The Full Salvation
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, July 6, 2008
Copyright © 2008, P. G. Mathew
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.
Leon Morris said Romans 3:21-26 is possibly the most important single paragraph ever written.1 Luther called it the chief point of the whole Bible. This passage speaks about three aspects of salvation: justification, redemption, and propitiation. In this study we will speak about justification by grace.
Recently the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life surveyed 36,000 adults about the idea that many religions can lead to eternal life. Of the Hindus surveyed, 89% agreed with the idea that there are many ways to attain eternal life. This view was shared by 72% of Orthodox Christians, 79% of Catholic Christians, and 83% of liberal Protestants. Surprisingly, 57% of self-identified Bible-believing people also said there are many ways to eternal life.
This diversity in religion contradicts the biblical view that salvation is found in Jesus Christ alone. Jesus himself said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). The apostles also declared, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). About Christianity Dr. Stott says, "No other system, ideology or religion proclaims a free forgiveness and a new life to those who have done nothing to deserve it but a lot to deserve judgment instead."2 Let us examine this great passage that opens for us knowledge of the way of eternal salvation.
A New Era
In Romans 3:21 Paul begins, "But now. . ." (Gk. nuni dei). This "now" is contrasted with the former times of divine salvation. Earlier Paul spoke of the wrath of God being revealed against all godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth in wicked deeds. He proved that all have sinned and are under God's wrath, that there is none righteous, none who understands, none who seek God or do good, and that there is no fear of God before the eyes of man (Rom. 1:18-3:20). Later in this epistle he explains that man is a powerless, ungodly sinner. Man is an enemy of God, for the very heart of sin is enmity toward God. Man is spiritually dead. His mind is hostile to God and he cannot please God. Guilty and hell-bound, man cannot save himself by his own good works.
So Paul writes, "Therefore, no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law" (Rom. 3:20). We must be saved by another. The mighty God, against whom all men have sinned, must save us because there is no other savior. But, thank God, a new era has begun. In the fullness of time, the era of grace and divine salvation came in the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Paul declares, "But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons" (Gal. 4:4-5). To the Athenians he proclaimed, "In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent."
A new era of grace has come-the era of the Messiah. The Hebrews writer says, "Now [Christ] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Heb. 9:26). We are living in this "now," when we can call upon the name of Jesus and be saved, when Jesus sets sinners free from slavery to sin, guilt, condemnation, Satan, death, and hell. Paul writes, "Now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2). Today is the day of fulfillment of God's promise of a Savior-a promise first made in Genesis 3:15, now fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
A Righteousness from God
Then Paul explains what is happening in this new era: "But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known" (Rom. 3:21), revealed once for all in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. A righteousness from God has been manifested for all to see on the cross of Jesus Christ-a righteousness that is from God, a righteousness that we need, a righteousness that God demands of us, a righteousness that we do not have. Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification (Rom. 4:25). As Moses lifted up the brazen serpent in the wilderness for the healing of all who had been bitten by poisonous serpents, so Jesus Christ was lifted up on the cross to manifest a righteousness from God that alone can meet our need. The gospel reveals this righteousness from God.
Apart from Law
This righteousness of God is ch˘ris nomou - apart from the law-works of man. The Judaism of Jesus' day misunderstood the way of salvation, teaching that people could earn salvation by meritorious good works done in obedience to Mosaic law. Jesus gave an example of such thinking in Luke 18: "To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 'Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: "God, I thank you that I am not like other men-robbers, evildoers, adulterers-or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get."'"
Judaism taught salvation by self, not by the Messiah. The Messiah came to his own people but they rejected him, thinking they did not need a Savior. This is still true today. But the Mosaic law was never intended to save anyone. Paul writes, "Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin" (Rom. 3:20). Then he says, "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law." To those who want to glory in their self-righteousness and human merit, he says, "Law brings wrath" (Rom. 4:15). In other words, the wrath of God shall be poured out on the one who depends on the law. The law aggravates and increases sin: "The law was added so that the trespass might increase" (Rom. 5:20).
How, then, can man, who is a slave of sin, keep God's law perfectly? He cannot. Paul writes in Romans. 3:9 and 7:14 that we are "under sin," meaning we are so much under the control and power of sin that we cannot deliver ourselves from its grip. God himself had to deliver us through his Son. The angel told Joseph, "You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). Jesus Christ saves us, not in our sins, but from our sins-their power and dominion over us. "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36). That is why we must come to Jesus without any claim of merit. Jesus saves only sinners who know they are sinners, who know they cannot save themselves. Any plea based on merit will condemn us.
Paul describes God as one who justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5). Are you ungodly? Are you wicked? Are you a sinner? Are you loaded down with guilt? Then come to Jesus. He will do what is humanly impossible and save you. With God all things are possible.
