The Redemption in Christ: An Examination of Romans 3:19-5:21
Paul indicted all people, both Jew and Gentile, as guilty of sin before God (Romans 3:19). It is due to man’s ungodliness that the wrath of God is revealed, and He will judge all sin as worthy of death (Romans 1:18,32). The reality of sin is frightening and condemning. What is even more frightening is the reality of God’s judgment of sin. Those who commit such iniquity, and unrighteousness must come to accept the reality of their guilt for transgressing God’s commandments. Those who are guilty are condemned because of their sin. Sin is a universal and widespread problem; it has touched all people. Therefore, that guilt belongs to everyone who has ever committed sin.
What happens to a person who has committed sin, realizes that guilt and acknowledges that God will bring condemnation upon them for their wickedness? Is there any system of forgiveness, and mercy that someone may appeal to in order to obtain good standing in the sight of God? Paul answers the latter question with an affirmative response. The Roman letter is all about the system of righteousness (right-standing before God), justification (the pronouncement of being freed from guilt), and forgiveness (the removal of guilt). Please become familiar with these terms and using them in this way, because it is the way in which we will use them in this article.
Justification by Grace Through Faith
The system of justification and righteousness is not by the works of the law of Moses (Romans 3:20-21). To be justified by any system of law would require keeping the law perfectly (Galatians 3:10,12). The law of Moses was actually given as a system that would point to the need for God’s grace; it produced knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20). “But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient...” (I Timothy 1:8-9). God gave the Israelites a law that should have allowed them to see their transgression, and to make apparent unto them the burden of sin. The law of Moses also provided an understanding of punishment for sin (Hebrews 2:2). But most importantly, the Law established a system of sacrifices and the anticipation of atonement through the shedding of blood. The Law’s purpose was to point the Israelites unto Christ. The law of Moses was not intended to be a permanent framework, and it certainly was not God’s method to justify a nation of people that were already guilty of sin (I Timothy 1:9). Paul carefully refutes the thought that anyone will be justified by perfect law-keeping, especially in the debate concerning circumcision.
Instead of justification coming through works of the Law, the righteousness of God is by faith in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:22). God’s righteousness is made available unto all that believe because all believers are guilty of sin and are in need of God’s forgiveness. No matter if they were members of the nation of Israel and had received the law of Moses, or whether they were uncircumcised Gentiles, they were all guilty of sin (Romans 3:23). They each had the same opportunity to be justified by God through faith in Christ Jesus. Jew and Gentile would be justified in the same way. The Jew was not going to be justified through works of the Law; neither was the Gentile.
For those who wish to obtain salvation, it is found in the system of grace by faith. “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forebearance of God” (Romans 3:24-25). This justification that is available is offered freely by God’s grace. Salvation is unearned. Those who are guilty of sin are deserving of punishment, and condemnation. It is by God’s grace that we are saved. If it were not for the grace of God, then we would have no hope. We would be left to wallow in the mire of sin. The conditional aspect of God’s grace is faith on the part of the sinner.
Thankfully God provided a propitiation for us. He gave us His Son, Jesus Christ, who offered Himself freely upon the cross, shedding His blood for the remission of sins. The term propitiation means to appease or to satisfy. Who was appeased, and satisfied? What were the implications of this satisfaction? Christ appeased the requirement that blood be shed. In Leviticus chapters 16 and 17 we learn of the day of atonement, and the propitiatory sacrifice. A lamb was slaughtered, and its blood was taken into the Most Holy Place and sprinkled upon the mercy seat. Blood was necessary for atonement to be made (Leviticus 17:11). This was a foreshadowing of the Christ and His death. The principle is stated in Hebrews 9:22, “and without shedding of blood there is no remission.” It was necessary that the blood of the perfect Lamb of God be shed. God required the shedding of blood for the remission of sins. Blood is necessary to give life. We have no spiritual life apart from Christ Jesus and His death. It is in this sense that Christ is our propitiation - He satisfied the requirement of atonement, blood from the perfect and spotless Lamb of God. Through Christ’s sacrifice, God was appeased, and atonement was made, and through Him the remission of sins is accessible.
The righteousness of God is demonstrated and made available for those who avail themselves of the grace of God by faith. That is how God is just and the justifier (Romans 3:26). God is perfectly just in the exercise of His forgiveness upon the system of justification by grace through the condition of faith in His Son. He is the One that is satisfied with the blood of Christ. Therefore, He is the justifier of all those who exercises faith in Christ.
Boasting in works of the Law was excluded because that was not going to justify the sinner (Romans 3:27-28). God is over all, and He has determined He will save all men in the same fashion - by grace through faith (Romans 3:30).
“Blessed Is the Man to Whom the Lord Will Not Impute Sin”
The apostle Paul then appeals to the example of faithful Abraham. This is key to Paul’s defense of justification by faith. Paul’s argumentation in Romans 4 is the death blow to the Jews who prided themselves in being descendants of Abraham and argued that their justification was in circumcision (Romans 4:1).
