Bible Studies for Life
Chris Allen, pastor
First Baptist Church, Cairo
Prior to verse 20 in Romans Chapter 3, Paul has painted a rather depressing picture of humankind. Everyone – pagans, Gentiles, and religious people – are condemned because of their own actions. What caused him to arrive at this conclusion? The Law.
God gave the Law (the Ten Commandments) to the nation of Israel to show them the way God expected them to live, but the Law also condemned them. The Law condemns us too, although it is not the basis of our hope. The Law shows us where we have gone wrong and shows us that we are helpless sinners.
The Law shows us that we need a Savior. God provided the Savior in His Son Jesus Christ.
After all the bad news Paul has shared, he now tells his readers that there is a way to be declared not guilty. Paul writes that the purpose of the Law was never to make anyone righteous. It could not. Instead, the Law was given so that we would become conscious of our sin. The only way we know we need a Savior is “through the law.”
No human – the Lord Jesus Christ excepted – has ever or will ever be able to meet the standard of righteousness God has required. With this truth we are confronted with our own need for a Savior, but we are also encountered with God’s personal infinite righteousness.
We cannot live up to His standard of measure. God knew this, so He provided righteousness through His Son Jesus apart from the Law. The only way we can know God’s righteousness is through Jesus. He is the One that declares us righteous because of who He is and His finished work on the cross.
Paul explains that there is no difference among humans because all have sinned, and all fall short. The Greek verb used here is in the present tense, stressing continuous action. It can be translated “keep on falling short.”
As a sinner, not a single human being by his own efforts is able to measure up to the glory of God. Because of this, God intervened and provided righteousness, because all who believe are justified by Christ’s work.
But what did Christ do? He died so we did not have to pay, because we could not pay it.
“Justify” is a legal term meaning “declare righteousness.” On the cross of Calvary, Christ offered redemption and declared those who believe in Him justified.
The Greek word for “redemption” means a “ransom payment.” John Witmer wrote, “The death of Christ on the cross of Calvary was the price of payment for human sin which secured release from the bondage of Satan and sin for every person who trusts God’s promise of forgiveness and salvation.” Christ’s righteousness is available because He redeemed us through His work on the cross. The completed work on the cross (and because we believe in that work) is the justification needed to stand righteous before the righteous God.
In these verses, Paul emphasizes that God “presented” Christ as a sacrifice of atonement. Paul contrasts God’s presentation of Christ with the tabernacle’s mercy seat. The mercy seat was hidden from view, but God wanted all to see Christ and His finished work on the cross. The mercy seat and the blood that was sprinkled there was just a temporary fix to an eternal problem.
God was gracious and forbearing because He anticipated His provision for sins in the death of Christ. God’s divine dilemma was how to satisfy His own righteousness and its demands against sinful people, and at the same time how to demonstrate His grace, love, and mercy to restore rebellious, alienated creatures to Himself. The solution was the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God’s incarnate Son, and the acceptance by faith of that provision by individual sinners.
Righteousness, redemption, and atonement are offered as God’s provision for our sin. But this is only achieved by faith alone. The study notes in the Life Application Study Bible provided a great explanation as to why God offers salvation through Jesus by faith alone:
- Faith eliminates the pride of human effort.
- Faith exalts what God has done.
- Faith admits that we cannot keep the law or measure up to God’s standards.
- Faith is based on our relationship with God.
In the Old Testament, the Mercy Seat was the designated place sin was “dealt” with. But now Paul is asserting that the cross of Christ is now the place, in this new covenant, where God deals with the sins of His people. It is by the cross of Christ we find righteousness, redemption, atonement, forgiveness, and salvation.
Questions to consider
- Do you view the Law (The Ten Commandments) as a set of standards you must live up to or do you see them as a set of standards that indicate your need for a Savior?
- What truth or truths are you most thankful for in the story of salvation and Christ’s sacrifice?
- What does redemption look like in your life?