Where Martin Luther discovered "Justification by Faith Alone"
Where Martin Luther discovered “Justification by Faith Alone”

Justified by Faith (a) Righteousness without the Law

Romans 3:21-31

Paul has spent over two chapters exposing the terrible ruin that sin has inflicted upon humanity. His picture of mankind is of a corrupt race who deserve nothing but the terrible unleashing of God’s justice. As he expounded the spiritual needs of men the key word is “unrighteousness”. The two words opening v21 clearly herald a bright new day, “But now”. This is the testimony of every Christian, “I was lost but God came.” If men and women are unrighteous then it is necessary that they should be made righteous by God. Therefore Paul now begins a section that will not be complete until the end of chapter 8. This takes us into the main body of the epistle where he expounds the provision of God’s righteousness for the sinner which is received by faith alone, Justification by Faith. This is a central Bible doctrine and one which lay at the heart of the Protestant Reformation. John Calvin described this doctrine, “the main hinge on which salvation turns.” Thomas Cranmer declared that “whosoever denieth (this doctrine) is not to be counted for a true Christian man…but an adversary of Christ.” Thomas Watson, of Puritan England, wrote, “Justification by Christ is the spring of the water of life. To have the poison of corrupt doctrine cast into this spring is damnable.” In this passage Paul generally introduces the doctrine of Justification before proceeding to discuss the the subject in greater depth.

1: The Paradox in this Righteousness v21

Every religion that is of man is the attempt to be righteous by doing; by following the law. The righteousness of Christ, however, is received without the law; man does not have to work to merit it. As a result of man’s depravity there is nothing he can do but receive this justification.

2: The Prophesy of this Righteousness v21

Paul was careful to emphasise that this doctrine is not novel. It was witnessed by the “law and the prophets” in that its truth was unfolded in Old Testament times, albeit through types and shadows. In chapter 4 Paul will proceed to show how Abraham was justified by faith.

3:  The Parity with this Righteousness v22,23

All men equally have sinned (summary of first section of the epistle). Therefore this doctrine of Justification can be enjoyed equally by all kinds of people, none are to be excluded from this glad message that Jesus saves. This is the only true hope for the world and for our society.

4: The Provision of this Righteousness v24-26

These are central verses in our understanding of the gospel. They go below the surface of John 3:16 and expound the depth of that popular text. Both William Cowper and John Bunyan were converted through this passage of Scripture. It be understood by key words which must never be lost from gospel presentation:

i. Grace – favour without merit.

ii. Redemption – a purchase; implies a price that has been paid.

iii. Set forth – Christ has been placarded put on display in paying the redemption price, a view of the cross.

iv. Propitiation – while the word means to appease wrath, in this place it literally means mercy-seat, the same word being used in Hebrews 9:5. The mercy seat covered the law of God within the ark and was sprinkled with blood. Christ shed his blood and became the covering sheltering us from God’s wrath. It signifies that God was appeased only when his son bore our sins and shed his blood. The whole idea of substitution and atonement is emphasised through this term. When the publican cried out for mercy he used this same Greek word, Luke 18:13.

v. Faith – Trusting Christ and his sacrifice alone for salvation.

vi. Blood – The shedding of the blood was a most essential aspect of the sacrifice – it corresponded to all the ancient types, a complete offering.

vii. Remission – overlooking a debt, this is the result of the atonement.

viii. Forbearance – God’s wrath is held back because of the blood. V26 is a simple summary whereby God is declared to be just despite being able to justify sinners on account of Christ’s propitiation

5: The Praise for this Righteousness v27-31 There are no grounds for human boasting in relation to salvation. What we enjoy is what God has done in Christ. Faith as opposed to being a work is a declaration that only God can give us this righteousness. Responding to the Jews who accused this gospel of negating the law, Paul replied that this righteousness upheld the law in that Christ satisified all its demands through his perfect offering on our behalf.


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