Summary: In Romans 3:21-25a, Paul gives us seven elements of the righteousness that God divinely imputes to those who trust in his Son. This sermon looks at the last four elements.
A Sunday school teacher was testing the children in her kindergarten class to see if they understood the concept of getting in to heaven.
She asked them, “If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the church, would that get me into heaven?”
“No!” the children answered.
“If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard, and kept everything neat and tidy, would that get me into heaven?”
Again, the answer was, “No!”
By now she was starting to smile. Hey, this was fun! “Well, then, if I was kind to animals and gave candy to all the children, and loved my husband, would that get me into heaven?” she asked.
Again, they all answered, “No!”
She was just bursting with pride for them. “Well,” she continued, “then how can I get into heaven?”
A five-year-old boy shouted out, “You gotta be dead!”
We smile at the little boy’s answer. But, do you know that many people in our culture think like that? When some well-known person dies, people say that he or she is in heaven—simply because he or she died!
I think it was theologian R. C. Sproul who said that today people believe that the requirement for entry into heaven is no longer justification by faith but rather justification by death!
So, how does someone get into heaven? Well, it is not simply by dying.
We need the righteousness of God in order to get into heaven. And how do we get that? That is what the Apostle Paul explains in our text for today, which is Romans 3:21-25a:
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. (Romans 3:21-25a)
In our text for today the Apostle Paul answers the question, “But how can a man be in the right before God?” (Job 9:2b). And he makes as clear as he possibly can that it is not our work—our righteousness—that makes us right before God. But rather, it is the righteousness of God that makes us right before God.
In order to help us understand Romans 3:21-25a I am using material from John MacArthur. In Romans 3:21-25a Paul gives us seven elements of the righteousness that God divinely gives to those who trust in his Son, Jesus Christ. This righteousness is:
1. apart from the law (3:21a),
2. built on revelation (3:21b),
3. received through faith (3:22a),
4. provided for all who believe (3:22b-23),
5. given by grace as a gift (3:24a),
6. accomplished through redemption (3:24b), and
7. paid by propitiation (3:25a).
Let’s review the first three elements of God’s righteousness.
I. Righteousness Is Apart from the Law (3:21a)
First, the righteousness that God divinely grants is a righteousness that is apart from the law (3:21a). The Apostle Paul says in Romans 3:21a: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law.”
Except for the introduction (1:1-18), this letter so far has portrayed an utterly dark picture of our sin and hopelessness apart from God. Now, after backing all sinful mankind, Jew and Greek alike, into the totally dark and seemingly inescapable corner of God’s wrath (1:18-3:20), Paul begins to open the window of divine grace that lets in the glorious light of salvation through the righteousness that God himself has provided.
First of all, Paul says, the righteousness that God grants to all Christians is apart from the law. That is, not one of us can perfectly obey the law of God and therefore meet his perfect standard. And so the righteousness that we need to get in to heaven is something that God himself gives to us. It is in fact the perfect righteousness of Jesus that God credits to us. It is Jesus’ righteousness alone that is acceptable to God.
So, the righteousness that God divinely grants is a righteousness that is apart from the law (3:21a).
II. Righteousness Is Built on Revelation (3:21b)
Second, the righteousness that God divinely grants is a righteousness that is built on revelation (3:21b). Paul says in Romans 3:21: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it.”
The phrase “the Law and the Prophets” was a phrase used to encompass all of God’s written Word, what we now call the Old Testament. In other words, Paul was not speaking about a new kind of righteousness but about God’s righteousness that is spoken of throughout the Old Testament.