Abraham was not justified by works, Paul argues (Romans 4:2). What kind of works is the apostle speaking of? He is speaking of the works and deeds of the law of Moses. Throughout the context, he uses the term ‘works’ and ‘deeds’ in the connection with how a man is not justified (Romans 3:20, 27-28). Now in chapter four, Paul argues neither was Abraham justified by the works of the law of Moses, because Abraham was justified by faith! It is evident that Abraham was not justified by the works of the law of Moses simply because when Abraham lived there was no law of Moses. Much of what Paul was trying to prove was in answer to the Judaizing teachers who were demanding the Gentiles keep the works of the Law in respect to the matter of circumcision. Abraham believed in God, and it was counted to him as righteousness (Romans 4:3; Genesis 15:6), which occurred before the covenant of circumcision was ever instituted (Romans 4:10-16; Genesis 17:1-14). The conclusion is: Abraham was justified by faith.
It is important to note the false teaching surrounding this passage by those who believe in the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. They correctly point out that if we were saved by works it would not be by grace but simply what we have earned (Romans 4:4). However, they incorrectly define the term works. They argue the term works refers to obedience to God. According to their doctrine, since a man is not saved by works, but is saved by grace, then any act of obedience would somehow be earning one’s salvation. Thus, a man is not saved by any act of obedience, namely, water baptism. If that understanding of the passage were true, then just consider how strange Paul’s statement in verse 5 would appear.
“But to him that worketh not [obeys not], but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:5).
Is this what Paul was affirming in this passage? God is going to save a man by faith alone without any act of obedience towards God? Certainly not! Surely our denominational friends do not believe that concept. They recognize the need for good works in the life of the Christian (Ephesians 2:10). To argue that obedience is not essential and has no role in the faith of the child of God is outrageous.
Abraham’s faith was an active, obedient faith. He believed God, and he acted upon that trust in the promises God made unto him. Abraham “staggered not at the promise” through unbelief. He was obedient to the Lord by not considering the deadness of Sarah’s womb. It was by faith that Abraham, a man who was one hundred years old, and Sarah who was ninety years old, received strength and conceived a child (Romans 4:19-20; Hebrews 11:11). The kind of faith that Abraham had, and the kind of faith that justifies a man, is the faith that is fully persuaded in the promise of God and acts upon that faith. “By faith Abraham obeyed,” (Hebrews 11:8). Obedience does not nullify the grace of God. Grace and obedience are not opposed to one another. In fact, they are perfectly joined in harmony with one another. If obedience is not necessary then how does a man access the grace of God? By sinning more? God forbid! (Romans 6:1-2). Obedience is that which ultimately proves one’s faith in God (James 2:14-26).
Abraham is the example that Paul uses to illustrate the principle of justification by grace through faith. If Abraham was justified by the grace of God, then how do you suppose we might be saved? “Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification,” (Romans 4:23-25). Another Old Testament example that Paul uses to prove the principle of justification by grace through faith apart from works is David (Romans 4:6-8). God imputes righteousness to the believer. This is not an imputation of the personal righteousness of Christ. To use Romans 4:6-8 as a passage that teaches the believer receives Christ’s righteousness is to read something that is not in the context. God imputes, or places upon someone’s account, righteousness. It is through faith in Christ Jesus, that righteousness is imputed. It is by God’s grace, certainly not by works. Furthermore, those who do argue that we are somehow imputed with the personal righteousness of Jesus Christ destroy the concept of grace. Through the goodness and grace of God, He has pronounced a man righteous. Can God do that if He so chooses out of His love and grace? Certainly. To argue that somehow the righteousness of Christ must be transferred to my account makes a mockery of grace. Nothing is actually forgiven. At best, the righteousness of Christ just overbalances my sin. There is no true justification and forgiveness.
The imputation of righteousness is the forgiveness of sins that we receive when we respond in the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5; 16:26). “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered” (Romans 4:7; Psalm 32:1). It is out of God’s goodness that He forgives our sins and removes the guilt and condemnation associated with that sin, making us righteous in His sight.
“We Shall Be Saved from Wrath”
Drawing this section of the Roman epistle to a close, Paul returns to the main theme of the book: salvation in Christ Jesus. The system of justification by grace through faith has been established, exampled, and proven. Thus, we have access to God, and peace with the Lord (Romans 5:1-2). We were at one time enemies found in sin (Romans 5:10). However, there is salvation from the judgment and death that sinners deserve (Romans 1:32; 5:9).
When sin entered the world through Adam, death was introduced, and death passed upon all men, “for all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). What kind of death was introduced through Adam because of sin? Adam did not physically die the day that sin was introduced to the world, but he did die that day. Adam died spiritually the day that he sinned in the Garden of Eden. The death which is passed upon all men is due to the reality of the sins that all have committed (Romans 3:23). It is the death that Ezekiel wrote of, “the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20). The death of Romans 5:12 is because “all have sinned.” Sin is not inherited, neither is it necessary that a person sin. All sin will result in spiritual separation, or death, from God.
Death reigned in the world through the transgression of Adam. Until Christ came, there was no sacrifice that could atone for sins. For all of those who have followed the footsteps of Adam, and have transgressed God’s commands, all were made sinners (Romans 5:19). However, those who come to faith in Christ may become righteous (Romans 5:19). Death has reigned, but it will be rendered powerless through Christ. Guilt was impossible to be removed, but now grace has been shown. We have sinned, but now we shall be saved from wrath.
“That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord,” (Romans 5:21).
Praise be to God for His mercy, and His grace. We who have sinned and were worthy of punishment have been made righteous through the system of justification by grace through faith in the Son of God. The epistle to Romans is a wonderful study and should cause everyone to realize the wonderful grace of God.