We look in this message at some of the high points of the teaching found in chapters 3, 4, and 5 of the book of Romans.
There can be no happiness, no peace, and no joy, unless we are right with God—but many people are completely confused about how this rightness with God can be obtained. In spite of the fact that “Amazing Grace” is the favorite hymn for many Americans, most people still think that if individuals just do their best, they will make it to heaven.
In the early chapters of the book of Romans, sin is the big word. We are told that every human being is born with a bent toward sin. Every man, woman, and child is inclined to do evil. The first chapters of Romans present the darkest picture of the human family to be found anywhere in writing. And, as we read the book of Romans, it is with a sense of great relief to turn from the sad story of man’s sin and shame, to the good news of God’s plan of salvation.
Salvation may be broadly defined as deliverance from the ruin of sin. One of the core concepts of the Christian faith is that God saves sinful human beings in three stages: He justifies—delivers from the guilt of sin. He sanctifies—delivers more and more from the power of sin. He glorifies—delivers from the presence of sin.
We look now at the teaching which says that God justifies us. The question is this: “If all people are guilty and deserving of God’s wrath, how then can anyone be saved? How can those who are guilty of sin and rebellion against God—be forgiven and pardoned?” This is the most important question any person can ever ask. The Bible book of Romans has the most complete and satisfying answer to those questions that can be found anywhere in the world. The answer centers on the word “justification.”
The phrase “to justify” (as used in the Scriptures) is the translation of a Greek word which refers to the “act of God in declaring sinful persons righteous because of their faith in Jesus Christ.” Bible justification is not the same as forgiveness. We may forgive others for the wrongs they have done, but we can never justify them. A man may steal from his neighbor. And if he gets caught with the stolen goods and is later condemned to a prison sentence, his neighbor may forgive him. But the man who stole is still the thief. He is still guilty of having committed the crime. One who is justified, on the other hand, is not only forgiven, but is actually declared to be “without guilt.”
God not only forgives sinners; He also justifies those who believe in the work of Jesus by faith. God declares sinners to be without guilt. He pronounces them “not guilty”—and He can do that, because in our place, an innocent Person is pronounced guilty instead. And thus, when we are justified, we no longer stand before God guilty and condemned, we stand before Him acquitted, treated as if we had never been guilty. One who is justified is not only forgiven, but is counted “just as if he had never sinned.”
1.The Explanation of Justification (Romans 3:21-31)
Paul reveals the very heart of the gospel, beginning at verse 21 of Romans 3. He says that the righteousness of God has been revealed, and the word “righteousness” (throughout this passage) refers to a right-standing with God. It is available to all who put their faith in a Person—the Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 24 says it is offered freely, and verse 22 says it is available to all those who believe.
The Bible is not presenting a righteousness that people earn by their good deeds. The text is describing a right-standing—which God gives through faith in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 22 says that this righteousness is “of God” (it is not of man). But if this right-standing is not earned by good works, then what is the source of a right relationship with God? Paul says the source of our justification is simply the unmerited favor of God. Verse 24 says that salvation is by the grace of God. We are “justified freely by His grace“—by His unmerited and undeserved kindness toward us.
Romans 3, verse 25, gives some additional information about Jesus. The Apostle Paul says that Christ Jesus is “set forth as a propitiation” for our sin. The word “propitiation” speaks of “turning away wrath.” Our sin brings on the wrath of God (like steel draws lightning)—but the death of Jesus on the cross turns away that displeasure (it propitiates God’s displeasure). Propitiation requires two things: faith on the part of the sinner; blood on the part of the Savior. The question is this: “How can a sinful human being ever escape the displeasure of a holy God?” The answer is that Jesus Christ, through shedding His blood, expiated God’s wrath—and to come by faith under the benefits of His death on the cross, each person must believe with a trusting, accepting faith that the atonement provided by Jesus is God’s means of justifying us. Accepting this great news by faith is the only plan that satisfies God’s justice.
God could justify men and women by simply overlooking their sins. But if God would pardon guilty sinners and let us go free, in spite of our guilt, such an act would be like a judge who lets a criminal escape without punishment. None of us believes that would be justice.
