INTRODUCTORY NOTE: This lesson is PACKED with the crux of Christianity: righteousness, justification, atonement, and redemption–all through Christ. Some have called Romans 3:21-31 “the central theological passage in the Bible” (BSF devotes 2 weeks to this!). I spent over 10 hours on this lesson. Take your time and absorb it. BSF gives us a whole week. Use it. Pray over it. Ponder. Meditate. Because if you get this lesson, you get Christ! What is more important to spend your time on than this?!
Summary of passage: Paul now explains how righteousness is attained only by faith in Jesus Christ, which the Law and Prophets testify to. All are sinners and equal before God.
3) According to Webster’s Dictionary, righteousness means “acting in accord with divine or moral law; free from guilt or sin.” Zondervan’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary states it as “morally right behavior or character. In general, any conformity to a standard. God always acts in righteousness or has a right relationship with people and His action is to maintain that relationship.” It comes from God and is received by all believers through faith in Christ. That’s how I understand it.
Zondervan has an amazing explanation of righteousness in the gospel: “Paul tells us in Romans 1:16-17 that ‘a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last.’ The gospel is effective because a righteousness goes forth which is the provision of a right relationship with himself through the saving work of Jesus. To receive this gift is to be justified by faith. Those who receive the gift then are to live as righteous people, devoted to the service of what God declares to be right.”
4) Before Jesus, all those who obeyed the law had righteousness. Here, Paul says apart from the law, meaning the law cannot save us nor can keeping the law save us, but God reveals a righteousness that will save us, which is God’s plan of salvation in Jesus Christ. It is a salvation that is offered apart from the law, apart from our own earning and deserving, apart from our own merits.
5a) God granted righteousness to those He deemed worthy, which is apart from the law. He made a covenant with Israel and put the law in their minds and wrote it on their hearts. He forgave Israel’s wickedness and remembered their sins no more. God granted them cleansing from their impurities and gave them a new heart and spirit and saved them. Israel was chosen to be in God’s covenant, in right relationship with Him through faith and were expected to live in right relationship with others. It matters because it was the only way to God before Jesus. It also shows God’s faithfulness to His people and how He keeps His promises to us.
Other OT references: Psalm 32:1-2. Paul actually will quote this in Romans 4:6-8 as he continues to explain how God must credit righteousness based on faith.
Habakkuk 2:4 which Paul quotes in Romans 1:17. This OT verse quoted by Paul is the verse Martin Luther read that changed his life and righteousness by faith became the rallying cry of the Protestant Reformation.
b) Part personal question. My answer: Anyone who believes in their heart Jesus died for their sins and God raised him from the dead and confesses Jesus as their Lord. Gratitude is my response.
Conclusions: I love how Paul packs a lot of power into few words. And it’s simple. Righteousness is easy: believe in Jesus.
End Notes: Paul just spent the first part of his letter showing us how all (Jews and Gentiles) are unrighteous (1:18-3:20). Now, he will show how God provides us with a way to be righteous.
“But now”: This either means 1) Time. And the now is the period righteousness from God has been made known or 2) Logical. Between the righteousness gained by observing the law (which is impossible v 20) and the righteousness provided by God.
Paul didn’t invent righteousness; it’s been around since the Prophets as always part of God’s plan. We can’t earn merit before Him by following the law. This is apart from the law.
Righteousness is something not earned, but received, through faith in Christ. There is no other way to obtain righteousness. It’s all trust.
Everyone must receive this gift because all sin and fall short. We fail in so many ways: fail to give Him glory in our words, thoughts and actions. We reject His glory. Thus, justification through faith and grace is offered….