30. Romans: Remedy
Lecture: Romans: Remedy
Law first of all in the phrase (Romans 3:21), “righteousness manifested apart from law,” is seen as a way of achieving salvation. Maybe you could substitute “legalism” here for the first understanding of the word “law”. And then, the law repeated the second time refers to the first five books of Moses, “… the Law and the Prophets ….” So in the norms of language, the word law can mean several things, and here in this same sentence Paul uses it in two different ways: 1) Law in the sense of a legalistic means of achieving righteousness, (the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from this legalism) although 2) the Law bears witness to it. So law is understood in two different ways – the norms of language permit that, and Paul makes that clear from the context.
Then he describes this righteousness (v. 22), “… the righteousness of God through faith in Christ Jesus to all who believe.” Now we have that theme that we had listed in 1:16-17, when we were talking about the righteousness that comes through faith. This is going to come up at this time. The righteousness of God is manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets -- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. The word ‘faith IN Jesus Christ’ is literally ‘faith OF Jesus Christ’, and this could be interpreted two ways: 1) a subjective genitive, in which we’re describing the faith that Jesus Christ has – we are justified and we have righteousness through Jesus Christ’s faithfulness – the way he lived, and his perfect life in obedience; or 2) it can be an objective genitive, in which the object of faith is Jesus Christ. There’s been a lot of discussion on this. The “new thing” is to see it as a subjective genitive, where we’re talking about Jesus Christ’s faith -- the righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ’s faith.
On the other hand, though, the whole passage here is talking about faith IN God and what he has done. It doesn’t talk about Jesus’s faith, but faith of which he is the object. And as we read along, this will become more clear. We’re talking about our faith in Jesus Christ. So the righteousness of God is through the faith which has as its object Jesus Christ, (continuing v. 22), “… for all who believe. For there’s no distinction: for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, [There’s no distinction between Jew and Greek that way] and thus we are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation …,” or ‘propitiation’, there’s a lot of debate over this word. At one time it was almost an issue of orthodoxy as to how you held this.
In the Greek world, hilasterion, the Greek word, primarily is used with the idea of propitiating the wrath of God. In other words, God has anger; to propitiate it means to alleviate it. And so here, if you have the idea of propitiation, you alleviate God’s wrath against sin and against sinners. Evangelicals tended to emphasize that; liberals didn’t like that so much because the idea of God being wrathful, and having to have his anger propitiated was offensive. And so they emphasized ‘expiation’, the covering of sin (in other words, the forgiving of sin). In the Old Testament, hilasterion is primarily used in that sense, with sacrifice that covers sin. The NIV uses that imagery of the Old Testament sacrificial covering for sin. It’s probably not an either / or; that God’s wrath is eliminated and propitiated is part of the biblical teaching. But here, it doesn’t seem to be as strong as the act of the sin which we have, and our guilt is covered through the death of Jesus Christ. God “… set him as a covering for sin [hilasterion] through faith in his blood.” Notice the object here is not the faithfulness of Jesus, but faith IN his blood, and so when we talk about the faith of Jesus in v. 22, we want to talk about the faith of which he is the object. [Verse 25], “ … faith in his blood, in order to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” And again for faith, Jesus is the object.
There’s a sense in this passage in which God is both the one who makes righteous, and the one who is being “righteous-ized”. In other words, the issue is, how can God forgive sin? Most people in America would say, “How can he NOT forgive sin?” But if you have a holy God, the real question is not, “how can he not forgive sin?” but “how can he forgive sin?” How did he simply pass over the sins done in the Old Testament, and not bring wrath upon people who did such things? Well, he proves that he is just – he is being justified in the sense of being shown to be just – because sin is dealt with. He was able to pass over sin, because he looked forward to the coming of the Son of God who would die as a propitiation (hilasterion) and an expiation, a covering, for sin. And therefore he’s able to do this. And now God can be declared just – he hasn’t just ignored sin; he’s dealt with sin – he’s covered sin. And the reason that he was able to pass over those sins in the sense of forgiving them was because of the sacrifice Jesus would make.
