Been to a Bulls game lately? The announcer slowly and boringly wades through the names of the opposing team. So and so, center, so and so, guard….zzzz.
Then what? Lights flash. Excitement in the arena builds. With the sound of a general marching into a city, the suddenly-awakened speaker shouts,
It is the pent-up emotion I feel is in Paul’s heart as he pens what we call verse 21… Oh, dark, dark has been the midnight. The description of sin and guilt and lost humanity is depressing beyond words. BUT NOW…
You Jews and in some way you Gentiles, all depended on the law or your good conscience to save you. I have proved to you that mankind is universally corrupt. BUT NOW….
Your own righteousness? Forget it! You will always fall short. Man cannot be righteous before God on his own. The law is holy but you are not. The law condemns you. BUT NOW…
“the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed…”
What? I can be righteous without the law? There’s justice and goodness and acceptance before God without the law? That sounds like heresy! How can a man be righteous before a holy God?
Why, that is exactly what Job asked in Job 9:2. The question implies that if the law is set aside in some way, there must be something else I must do. The people in John the Baptist’s wilderness asked, “What shall we do?” People around Jesus, the miracle worker, asked, “What can we do to work the works of God?” The rich young ruler asked, “What good thing can I do to inherit eternal life?” Pentecost, ditto, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Even Paul on the Damascus Road, “What shall I do, Lord?” The Philippian jailor asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Remember that “righteous” in Romans is not about a series of good things we do. The word can just as easily be translated “justice.” In verse 20 Paul is saying no flesh will be justified by the law. Now he says justice is available without the law.
Men who are always calling out for human justice are hoping for something that does not exist in the world. Injustice or unrighteous behavior is with us permanently and universally. We can only appeal to God’s justice, His sense of right and wrong, His sense of making everything fair and good.
And God accomplished that at Calvary, as we will see. Justice has already been obtained. God did it without Moses. That justice is available and at Paul’s writing had just been revealed to the world. Now people all over the planet have experienced it individually. One day the Just King Himself will return and bring righteousness/justice to the government, to every nation. Isaiah 32:1 declares, “Behold, a king will reign in righteousness.”
But we are way ahead of the story. Paul says it has just been revealed to man. Only twenty-thirty years old is this righteous revelation when Paul speaks.
But had anyone even talked about it before? Paul says, If you had read Moses and the Prophets, you would have known about the coming of this righteousness.
“being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,”
Jesus told the Jews one day, “If you had believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me.” That’s a challenging statement for any man to make, that the Bible actually says something about me. But Moses did write about Jesus. Moses predicted in Deuteronomy 18:15 that a prophet like himself would one day arise.
Moses unwittingly asked the people of God to kill a lamb and place its blood on the doorposts of their homes. That was about Jesus.
The rock that followed them through the wilderness was Jesus.
The law about a man hanging on a tree and being accursed was about Jesus.
Every piece of furniture in the Tabernacle and Temple pointed to Jesus. The sacrificial law and the feasts and the foods, it was all about Him and the righteousness He would produce.
Job, in the midst of his afflictions, knew that his Redeemer lived and would rescue him.
David wrote entire Psalms about the coming Savior, His suffering, His glory. His resurrection.
Isaiah probably came the closest to preaching the Gospel in his 53rd chapter: “He was wounded for our transgressions.” We sinned, He was punished. That’s Gospel. “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” That’s Gospel. “It pleased the Lord to bruise Him… You make His soul an offering for sin…” That is good news, and Isaiah preached it seven hundred years before it happened!
Then that 32nd chapter of Isaiah that I already quoted. A king reigns. Princes will rule with justice. Bodies will be whole. Minds will be whole. Ungodliness will be done away.
Truly the Law and the Prophets witnessed to the Jews of a righteousness that would one day supersede the Law and the Prophets. The Old Testament had the New Testament hidden away, to be revealed to us and for us in our day.
Now Paul becomes very explicit in his definition of God’s righteousness, or justice:
“even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.”
What does it mean to be right with God? What does it mean for God to be satisfied with us? What does it mean for justice to be served on sin?
