Justified by faith. 3:21-31


Paul, in his letter to the Romans, argues against those believers who think that law-obedience is the way toward the full attainment of God's promised blessings. Up to this point in his letter, Paul has explained that all humanity stands under the righteous judgment of God, irrespective of whether they are a highly moral person or not. Paul now explains that attaining the fullness of new life in Christ is "apart from the law." Being right with God, approved and blessed, doesn't rest on our faithfulness, but on the faithfulness of Christ - his sacrifice on our behalf. So therefore, all "boasting" before God on the basis of a person's faithful attention to the law is "excluded." A believer stands eternally approved in the sight of God (ie., "justified") on the basis of Christ's faithfulness appropriated through faith.

The passage

v21-22. Having established that law-obedience has nothing to do with a person's right-standing before God, Paul reminds his readers that the righteousness reign of God, his setting all things right, of which the Old Testament scriptures testify, is a now reality "apart from law" (independent of obedience to the law). God's setting all things right rests on the faithfulness of Jesus Christ (not "faith in Jesus Christ"), it rests on Christ's faithful obedience on the cross, and it is appropriated through a personal reliance on what Jesus has done for us ("to all who believe").

v23-24. Paul goes on to remind his readers that all people are rebels in the sight of God; we have all built our house on sand and await its destruction - "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Yet, the equality of our condemnation images the equality of our being set right with God ("justified"). All those who believe in Christ, whether they are believers who are committed to the Mosaic law, or Gentile believers who live quite apart from the Mosaic law, can eternally share in the gift of perfect right-standing before God, with all its attendant blessings, and this on the basis of Christ's sacrificial work on the cross.

v25-26. Awarding the sinner right-standing before God and blessing them for eternity, apart from their own righteousness, seems to undermine justice. Yet, justice is satisfied in the sacrificial death of Christ (a propitiatory sacrifice, ie., a sacrifice which diverts the wrath of God from the sinner to the sacrifice). God is a just God, and justice demands that sin is dealt with. Rather than deal with it in us, in a gracious act of kindness, God deals with it in Christ. Sin was punished in the person of Jesus who became the believing sinner's substitute. Therefore, God can justly approve the sinner who rests on the "faithfulness of Jesus" (his substitutionary sacrifice "in his blood").

v27-30. Paul now concludes his argument. He declares that any "boasting" about an assumed special status before God on the basis of law-obedience is "excluded" and this because all believers, those under the law (Jewish believers and their Gentile associates) and those outside the law (Gentile believers), are justified by faith apart from the law.

v31. In all this the law serves to point to the way of faith; it summons us to look to Christ's faithfulness rather than our own.

Preaching to Baby Boomers

The Baby Boomers have come of age and this was celebrated in the election, some years ago, of the first Baby Boomer US president, Bill Clinton. Strictly speaking, Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. They are the children of the prosperous post-war era, and today they are getting ready to retire. As a group, they are indulged; they were given all they wanted as children. They are individuals, highly educated, more refined than the "between the wars" children, wary of authority and form for form sake, into social justice and environmentalism. They are attention-seeks who like their ego stroked. They like to be seen as unique. Philosophically they are of a liberal humanist mould - egalitarian, but increasingly wary of scientific rationalism. They are no longer sure that the world can be understood and controlled by the application of rational thought.

In Western society, it is this group, more than any other in recent history, who have abandoned the Christian church. They might have been sent to Sunday School, but church has no relevance for them. In one sense this is good because it means that they have cast off the shackles of nominalism. Yet, it also means they have only rarely heard the gospel of God's grace in Christ. They have thrown out the baby with the bathwater of legalistic pietism, ritual, institutional power, manipulative marketing, dictatorial management.....

The gospel announces our eternal acceptance in the sight of God through a personal reliance on Jesus, an acceptance free from the clutter of piety and religiosity. This is the substance of Paul's exposition of the doctrine of justification in our passage for study. In our generation, we have failed to understand the substance of this doctrine and so have tended to muddy the waters for Baby Boomers. Too often we have presented commitment to Jesus in terms of ethical expectations, or denominational association.

It is not too late to communicate the grace of God to Baby Boomers and certainly not to late with generation X and X+Y.


1. If God is a just God, how can he so easily ignore sin?

2. The evangelical revival constantly proclaimed "full justification." Consider the possibility that our failure to address the doctrine of justification may, in part at least, be responsible for the general apathy Baby Boomers have toward our gospel preaching.

3. How would you frame the gospel of God's grace for gen. X and Y - the children of myth and magic?

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