Summary: Gives an exposition of Rom 3:21-26 including all the technical terms. Seeks to apply the text by arguing that the Christian life is the process of gospelization.
In 1759 William Cowper was 28 years old, he had a total mental breakdown and tried three different ways to commit suicide. He became convinced that he was beyond hope. In December, 1763, he was committed to St. Alban’s Insane Asylum, where the 58-year-old Dr. Nathaniel Cotton tended the patients. By God’s wonderful design, Cotton was also an evangelical believer and lover of God and the gospel.
Cotton loved Cowper and held out hope to him repeatedly in spite of Cowper’s insistence that he was damned and beyond hope. Six months into his stay, Cowper found a Bible lying (not by accident) on a bench in the garden. First he looked at John 11 and saw "so much benevolence, mercy, goodness, and sympathy with miserable men, in our Saviour’s conduct" that he felt a ray of hope. Then he turned to this very passage which became the key turning point in his life. In his diary he wrote:
“Immediately I received the strength to believe it, and the full beams of the Sun of Righteousness shone upon me. I saw the sufficiency of the atonement He had made, my pardon sealed in His blood, and all the fullness and completeness of His justification. In a moment I believed, and received the gospel.”
In June, 1765, Cowper left St. Alban’s and lived and ministered 35 more years - not without great battles with depression, but also not without great fruit for the kingdom, witing hymns like, "There is a Fountain Filled with Blood," "O for a Closer Walk with God!" and "The Spirit Breathes upon the Word."
This is one of the most important passages in all Scripture. It is perhaps one of the most theologically intense but at the same time it is also one of the most practical and relevant passages to the Christian life.
Paul begins Romans by affirming the Gospel of Christ Jesus in his descent from David and resurrection as the Messiah. In chapters 1-3 Paul goes on to denounce Gentile idolatry and immorality and also condemns Jewish hypocrisy and covenant violation. Paul’s point is that God is fully justified in his wrath against mankind. It is then at this dark horizon, upon this blunt condemnation of the evil of humanity that we reach Romans 3:21-26.
1. The Revelation of the Righteousness of God (v.21)
Paul’s first point is the revelation of the Righteousness of God. The first two words of this passage are But now – two of the most splendid words of Scripture according to Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones. It means that sin, death, wrath & condemnation are not the end. There is a new factor to be reckoned with. What has brought this transition in affairs is that the Righteousness of God has been made known. Now when we think of righteousness we think mainly of an ethical quality. In the Bible God is often described as righteous. So too are we commonly exhorted to act righteously. However, here the term the ‘righteousness of God’ denotes two key aspects:
One, God’s desire to establish justice through out the earth and thus his VERDICT against sin. Very often in the Old Testament the word ‘righteousness’ occurs in the context of ruling or judging. As it says in Genesis: Will not the judge of all the earth do what is righteous? Because God is the righteous judge of all the earth often Israel would plea for God to enter into contention with their enemies. The hope is for God to manifest his justice against evil by pouring out his wrath on those who oppress Israel. Yet just as the Israelites pleaded with God to contend for them they also pleaded with God not to contend against them. For should God press his claims of justice they would be undone as they are also sinful. As it says in Psalm 142:
O LORD, hear my prayer,
listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
come to my relief.
Do not bring your servant into judgment,
for no one living will be justified before you.
A second aspect implied by God’s righteousness is VINDICATION. It is at this juncture that we see the positive view of God’s righteousness as it is also God’s deliverance of the ungodly from their sins. In Psalm 51 it says:
Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
the God who saves me,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
We find a similar thought in Micah 7
Because I have sinned against him,
I will bear the LORD’s wrath,
until he pleads my case
and establishes my right.
He will bring me out into the light;
I will see his righteousness.
We see that the righteousness of God then consists both of God’s desire to establish his justice throughout the earth and his deliverance of the sinful. It his verdict against sin and his vindication of the ungodly. It holds in balance both God’s wrath to condemn evil and his love to save. We find these two ideas coalesce in various parts of Scripture. The best example is Isaiah 51