This is an exegetical sermon from Romans 3:21-23. It shows the equality and complete sin nature of all people and examines the righteousness of God in connection to our sin. This sermon was originally preached by Pastor Justin Bragg at The Resolved Church in San Diego, CA. Audio unavailable.
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:: The Resolved ::
Justin Bragg (elder)
Romans 3:21-23 “No Distinction”
Romans 3:21-23 “but now the righteousness of god has been manifested apart from the law, although the law and 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”
In all of life there thing more important than what Paul is saying here in this section of scripture.
But really, who thinks this way? Who is willing to acknowledge what Paul is stating in an age when abstract thought – even thinking itself is suspect? Who, even among “Christians” really appreciates what Paul is saying here? Ours is an age when people are self-absorbed and focus on immediate gratification. We tend to evaluate any religious teaching according to its apparent relevance to our present needs and short-term goals.
I know, we come up here week after week and lay on the serious nature and vast importance of what Paul is communicating in the first-century letter… but is it getting through? Do we believe what we are hearing? Do we believe what we are preaching? I have told you, several times, from this pulpit that the message I am preaching is vital, and of utmost importance to your life. But do you believe it? Do I believe it?
When am I going to stop screwing around in my life as a justified sinner, and start getting serious about a pursuit of fulfillment in my pursuit of god? What’s it going to take to wake me from my spiritual stupor and apathetic indifference to the words of the god of this universe? When am I going to get it? When are we going to get it church of the resolved? When does it stop feeling like an act and a performance, and start feeling like a campaign for the glory of god and the salvation and satisfaction of his people? When are we going to embrace our justification, and truly live the justified life?
Here is the message for tonight. Begin with my own translation of the passage:
But now the righteousness of god has been manifested through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe for there is no distinction: for all sinned and are falling short of the glory of god
Pinnacle of this passage – there is no distinction (differentiation):
Surrounded by the two “for all’s” – for all who believe, and for all have sinned
Righteousness of god manifested showing that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of god (condemnation) – all, w/ or w/o the law, are guilty of unrighteousness.
Righteousness of god manifested to those who believe Jesus Christ by faith
(Justification) – All, w/ or w/o the law are justified by faith in Christ’s righteousness
The righteousness of god, his perfection, holiness, glory, etc. Has been manifested and revealed to everyone.
Jews and gentiles are both silenced in their sinning and falling short of god’s glory
Jews and gentiles are both saved in their believing and putting faith in Jesus Christ
This famous verse, ‘for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of god.’ When I first started studying, I couldn’t help but think that this verse was in the wrong place. Didn’t we have the gigantic ‘but now’ at the beginning of this section? Didn’t we exasperate the sinfulness of all humans and our rampant unrighteousness in 1:18-3:20? Why isn’t this verse included in that section? We’re done with the bad news – isn’t it good news now? Paul has moved on to the solution, why restate the problem again here. It seems out of place.
I believe that this verse says more about grace, the unmerited favor/gift from the offended god offered to his offenders, than probably any other verse in the entire bible. Here, amidst the most clear teaching about the god who gives us salvation, us who have committed infinite wrong against god, we who have sinned, offending the holy god, failing to glorify him as we ought, we find grace.
Let’s look closer at the actual verse 23. Two statements:
The verb in the Greek is in the aorist tense. In Greek there are 2 past tenses. Imperfect describes a continuous action occurring in the past (I was sinning). Aorist describes undefined action occurring in the past (I sinned).
Without trying to read too deeply into Paul’s statement, we can simply state that Paul is saying that everyone sinned. Taken with all of 1:18-3:20, and the rest of the bible’s teaching, we understand that sin is our nature. It is not just that we have committed several sins, we screwed up x number of times, and that makes us guilty, but rather that we are sinners. Adam sinned, and we all sinned with him. It is our birthright, it is our heritage. We are offenders against the creator of the universe
Fall short of the glory of god
First the root of this word for fall short is to lack. We lack the glory of god. Paul adds on a genitive, and creates this idea of falling short. Second, the verb is in the present tense. A concise and perfect description of the state of mankind – falling short in every respect concerning the glory of god. This second verb (fall short) is the explicit consequence of the first (sin).
