Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
May 12, 2002
Turn with me to Romans 3:9 and follow along as I read through to the end of the chapter.
9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and
Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written, "There is none righteous, not even one; 11 There is none
who understands, There is none who seeks for God; 12 All have turned aside, together they have become
useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one. " 13 "Their throat is an open grave, With
their tongues they keep deceiving," "The poison of asps is under their lips"; 14 "Whose mouth is full of
cursing and bitterness"; 15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood, 16 Destruction and misery are in their
paths, 17 And the path of peace have they not known." 18 "There is no fear of God before their eyes."
19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every
mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the
Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law [comes] the knowledge of sin.
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. 27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of
law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from
works of the Law. 29 Or is God [the God] of Jews only? Is He not [the God] of Gentiles also? Yes, of
Gentiles also, 30 since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised
through faith is one.
31 Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the
Over the last few months, we have studied Paul’s introduction to his gospel presentation in chapters
1,2 & 3. Remember that the gospel of God in centered in God’s righteousness being revealed. Paul
begins his presentation by showing the righteousness of God’s wrath against all who are ungodly and
unrighteous. And who are those people?
Those who are outwardly immoral are obviously unrighteous. Those who claim to be moral turn out
to also be unrighteous because they actually do the same things as the obviously immoral. They are just
less flagrant about it. They do not even live up to their own standards resulting in their consciences
condemning them. Religious Jews thought they were righteous before God due to their ethnic heritage
and being those to whom God had entrusted His law. However, they did not obey the law, and though
they had great privileges as the descendants of Abraham, a right standing before God cannot be
In our study of 3:9-18 last week, we saw the final conclusion that there are none righteous, no not
one. No mere human has every lived up to God’s standard of holiness because man’s very character is
sinful resulting in sinful speech and conduct. Man does not seek God. He does not do good. Unless there
is divine intervention, all men will be condemned because there is nothing they can do to cleanse
themselves from their sins and become clean before God. Even so, men continually search for some way
to do this. They diligently strive to keep the rules of some religious system, whether one already
established or of their own personal design, in order make themselves acceptable to God.
Paul addresses the futility of this in verses 19 & 20. The purpose of the law, both the Mosaic Law
which was given to the Jews, and the law of conscience that God has placed in every human, is the same.
The law brings the knowledge of sin. The word "knowledge" here is
ejpivgnwsi" / epignosis, and it refers to an experiential knowledge. Law does not bring knowledge of
sin because we can read what sin is, but because law sets the standards and we then fail to keep those
standards. A thief is not a thief because he can define theft, but because he has taken what does not
belong to him in violation of the law. The law removes his excuses and makes him accountable to God.
Man is not ignorant of God’s requirements. As verse 19 states, his mouth is shut and he is brought under
God’s judgement, which is what it means to become accountable to God. He will judge man according
to man’s very deeds (2:6).
The tragedy here is that the very thing that so many people think will make them acceptable to God
is what will condemn them. All false religions and cults can be boiled down to this essence. They seek to
gain God’s approval through their own effort. They are religions of human achievement. The particular
list of rules varies from religion to religion, but in the end, all of them hope that their good deeds will
balance out their sinful deeds and in that way earn themselves a ticket for heaven. The problem with this
idea is twofold. First, any sin would outweigh all your good deeds. James 2:10 is specific in stating that
"whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one [point,] he has become guilty of all." Second,
you have no good deeds. Isaiah 64:6 states "all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment." Even a
man’s best effort to perform some righteous deed falls short and is filthy before the Holy God that
created him. That is why it is impossible for anyone to justify themselves before God by keeping some
system of law. Whether it is the Mosaic law, or the law of their conscience that Paul spoke of back in
chapter 2, they fail to keep it, and so are left condemned.
What hope then is there? You must be perfectly clean in order to have a right standing with God and
be acceptable in His presence. The smallest stain disqualifies you, and the reality is that you are filthy
with no means by which to become clean. Man left to himself has no hope. If this was the end of Paul’s
message, man would be left in despair, for there would be no good news. But this is only the
introduction to Paul’s message. There is good news. There is hope.
