Romans 3:21

Sermon preached on July 21, 2013 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2013. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Being completely wrong about something can have many bad consequences. A few years ago I read a book about the search for the Northwest passage. In the mid 1800's the British were very interested in finding a shortcut to China through The Arctic Ocean. Here's the crazy bit—a lot of people believed that the Arctic Ocean was essentially ice free. The prevailing theory was that there was a narrow ring of ice around the southern edges of the Arctic Ocean and that all you had to do was break through this ring and then it would be smooth sailing across the top of the world until you got to outer ring on the other side. They thought that the North Pole was free of ice. It's hard to imagine being more wrong. At that time the Arctic Ocean was just about all ice year round. Their search for the Northwest Passage was a fools errand. The men of the Franklin Expedition were doomed from the moment they entered the ice.

It's the same with justification. If you have mistaken views of justification it can lead to all kinds of trouble in your life—trouble that you'll have a hard time getting out of. That's why we should all have a good understanding of the biblical doctrine of justification. We all know the answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, "What is man's chief end?" but for our piece of mind we should also have a good understanding of Question 33 of the Shorter Catechism.

Q: What is justification? A: Justification is an act of God's free grace, wherein he pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.

This morning we're going to be focusing on the last part of this, the part our text deals with—a righteousness of God. Our text says,

"But now a righteousness from God,
apart from law,
has been made known,
to which the Law and the Prophets testify.
This righteousness from God
comes through faith in Jesus Christ
to all who believe.
There is no difference,
for all have sinned and fall short
of the glory of God,
and are justified freely by his grace
through the redemption
that came by Christ Jesus."

What our text tells us is that

we need a righteousness from God.

The previous section of Romans showed that we are all sinners. Both Gentiles and Jews failed with regard to keeping the law. From the latter part of chapter 1 to the verse before our text Paul showed that all people deserve God's wrath and judgment. Not even God's chosen people, the Jews, are exempt. The apostle Paul summed it up in Romans 3:20,

"Therefore no one will be
declared righteous in his sight
by observing the law;
rather, through the law
we become conscious of sin."

So our justification doesn't come from anything we do. The righteousness we need comes from outside us.

The righteousness that we need is apart from the law.

Paul tells us that a righteousness, 'apart from the law' has been made known. The Greek word translated 'apart from' means (BDAG, 1095)

"without relation to or connection with someth., independent(ly) of someth."

As John Calvin puts it, this righteousness,

"is without the aid of the law; and the law is to be understood as meaning works…"

So the righteousness we need has nothing to do with our keeping the law. We failed to keep it. We sinned. That mean that our personal righteousness will never be enough. No matter how hard we try, we will fall short. We are sinners and we cannot be justified by trying to keep the law. If we look to the law it will only condemn us.

How do you know that you're going to heaven? How do you know if you're saved? In answering those questions if anything relating to the law comes to mind you've got it all wrong. Salvation has nothing to do with your keeping the law. The law can only condemn.

Sin has not only corrupted us but it has made us guilty. When we sinned we became guilty. Guilt is not just a feeling. When people do something wrong some of the feel guilty about it while others do the same thing and don't feel guilty. But whether you feel guilty or not isn't the point. Those who sinned are guilty whether they feel guilty or not. Guilt is something that needs to be taken care of.

We can't get rid of this guilt ourselves. Try as we might, like Lady MacBeth, we cannot wash away the guilt of our sins. We, because of our sin, because of our failure to keep the law, are under a sentence of condemnation.

This means that we need to look outside ourselves for salvation.

A Christian is one who looks for salvation totally outside of himself. When he goes to God for salvation he doesn't bring anything with him. He goes to God with his head held low- looking only for mercy.

And of course Paul was only telling us here what He had learned from Jesus. In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus dealt with this very problem. We read,

"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.'
But the tax collector stood at a distance.
He would not even look up to heaven,
but beat his breast and said,
'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
I tell you that this man,
rather than the other,
went home justified before God.
For everyone who exalts himself
will be humbled,
and he who humbles himself
will be exalted."

The publican asked for mercy—he let go of all ideas of self worth, of merit—and he found salvation. This principle reminds me of the hymn- 'Rock of Ages' which describes a sinner coming to God. He says,

"Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.Naked, come to thee for dress,Helpless, look to thee for grace,Foul, I to the Fountain fly;Wash me, Savior or I die."

Or think of the hymn that for years has been associated with Billy Graham's crusades.

"Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me…"

You see the point of all that- they knew the truth of the essence of salvation. God be merciful to me a sinner. We need a righteousness from God, apart from the law.