Not a New Salvation
Look again at verse 21: "But now a righteousness from God apart from law has been made known to which the Law and the Prophets testify." The entire Old Testament speaks about a salvation by grace through faith. Abraham, David, and all other Old Testament saints were justified by grace through faith, as Paul discusses in Romans 4 and as we read in the book of Hebrews. Habakkuk said the just shall live by faith (Heb. 10:38; Hab. 2:4). Paul quotes David in Romans 4, saying, "Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him" (Rom. 4:7-8). The idea here is that our sin will be counted against another. The Old Testament sacrificial system pointed to justification by grace through faith. Jesus himself spoke of this: "'Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?' And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself . . . He told them, 'This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations" (Luke 24:26-27, 46-47).
There is continuity in the way of salvation between the Old and the New Testament; the entire Old Testament speaks of this righteousness of God apart from the law. This way of justification is not a new idea; God saves sinners by grace through faith in all dispensations. The Bible never teaches a merit-based self-salvation. The Pharisee who prided in his works of the law went home condemned (Luke 18:14).
Justified Freely by His Grace
Sinners who believe in Christ "are justified freely by his grace" (Rom. 3:24). The words "righteousness," "justify," and "just" appear seven times in this passage. The righteousness of God is a justifying, divine, God-given righteousness that is demanded by God of us. This objective righteousness of Christ meets our need. In the Greek it is "being justified," meaning one sinner at a time is given the righteousness of God that we read about in verse 21. God gives us his righteousness, we receive it, and we are justified.
Question 70 of the Westminster Larger Catechism asks, "What is justification?" The answer: "Justification is an act of God's free grace unto sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone."
Imagine a condemned criminal waiting to be executed for his crime being told he is free to go home to his wife, children, and friends because an innocent person who loved the criminal has agreed to be executed for his crime in his stead. This is justification. Barabbas went home because Jesus Christ was crucified.
Justification is the language of the heavenly courtroom. Deuteronomy 25:1 says, "When men have a dispute, they are to take it to court and judges will decide the case, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty." Yet in Romans 4:5 Paul speaks of "the man who . . . trusts God who justifies the wicked." This seems to be a contradiction, for how can God justify the wicked? A judge should declare the innocent as innocent and guilty as guilty. His business is not to make people innocent or guilty. But we are guilty, ungodly, wicked, sinners. In fact, we are enemies of God. Yet God pronounces us just.
First, we must realize that when God justifies us, he is declaring us to be righteous, not making us righteous within. Justification is not sanctification. Dr. Stott says, "[God] is pronouncing [sinners] legally righteous, free from any liability to the broken law, because he himself in his Son has borne the penalty for their law-breaking."3 Paul writes, "We have now been justified by his blood" (Rom. 5:9).
Justification is God's legal declaration that our sins are forgiven and that God's righteousness is ours. God gives us a new legal standing. (PGM) This legal declaration by God, the Supreme Judge of the universe, is irrevocable and irreversible. Who can challenge what the Supreme Judge of the universe has pronounced?
Yes, the justified are not automatically changed within. But God the Father, who declares we are legally righteous forever, will also see to it that we are changed within. In fact, if we do not change, we are not justified. James Boice says, "Actual righteousness" - that is, experimental righteousness - "does follow on justification-so closely that we are correct in saying that if it does not, the one involved is not justified."4 In other words, if the justified is not being sanctified as evidenced in good works, obedience, holiness, and godliness, he is not justified. Justification leads to sanctification.
Roman Catholics confuse justification and sanctification, imputed and imparted righteousness. They teach that justification makes us righteous within and that it is based partly on God's works and partly on ours. But such theology cannot give us assurance of salvation because our justification would then rest partly on our own good works.
We believe that justified ones go on to be sanctified; they are made righteous progressively within. Thus, our good works prove our prior justification. God justifies the ungodly on the basis of Christ's work and by the sanctification of the Spirit, God makes the ungodly godly, the disobedient obedient, and the unbelieving believing. Therefore Paul says we "are justified freely by his grace" (Rom. 3:24). He uses a present passive participle meaning we are not justifying ourselves; we are justified through the actions of another. God the Father declares us righteous in Jesus Christ.
The Source of Justification
What is the source of our justification? The grace of God. Paul says we are "justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:24). There is none righteous and no self-salvation; all have sinned, and the wages of sin is death. We are totally depraved and completely powerless. By grace alone are we justified, and this grace comes to us as a gift.
Grace costs us nothing, yet it is very costly. Because God did not spare his own Son from judgment, we are spared. Think of Abraham's joy when God provided a ram in Isaac's place, and Isaac could go home with his father (Gen. 22). That ram is Jesus Christ. Grace cost the Father the death of his Son, even the death of the cross, where he cried out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" This high cost magnifies God's grace. Away with all cheap grace! Only the costly grace of God can justify us.