In the effort to win people to Jesus Christ, many today leave out this bad news in order to concentrate
on the good news. That may be a good way to market a product that is in competition with similar
products. But we do not market Jesus. We do not sell the gospel. The whole point of beginning the
gospel with the bad news first is that there is no competition for it. Man has no hope apart from God’s
intervention, and until a person understands this, the offer of salvation will not make complete sense
because they will not know what they are being saved from or to. Escaping hell and going to heaven is
only a benefit of salvation. Salvation itself is from sinful unrighteousness to holy righteousness. It is
from not understanding to understanding, from not seeking God to seeking God, from being useless to
being useful, from not doing good to doing good. You are saved from being an estranged enemy of God
to being His loved adopted child. Hopelessness and despair are then replaced with hope and joy in Him.
But how can this be? How can the holy God accept those who are unrighteous and have no means by
which to make themselves righteous. If God freely accepted the ungodly and unrighteous, then He would
violate His own standards and would then be unrighteous Himself. If God choose to just overlook the
sins of man, then He would be condoning man’s evil and would be unjust. Paul has already answered
that charge earlier in the chapter. God is righteous and just. The answer to that question is what Paul
begins to explain in vs. 21.
God’s Righteousness Displayed
In contrast to the condemnation that law brings upon man, God makes His righteousness evident
apart from man’s effort to keep law. This truth is not new, for the Law and Prophets, that is, the Old
Testament, also proclaimed the same thing. Man has never and will never make himself right before God
through obedience to law. Moses himself called on the people to "circumcise [their] hearts and stiffen
[their] necks no more" (Deut. 10:16). The life of the godly Jew was to be centered on loving God with
all their heart, soul and might (Deut. 6:4). Obedience to God’s commands were to arise from this love
for and faith in God, not as an effort to appease God. The prophet Habakkuk proclaimed that the soul of
the proud was not right, but "the righteous will live by his faith" (Hab. 2:4). Even the sacrificial system
was built on faith and not on trying to earn God’s favor. David expressed this well in Psalm 51:16,17 –
"For Thou dost not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; Thou art not pleased with burnt
offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt
Paul makes the point in verse 22 that the righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ
for all those who believe. It does not matter your background or how bad you had been in the past, for
no one meets God’s standard of holiness on their own. Verse 23 sets out the condition of all humans in
their natural state – "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." The past of every human is
marked by sin. Everyone has disobeyed God. The present condition is the same. The grammar here of
"fall short" is continuous. We are falling short of God’s glory. It is not just that sin has caused us to fail
in the past, but that it continues to mark our life and cause us to fail in the present. God does not make
distinction in extending His righteousness to those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ because all
come to Him in the same sinful condition and are granted righteousness for salvation on the same basis.
What is the condition for being made righteous? Verse 24.
Romans 3:24 – "being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ
Jesus." All have sinned, but all who have believed are justified. This is not by anything they have done,
but by a gift of God’s grace.
To be justified means to be made or declared righteous. There is a judicial aspect to the word. It does
not mean that you have been made perfect and will no longer sin, for we will see later in Romans that
Christians do still sin. It means that God has rendered a verdict on you of not guilty based on something
He has given to you. You have not earned it. You have not paid the penalty of sin yourself, for the
penalty of sin is death. Instead, God declares you not guilty because He has given you a gracious gift. By
definition, a gift cannot be earned. If you earn it, then it is wages and not a gift. By definition, grace is
getting something positive you do not deserve. If you deserve it, it is a debt paid to you and not from
This gift of grace comes to you through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. Redemption is the
payment made in order to get something back for ones self. We tend to think of redemption in terms of
redeeming coupons and getting some of our money back, but redemption at that time was thought of in
terms of paying the price necessary to gain back a piece of land or a person who had been sold into
slavery (Lev. 25:24f, 47f; Ruth 4:3,4; Neh. 5:8). We could not redeem ourselves for the price is too
great, but we can be redeemed through Jesus Christ who Himself paid redemption price for us. 1 Peter
1:18,19 tells us that this redemption price was not perishable things like silver or gold, but the precious
blood of Christ, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless. Jesus gave up His life and died in order to
redeem you from your sins so that you could be righteous before God. You have not earned it. You do
not deserve it. He gives it as a gift by His grace.
Verse 25 tells us that this same price was also the necessary propitiation, "Whom God displayed
publically as a propitiation in His blood through faith." A propitiation is the price paid to appease the
anger or satisfy the justice of someone who was wronged. Perhaps we can get a sense of redemption and
propitiation through our own laws concerning personal injury and property damage. If someone injures
you or your property, you are entitled not only to the price it would take to fix what was broken – i.e.
redeem it – but also a payment for the pain, suffering or inconvenience it causes you – a propitiation.
