, Moralists, and Jews—are deserving of condemnation. If so, then one must ask, “How can God save these very bad people, including me?”
From these six verses the good news of the gospel shines forth like a laser beam with clear definition. We will also get a blinding glimpse into the Most Holy Place as we see salvation from God’s perspective. As we study redemption and propitiation, our eyes will be blinded by the glory of God, and our hearts will be melted as we come to understand the measure of His love for lost, helpless sinners in bondage.
Romans 3:21: “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,
This verse starts with a bang. “But now… These two words are used by New Testament writers to announce that a radical change has taken place with profound implications. I have gathered together a few texts that use this term so that we can comprehend the major realignment Paul is expressing. All readers of the Bible have a crucial need to understand this radical change that happened at the cross of Christ. Note how the context of the following verses explain the meaning of “but now”.
John 15:22: Jesus said, “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.”
Romans 6:21-23: “Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.
Romans 7:5, 6: “For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.
This fact is a radical change for many of us here.
Romans 11:30: “For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy…”
1 Corinthians 15:19, 20: “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. But now Christ has been raised from the dead.”
Galatians 3:24, 25: “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.”
That is another major realignment for many of us!
Ephesians 5:8: “you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light.
But Now gets our attention; it tells us that the new covenant changes everything, radically.
What are the profound, radical truths to which Paul refers here in our text? They come in quick succession, like race cars at the Daytona 500.
“But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,” (Rom. 3:21).
This was and is really radical! The Jews believed that there was a day of judgment coming when God would condemn and punish all who had broken his laws. That day would terminate the present world and usher in the wonderful age to come for all those whom God judged to be worthy. They held that the way to gain righteousness with God was to give alms, fast, pray and strictly keep the law. We see these ideas pop out again and again as we read the gospels. The Jews saw God as a just God who would justify the righteous and condemn the wicked. To get the verdict of righteousness, they had to be righteous—at least they had to have enough deeds to outweigh the bad deeds in the judgment. The signs of the Sinaitic Covenant: circumcision and Sabbath were faithfully enforced. They were zealous law keepers.
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,” (Rom. 3:21).
This radical “righteousness of God” is revealed apart from law. The Greek there does not have the definite article, so what we have is, “Apart from law”, all law, any law. This righteousness has nothing to do with law-keeping. In fact, these words, “Apart from law” exclude all human activity. Is that radical or what?
As one reads through the book of Acts it becomes clear that for the Jewish Christians, this radical change regarding the law was a stumbling block. Acts 15:5. “But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.”
Does anyone see an application to us here today?
We former Adventists grew up on law. The law was the central focus in Adventist’s Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan. As with the Jews of Christ’s day, the Sabbath was the most important of all the laws. Obedience to the Sabbath of the fourth commandment was the “testing truth”. Sabbath observance sealed the saints, and Sunday observance marked those who would be thrown into the lake of fire.
We were taught that the Sabbath-Sunday issues would decide our eternal destiny. The 18th Fundamental Belief of Seventh-day Adventists still states that the writings of Ellen White speak with “prophetic authority”. Those of us who were schooled in Adventism and read the writings of Ellen White know the central place of the law in Adventist theology. For example, Ellen White referenced the word “law” over 14,000 times, with about 500 of these references dealing with the Bible history before the time of Moses. Compare that emphasis with the Bible. The Bible uses the word “Law” about 375 times and the very first time it appears is in Ex. 12 in connection with the Passover. So the first objection Paul had to face was the extreme focus on law as a means of righteousness. To hear that righteousness is manifested apart from law was an astonishing new concept!
Paul states clearly that this righteousness of God is manifested apart from law.
Ellen White states just as clearly that “Righteousness is obedience to the law.” (Faith and Works, p 101).
Later in Romans 10:4 Paul writes, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Commenting on this text, Leon Morris states, “Romans 10:4, makes it clear that there can be no way of law for the believer. For Paul it was absolutely basic that no righteousness of human origin could avail in the sight of God” (The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, p. 276).
We at Life Assurance Ministries are often accused of doing away with the law, but nothing could be further from the truth. We are seeking to use the law, lawfully. God gave the Law for three main reasons: (1) It was to regulate the conduct of His people; (2) It revealed their sin, “for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. (3) And the law had a prophetic function. The sacrifices pointed forward to the work of Christ. Remember the writer of Hebrews called the law, and in context, the whole law, a “shadow” (Heb. 10:1), and right in this verse in Romans we read, “being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.”
There are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of ways the law pointed forward to Christ. The morning and evening sacrifices taught continual forgiveness; the Passover looked forward to Christ who, as the Lamb of God, gave his life for our deliverance. The Day of Atonement pointed forward to the real atonement from sin made by Christ. The Sabbath was a shadow of God’s rest of grace that comes to us the moment we believe.
D.A. Carson states, “It is not simply that the national identity markers of Sabbath, clean and unclean, etc. are now obsolete, but in a sense the entire law-covenant is “obsolete” as mentioned in Hebrews 8 and 9. All the rituals and many of the events in the old Covenant point forward to the new era which has now dawned. This is reinforced by Paul’s use of “But Now,” stating that there is a dramatic shift in salvation history.”
The application for us is clear. We must build our theology on the clear, contextual word of God. This section, as noted above, is the clearest section on how a righteousness and merciful God can save the vilest sinner and do it justly. Therefore, it behooves us to find the principles of interpretation of the new covenant gospel here. They are simple, but profound as they force major changes in our paradigm of interpreting Scripture. For some of our readers, the two following points may be difficult to accept. In the coming studies there will be further clarification. Building on these two principles is laying a foundation that cannot be moved.
- Salvation history changes radically with the coming of Christ.
- Righteousness (more on this in the next study) is revealed “apart from law” New covenant righteousness is not even associated with the law.
Father, give me spiritual insight so that I might understand what your chosen instrument, the Apostle Paul, is saying. Guide my study and life toward the goal of Christ-likeness, knowing that salvation is and always will be a gift by your grace that is received by faith alone in Jesus Christ.
1 D.A. Carson, From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, p. 119-139.