(from a transcript of a sermon preached on 11/11/01 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Turn in your Bibles to the epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, chapter 3, and I'll be reading verses 20 through 26:
Romans 3: (20) Because by works of Law not one of all flesh will be justified before Him, for through Law [is] full knowledge of sin. (21) But now a righteousness of God has been revealed apart from Law, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, (22) even the righteousness of God through faith of Jesus Christ toward all and upon all those believing; for there is no difference, (23) for all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (24) being justified freely by His grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, (25) whom God set forth [as] a propitiation through faith in His blood, as a demonstration of His righteousness through the passing over of the sins that had taken place before, in the forbearance of God, (26) for a demonstration of His righteousness in the present time, for His being just and justifying the [one] that [is] of the faith of Jesus.
This is the nineteenth sermon in our series in the book of Romans, and we are in the eighth paragraph of Paul's letter. In the second paragraph, Paul stated the POWER and the REVELATION of the gospel. As far as the gospel's POWER goes, the gospel is the POWER of God to salvation. This means that God has chosen to display His power to save His people through His gospel. SALVATION and THE GOSPEL are INSEPARABLY CONNECTED. There is not a single person who is SAVED who does not understand and believe THE GOSPEL. There's NO SUCH THING as someone being regenerated and remaining ignorant of the gospel for a period of time. As far as the gospel's REVELATION goes, the gospel is the REVELATION of the righteousness of God. After Paul says this in chapter 1 verses 16 and 17, he clearly shows that God requires perfect righteousness in order for anyone to be accepted by Him and that all men by nature do not have this righteousness that God requires. The irreligious and the religious can do NOTHING to recommend themselves to God. It is only after THAT that Paul explains what the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel is.
Last week, we went over Romans 3:21, which is made up of two phrases. The first phrase transitions the reader from the fact that no one can be justified by works of Law to the fact that there is a justification APART from the works of Law. It also makes the connection to Romans 1:17. Romans 1:17 says that in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed, and Romans 3:21 says that a righteousness of God has been revealed. This makes it clear that what Paul is about to talk about is THE GOSPEL. This is the most important subject in the universe. Those who do not believe the gospel are unregenerate, under the wrath of God. Those who believe the gospel are regenerate, in fellowship with God. This is a vital, life-and-death matter. It behooves us to pay close attention to what the Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul is saying here. If you notice, verses 21 through 26 are all one sentence. You can't get a more important sentence in the entire Bible. This sentence puts forth essential gospel doctrine. If you do not believe what is said in this sentence, you do not believe the gospel.
The second phrase states that the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel was witnessed by the Law and the Prophets. We saw last week that the gospel that is proclaimed in the New Testament is the same gospel as was proclaimed in the Old Testament. The Old Testament saints believed the same gospel that we believe. There is no such distinction as the "Mosaic economy" of salvation versus the "gospel economy" of salvation. The gospel has always been the same. It has always revealed the righteousness of God through the work of Christ, and it has always been the power of God to salvation.
Now let's go further in this vital portion of God's Word. Let's look at verse 22:
Romans 3: (22) even the righteousness of God through faith of Jesus Christ toward all and upon all those believing; for there is no difference,
The third phrase of this sentence gives us the beginnings of defining what the righteousness of God is. We see first that the righteousness of God is "through faith of Jesus Christ." Now there are many commentators who take this to mean "through faith IN Jesus Christ." But having looked at how everything is constructed and having looked at the context, I must conclude that this faith that is spoken of is something that belongs to Jesus Christ. It is actually the FAITHFULNESS of Jesus Christ, which is the perfect RIGHTEOUSNESS of Jesus Christ. One of the reasons I have concluded that it must be Christ's faithfulness that is talked about here is the fact that this faith of Jesus Christ is TOWARD all and UPON all those believing. If it were OUR faith IN Christ, how could it be said that OUR faith is toward and upon all believing? Our faith is not toward or upon, because as we will see, the Lord willing, this is talking about legal imputation. Our faith is not imputed; it is the righteousness of Christ that is imputed.
