The Righteousness Of God:
3rd To 5th Beams
In a Brief  Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 15b of 83


21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; 22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: 23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25 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 forbearance of God;   26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:21-26).

[Paul has been, as it were, painting with one stroke of the brush, a beautiful depiction of the righteousness of God, or the righteousness acceptable to God. We may describe what he is painting as burst of sunshine with seven beams. In our first instalment of this article, we saw in the first two beams that God’s righteousness arises not from law-keeping but was already witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.]

This righteousness, thirdly, is …

3. Obtained by Faith in Christ, the Sun of Righteousness

22a Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ…

The phrase “by faith of Jesus Christ” does not mean, “by the faith which Jesus Christ exercised.” It means rather “by means of faith in Jesus Christ.” Faith is believing or knowing, receiving and upon someone (cf. WSC 86). The righteousness of God is obtained by believing in and resting upon the Lord Jesus Christ!

The law and the prophets are unanimous in testifying that the righteousness of God is obtained by faith in the Christ to come. The history of the people of God, was about God’s preparation for the coming of Christ. The redemption, battles and building works of the people of God typified the work of Christ. The Tabernacle and Temple, the ordinances and sacrifices of the Law of Moses all pointed to Christ. The Psalms of David spoke about Christ,—very often in the first person. Solomon spoke about Christ in his songs and proverbs. Every of the prophets were preaching about Christ.

The writer of Hebrews affirmed that the Old Testament saints lived by faith in Christ! Of course they did not see Christ as clearly as we see today. But when Christ came, He was like the Sun rising in the horizon, dispelling the darkness of Old Testament Days.

The righteousness of God had always been by faith in Christ. Now that Christ has come and, this truth has been made manifest! The righteousness that is acceptable to God must come from Christ, and must be received by faith.

But let us be clear in our minds about what the apostle is teaching us.

Firstly, let us remember that by the deed of the law shall no flesh be justified. This means that our faith, which is manifested in our act of believing and trusting cannot justify us. Or let me put it this way: it is not our faith that God accepts as righteous. Do not make this mistake which many modern evangelicals make. Faith is an hand by which we receive the righteousness of God obtained by Christ. When we speak of “Justification by Faith”, we are really speaking of “Justification by Christ whom we believe.” Our faith does not justify us. It is Christ who justifies us.

If it were my faith that justifies me, I am in trouble, because I know that my faith wavers!

Secondly, remember that Paul is contrasting righteousness by the law, with righteousness by faith. And he tells us that the righteousness of God is without the law. This means that when Paul speaks of “righteousness by faith,” he must mean: “righteousness by faith alone.” The Great Reformer Martin Luther was surely right when insist on this little word at the time of the Reformation.

You see, Roman Catholicism does teach that justification is by faith. The problem is that they say that that is not enough. They say that justification happens as a result of a combination between faith and good works done after baptism.

But this is simply not what Paul is teaching. He is teaching us that the righteousness of God is by faith in Jesus Christ alone! We do not contribute one iota to our justification.

But in the third place, remember that faith in Christ does not merely mean believing that Christ came or that He is the Son of God. James tells us that “the devils also believe, and tremble” (Jms 2:19; cf. Mk 5:7).

Saving faith is, rather, a faith that flows from the heart that is changed by the Holy Spirit. It is a faith that manifests itself in love for God and Christ. It is a faith that sees Christ not only as Priest but as Prophet and King. It submits to His teaching. It is obedient to His will. It submits to Him out of gratitude. It is a faith that produces good works. James makes it very clear that a faith that does not produce good works cannot save. Saving faith is not a dead faith. It is a ‘living faith’ as Martin Luther puts it.

There are many professing Christians today who have been influenced by an error known as antinomianism. Antinomians believe that the law is not applicable to Christians. Many parachurch groups promote this error. And what it teaches is that: You can receive Christ as Saviour without receiving him as Lord. In other words, you are saved so long as you prayed to receive Christ, even though you may continue to live in sin. But this is certainly not what the apostle Paul is teaching us. Faith without works is dead.