Imagine a prisoner standing before the bar of justice. Let us assume there is no question about his guilt, and so the judge imposes the fine that is specified by law. But suppose the judge (after imposing the fine), in a gesture of kindness, takes out his own checkbook and writes a check and pays the fine for the prisoner. What happens? The prisoner goes free because the fine is paid. The judge was required by law to demand that a fine must be paid—because the man was guilty. But there was nothing to prevent the judge from paying the fine himself if he wanted to. Just so, God’s holiness requires a penalty for our sins. If God would let us get by with sin, that would not be justice. But nothing prevents His paying the penalty—that we really deserve.
At Calvary God paid the price demanded for our sins. Jesus is God—and when He went to the cross, it was God going to the Cross—God Himself paying the price for sin. Acts 20:28 speaks of the “church of God, which He purchased with His own blood.” Verse 26 (of Romans 3) says that all this happened that He might be just (that is, that sin might be punished), and yet at the same time, that He might become the justifier of those who believe in Jesus (that is, that He justly can declare sinners “not guilty”).
At the time we believe in the saving virtue of the blood of Jesus Christ, and then make an open confession of that faith in Christian baptism—we are justified; our sins are canceled; we are accepted before God. If one’s faith is genuine, there will be honest repentance followed by a life devoted to good deeds. In fact the only kind of faith which is a saving faith—is an obedient faith. One who has sincerely believed the gospel message—will not make attempts to detour around the teachings of the Word of God.
Acts 13:38 says, “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man (Jesus Christ) is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins, and by Him all that believe are justified.” Think of it—we are justified; declared “not guilty”—after all the blackness of our sin and our rebellion. God justifies the ungodly, and in His amazing mercy, treats the sinful human being as an innocent person. That’s the Christian message—the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul goes on in Romans 3 to declare that human boasting is therefore excluded. There’s no room for boasting under a system of salvation like this. Our standing before God is not based on our merits—and therefore we can never boast about what we have done to save ourselves for eternity.
2.The Example of Justification (Romans 4:1-25)
In Romans 4, Paul gives an illustration of justification. He turns to the Old Testament and says that even the patriarch Abraham was justified by faith [in the coming Messiah] apart from the works of the Law. The lambs that were offered on Israel’s altars in Old Testament times—told the story of an Innocent Person who would someday suffer for the guilty.
Abraham was basically a good man, but Romans 4:3 states that Abraham was justified by faith, not by his deeds. The Scriptures declare that he believed God, and God “counted it to him for righteousness.” Abraham was justified because of his faith, his trust, and his confidence in God. Abraham was not justified because he did the best that he could, or because he was not as bad as some other men of his day. He was justified because he believed God.
Later, in Romans 4, Paul takes us back to the time when God revealed Himself as “the Almighty One” (El Shaddai)—to Abraham. Abraham was still childless, but God promised that he would bear a son and become exceedingly fruitful (Genesis 17)—and in this way the promise of Genesis 12 would materialize—so that out of his seed, the Messiah would come, and the nations of the earth would be blessed.
Abraham was to become the “father of many nations” (Genesis 17:4), and yet Abraham was ninety-nine years old, and he and Sarah didn’t even have a son. His wife Sarah was past the age of bearing a child. But Abraham took God at His word, and believed God in hope, even when all hope seemed useless. Human reason told Abraham that the promise of a son by Sarah—at ninety years of age, could never happen (Romans 4:19). Can you imagine today the laughter coming from the secretary of the local hospital when a more-than-ninety-year-old couple comes in to sign up for the next childbirth class? I believe that Abraham’s faith was so vibrant that he was fascinated with the thought of how God was going to “pull this off!” Romans 4:20 says that Abraham did not waver (he did not stagger) at the promise of God.
It was this faith (verse 22) that was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. Abraham was a sinner like all of us are. He told a lie down in Egypt; he said that Sarah was his sister. And surely there were other sins and failures in his life—but by faith he believed what God promised in Genesis 12—that through his offspring there would be a coming Savior, and on that ground, he was justified before God.