So we have God’s righteousness in 3:25-26; we now can declare him righteous because he did not just ignore sin. The holy God – how can he ignore sin? Well, he didn’t. He was able to forgive sin because of what was going to happen. But he’s also a “righteous-izing” God: he makes others righteous by the gift of his Son, and through faith one becomes righteous in him. He himself is righteous, and he justifies. For “righteous” and “justifies”, this is the same Greek word here. One is a noun, and the other is a verb, but it’s the same root. Some have tried to show that by saying, “it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous, and that he righteous-izes those who have faith in Christ.” The word “righteous-ize” never caught on, however. But it’s unfortunate that when we talk about the words righteous and justification and justify – it seems that we’re looking at two different words, but there’s really the same Greek root in all of that. So, “… that he himself is just and that he justifies through faith in Jesus Christ …,” that may be another way of translating it. But the same word is being used. So, the death of Christ justifies God in the sense that it declares that he is righteous. He is able to forgive sins, because sin has been dealt with. He doesn’t simply ignore it, so he’s righteous. But he also is the one who makes us righteous through Jesus Christ in this regard.
As to boasting, it’s all gone. Paul would say that if you see a proud arrogant Christian, he doesn’t know much of the grace of God at all. Because once you realize that there’s nothing you can do – that you’re absolutely helpless in anything you could do. Even your best moment doesn’t even merit forgiveness for that moment. And you realize that an innocent one has to die on your behalf. How can you boast? How can you be proud? How can you be arrogant? True Christianity, if it’s understood correctly, makes one very humble. And what of boasting? It’s excluded. How? On the principle of works alone? If you have works to do and you can boast, well, then yes, you could boast and be arrogant. But if you have faith, it means that you seek the work of someone else on your behalf. And you, in mercy, seek forgiveness in Christ.
[Verse 28], “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one – who will justify the circumcised by faith [like the faithful Jew] and the uncircumcised through faith [like Cornelius]. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” All of the sudden, the question of the law comes up again. It keeps on coming up, and finally we’ll get to chapter 7, and we’ll deal with that.
Having established, then, the divine remedy, he then turns to Abraham, who is the single most important Jew, the founder of the Jewish faith. And if he can prove for instance that Abraham entered into this relationship with God by grace through faith, then all his descendants have to enter in the same way. So he then raises the question, “What about Abraham?” What did he find out with regard to ‘our father according to the flesh’, or ‘the one from whom we descend? Verse 4:2 ff., “If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast of, but not before God. For what does Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’” This is one of Paul’s favorite proof-texts. Abraham believed God, and this was reckoned to him as righteousness. He goes on to say that if you work, you get wages. But if you don’t work, but simply trust God who justifies your ungodliness, this faith is reckoned as righteousness. And then he quotes David, which is a very good rabbinic argument: you quote first from the law, and then you get another verse from the prophets or the rest of Scripture, and then from David. David pronounces a blessing “… upon the man whom God reckons righteous apart from the law, ‘Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not reckon sin.” And he uses in this kind of argument the verse from Genesis 15:6, from the Law. You need another verse from the rest of the Bible, from the Law and the rest of Scripture, and the way you tie it together is that there’s a single word in both of those that show that tie. And the word he uses here is “reckoned”. Abraham was “reckoned” as righteous, and David says, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not ‘reckon’ sin”. And so you have this double rabbinic proof, which Jewish scholars would be very impressed by in that way.
Again, Abraham’s justification by faith is not only demonstrated by this verse in 15:6, but in the relationship between his circumcision and his justification. He’s justified in chapter 15; he’s circumcised in chapter 17. Doesn’t that say something? Chapter 17 cannot be the cause of chapter 15; chapter 15 happens first. There is the sense, then, that Abraham becomes an example for Gentiles because he was justified as a Gentile – he was uncircumcised. So Paul points out that Abraham, the Father of the Jews, the great example, was a Gentile when he was saved, when he had his righteousness attributed. That’s when his faith was reckoned as righteousness.
Now the word “reckon” becomes a key term in this whole chapter. We haven’t really come across it at all yet, but now time and time again he talks about being ‘reckoned’ righteous. This indicates that righteousness is not a moral quality, but is a ‘reckoned’ situation. You have here the scene of a law court, in which you are judged, or reckoned, as such, and personal piety is something different from that. There was a big debate during the Reformation between justification and sanctification (sanctification being understood theologically in the sense of one’s progress of growth toward holiness). They are separate things – one is a standing, or a status (we are justified); one’s piety is something that follows and proceeds. [Sanctification] is not a standing as such in the normal theological use of the term, but righteousness is. We are ‘reckoned’ as righteous. You have the scene of the law court, with a ‘not guilty’ sentence pronounced upon us. And then what’s true of Abraham would also be true of his descendants.