This article is adapted from a sermon preached by Adam Brock entitled “What the Gospel Offers: Justification and Righteousness.”
A large passenger train was crossing the country. After they had gone some distance, one of the two engines broke down.
“No problem,” the engineer thought and carried on at half power. Farther on down the line, the other engine broke down and the train came to a standstill.
The engineer decided he should inform the passengers about why the train had stopped, and made the following announcement, “Ladies and gentlemen, I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that both engines have failed, and we will be stuck here for some time. The good news is that this is a train and not an airplane.”
Are you a “good news first” or a “bad news first” kind of person?
Today’s passage could be viewed as a bad news/good news type of situation. But the reality is that they are connected. The bad news is what makes the good news — great news!
The book of Romans was written by Paul and is his most comprehensive book on doctrine. Meaning, much of what is foundational to our faith is expounded and revealed right here in this book.
One of the main questions that Paul set out to answer for us has to do with justification and righteousness.
Well, I’ve got good news and bad news! (Which would you like first?) The bad news is this: to be righteous requires us to be perfect! (And if you think you’re perfect I would suggest you check in with your spouse and your kids. While they may say, “Aw, you’re perfect for me! #hallmark” If we dig deep, they’ll be able to show you some areas where you’re not perfect! Trust me)
The good news is this: Righteousness is not something we produce, it’s something God provides!
So, I’d like to read this passage and then walk through it carefully. Here’s what the Word of God Says,
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood — to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
Today I’m praying that God would open our eyes to all that the gospel offers! For those far from him, I pray that you know the wonderful truth concerning justification and righteousness. For the weary saint, I pray that today you would receive encouragement from the Word, so you may stand firm and not be crushed by the waves of this world.
The first thing that we need to learn about justification and righteousness is what Paul writes in the first part of verse 21 and that is that comes apart from the law.
The words “but now” indicate that there is a change in the argument. In the first part of Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome, he establishes the gravity of the human condition and our inability to remedy it. In other words: He opens his letter with a ton of bad news!
He states that there is no advantage for the Jew or the Gentile because all have fallen short and now stand deserving of God’s wrath towards sin. But it’s that very bad news that opens the door for him to begin sharing with them the best news ever: And that is you can’t earn salvation! That doesn’t actually sound like good news?! Well …
Many people live their lives thinking that to please God means to live a good life.
This is not a new idea; Saul of Tarsus surely felt this way. He pursued hard after the things of God and was very religious. However, at the heart of Saul’s religion, was the idea that righteousness must be and could be attained.
So, he writes as one who knows the temptation to try through his own efforts to earn righteousness. He knows the insatiable drive to work and work so that you’ll be noticed and validated by God.
Maybe that’s you today? Maybe you’ve been working so hard to be a good person, (or at least to look like a good person, or maybe just to be a better person than oh so-and-so)?
Paul understands that race. But he also knows what it means to be transformed.
We read about Paul’s transformation in the book of Acts. Specifically, in chapter 9 we read about his dramatic conversion when traveling on the road the risen Jesus confronts him.
And because of what Jesus did in his life, Paul now writes to the church, “Stop looking at your own performance to justify you! It can’t be done! Righteousness comes apart from the law!”
If through keeping the law we could save ourselves, then the death of Jesus was pointless.
“If there be ground for you to trust in your own righteousness, then all that Christ did to purchase salvation, and all that God did to prepare the way for it, is in vain.” — Jonathan Edwards
But here’s the spoiler: You can’t save yourself! And Paul desperately wants you to know that righteousness is not produced but provided. Not earned but received.
Somebody today needs to hear that and make a change in your life! Stop your endless striving!
In addition: he writes that justification and righteousness come in accordance with the scriptures — “to which the Law and the Prophets testify” (v. 21b).
I love this! You see, at the heart of the scriptures (that’s what he means by law and prophets), is a promise. The promise is that God will be faithful to save his people from their sin. This promise runs throughout the whole of scripture and holds the whole story together.
All other religions in the world are based on you making and keeping promises to the “gods” in hopes of earning love and acceptance.
The one true God, however, because of his great love, has promised to save us based on his faithfulness.
Justification and righteousness are the results of God being faithful to what has been revealed in scripture. From the very beginning, every promise of salvation was pointing forward to Jesus. And now because HE is faithful, what is required of us: is to believe!
Look at the next verse. Paul wants us to see that justification and righteousness come through faith.
“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile.” (v. 22)
The thing about faith is it is only as good as its object. Jesus is the object of faith and the means of obtaining the gift of the righteousness of God.
This idea that we come to God through faith is fundamentally important.
I hope you know that it’s OK to struggle to understand and grasp all the things of God. Honestly, I’m thankful that God is so big that I can’t comprehend everything about it. But that means, I must have faith, even when there is fear.
The author of Hebrews says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)
Verse 23 continues the same theme that the end of verse 22 begins — for all men. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
This is a crucial verse and one that is worth committing to memory!
But I’m telling you, what appears here to be bad news, is actually the best news!
All have sinned and fall short. I get it, that’s bad news!
But it also means, at the cross, the ground is completely level. No person is truly any better than the next.
It is the “all” of verse 23 that levels the playing field. Since all have sinned, then all need justification.
This truth keeps us from trying to justify ourselves based on comparisons. We’re all guilty. We’ve all missed the mark!
Let me show a picture of “missing the mark.”