Romans 4:23-24 says that God did not preserve this record of His dealings with Abraham to provide a mere biographical account of his life. The record is intended to illustrate for all generations down through the years, how human beings are justified before God.
Like Abraham, we too can be justified by faith—and the slate of God’s claims against us because of our sins, can be wiped clean. Romans 4:25 says that Christ was “delivered over to death for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification.” Because of His death on the cross to redeem us from sin, and because He arose from the dead to vindicate His deity—we can believe in Him and enjoy the benefits of salvation.
3.The Benefits of Justification (5:1-10)
In Romans 5, Paul reminds us of the benefits that come to those who are justified.
Verse 1 says we have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Peace is one of the benefits of justification. There once was a state of hostility between us and God. Earlier in life, we had been enemies of God; there was rebellion in our hearts against Him. Do you remember the bitterness and anger and resentment? Do you remember the eagerness to do as the world does? Do you remember the greed for material things, the self-centeredness, and the rebellion against authority? But now that we know the Lord Jesus, there is peace. Hostilities between us and God have ended. Colossians 1:20 says that Jesus made peace through His blood on the cross, and now all who sincerely accept Him become benefactors of that peace.
Another benefit of justification is “access . . . into this grace wherein we stand” (Romans 5:2). The word “access” means “the right to enter.” Unconverted persons really have no constant direct approach to God. When they are in trouble, they call on God—but God does not promise to answer. (Sometimes God does more than He promised, but there is no guarantee that He will respond.) Justified persons, however, have free access to God. They can be sure that their prayers are heard. To have an audience even once in a lifetime with a king of some great nation (or with the President of the United States), would be a special favor we would never forget. But in the spiritual realm, ours is a much greater privilege. We may have an audience with the Creator of the universe, not merely once in a lifetime, but day-in-and-day-out.
Another blessing that comes to those who are justified is that they can “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2). Some people have no hope in their hearts; there is no expectation of glorious things to come. There’s only a fearful looking forward to judgment. But individuals who are justified—look forward even now to the future glory awaiting them.
Someday we will share in the splendor of Heaven.
Someday we will behold the King in His beauty.
Someday we will be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
Certainly we can rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
This peace might lead us to think that after being justified we will no longer have problems. Some teach that genuine Christians will enjoy material prosperity and continual good health, but verse 3 reminds us that “tribulations” are part of our experience. Yet we can glory in tribulations because suffering has many rich benefits.
Suffering is a normal part of the Christian life, but the trials and sufferings of life are meant to give strength to our character. We don’t necessarily look forward to painful experiences, but we know that going through difficult times—helps loosen our ties to this world, and brings us closer to God. Experiencing hard times builds patience in our lives (verse 3)—a reference to the quality of endurance and perseverance that accepts reverses and trials without complaint.
Another benefit of justification is the quality of hope—the firm conviction that God’s promises will materialize. Upon putting faith in Jesus, verse 5 says that the Holy Spirit floods our hearts with the love of God, which confirms our hope.
Poor Richard’s Almanac says that “God helps those who help themselves.” The Bible says that God helps those who cannot help themselves (verse 6)! Verse 7 reminds us that there are few persons who will die for others—even for a “righteous man.” But Christ did much more—He died for ungodly persons like each of us. This was a demonstration of God’s love for every human being (verse 8).
Verses 8-9 remind us that if God loved us while we were yet sinners, how much more then will He love us now that we are “justified by His blood.” It is clearly stated that we are justified (declared not guilty) by His blood (verse 9), and we are reconciled to God through the death of His Son (verse 10). And, we shall be saved by His life (verse 10). That is, the living Christ continues to energize us. He gives us an incentive to keep on serving God! The reason we call the day of crucifixion “Good” Friday, is because we know that Sunday is coming!
We conclude with a reminder that the word “justification” is one of the sweetest words ever heard by the human family. It is a great thing to be justified in the sight of God. It is the best news a person can ever hear. Our sins have been put behind God’s back. God treats penitent sinners as if they were innocent persons, and charges their sins to the Savior’s account. Every person reading this message should believe the great message that Jesus is the only Mediator between God and man—and that by faith in Him, we become justified (declared righteous) before God.