In this case, it is our sin that has wronged God and brought His wrath upon us. In false religions, this
effort to appease God’s wrath is made through various gifts or even blood sacrifices given to the god or
gods of their religion. But man cannot appease God’s wrath and still live. His justice demands that all
the ungodly and unrighteous be sent to hell. It is Jesus who gives His own life as the propitiation that
satisfies God’s wrath. This was done publically when Jesus was crucified on the cross and bore God’s
wrath upon our sins in His own body. As 1 Peter 2:24 puts it, "He Himself bore our sins in His body on
the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness."
We refer to Jesus’ death on the cross as His substitutionary atonement for sinners. Jesus gave
Himself as our substitute. We are the ones that deserved death, but He paid that price on our behalf.
"Christ died for sins, once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God" (1
Peter 3:18). Jesus atoned for our sins in that His death covered our unrighteousness and imputed (gave)
to us His righteousness – 1 John 1:6, the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin; 2 Cor 5:21
"He made Him who knew no sin [to be] sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of
God in Him." The idea of imputed righteousness is that of needing a perfectly clean robe in order to be in
God’s presence, but yours is filthy and you can’t clean it. Jesus takes your filthy robe and gives you His
own clean one so that you can be with God. He takes the filth of your sin away so that you can stand
righteous in Him before God.
All of this demonstrates the righteousness of God. It explains how God can be both just and
forgiving. As verse 25 points out, in times past God’s righteousness was displayed in overlooking the
sins previously committed. This idea of "overlooking sins" is not one of ignoring them, but is the
displaying of His forbearance with man. 2 Peter 3:9 comments on this, "The Lord is not slow about His
promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to
come to repentance." If God’s justice were instantaneous all of us would be in hell. Instead, God is
patient with us and endures our sin while He works out His plan of redemption in our lives. In the
present time God’s righteousness is displayed in being the just and justifier of those who have faith in
It is in the redemption and propitiation that come through Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death that
explains how a holy God could make man acceptable to Himself without violation of His justice. God
remains holy because the demands of His justice and the penalty on sin are both carried out. Yet at the
same time, God displays His righteous love for the creatures He has made by being the one that justifies
them Himself by paying the price that redeems man from His sins and satisfies His own wrath upon sin.
God is therefore both just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus.
The false religions and cults teach people to work hard in order to achieve righteousness. Though
such people can never meet God’s standards, they can attain lives that are relatively more moral than
other people. This often becomes a cause of boasting about how good they are compared to others and
what they have achieved. Paul points out here in verse 27 that because God is the just and the justifier of
sinful men there is no basis for men to boast about their own righteousness achieved through keeping
any kind of law. You simply cannot become righteous through your own efforts. It is something that is
given to you as a gift of God’s grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His work of atonement
on your behalf.
Christians must also be careful to remember this for such boasting can also occur within the
Christian community. When people let their eyes focus on themselves and others instead of God, they
can easily start comparing themselves to others and forget what makes them righteous before God. It
seems inevitable that people usually compare themselves to those not doing as well and then begin
boasting about how good they are. Be wary of ever boasting how good you are, for that is when you are
most in danger of falling (1 Cor. 10:12; Prov. 16:18). This is also one of the characteristics of legalism.
There is a pride displayed in how well they keep the written and unwritten rules they have made for
themselves. I had a man once argue with me and boast how he was my best supporter in the church
because he came to all the church meetings, yet at the same time he rarely heeded the sermons and was
speaking against me behind my back. He eventually had to be disfellowshiped for lying and causing
The gospel of righteousness imputed by faith through God’s gift of grace through the redemption
which is in Christ Jesus excludes all causes of boasting. Even though I may be more mature in my walk
in the Lord than others, there is no cause for boasting, for I am no better than anyone else. I am what I
am because of God’s grace toward me. I am not to live by any kind of law, but rather by the law of faith.
The hard work I do at being obedient to God is done out of love for Him in response to His love already
given to me. I desire to please Him, not appease Him. Jesus’ sacrifice has already done that on my
Let me expand a moment on this idea of the law of faith. Paul states in verse 28, "For we maintain
that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law." The only way in which a person can be
made right before God and enter into a personal relationship with Him is by faith. No effort in keeping
any kind of law can achieve that. As Paul states in Eph. 2:8,9, "For by grace you have been saved
through faith; and that not of yourselves, [it is] the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one
should boast." What is this law of faith?
