Coming to Terms (Romans 3:21-31)

Part 10 of Romans, The Power of the Gospel

March 20, 2022

Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, AL

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one 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 God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

(Romans 3:21-31)

Good morning! Please turn to Romans 3. We are going to pick up where we left off last week. Last week we talked about the Grand Finale of Paul’s argument that no one is righteous before God. And I realize that it’s a hard thing for people to accept, that there’s nothing we can do to earn our salvation.

Speaking of things that are hard to accept…

There’s a phrase that has been used in the Jackson household for several years now. It is uttered at the point at which our beloved Kentucky Wildcats get knocked out of March Madness. And that phrase is,

“It’s baseball season.”

Usually, we don’t utter that phrase quite this early. Most years, we can expect the Cats to make it at least to the second week of the tournament. Every once in a while, Kentucky will have a team that is projected to go deep in the tournament. Maybe the elite eight. Maybe the Final Four. Every so often, Kentucky will field a team that the Big Blue Nation thinks has what it takes to win it all.

This was going to be one of those years. But, guess what?

It’s baseball season.

And I know that many of you are baseball fans. Donna Parker is my fellow Braves fan. And Donna, this wasn’t an easy week to be a Braves fan either, was it? We lost our best player to our biggest rival.

Now, here’s the reason I am talking so much about baseball. In baseball, what is considered to be a good batting average? 300? 350? What if you had a player that was batting 400? Where would you put him in the lineup?

Here’s the strange thing: We think a player batting 400 would be awesome! But what does that number represent? It represents someone who gets a hit 40% of the time he comes to the plate.

Anyone know who had the best career batting average in the history major league baseball? It’s Ty Cobb. Anyone want to guess what his career batting average was?

.367. So a little more than every third time Ty Cobb came to the plate, he got a hit.

One out of three! There’s really no other sport where being successful one third of the time would be thought of as good. If a quarterback completed just a third of his passes, he wouldn’t be in the game very long.

What about life?

Let me ask you this: Would you trust an airline that landed one out of every three planes safely?   

What would you say to a surgeon who, when he came to you in pre-op, said, “I’m feeling pretty good about this surgery. I’m one for three this week?”

There are areas in life where we require something much closer to perfection. Even 99% would be too low. What would you say to a spouse who promised to be faithful 99% of the time?

So maybe this makes it a little easier to come to terms with God’s standards of perfection. We would love God to judge us the way we would judge a hitter in baseball: I did the right thing one out of three times! I’m going to the hall of fame!

But God’s standard is much more like the standard we have for airline pilots, and surgeons, and police officers. We expect them to do the right thing 100% of the time, And when they don’t—if they mess up even once, we get righteously angry. Ready to sue someone.

We have to come to terms with the fact that we look at righteousness like baseball. We step up to the plate, and we try to do the right thing, and we most of the time we mess up, but we just keep trying to improve our batting average.

God views righteousness more like surgery. In medicine, there’s no margin for error. One mistake could be enough for a doctor to lose his license. In the same way, One sin is enough for God to reject us and not allow us into His heaven. And the truth is, no human being has ever done the right thing, every day, every single time, for their entire life time.

And that’s why “the turn” that we started talking about last week is so amazing. This week, as we look at Romans 3:21-26, we’re going to look at what some people have called the most important paragraph in the bible.  This passage is dense, and it has lots of theological terms that can make your head spin. That’s why I’ve called this sermon “Coming to Terms.”

But if we can spend time on these terms and really understand them, we will understand why Paul calls the gospel the power of God for salvation.

So let’s dive in. And as we do, I want you to remember what we have said is the overall theme of Romans: The Righteousness of God. You see it four times in this paragraph: verse 21, 22, 25, and 26.

  • It’s manifested apart from the Law
  • It’s available to us through faith in Chirst
  • It’s demonstrated through his sacrifice
  • It’s available to us now.

And the point of it is to show how a sinful person, who can barely even manage to do the right thing one out of every three at bats; who stands condemned and guilty, can be considered right in the eyes of God. How we could actually make it into the Hall of Fame, no matter how bad our batting average is.

Let’s look at these.

Verse 21 says,

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—

Now, you remember from last week that just before this section, Paul quoted one OT passage after another to show that none of us are righteous under the Law.

