“… being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Rom 3:24
The Righteousness of God
The basic theme of the book of Romans can be followed along several different, but connected, lines of thought. We might choose “the gospel of God” (Rom 1:1) as our theme, and this would be a good working theme. On the other hand, we may take “obedience to the faith” (Rom 1:5; Rom 16:26), which nicely “bookends” the epistle. Then again, we would not miss the mark if we chose “the just shall live by faith” (Rom 1:17b, from Hab 2:4), which could carry us through a study of the whole span of the Christian life. Each of these could easily provide a foundation for the study of the book.
Another good choice would be “the righteousness of God” (Rom 1:17a; Rom 3:5, Rom 3:21–22; Rom 10:3). With this as the theme, we shift attention away from a man-centered focus to a God-centered one—by which the whole plan of salvation/sanctification is seen from the perspective of God’s essence and character.
A Critical Turning Point
The section of Scripture surrounding our verse (Rom 3:20–31) is a critical turning point in Paul’s argument. He has clearly demonstrated that the curse of sin is an insurmountable barrier to the Gentile (Rom 1:18–32), the Jew (Rom 2:1–29) and, in fact, to all mankind (Rom 3:9–23).
The Old Covenant (the Law of Moses) condemns all men equally, for none are capable of living up to its holy commands (Rom 3:9–19). This leaves the entire human race in a helpless and hopeless state—able to do absolutely nothing meritorious to establish a right relationship with God.
It is at this juncture in his argument that Paul moves from his development of the doctrine of condemnation (Rom 1:1–3:23) to the doctrine of justification (Rom 3:24–5:21), and then to the doctrine of sanctification (Rom 6:1–8:39).
Then, in a brilliant move, Paul recaps these arguments using the nation of Israel as the historical example (Romans 9–11). In Romans 9, Paul demonstrates the condemnation of Israel due to their unbelief (a recap of Rom 1:1–3:23). Then, in Romans 10, he shows that the only hope of Israel for justification is to turn to Christ in faith (recap of Rom 3:24–5:21). Finally, he addresses the issue of sanctification for Israel in Romans 11 (a review of Rom 6:1–8:39), which will come in the future when the Church Age ends at the Rapture (Rom 11:25).
Paul concludes the book with the final section (Rom 12:1–27), which deals with transformation, what we might call biblical spirituality. This is the practical application of the Word of God to daily life—resulting in the righteousness of God lived out on a daily basis.
Covenants and Controversy
The foundational bedrock of Romans is the contrast between the Old and New Covenants. Even a casual study of the covenants of the Bible demonstrates that covenants fall into two major categories: those that are conditional versus those that are unconditional. The key phrase in conditional covenants—like the Mosaic Law—is when God says, “If you do … then I will” (Exo 19:5–6). This means that the fulfillment of the promises in the covenant is dependent upon human performance.
In the unconditional covenants—such as the Abrahamic Covenant—the key phrase spoken by God is, “I will …” (Gen 12:1–3). It is for this reason Paul makes it clear that the Law (which is a conditional covenant) cannot abrogate the promise to Abraham, which is unconditional (Gal 3:7).
It is of interest, however, to note that the “unconditional” covenant has one limiting factor: it can be entered into only by faith. The reason for this is that faith is the direct opposite of works (Rom 11:6; Eph 2:8–9). Whereas human works seek to gain favor through personal merit, faith is an admission of personal helplessness. It is the expression of total spiritual poverty (Mat 5:3), the appeal for help from the helpless (Luk 18:13).
Amazingly, in spite of this clarity and simplicity, the controversy continues to rage between the “Lordship” and the “Free Grace” camps, as to whether faith constitutes or includes works.
The Grace of God is an Affront to Human Ego
When the Apostle Paul declares that we are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24), he inflames the very same visceral reaction in the pride of man that Jesus’ life and miracles did among the Pharisees and Sadducees. They hated Him because He was “the righteousness of God” in the flesh, and they were moved to envy and hatred, because He exposed their spiritual nakedness. His display of the infinite and unconditional mercy of God for the weak, despised, and unclean, violated their sense of superiority.
There is much more to say about this section of Scripture, but I will have to save it for a future post. However, the daily reading from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest for November 28 is so pertinent that I will reproduce it in full:
The Bounty of the Destitute
“Being justified freely by His grace …” Romans 3:24
“The Gospel of the grace of God awakens an intense longing in human souls and an equally intense resentment, because the revelation which it brings is not palpable. There is a certain pride in man that will give and give, but to come and accept is another thing. I will give myself in consecration, I will do anything, but do not humiliate me to the level of the most hell-deserving sinner and tell me that all I have to do is accept the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.
We have to realize that we cannot earn or win anything from God; we must either receive it as a gift or do without it. The greatest blessing spiritually is the knowledge that we are destitute; until we get there Our Lord is powerless. He can do nothing for us if we think we are sufficient of ourselves; we have to enter into His Kingdom through the door of destitution. As long as we are rich, possessed of anything in the way of pride or independence, God cannot do anything for us. It is only when we get hungry spiritually that we receive the Holy Spirit. The gift of the essential nature of God is made effectual in us by the Holy Spirit; He imparts to us the quickening life of Jesus, which puts ‘the beyond’ within, and immediately ‘the beyond’ has come within, it rises up to ‘the above,’ and we are lifted into the domain where Jesus lives (John 3:5).”
If we assume that faith is, in fact, a work, then the inclusion of ideas like: “I now make Jesus Lord of my life, I will consecrate myself wholly, I will submit and obey, I will persevere to the end,” etc. are logical additions. They also pander to the pernicious pride of man.
If, as simple children, we trust that “… the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23), we receive with the hand of faith what we can do and offer nothing for. The result is regeneration (new birth) which brings “new creation” (2Co 5:17) and an inner renewal in the likeness of Christ (Tit 3:5–6). It is in the light of this work of total grace that we are enabled to “… present [our] bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is [our] reasonable service.” (Rom 12:1).
May this become the daily goal—and the constant pursuit—of all who have trusted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
Standing with you in the battle,