Leeds Vineyard

Romans 3:21-31 - The Gospel offers Grace 

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. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished. He did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Where then is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. Is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we then nullify the law through this faith? Not at all! Rather we uphold the law.

These verses are quite difficult to understand but they are very important as they summarise the case Paul has been making so far. Let's examine several big words which contain some big concepts - components of the gospel message. Then we'll try and put them together like a jigsaw.

1. Righteousnessjudge-gavel

Verse 21: But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known

Righteousness is a legal state – you are in the right or in the wrong as declared by the court. (Refer back to verses 19-20 where Paul sets the courtroom scene). Verse 23: For all have sinned - means that none of us is righteous. But God has taken his legal standing of being in the right, being righteous, and has given it to us like placing a cloak around us as we stand naked before him.

“Guilty” – the voice whispers in our inner ear, “You’re guilty”. The shame we feel through our nakedness before God. But now cleansed and covered by his cloak of righteousness. When the gavel comes down, the Judge of all says, “You’re righteous”.

This righteousness is too costly to earn, we can’t afford to buy it. But the price has been paid for us and through faith in Jesus we can be clothed in it.

2. Law

Verse 21: the Law and the Prophets testify.

The best way to understand this today is to think of any life-system, any way of choosing to live - which we think is good enough to please God. But whenever we set up a system – it ends up revealing our shortcomings, our inability to do it.

  1. Paul's audience would have heard a reference to the Old Testament – to a set of religious and ethical rules.
  2. We would think of it as religious behaviour – giving money, praying, reading the bible, attendance at church. All good things to do as disciples but not a law by which righteousness is achieved.
  3. We may adopt a moral code – the golden rule, 10 commandments, keeping the speed limit etc.
  4. Or we may seek altruism, to do good work – helping the old lady across the road, serving on a team at the Vine. Again, good things to do but not ways of achieving righteousness.

3. Sinarrows falling short

That gap between us and God.
It starts with our reluctance to put Him first and to worship him, then it ends up with us choosing to live our own way and not his way.

Verse 23: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Our sinfulness is is self-evident. It is a state of ungodliness, it is universal (applies to everyone) and it is pervasive (we find it everywhere and in every part).

The image Paul is drawing on is archery. Shooting an arrow at a target but falling short.

Karl Barth said, “Man and woman is bereft of the possibility of standing upright in the presence of God by appealing to what, as man or woman, they deem as of any importance”.

4. Grace

Grace acronym: 
and that is about the sum of it.
What we receive free, Christ paid for with his life.

Simon Ponsonby defines grace as "An unmerited, undeserved, unwarranted gift". Priceless yet free.

Verse 24: Justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Grace comes from the Greek word Charis - from which we get our word Charity. It refers to benevolence, favour, gift. Charis is also a term in ancient Greek related to both joy and beauty. Paul is conjuring up a picture of something joful and beautiful which is feely given to us.

He then emphasises its free nature by enforcing the noun ‘charis/gift’ with the adverb ‘freely" (from the Greek "dorean’). You could translate it, "the free, free gift"!

5. BoastingPeacock small

Or, in old money, “Glorying”.
We boast, we seek to impress, we try and justify our existence in three directions:

  1. To ourselves: Don’t feel so bad, I’m a nice guy really, I gave that money, I’ve forgiven that slight. So and so is worse than me.
  2. To others: wearing a mask to present the best possible image. Hey, I’m really nice. I’m a member of Amnesty International.
  3. To God: religious service, moral rectitude.We may fool others, sometimes we fool ourselves but a nano-second is longer than the time our feeble boasting would last in front of Holy God.

Boasting is the language of our fallen self-centeredness.
When we find ourselves doing anything but praising God and repenting.
Trying to make a claim on God because of what we have done.

6. Faiththumbsup

Verse 28: Man & woman is justified by faith apart from the observation of the law.
It’s not keeping to our chosen life-system but simple faith in Jesus that justifies us.
Simon Ponsonby says, "Justifying faith is belief, trust, persuasion, reliance and faithfulness to Jesus Christ. It’s a “yes” to Jesus, who he is as Son of God and son of man, and a “yes” to what he’s done as sacrifice and substitute for our sin".

It's not a benindg of our mind, a straining of our will, it's simply a choice to give Jesus the thumbs up, every day. Yes, Lord.
It’s a daily choosing to place our hope in him.
In this simple act of faith we find our salvation. Wrapped up in our belief is the redemption bought by Jesus’ death and the new life released by his resurrection from the dead.

  • Righteousness – that cloak from God, wrapped around us to cover our guilt and clothe our shame
  • Law – the attitude to life which thinks, “I can impress everyone enough to justify myself.”
  • Sin – the falling short, the yawning chasm between us and God
  • Grace – God’s reaching out to us through Jesus, his undeserved favour
  • Boasting – our self-centredness which tries to claim that we are worthy
  • Faith – us saying “Yes” to Jesus

grace bridgeKarl Barth describes it like this, "The cross stands, and must always stand, between us and God. The cross is the bridge which creates the chasm and the promise which sounds a warning." He goes on to say that, "Grace is altogether "Yes"; It is salvation, comfort and edification."

The bridge across the chasm between us and God, the chasm created by our sinful choices and which cannot be leapt despite our boasting, this bridge is the the cross, put  in place by the grace of God.

Verses 23: All have sinned and fallen short - none of us can cross the chasm.
But through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus – we have a bridge into the presence of God - we are justified freely by his grace, made righteous by his grace.

You don't get far playing cards with God. Grace is the only card He plays when you challenge him to poker. Whatever card you lay down, he just plays grace. You can’t beat him, you can’t lose to him. He just plays grace. Grace, grace, grace.

All who are lost, grace will find you.
All who are drowning, rescue is by grace.
All who are naked, come, be clothed by grace.
All who are thirsty, come, drink of God’s grace.
All who are hungry come, be fed by grace.
All who are sinful, be saved by grace.

Grace puts an end to striving.
Grace puts an end to fear of failure.
Grace puts an end to self-condemnation & self-recrimination.
Grace brings us to a place of rest, peace, and contentment.

Grace is enough.

David Flowers 
17 May 2015