God's grace gives justification to those who merited condemnation, heaven to those who merited hell, and eternal life to those who merited everlasting death. This grace is abounding grace, grace that is greater than all our sins. Paul writes, "For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ . . . The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more" (Rom. 5:17, 20). This grace makes us competent, able, and more than able to do what God wants us to do: "And God is able to make all grace abound to you so that in all things at all times having all that you need you will abound in every good work" (2 Cor. 9:8). This grace causes us to rejoice. In Greek, the word "grace" is that which gives great joy.
Grace is a very costly gift, yet it costs us nothing. We cannot buy grace; therefore, salvation is free. Only those who have no merit can receive it. We find this idea in Isaiah: "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost" (Isa. 55:1). We can buy grace for nothing, yet it is the most expensive gift we can have.
John also speaks of this: "[The risen Lord] said to me: 'It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life'" (Rev. 21:6). Again, John says, "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let him who hears say, 'Come!' Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life" (Rev. 22:17). Those who are thirsty are those who acknowledge they are sinners who cannot be saved without God helping them. They are like the psalmist, who declared, "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?" (Ps. 42:1-2).
Jesus spoke of a king who prepared a great feast (Matt. 22:1-14; Luke 14:15-24). The guests were asked to come, but each one refused, saying, "I have no need of this feast. I have bought land; I have bought oxen; I am married." Therefore, the king brought in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame to enjoy the feast. God's grace-his great, abounding, sufficient grace that is able to make us competent is not for the rich, famous, and arrogant, but for the poor, crippled, blind, and lame. Great salvation is for each prostitute and publican who cries out, "Have mercy on me, the sinner." Great salvation is for the thief on the cross who with his last breath entreated the Lord Jesus, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom." To such people God opens the gates of paradise and they shall feast with Christ, both now and in the future. There is no grace for proud Herods, Pilates, high priests, Pharisees, and Sadducees.
Jesus saves sinners-only sinners- by his amazing and abounding grace. John Stott says, "Grace is God loving, God stooping, God coming to the rescue, God giving himself generously in and through Jesus Christ."5
The Ground of Justification
The ground of our justification is the work of Jesus Christ-his life, death, and resurrection. Justification is not amnesty, which is pardon without principle. Justification is not seeing bad people as good people. It is based on God's justice demonstrated in the life and death of Jesus Christ. The wrath of God against elect sinner was poured out on God's innocent, sinless Son, the spotless Lamb of God. Someone has said that without the cross, the justification of the unjust would be unjustified, immoral, and impossible. But Christ died for and in place of the wicked.
In Romans 1:18 Paul says the wrath of God is revealed against all the ungodly. Yet in Romans 5:6 he writes, "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly." Therefore, we can now understand the statement in Romans 4:5: "God . . . justifies the ungodly." He does so because Christ died for the ungodly.
Jesus died as our substitute. He is our Passover Lamb. John the Baptist declared, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). In Hebrews 9:14 we read, "How much more, then, will the blood of Christ who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death so that we may serve the living God." Peter writes, "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver and gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect . . . For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God" (1 Pet. 1:18; 3:18). Paul declares, "For Christ's love compels us because we are convinced that one died for all and therefore all died" (2 Cor. 5:14). In our behalf Jesus satisfied the demands of all God's holy laws.
When God justifies us freely by his grace, first, he forgives all our sins. That is why Paul could say, "Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him" (Rom. 4:8). Our sins are counted against Jesus Christ.
Second, he gives us the free gift of the righteousness of God, even the righteousness of Christ. Paul says, "For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous" (Rom. 5:19). No longer are we under God's wrath and sin's dominion. No longer is Satan our master. We are now under God's blessing, which justification brings to us. On the basis of Christ's substitutionary work in our behalf, we are righteous and have righteousness; we have forgiveness, eternal life, and glory; we have peace with God and experience the peace of God. As adopted children of God, we are united with Christ; all he has is ours. We have fellowship with the Father and the Son.
Paul writes of this double transaction: "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them . . . God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:19, 21). All our sins were taken from our head and put upon Jesus Christ, who knew no sin. Our sin became his and he atoned for it, and his righteousness is now ours.
Elsewhere Paul says, "It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God-that is, righteousness, sanctification and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30). Jesus Christ is our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Christ is not divided. If we are justified, we will be sanctified and glorified.
No longer do we try to hide under our fig-leaf coverings or the filthy rags of our own self-righteousness. No longer do we boast of the dung of our human merit. We are covered by the blood of Christ, and now we are righteous and the righteousness of God. We are in Christ. The divine judgment was hanging over us, ready to fall and execute us. But, thank God, it fell, not on us, but on another-on Jesus Christ, in time and space, on the cross of Calvary. Now this righteousness of God has been made manifest. May we look to him and be saved!
1 Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), 173.
2 John R. W. Stott, Romans: God's Good News for the World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 118.
3 Quoted by James M. Boice in Romans, Vol. 1: Justification by Faith, Romans 1-4 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991), 384.
4 Ibid., 383.
5 Stott, 112.
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Copyright © 2008, P. G. Mathew
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