Because all have sinned, all are falling short of the glory of god. The tragedy and crime of sin is a failure to display the glory of god. By sinning, we show our lack of glory, our inability to share in the glory of god.
Glory – magnificent presence of the lord. The consequence of our sin is our defamation and inability concerning being made in the image of god, and partaking in his magnificent presence. We have failed to display the true glory of god as his creation, and we lack his glory, and have no ability to take part in his presence, because of our sin.
If we take the statement that all sinned, and put it next to v 21, “the righteousness of god has been manifested apart from the law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it – what do we have? A summary of all of 1:18-3:20. Paul explicitly references the righteousness of god manifested apart from the law and prophets to designate that he is again destroying the separation between Jew and gentile concerning guilt for the failure to glorify god.
The Jews with the law and prophets have sinned and are falling short of the manifested righteousness of god. The gentiles, without the law and prophets, have sinned and are falling short of the manifested righteousness of god. We’ve been through this before. Every single human being is in the same boat heading straight for destruction.
God has revealed (1:16-17) and manifested (3:21-22) his righteousness. He has shown his glory. He has shown it in creation, he has shown it in our morality and conscience, and he has shown it in his law given to the Jews. There is no excuse – all have failed to acknowledge his righteous glory. All have sinned and are falling short of god’s glory. There is no distinction!
So back to my original suspicions – why here? Because Paul is showing in these verses why righteousness is available to all – that is what is coming explicitly in the coming verses, and found implicitly here. Paul is also showing, because we don’t ever seem to get it, why also all people need this righteousness.
It’s as if Paul knows that he is presenting an airtight and marvelous case for why and how the righteousness of god is available to human beings. But he knows, because of our stubbornness and blatant stupidity as a result of sin, that we aren’t even going to listen.
We will never care about the righteousness of god offered to us, unless we can see and believe that we really need it. Grace isn’t gospel – it isn’t good news, if we don’t see our need for it.
God saves us by grace… who cares! I don’t need to be saved.
Paul knows that he is answering the question that nobody is asking. So, as I said earlier, this verse tells us what is most vitally important about grace because this verse, in the midst of telling us how we can be saved, tells us why we need to be saved. Listen to it. If you didn’t get it in 1:18-3:20, here it is in the cliff-note format. You’re a sinner, and you fail to glorify god, so you are, as 1:18 told us, an object of god’s furious wrath, and burning anger.
There it is. That’s grace. In the manifestation of god’s righteousness – punishing evil sinners for failing to honor god, we find grace. The reason that we do not appreciate grace is because we do not truly believe Romans 3:23
If the first chapters of Romans meant anything to us, they have show that spiritually there is no difference between us and the most destitute as far as god’s requirements are concerned – there is no difference. If you want to be saved by god, you must approach god on the basis of 1:18-3:20, on the grounds of your utter ruin in sin, and not on the basis of any supposed merit in yourself.
The marvelous doctrine of grace serves to humble you, to destroy your pride and sense of accomplishment, to take away your sense of being right. To tell you that you are a sinner and fail to glorify god.
That is where grace begins – because until you get that, until you get your utter worthlessness, you will never receive the glorious gift of the righteousness of god manifested in Jesus Christ
Which brings us back to the good news, or the positive side of no distinction.
Vs 20 – now the righteousness of god has been manifested
Vs 22 – the righteousness of god through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe
Here we see the other side of ‘no distinction’ concerning the righteousness of god manifested. Where vs. 23 serves to show universal condemnation, without differentiation, vs. 22 serves to show universal justification, without differentiation. That sounds a bit off theologically; we are not Universalists, so allow me to try to explain a few things about what Paul is saying.
V 20 – the righteousness of god has been manifested…
Then explanation of apart from law, though law and prophets bear witness to it.
V 22 – repetition – the righteousness of god
De in Greek – but, and, even… the repetition of the phrase “the righteousness of god” with this preposition serves to introduce an amplification, and an implicit contrast. We would translate: ‘even a righteousness’ or ‘a righteousness moreover.’ Paul repeats the phrase for clarity because of distance from first stated. In a sense, Paul seems to be investigating the righteousness of god from the human perspective now (through faith in Jesus Christ) Remember, Paul has stated in 1:17, and 3:20 that the righteousness of god has been manifested in Jesus Christ.