Faith always has an object, and the object in saving faith is always God Himself alone. The object of
faith in law of works is ultimately in itself. It may claim other things, but it will eventually still boil
down to human achievement. There are many that claim to be Christians that want to mix faith in God
with faith in what they do. Their testimonies often repeat the word "I" a lot, and reveals that they are
actually relying on what they have done instead of what God has done. "I walked the aisle." "I raised my
hand." "I prayed a prayer." In the law of faith, it is "God convicted me of my sin." "God did this and that
in my life and caused me to believe." "God is changing me."
True saving faith starts with a humble attitude generated by knowing the depravity of your own
sinfulness and then looking to God for mercy. It is the attitude of being "poor in Spirit" that Jesus speaks
of in Matthew 5:3 and which was displayed by the publican in Luke 18:13 "But the tax-gatherer,
standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his
breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!"
This faith accepts what God says as true rather than one’s own thoughts and feelings or the wisdom
of men. It believes God’s proclamations and promises and so casts itself upon them to receive both His
mercy and grace. It does not try to earn salvation, but freely accepts Jesus’ payment on His behalf.
This faith has a love for God because it believes and trusts Him. Out of that love comes a desire to
both know Him more and to please Him by obedience to what He says. This in turn will result in an
outwardly changed life. At the same time, this faith is marked by humility because God’s glory is all
important and not self glory.
The law of faith has as its object God Himself. It believes Him and all that He has revealed about
Himself and how He desires man to live. It trusts Him to fulfill all His promises.
In verses 29 & 30 Paul reiterates once again that this good news is for both the Jew and Gentile
because He is the God of both. Regardless of whether the individual is of Jewish heritage and has kept
the proscribed rituals, or was raised as a pagan, God’s justification of the sinner is based on the same
thing for both. It is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and what He has done on their behalf.
Paul concludes this section by answering the charge that would now be brought against the gospel
message. If the basis of becoming righteous before God is faith in Him, then law is nullified, abolished,
of no value. This charge would be serious because Jesus Himself said that He did not come to abolish
the law, but to fulfill it. The gospel does not replace the law, it rather does the opposite and establishes it.
How so? First, understand that the Law, whether you are speaking about the Mosaic code or any
other kind of law has never brought salvation from sin to anyone. The law is incapable of doing that. As
Paul back in verse 20, the law was meant to bring the knowledge of sin. The gospel of God’s grace
through faith in Jesus Christ establishes the law because it shows how it was fulfilled and its continued
First, our redemption in Jesus Christ was in complete fulfillment of the requirements of the Mosaic
Law. The Law required an innocent to be the substitute sacrifice for the guilty. Jesus lived a sinless life
and was therefore the only fitting sacrifice to pay the penalty of man’s sins.
Second, the moral aspects of the law (as compared to the ceremonial aspects) continues on as God’s
revelation of Himself, what He declares to be right and wrong and how He wants us to live. The gospel
establishes this because it actually gives man the ability to keep some of these laws which are impossible
to keep apart from being regenerated by the Holy Spirit. The Christian does not obey these commands in
order to make himself righteous before God, but because He loves God, wants to please God and knows
that God’s ways are best.
Third, the law continues in its function of brining to men a knowledge of their sinfulness and need
for a savior. As Paul states in Gal. 3:24, "Therefore the Law has become our tutor [to lead us] to Christ,
that we may be justified by faith."
How does all this affect us?
If you are not a Christian, then it has been clearly stated that you have no hope apart from faith in
Jesus Christ. It is time for you to turn from your sins and seek the savior. If you call to Him, He will hear
and respond. Talk with myself or one of our church leaders after the service and we would love to
introduce you to Jesus Christ.
If you are a Christian, then it has been clearly stated. Your salvation is all of God. You have no basis
for boasting. In all humility, you need to daily thank God for the awesome gift of grace He has given to
you in Jesus Christ. This is the reason that we worship Him and give Him praise, and His glory is now
the purpose of our existence. Consider how well you are worshiping Him personally? How well are you
giving Him glory in your daily life by your attitudes and actions? Consider as well how well you have
done in telling others about this wonderful good news? Man is utterly sinful, even so, God has
demonstrated His own righteousness in providing a way for man to be made righteous before Him
through faith in Jesus Christ.