With Dale Ratzlaff
We pick up our study in Romans 3:21-26:
21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 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; 26 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.
In the last lesson we found two key principles of interpretation: 1) with the coming of Christ, His substitutionary death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead there has been a major shift in salvation history. This is the NT usage of “but now…” 2) New covenant righteousness is revealed “apart from law”. These two principles will be foundational to a correct understating of the gospel.
Verse 21 tells us clearly that God’s righteousness is revealed apart from law. Looking at this verse again, we note that this righteousness is the “righteousness of God” and not the righteousness of the law. It is important that we understand the difference between these two types of righteousness. I point this out because Adventists often equate them. Remember that Ellen White wrote that “righteousness is obedience to the law.” Probably the best reference to show that these two types of righteousness are not the same is Philippians 3:8, 9.
“As to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”
Now we can understand this statement of Christ:
For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, [righteousness of the law] you will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 5:20).
They were trusting the righteousness of the law, and that does not measure up to the righteousness of God.
Now that we understand that the righteousness of God mentioned in 3:22 is not the righteousness of the law, it is a much higher righteousness. We must ask, “How do we get this righteousness of God?”
Verse 21 deals with the manifestation or the disclosure of God’s righteousness, and verse 22 deals with the reception of God’s righteousness:
“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” (Rom. 3:21-22).
This is the method for achieving the very “righteousness of God”! We simply believe or trust Christ and what He did for us. When we do that, it is the moment of new birth. Saving belief is more than an intellectual agreement. The Bible says the Devils believe, but it won’t save them. True faith is a belief that trusts Christ alone. It is a belief that gives up on trying to be “good enough” on your own.
A number of things take place at the moment of saving faith. We will reference only two here. First, new birth is a supernatural work by the Holy Spirit. Jesus made this clear to Nicodemus.
Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit (Jn. 3:3-8).
Nicodemus did not understand how one could be born again, so Jesus gave the illustration of Moses lifting up the brazen serpent.
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life (Jn. 3:14-15).
Therefore, this is the second aspect of saving faith. There must be a response of faith on our part as well as the supernatural work of the Spirit.
I will never forget the day I fully trusted Christ completely. I thought I was on my death bed, and even though I had lived a disciplined life, I knew I was not ready to meet God. Then as I repeated the Bible verses I had memorized, suddenly I realized all I had to do was admit that I was a helpless sinner and cry out to God for mercy. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I realized for the first time that He was the one to forgive my sins and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. Wow! That was the beginning of new life for me.
So this perfect righteousness of God is credited to us the moment we give up on ourselves and place all our hope of salvation in the death and resurrection of Christ. This is simple but with profound results. Look carefully at our text again. “Even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction” (Rom. 3:22).
Paul is not redundant here. Faith in Jesus Christ is the method by which the righteousness of God is received, the second phrase, “for all who believe” teaches us that a response is needed. The gift is free but it must be accepted. Who can respond? Whosoever will. There is no distinction! God accepts rich, poor, learned, uneducated, pagan, white, black, and all shades between. The good news is that God accepts sinners while they are still sinners and then starts to change them into His image. We come with an empty hand and it is filled by God’s grace. Woe to the person that has the order of salvation backwards.
Summary and application
There are four important points. These points are necessary for the application of God’s grace to us personally, and also are additional foundational principles upon which we can build a solid gospel theology.
• The righteousness of God is not the righteousness of the law but a much higher righteous that involves no human activity or merit.
• The method of achieving the righteousness of God is by trusting the death and resurrection of Christ.
• A response to God’s gift is required; it is for all who believe.
• The scope of God’s grace is wide; there is no distinction; whosoever will may come.
Father, my heart melts when I understand your matchless grace! How could you send your Son to die on a cruel cross so that I could receive your matchless, perfect righteousness? Paul’s prayer written to the Ephesians is my prayer today.
I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen (Eph. 3:14-21).