But notice what he says in verse 21—God’s righteousness has come to us apart from the Law, but the law and the prophets bear witness to it.

In other words, the law both pronounces the guilt and announces the grace!

Throughout the Old Testament, God foreshadowed His ultimate plan of redemption. Do you remember the story of Abraham and Isaac? Way back in Genesis 22, God told Abraham to take his only son and offer him as a sacrifice. They’re climbing up the hill together, and Isaac looks around and says, “Dad, we’ve got the wood for the sacrifice, but no sacrifice. Where’s the lamb? And Abraham said, “God will provide the lamb, my son.” And sure enough, at the point Abraham is ready to sacrifice his only son, God stops him, and provides a substitute sacrifice.

In the next book, Exodus, God warned Pharaoh that every firstborn in Egypt would die because he refused to free Israel from slavery.  But God told every household in Israel to kill an unblemished male lamb and to smear its blood over their doors so that the angel of death would ‘pass over’ them when he came and killed all the firstborn in Egypt.  The fruit of their trusting God was freedom from bondage to Egypt. 

As they celebrated the Passover each year to remember the Exodus, God’s intent was to show them that in the same way they needed God to deliver them from bondage to sin by the blood of a perfect sacrifice, the coming Messiah.

If we had time this morning, I could take you through every Old Testament book and show you something that would point to the coming Messiah.

Samson, the Judge who delivered Israel from the Philistines through his own death.

Ruth, the foreigner to Israel who found redemption through a kinsman-redeemer from the tribe of Judah.

David, who fought the battle against Goliath in the place of the entire Israelite army.

In Isaiah 53, God prophesied that one day there would come a suffering servant, on whom God would lay the iniquity of us all. By whose stripes we could be healed.

And so Paul says that the Law and the Prophets bear witness to the righteousness of God. At the end of this passage, he writes,

31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

This right here is why we cannot “unhitch” from the Old Testament. There are some Christians who wonder whether we even need the Old Testament any more, when the New Testament contains the gospel. If you’re reading through the Bible chronologically, you’ve been slogging through Numbers and Deuteronomy for weeks now, and you’re ready to get out of the Law and into “the good stuff.”

But remember that Jesus said, “I haven’t come to abolish the law or the prophets, I’ve come to fulfull them. Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the least stroke of the pen will disappear from the law.”

Friends, we need the whole Bible. Old and New Testament. I love the quote from AW Tozer—nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.

So now, let’s look at the second thing this passage says about the righteousness of God.

Verse 22-23 says that

22 the righteousness of God [is] through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Now this verse actually says two things about God’s righteousness. First, that it is available to all who believe. There’s no distinction between Jew and Gentile, between barhopper and church goer, between disciple and thief on the cross.

It is available to all because all need it, Jew and Gentile alike. Paul unpacks this even more in verses 29-30, when he says that God is the God of both Jews and Gentiles, the circumcised and uncircumcised.  In the same way that all have sinned, all need God’s righteousness.

But second, it is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ. This is where the paradox of the Christian faith is: Salvation is incredibly inclusive. It is available to anyone, at any time.

But at the same time, salvation is incredibly exclusive. It is only available through faith in Jesus Christ.

A lot of people get hung up on this. The popular view is that all religions lead to God, like a mountain where God is at the top and we are all just taking different paths up the mountain.

Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Our form of government makes no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”

But that isn’t the gospel. The power of the gospel for salvation isn’t having faith in something. It says you must have faith in Jesus Christ. That is the one and only way we can attain the righteousness of God. And as Paul has made abundantly clear with everything that has come before this, our only hope is the righteousness of God. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Think about it—Ty Cobb, the player with the best batting average in history– .366– still missed the ball more often than he hit the ball. So on our best days, we fall short.

Which is why these next few verses are considered the greatest paragraph in the entire Bible. Let’s break it down, term by term:

We are justified by his grace.

To be justified before God means that we are declared righteous by God based upon Christ’s sinless life and death on the cross. We are acquitted on all charges. It is more than “just as if I had never sinned;” but it’s also “just as if I had always obeyed.”

If I can stretch the baseball analogy a little further, Jesus had a perfect batting average. He never fell short. He never missed the mark. He always made contact with the ball, he always got on base, he always made it home.

