Gordon E. Johnson


The Matchless Marvel of the Grace of God - A New Righteousness

Romans 3:21-24 (NKJV)

Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute


From Romans 1:18 through 3:20 the general revelation of God in creation and the Mosaic law have thundered against the sin of mankind. With sixty three unrelenting continuous verses (1:18-3:20), Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit will allow absolutely no merit or inherent worth in man's best and worst efforts. The logical consequence can only be that mankind, be he/she Jewish or Gentile, is and will be totally bereft of any hope of salvation based on his own works.  Mankind has come to the end of his line.

But the matchless marvel of God's grace is that Paul now does a hundred and eighty degree turn and introduces with majestic assurance that salvation is at hand by the expressed initiative of God, the holy judge.  In one sense from the most unexpected source imaginable, the holy Judge himself, comes the issuance of the valid offer of righteousness, nothing less than the very righteousness of his own Son.  God the Father had affirmed that righteousness at Jesus' baptism (Matt. 3:17) and transfiguration (Luke 9:35) and verified it once and for all by the resurrection of our Substitute and Sin Bearer (Rom. 1:4).

Since man has no righteousness of his own, salvation if there is to be any salvation at all, must be God's righteousness reckoned to the believing sinner. That is precisely the marvel of his matchless grace. Paul will now expound how God does it.

The Righteous Judge Announces His Gracious Salvation   Romans 3: 21-23

All theologians agree that Romans 3:21-26 is the classic biblical treatment of salvation. Nothing is more concise, profound and inclusive that these few verses. They have never been plumbed for depth or meaning. Paul begins with adversative conjunction; "but now", two simple words, an emphatic logical transition, that reverse the whole thrust of the previous verses (1:18-3:20). From another source so unexpected comes the offer of God's righteousness.

Here we pause to make clear there are two expressions of different and yet related meanings to the "righteousness of God." 1.)  Its most express form was the Mosaic Law that epitomized God's holiness and righteous demands.  The Mosaic Law was a transcription of the absolute righteousness of God, his primary attribute.  But Paul has already established that that Law has "stopped the mouth of every man" (3:19, 20). On the contrary, the knowledge of sin comes by that law.  That law could never save, much less sanctify, but rather only condemns us.  Where does that leave us?

Now comes the gracious announcement:  2.) "But now the righteousness of God  . . . even the righteousness of God, which is though faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all who believe" Rom. 3:21, 22).  Where no hope existed, when every supposed merit or demerit of man was listed, no salvation was possible. But Paul affirms that this salvation was nothing new or strange. He says: "But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets." He is saying in effect that the Old Testament teaches God's unique salvation plan. We must be able to find it in the Pentateuch and the Prophets.

No one less that Jesus himself testifies to that effect. "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me" (John 5:39). And of the two on the road to Emmaus it is said: "And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, he expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself" (Luke 24:27).

What are some specific Scriptures that confirm Paul's assertion? In a future study I will treat them more fully: Génesis 3:16 the "Protoevangelium"; Génesis 4 Abel's sacrifice; Génesis 12; 15:6 Abram's altar and justification; Génesis  22 Abraham's willingness  to sacrifice his Isaac, a type of Christ; Éxodus 12 the Passover lamb;  the five Levitical sacrifices Leviticus 1-5; Leviticus 16 the Day of Atonement; Isaiah 53 the Man of Sorrows. Paul is not adding anything new; he is rediscovering the earliest promises of the Messiah who would "bruise the serpent's head."

The Righteousness of God Introduces us to a new Position of Acceptance and Favor

Notice carefully that Paul says: "the righteousness of God  . . . is revealed." This is the present perfect tense, passive voice, that is, his righteousness stands available on his conditions. This righteousness has been as available to Old Testament saints as readily as to Paul's readers. The content and historical knowledge may not be identical, that is, before the Cross and after the Cross, but the essential element is faith which is common to both ages, trusting and believing the character and promises of God (Hebrews 11).

While external differences do exist between the Old and New Testament, there has always been only one way of salvation – not an inferior versus a superior salvation.  What was implicit in the Old Testament after the Cross becomes explicit with the added new reality of the Church invisible, the Body of Christ.

Paul makes it crystal clear that this righteousness is through faith in Christ without distinction of  race, economic status or gender.  It is "on all and upon all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God" (Rom. 3:22, 23).  One should feel the breadth and depth of this sweeping statement. No mention is made of the doctrine of election --a biblical doctrine but often not held in balance with other clearer Scriptures.

Paul returns to the sweeping indictment of Romans 1:18-3:20.  Sin cannot be minimized nor discounted. There is absolutely no advantage given to any. All are destitute of any possible merit or advantage. Today there is abroad a minimizing of the reality of man's perversity and condemnation.  Self helps, feeling good about one's self, avoiding the offence of the Cross, not wanting to offend the sinner, all such false gospels fail to deal deeply with man's total depravity and abject need for God's righteousness offered in Christ to the sinner who repents and believes.

Paul sums up the genuine offer of God to mankind from Genesis onward. "Being justified freely by His grace thorough the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Rom.3: 24)." With a double emphasis on the gracious redemption, Paul assigns to God the total offer of forgiveness. Salvation is not only the forgiveness of sins but a new standing, a legal standing secure, inalterable based exclusively on the merits of Christ's death and resurrection. Salvation can have no more sure "foundation than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ."(1 Cor. 3:11).

Some Powerful Deductions for Our Gracious Salvation through Christ

1.       When all hope of salvation to lost to mankind, God intervenes in grace and announces the salvation that meets his ultimate standards for righteousness.

2.       That standard of righteousness is nothing less than God's own righteousness found in the God-man who took our place in death to sin and now is alive to God (Rom. 6:10).

3.       To that standard nothing can be added nor taken from it. It is final, absolute, secure.

4.       Paul says and will say again and again that righteousness is ours by heart believing, totally apart from merit or works.

5.       Everyone sinned (past tense) and fall short or are destitute (present state) of the Glory of God (3:23); hence if there is to be any salvation at all, it must be his giving of righteousness to unworthy believers, now "being freely justified by His grace"

6.       Salvation begins and ends with God's grace extended in Christ to whoever believes.

Dr. Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute
Edinburg, TX
January 11, 2008