So the righteousness of God that is revealed in the gospel is through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. It is a righteousness that is revealed APART from man's best efforts to keep the Law, so it doesn't have to do with MAN'S work; it has to do with CHRIST'S work. God's righteousness is revealed through the work of Christ. Here is hope! The gospel is the good news of salvation conditioned on the work of Christ alone! God justifies sinners based on a righteousness that is totally outside of themselves! And it MUST be that way, since by works of law, not one of all flesh will be justified before God. There must be an outside righteousness -- an ALIEN righteousness -- because there is no righteousness in a fallen human being that is acceptable before God. All of our own righteousnesses are as a menstruous cloth -- an abomination to God. So for anyone to be ACCEPTED by God, who only accepts perfect righteousness, there must be a SUBSTITUTE who IS perfectly righteous. That substitute is Jesus Christ, the sinlessly perfect God-Man. Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit, and from the time of His conception, He was absolutely, perfectly sinless. He never had a sinful thought or a sinful action. He never even sinned in ignorance. There was nothing about him that was tainted by sin. Some have suggested that Jesus could have sinned but just chose not to. No -- this is blasphemy. Jesus COULD NOT HAVE SINNED. Jesus is GOD, and GOD CANNOT SIN. Let's turn to some verses that show the sinlessness of Jesus Christ.
1 John 3:5:
1 John 3: (5) And you know that that [One] was revealed that He might take away our sins, and sin is not in Him.
2 Corinthians 5:21:
2 Corinthians 5: (21) For He made the [One] who knew no sin [to be] sin for us, that we might become [the] righteousness of God in Him.
Hebrews 4: (15) For we do not have a high priest not being able to sympathize with our weaknesses but [One] having been tried in all respects according to [our] likeness, apart from sin.
Hebrews 7: (26) For such a High Priest was fitting for us: holy, harmless, undefiled, and separated from sinners, and having become higher than the heavens; (27) who has no need, as do the high priests, to offer sacrifices day by day, first for His own sins, then for those of the people. For He did this once for all, offering up Himself. (28) For the Law makes men high priests who have infirmity, but the word of the oath-taking after the Law [appoints the] Son to the age, having been perfected.
There are other verses that talk of Christ's sinlessness in that He was a perfect sacrifice. We see all throughout the Old Testament that the one who brought a sacrifice should bring the best of the flock, one without spot or blemish. This is a type of Christ, who was untainted by sin. Let's turn to Hebrews 9:13-14:
Hebrews 9: (13) For if the blood of bulls and goats, and ashes of a heifer sprinkling those having been defiled, sanctifies to the purity of the flesh, (14) by how much more the blood of Christ (who through [the] eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God), will purify your conscience from dead works, to serve [the] living God!
Now let's turn to First Peter. Let's first look at chapter 1, verses 18 and 19:
1 Peter 1: (18) knowing that not with corruptible things, silver or gold, were you redeemed from your worthless way of life handed down from [your] fathers, (19) but with precious blood of Christ, as a lamb without blemish and without spot,
Now let's look at chapter 2, verses 21 through 24:
1 Peter 2: (21) For you were called to this, for even Christ suffered on our behalf, leaving behind an example for us, that you should follow His steps; (22) "who did not sin, nor was guile found in His mouth;" (23) who, having been reviled, did not revile in return; suffering, He did not threaten, but gave [Himself] up to Him who [was] judging righteously; (24) who "Himself carried up in His body our sins" onto the tree; that dying to sins, we might live to righteousness, of whom "[by] His wound you were healed."
So we have seen thus far that the righteousness of God that is revealed in the gospel is revealed apart from the works of Law and is revealed through the perfect faithfulness of Christ. But how does the perfect faithfulness of Christ make it so God justifies sinners? How can God declare certain sinners not guilty when it was only Christ who was perfectly righteous? The answer comes in the last half of the phrase: "toward all and upon all those believing." This faithfulness of Christ is toward all and upon all those believing. The KJV translates it "unto all and upon all them that believe." Now some would interpret the "unto all" to mean that this righteousness is EXTENDED or PREACHED to everyone without exception. Frankly, this interpretation is ridiculous. Paul is talking about the righteousness of God that is revealed apart from the Law, that is revealed through the faithfulness of Christ. He is talking about what part this faithfulness of Christ plays in salvation. This passage is talking about what this faithfulness actually accomplishes. To insert something about the preaching of the righteousness of Christ to all without exception makes absolutely no sense. Now it is TRUE that the gospel of Christ's righteousness is to be preached indiscriminately. But this is NOT AT ALL the focus of Paul's message here. The focus is on what the work of Christ accomplished. To interpret it in the way I just describes detracts from the unity of the message.