This phrase is helpful for understanding the theological idea, but sometimes it helps to see it practically! This was the result of one of our WinShape campers from two weeks ago who “missed the mark.” If we want to talk about good news/bad news again: the good news is no one was shot! The bad news is the building took a hit!
Let’s look at a few verses Paul writes in the section right before our passage:
As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”Romans 3:10-12
Paul is screaming out the bad news, NO ONE IS RIGHTEOUS!
Why? Because if you don’t take that to heart the next part will not make sense to you!
I beg you, don’t be defensive here. We’re all broken. We’re all born into a sinful world, but also with a sinful nature! EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.
We all need saving! (Is he talking about me? YES!)
But that leads us to verse 24: “and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
Highlight, star, double underline justified by grace.
Here’s the good news: God is full of grace!
So, we’re justified by working hard? NO!
By being better than ______? NO! By his grace and through faith!
If you’ve been here long, chances are you’ve heard Pastor Steve or one of the ministers ask you a question that sounds like this: “If you were to die today and stand at the gates of heaven, and God said, “Why should I let you in my heaven?” What would be your answer?”
Well, if your answer to that question begins with “I” then you don’t get what justification is all about. Why should God let you into heaven, ONLY BECAUSE OF JESUS! God, by his grace, has provided salvation for all those who would place their faith in him!
Think with me about justification: There’s something we need to clear the air about.
To be justified does not mean that God looks at me “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned.
While this is a cute and memorable definition of the word, I truly believe it is a massive reduction. Being justified is not saying that God just overlooks, ignores, or minimizes sin.
When God justifies — declares righteous — a guilty sinner, two things happen: negatively, the sinner is declared no longer guilty of sin. Positively, the sinner is declared righteous. Not made righteous but declared righteous. God cancels out the debt of guilt that is on the sinner’s account and then credits righteousness to his or her account. Both actions must take place for justification to occur. To say that, once justified, God looks at sinners as if they had never sinned, discounts the worth of the sacrifice God offered to forgive our sin.
Charles Swindoll explains it this way: “After a day of dirty yard work, a hot shower and a bar of soap render one clean. It is tempting to say, ‘Ah, it’s just as if I’d never been dirty.’ But that would not have adequately conveyed the power and the value of the water and soap. Better to look in the mirror and say, ‘I was filthy and now I’m clean.’”
All you need to do is look back at the first two chapters of Romans to realize exactly how serious sin really is and how much grace is required to declare sinners righteous. John Newton had it right in “Amazing Grace,” when he said: “grace that saved a wretch like me.”
“God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, m through the shedding of his blood — to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — ” (v.25)
What is free for us was not free for God, for we are justified through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. The price God paid for our justification was incalculable, in that it involved the sacrifice of his Son.
You’ve heard the expression that there is no such thing as a “free lunch.”
Well, this free gift of salvation that is offered to us was quite costly.
“He did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (v. 26)
God is just. This is an expression of his holiness. If he wasn’t just then that would mean that sin isn’t that serious. But if you’ve ever been wronged, then you know what it means to long for justice. Well, God is just. Sin will be punished. Which we’re usually a big fan of if we’re talking about someone else’s sin!
God’s love for fallen mankind is so great he was willing to become a man, fulfill the Law, and die in fallen humanity’s place. God’s love and justice meet in Jesus.
So, in the death of Christ, God is saying, “I am just, and sin will be punished. But I’m also merciful; and sin will be punished in full, but for my people, my Son will be the substitutionary sacrifice.” The death of Christ declares publicly and openly that God is just — and it’s at the cross where we see justice and his overwhelming love.
Let’s press on.
“Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” (v. 27-28)
This is connected to verse 21.
I’ve heard people say, “I try to be a good person. I try to live right, what else could God want?” The answer is perfection. And because NONE of us are perfect, there is NO ROOM FOR boasting.
Pride is demolished at the foot of the cross!
We have to be honest here: Are you allowing pride a secret place in your heart where it can live rent-free and unchallenged?
Because, as long as we entertain pride, we will not take the mission of Jesus seriously!
I’d like to share with you an excerpt from a book titled, “Do You Believe?” by Paul David Tripp.
On this subject he writes:
So it is a grace to understand what the doctrine of justification says about you, who you were, what you deserved, and what your life would have been apart from God’s justifying mercies.
Justification properly understood produces humility as it demolishes pride!
“Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.” (v. 29-31)
Because of his Jewish readers, Paul wanted to say more about the relationship of the gospel to the Law. The doctrine of justification by faith is not against the Law, because it establishes the Law. God obeyed his own Law in working out the plan of salvation. Jesus in his life and death completely fulfilled the demands of the Law. God does not have two ways of salvation, one for the Jews and one for the Gentiles; for he is one God.
He is consistent with his own nature and his own Law. If salvation is through the Law, then men can boast; but the principle of faith makes it impossible for men to boast.
The swimmer, when he is saved from drowning, does not brag because he trusted the lifeguard. What else could he do? When a believing sinner is justified by faith, he cannot boast of his faith, but he can boast in a wonderful Savior.
And that should be what considering justification and righteousness do for us, it should make us quick to exalt our Great God!
What does the gospel offer? justification and righteousness.
It’s not something we produce, it’s something God provides! We cannot earn it, but praise God, that through Jesus, we can receive it!
If you are ready to follow Jesus or want to know more, let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 337-480-1555.
Most people’s idea of judgment is since God is love, God will let me get by with my sin. God will let me slide. But that’s absolutely wrong and it’s the Holy Spirit that shows you it’s wrong.
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