That’s all one question. There are two true answers, and one false one. The first true one is only theoretical, but impossible: Just keep the law. Be good, perfectly. Do good deeds, constantly.
The world has its take on this answer, a perversion of the true answer that makes it a false answer: Do more good than you did bad. Be a nice person. Be sure your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds on God’s judgment scale. Try your best.
The other true answer is before us now, gratefully, thankfully. It is startlingly simple, but was not easy for Jesus to make it possible. It is wonderfully free, but cost the Son of God His life. It is the answer that is still hidden to the masses though it has been with us for centuries. Faith in Jesus Christ.
Believing, trusting in what Jesus did, not what you can do. Remember, “Abraham believed God and God counted it as righteousness,” Genesis 15. That’s how it works. Faith comes out of you and righteousness is imputed to you.
Not “believed in God”. All the angelic hosts of Satan believe in God. The devil inside the Gadarene demoniac of Mark 5 recognized that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Most High God. In Paul’s life, a little slave girl’s demon recognized that the message being preached by Paul was the way of salvation, Acts 16.
No. If mental assent could save, all demons would be on their way to Heaven. We are not trying to get people to believe in God when we go to the street. We are presenting to people the offer of this God to forgive them based on the sacrifice, the blood, of Jesus. If they trust Christ’s blood, they are saved.
But we do not want to over-simplify conversion, true salvation. We don’t reduce it to a formula or a sinner’s prayer, however nicely worded. I quote A. W. Tozer here:
“Something has happened to the doctrine of justification… the faith of Paul and Luther was a revolutionizing thing. It upset the whole life of the individual and made him into another person altogether. It laid hold on the life and brought it unto obedience to Christ. It took up its cross and followed along with Jesus with no intention of going back. It said good-bye to its old friends as certainly as Elijah when he stepped into the fiery chariot and went away in the whirlwind. It had a finality about it. It snapped shut on a man’s heart like a trap; it captured the man and made him from that moment a happy love-servant of His Lord.” (From The Root of the Righteous)
A seventeenth-century English minister named Joseph Alleine wrote along similar lines: I quote from his book An Alarm to the Unconverted.
“ All of Christ is accepted by the sincere convert; he loves not only the wages, but the work of Christ; not only the benefits, but the burden of Christ; he is willing not only to tread out the corn, but to draw under the yoke; he takes up the command of Christ, yea, the cross of Christ…
“Jesus is a sweet name, but men love not the Lord Jesus in sincerity. They will not have Him as God offers, to be a Prince and a Savior. They divide what God has joined, the king and the priest…”
That’s what saving faith looks like. His yoke is easy, but it is a yoke, for all men serve under some yoke. His burden is light, but it is a burden, for we will either carry the burden of our sin or the burden of His cross. Men need to be told this at the beginning of their walk with Christ, and not have it sprung on them half-way down the road.
And so the righteousness of God is transferred over to any repentant sinner when He truly believes God.
“…for there is no difference;”
What is the apostle saying? What He said before. There is no partiality with God. Whether Jew or Gentile, all sinners are equally unable to please God in their own flesh. And whether Jew or Gentile, anyone who has faith in Christ’s work is automatically made righteous. God sees only His Son Jesus when you are in Him. Anyone in the Son is immediately in the Father’s good graces.
Then he repeats the entire concept in those next two verses we learned as children:
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”
“Fall short” is from Hustereo which has the idea of being inferior, or behind something else. The glory of God is out in front of us. It’s the prize. It calls us forward but we never can reach it. Luther struggled with this coming behind for years. He tried everything to please God, to please the church. He wanted to be a holy man and the more he tried the worse it got. Holiness, God’s glory and majesty and perfection, were always out there tantalizing him. But he never caught up until he got hold of a verse in the book we are studying.
Every honest man admits that he falls short. But what most men don’t understand is that falling short is a death sentence. Falling short means there is sin in your life. Sin brings death, eternally.
But those who get hold of faith in Christ will be, as it says in the next verse,