Picking up what Paul introduces in 1:17 “in the gospel the righteousness of god is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘the just shall live by faith.’ He restates that faith is the means by which god’s justifying work becomes applicable to individuals.
The righteousness of god is the justifying activity of god. In 1:17, the righteousness of god is constantly revealed through the preaching of the gospel. Here, Paul is stating how this revealed justification is received by those whom god has performed the work of justification for
If Paul mentions human faith in this phrase (through faith in Jesus Christ), why add “for all who believe?” It’s the same verb faith/believe, why the repetition?
On one hand Paul is highlighting the universal availability of god’s righteousness revealed. Even 22b-23 supports this (all have sinned in light of god’s revealed righteousness and are falling short of this righteousness). God’s righteousness is available only through faith in Jesus Christ (the first phrase). But god’s righteousness is available to anyone who has faith in Jesus Christ (second phrase)
This is the universal availability of justification I was talking about: the means by which any person can be saved is by faith alone. Remember the huge emphasis Paul has been placing on getting all Jews and gentiles in the same boat. His intention is to remove any thought that there is any way for a person to receive the righteousness of god and be saved from his wrath other than by simple faith and trust in god’s provision of his own righteousness: Jesus Christ.
There is no distinction. Everyone who believes will be justified. Only those who place their faith in Christ will be justified. This is really good news, but I can’t help but think that the first natural reaction to such news is revulsion. We want to save ourselves. We are Americans, independent, hard-working, don’t take handouts, and earn it for yourself. If you get me a Christmas present, I am going to feel guilty if I didn’t get you one, I cannot receive a gift that I did not earn because I am proud, and have no understanding of what it is to receive grace.
Anything that suggests that we can’t do it for ourselves, that we can’t save ourselves is abhorrent. We don’t want a religion that demands we throw ourselves entirely upon the grace and mercy of the god who will not accept our efforts to save ourselves.
But if we will accept this, there are three things that we can know if salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, with no regard for human effort
1. If salvation is a gift of god apart from human doing, we can be saved now
Salvation is based on what god has already done for us.
Jesus Christ, dying on the cross, proclaimed with full authority “it is finished”
His finished work is the sole grounds for our being declared righteous
Salvation is ours now, by the application of Christ’s righteousness to us as god’s gift
2. If salvation is a gift of god apart from human doing, salvation is certain
If salvation is by human works, then human works (or lack thereof) can undo it
If I can save myself, it is certain that I can unsave myself. I can and will ruin everything
But if salvation is from god alone, the god who all-knowing, all-powerful, and does not change, then my salvation is sure and everlasting
3. If salvation is a gift of god apart from human doing, then human boasting is excluded and all glory goes to god
Imagine how offensive it would be is we could boast about earning heaven. Imagine looking down and saying, “Poor Nate, he just wasn’t good enough to make it up here to heaven. I am glad that I got it right and did enough to get here.”
Imagine the arrogance, and pride, and utter perverse revulsion that heaven would be if we were not all there as recipients of god’s grace. That is why all glory goes to god. That is why we will worship him, and partake in his glory forever, and it will be wonderful
There is no distinction. God’s grace, his unmerited favor apart from human merit granted to any person who will trust him to provide that which they do not deserve
It is favor when we deserve the precise opposite
D. Martin Lloyd Jones “there is no more wonderful word than grace. It means unmerited favor or kindness shown to one who is utterly undeserving… it is not merely a free gift, but a free gift to those who deserve the exact opposite, and is given to us while we are without hope and without god in the world.”
Grace is given to those who have sinned, who are falling short of the glory of god. We deserve hell and wrath people. But we receive salvation, satisfaction, and eternal pleasure in the presence of the god of glory.
There is no distinction. God’s grace, in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest good news in the world. You sinned. You are falling short of god’s revealed righteous glory. But you can receive his grace. Your sin has been removed from you, and placed upon the broken body of the lord and savior Jesus Christ who was beaten and broken and died in your place. You have a vicar, you have undeserved grace in place of deserved wrath.