We are justified by faith alone, but this faith is not alone. It produces good works. True believers produce good works.

The righteousness of God is obtained by faith in Christ. That is to say we are justified and saved by faith in Christ.  But remember:

Firstly, it is not our faith that saves us. It is, rather, Christ who saves. Faith is but the hand that receives Christ.

Secondly, our justification is by faith alone. Rome teaches that…

     Faith + Works = Justification.

But Paul teaches that Justification is by faith alone

Thirdly, this justifying faith is not alone. The antinomian teaches that…

     Faith = Justification – Works.

But Paul teaches…

     Faith = Justification + Works.

Thank God for Martin Luther who, in the 16th century, made the doctrine of the apostle Paul very clear for us!

And Paul tells us fourthly, that God’s righteousness is…

4.  Provided for anyone Who Believes in Christ

22b …unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: 23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

The righteousness of God is not only for the Jews nor only for the gentiles. Neither is it only for decent citizens, nor is it only for criminals.

The Lord himself says:

“All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (Jn 6:37)

All who come unto Christ and believe and rest upon Him for salvation will have God’s righteousness. There is no difference. It does not matter whether you are young or old, male or female, or whether you are a Christian, an idolater, a murderer, a homosexual, a hypocrite or a heretic. It does not matter if you are the chief of sinners. As long as you know you are a sinner you can come to Christ and He will give you the righteousness of God.

In God’s sight, every sinner is, in this regard, the same. We all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. In God’s sight, there is none righteous no not one. The murderer and the pastor are both sinners. They both come short of God’s glory. They are both failures. They both need the righteousness of God if they are to be saved. This righteousness of God is given to them if they believe in Christ.

And it’s given graciously, so we may say, fifthly, that God’s righteousness is…

5.  Given freely

24a Being justified freely by his grace…

To be justified is to be declared righteous. Paul’s doctrine of justification involves a declaration on God’s part. Those who believe in Christ for salvation are declared righteous by God. They are not actually made righteous. That is a fruit of justification. In justification the sinner is declared righteous, though he is still a sinner in the heart. Luther made this point clear when he used the Latin Phrase simul justus et peccator, “at the same time just and sinner.”

Justification, in other words, is not about a change in the heart. It is about a change in status. It is about God declaring a sinner to be righteous in his sight. Now this is a great privilege because with this declaration, you can go into the presence of God. Remember the story of Esther. Mordecai her cousin wanted her to see the king because the wicked Haman wanted to kill the Jews. Esther hesitated. Why? Because she knew that no man could go into the king’s presence without being called. Thankfully, when she eventually went to the king, the king extended his golden sceptre to indicate that she could go in to him. She would not be executed. Now to be justified is like having the sceptre of God extended to us perpetually. Were it not for justification, we cannot come into the presence of God. We cannot know God.

But how can we obtain this justification? Do we have to pay for it? Do we have to qualify for it? Think of it this way. Today, there are great security concerns for the leaders of the world. Not everyone, for example, can see the president of the United States. If you want to see him, you may have to pay certain fees, and then you must first undergo many levels of security tests. If you pass the tests, you are given a badge. This badge will declare that you are safe. You are not a terrorist, and your intentions are good. With this badge you can go in to see the president at an appointed time.

Now, justification is like having a permanent badge-access to God. And we can go to him at anytime. But do we have to pay for this badge? Do we have to pass certain tests? No, no; this badge is given freely. If we have to be tested to see if we qualify for the badge none of us will get, for we all fall short of the glory of God (v.23). And if it were not free, we cannot pay for it, for by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified.

This is an important doctrine. There are some who believe that a sinner must be sufficiently reformed in his life or sufficiently knowledgeable before God will justify. But this flies in the face of what the apostle Paul is saying. No, no; so long as a person understand that he is a helpless sinner and therefore forsake sin and flees to Christ, he will be saved. He need not bring anything in his hand. Indeed nothing that he brings can help him the least bit.

Thank God that justification is by his free grace, or none of us would be saved!

… to be continued, next Issue

JJ Lim