So let's go into what this really means. The first thing we need to look at is the way the sentence is constructed: "Unto all and upon all them that believe." The phrases "unto all" and "upon all" BOTH point to the phrase "them that believe." It is a short way of saying, "unto all them that believe and upon all them that believe." It is a BIG stretch to say that it is saying, "unto all WITHOUT EXCEPTION and upon all them that believe." You have to go through some uncalled-for mental and grammatical contortions to come up with that interpretation. The Greek word for the word "toward" in this passage is a preposition showing MOTION. It is translated "to" or "into" or "unto" most of the time. After looking at how it is used in other places, I think that "unto" is the best translation. But instead of meaning that it is PREACHED unto all without exception, it means that it is GIVEN unto all those believing. The righteousness of Christ is GIVEN to believers. This makes sense in light of what is next, which is "UPON all those believing." The Greek word for "upon" in this passage is a preposition showing POSITION. It is translated "at" or "on" or "upon" most of the time. The righteousness of Christ rests UPON those who believe. So the phrase "toward all and upon all those believing" is talking about MOTION and POSITION. The righteousness of Christ is given UNTO all believers and rests UPON all believers. What exactly does it mean that this righteousness, this faithfulness of Christ is GIVEN to all believers and is ON all believers? What does this have to do with God justifying sinners apart from the law?
Well, Christ was the only one who was perfectly righteous in His own character and conduct. So in order for God to declare certain sinners to be PERFECTLY RIGHTEOUS, this righteousness of Christ must be CHARGED to these people. Another word for CHARGED is IMPUTED. It is a legal transaction. The perfect righteousness of Christ is LEGALLY CHARGED TO THE ACCOUNT OF believers. We've gone over this many times, haven't we? But we must never forget it. In order for God to justify a sinner, there must be an IMPUTATION of the righteousness of Christ to that sinner. Remember, by one's own efforts no one will be justified. So the only way for justification to happen is for an alien righteousness to be charged to the account of the sinner, so that the sinner, although he still sins in his own character and conduct, is COUNTED RIGHTEOUS in light of God's demand for perfect conformity to the law.
Imputation is a precious thing isn't it? Here we are, totally unable to gain or maintain our salvation, to recommend ourselves to God, or to make ourselves fit for heaven, because we are law-breakers. God says that only by perfect conformity to God's law will anyone gain His acceptance. In Romans 2:13, God says, "For not the hearers of the Law are just with God, but the doers of the Law shall be justified." In Deuteronomy 27:26, God says, "Cursed is he who does not rise to all the words of this law, to do them." So all by nature are under a curse, under the wrath of God, even those whom God has chosen to salvation. There is ABSOLUTELY NO HOPE for ANYONE who relies on his works to be justified before God. So how in the world can anyone be justified, if only the perfectly righteous are justified? That's where IMPUTATION comes in! Jesus Christ lived a perfectly righteous life. And God's righteousness is revealed when that perfect righteousness of Christ is IMPUTED to His people, and His people are counted perfectly righteous! Now we, who have the perfect righteousness of Christ, can fellowship with the God who demands perfect righteousness. We have boldness to enter the very holy of holies, because we are totally righteous.
Let's go into the last part of verse 22 and all of verse 23.
Romans 3: (22) ... for there is no difference, (23) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
We saw back in chapter 2 that there is no respecter of persons with God. All without exception by nature are under the wrath of God, both Jews and Gentiles. All are sinners. And because all are sinners, all have fallen short of the glory of God. What is this glory of God of which all have fallen short? Some say that it is the approbation from God. While this is true that none have God's approval because of sin, I believe that the glory of God here is His glory in His righteousness, holiness, and justice. God will only fellowship with those who are as holy as He is. And since all have sinned, all have fallen short of that holiness that God requires. So let's see how this part of the sentence fits in with what we have already seen. The Holy Spirit through Paul says, "even the righteousness of God through faith of Jesus Christ toward all and upon all those believing," and then he says, "FOR there is no difference." "FOR" connects this phrase to the previous phrase. Here's what Paul is saying: All of those believing, both Jews and Gentiles, are justified by an imputed righteousness, because there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, in that all fall short of perfect righteousness. The Jews cannot be justified by their works, and the Gentiles cannot be justified by their works. The faithfulness of Jesus Christ is unto all believers and upon all believers without exception; there is no difference. EVERY person who is to be declared righteous in God's sight MUST have the righteousness of Christ imputed to him, because without the imputed righteousness of Christ, all without exception cannot be declared righteous, because by works of law not one of all flesh will be justified before God.
We are seeing the righteousness of God manifested, aren't we? Today we have seen the imputed righteousness of Christ. Next week, the Lord willing, we will see the atoning blood of Christ. These are essential gospel doctrines. These are precious gospel doctrines. They show that salvation is not in any way, to any degree, conditioned on anything the sinner does or is enabled to do. Salvation is totally, from start to finish, the work of God through the work of Christ. The work of Christ is what makes the only difference between salvation and damnation. May it never be for us to boast except in the work of Christ. Amen.