There was an old Puritan preacher named Robert Traill who for years faithfully served the Lord being a pastor of God's people. Here's how he summed up his hope? He wrote,

"I have no name to come to God in but Christ. My own name is abominable to myself, and deservedly hateful in heaven. No other name is given under heaven, but that of Jesus Christ, in which a sinner may safely approach unto God. Since the Father is well pleased with this name, and the Sons commands me to ask in it, and the Holy Ghost hath brought this name to me… I will try to lift it up as incense to perfume the altar and throne above; since all who ever come in this name are made welcome, I will come also, having no plea but Christ's name, no covering but his borrowed and gifted robe of righteousness."

A Christian is someone who looks outside of Himself for salvation. If you're here and you're not a Christian don't ever let yourself be mistaken on this point. A Christian does not base his hope of eternal life on his works. He does not base his hope on being good, on his self worth- or on anything in himself. He bases his hope solely on the work of Jesus Christ. The good works that you see in a Christian play no part at all in their justification before God.

The second thing we see from our text is that

this righteousness is 'of God'.

The NIV translates this as a righteousness, 'from God'. But to be more precise, it is a righteousness 'of God'. It is not just provided by God, but it is a righteousness of God. C.E.B. Cranfield writes that this is, (Romans, Vol. 1, p. 202)

"a status of righteousness before God which is God's gift."

This righteousness is nothing less than the righteousness and obedience of Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 we read,

"God made him who had no sin
to be sin for us,
so that in him we might become
the righteousness of God."

Our being made righteousness is the corollary of Christ being made sin. John Murray writes, (Collected Writings, Vol. 2, p. 213)

"Just as Christ become so identified with our sins that, though knowing no sin, he was made sin, so we being in ourselves utterly ungodly and therefore knowing no righteousness are so identified with Christ's righteousness that we are made the righteousness of God."

This means as a Christian, you ought to have

absolute confidence in the righteousness that comes from Jesus Christ.

In Him is a righteousness 'of God'. Jesus Christ was made under the law and He kept it perfectly. He satisfied it completely. And when we believe on Him- Christ's righteousness is imputed to us. We are clothed in His righteousness—we are given His righteousness.

This has tremendous implications. What more could you want? This righteousness could not be more perfect. We do not have to worry about it not being good enough, about it being defective. Consider the Father's words about Jesus work. Twice there was a voice from heaven the Father said about Jesus and His work,

"This is my beloved Son,
in whom I am well pleased."

The resurrection of Jesus was the Father's seal of approval on the Son's work.

This righteousness is a righteousness of God. John Murray says of it,

"It is the righteousness of God, characterized by divine quality or property because, though consisting of the obedience rendered in human nature, it is nevertheless the obedience of the Son of God manifest in the flesh and the quality is determined by his hypostatic identity as the God-man."

This righteousness that is given to us in Christ is perfect, whole, complete.

If we have this righteousness from God, what do we have?

We have everything we need for salvation. What more could we need? What could be better to soothe a troubled conscience? In Jesus we have the forgiveness of sin. In Him we have the removal of guilt. In Him we have His righteousness. In Him we can bask in the glory of God's own righteousness.

Having this you need nothing else. What confidence you ought to have in it. In Philippians 3:8–9 the apostle Paul told us about his confidence in it.

"What is more,
I consider everything a loss
compared to the surpassing greatness
of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,
for whose sake I have lost all things.
I consider them rubbish,
that I may gain Christ
and be found in him,
not having a righteousness
of my own that comes from the law,
but that which is through faith
in Christ—the righteousness that
comes from God and is by faith."

Thirdly, we see that our text tells us that

the law and the prophets testified about this righteousness from God.

Do you ever have doubts about the truth of Christianity? Do you ever wonder if it's true? People will tell you that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah, that the disciples made most of the stuff up after Jesus was crucified. They will tell you that Jesus never did many of the miracles and never said much of what is attributed to Him in the Gospels.

But what the apostle Paul shows us here is that you don't have to be in doubt about it. Study the Old Testament. It confirms the New Testament teaching. What Paul and the other apostles taught is right in line with the Old Testament. What Jesus said is right in line with the Old Testament. Their teachings were not new. They are the fulfillment of what the law and the prophets pointed to. Genesis 15:6 tells us that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. But more than that, the whole Old Testament is points to Jesus and His work. In John 8:56 Jesus told the Jews,

"Your father Abraham rejoiced
at the thought of seeing my day;
he saw it and was glad."

Read the Old Testament. The law and the prophets testify about the truth of the gospel.

Lastly, if you're not a Christian, you should believe in Jesus. This righteousness of God is what you need. You cannot do anything to earn it, to merit it. It only comes by faith in Jesus. Go to Him today. Believe in Him.