If he was a pitcher, not only would every game be a no hitter, but Jesus would face 27 batters, and throw 81 pitches. Strike one, strike two, strike three, 3 up, 3 down, every inning, all season, for his entire career.

And justification means that we get in the Hall of Fame based on Jesus’ stats. God no longer views us as guilty, condemned, and under his wrath; we stand approved and receive the gift of God’s righteousness.

We are justified by His grace as a gift

Grace is unmerited favor. It is kindness shown to one who is utterly undeserving. It isn’t as though God saw potential in us, and decided to give us a spot on the team because of our great arm, or on base percentage. We bring nothing to the game. It’s all grace. 

…through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus

Look at your glossary on the back of the listening guide. Redemption, according to one theological dictionary, is the purchase of a release by means of the payment of a ransom price. It carries the idea of a substitution—a price paid on behalf of or in place of another.

The term was very common in the Ancient Near East.  For example, people could be redeemed from slavery.  Say you could not repay a loan or you lost your business so you would sell yourself and maybe your whole family into slavery.

However, let’s say you had a wealthy relative who lived in a far country. And he found out about your predicament.  So he comes to your city to make a deal with your master to redeem you, to purchase your freedom back. 

Paul picks up on this concept. In verse 25, he says that God put Christ Jesus forward to be like that wealthy relative from the far country. Christ followers have been redeemed from slavery to sin. 

Without Christ, we are in bondage to our sin and guilt and unable to liberate ourselves.  But Christ redeems us, bought us out of slavery, shedding his blood as the ransom price.  The result of this ransom and redemption is that we belong to him. 

How does this work? In what sense are we redeemed?  The answer is that God put Christ forward as a propitiation. This is probably the toughest term in the whole glossary. I would be willing to bet that none of you used the word “propitiation” in everyday conversation this week. Am I right?

So what is Propitiation? Well, to be propitious to someone else means to be favorable to them. And so Propitiation is the act by which God becomes favorable toward us.

How does a holy God become propitious—favorable—to sinful man?

A sacrifice had to be made. God’s wrath had to be turned away. It is a propitiation by the blood of Jesus.

And this is why we had to spend nine weeks talking about the wrath of God. Without that conversation, without that foundation of understanding that none of us are righteous, all of us are condemned, then we would think God is petty to demand a sacrifice to pay for our sin. Why can’t a loving God just overlook sin?

Some people prefer the word “expiation” to describe what God does with our sin. “Expiation” means blotting out, or removing sin. You’ve probably seen the ads for ServPro—the company that will come to your house and make things right after a flood or a water main break or whatever. You know their slogan? “Like it Never Even Happened.” So can’t God do that with our sin? Can’t he just wipe it away, like it never even happened?

And the answer is, no. A sacrifice has to be made. That’s another reason we can’t just toss the Old Testament, because the OT makes it clear that there has to be a sacrifice. There has to be the shedding of blood. Our sins offend God’s holiness. They can’t just be blotted out. They have to be paid for.

For several years now, every Good Friday I’ll watch the movie The Passion of the Christ. It’s not something I want to do. I don’t pop popcorn, its not a date night movie. But I do it because I need to be reminded of the price that was paid for my sin to be forgiven. Blood was shed to buy my pardon. As Isaiah 53 says, the punishment that brought me peace was laid upon Jesus.

Why did Jesus have to go through all that He went through? There are those who watch something like The Passion and come away seeing God as a cosmic child abuser because He poured out all His wrath on His son.

But if that’s how you see the agony that Jesus went through on the Cross for you, you are missing the point of verse 26:

26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

The shedding of Jesus’ blood demonstrates God’s righteousness. It shows that God is just. But it also shows God’s incredible love for us, because Jesus—God Himself—took the punishment for my sin.

The Cross proves that God is both just and the justifier. Through the Cross, as the song says, the wrath of God is satisfied. But at the same time, through the cross, the love of God is magnified.

We did nothing to deserve it. That’s why Paul says in verse 27 that boasting is excluded. But through the Cross, we are made righteous. We have a place in glory. You might have heard the acronym GRACE—God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense.

Christ did the work. Christ had the perfect batting average, the flawless pitching record, the error-free season.

But we get the Hall of Fame. We get the Cy Young. We get the Golden Glove.

It’s baseball season.





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