The Demonstration of God's Righteousness, Part 1

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By John Piper About Justification
Part of the series Romans: The Greatest Letter Ever Written

Romans 3:21-26
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Who Feels Righteous?

There is link between the doctrine of justification by faith alone and Mothers' Day. A few years ago I preached a series of messages called, "The Righteous Are Bold As a Lion." It was based on Proverbs 28:1 which says, "The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion." There's something about being righteous that makes you bold. "The righteous are bold as a lion."

But there's the rub. Who of us feels righteous? Our conscience tells us we are sinners. And the Bible tells us we are sinners. We just finished, five weeks ago, looking at Romans 1:18-3:20 and the main point of those chapters was: We are all "under sin. . . . There is none righteous, no not one" (Romans 3:9-10). And here in Romans 3:23, Paul says it again: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

So that's one reason why there is not much boldness in the world - why so many people are timid or shy or indecisive or irresolute or cowardly or fearful or fainthearted or simply indifferent, unwilling to take a stand in the midst of opposition. It's because we don't feel righteous. Our conscience condemns us and then the Bible indicts us, and knocks all the breath out of us. So we just mosey through life, staring at the ground in front of us, never looking anyone in the eye, never feeling passion for anything, always anxious about the future, feeling inadequate, insecure.

So who is it talking about when it says, "The righteous are bold as a lion"? What about moms? It's Mothers' Day. Are there any mothers here who are bold as a lion? There are. And you can read a description of this kind of mom in Proverbs 31:25: "Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles [literally: laughs] at the future." Do you see what that means? Most people are anxious about the future. She laughs at the future. She looks in future's face with boldness and says, "You think you can terrify me? You think you can dangle all your terrors in front of me and all the sicknesses and all the calamities and all the enemies and all the miseries and all the losses and all the heartaches that the future holds and make me cower in the corner of life like a mouse on the kitchen floor? No, strength and dignity are my clothing, and I laugh at your threats."

The righteous woman is bold as lion. She hears the words of 1 Peter 3:5-6 and says, "Yes!" "In former times the holy women also . . . hoped in God . . . and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear." Women who hope in God are as bold as a lion.

Is There a Righteousness, in Spite of Our Sin?

Which brings us now face to face with our text this morning: Is there a righteousness that can be ours, that is not our own? Is there a gift of righteousness? Is there a righteousness we could have in spite of our sin? In spite of the condemnation of our conscience? The women of old "hoped in God," not in themselves. And they were bold as a lion and not terrified by anything. So did this "hope in God" in the Old Testament mean that God counted them as righteous? It's the righteous who are bold as a lion.

Look at Romans 3:21, "But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets." Here Paul makes a major turn in his letter. Since 1:18 he has been showing how we don't have righteousness, and therefore we are under sin and judgment and destined for final wrath and fury. The mouth of the whole world is stopped and everyone is accountable and without excuse. The Law of God has met with the rebellion of man; and the result is condemnation, not justification. Nobody gets right with God through the performances of the Law. That's what verse 20 says: "By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight." So that's the end of moral boldness -it seems. No one is righteous - no mothers, no fathers, no teenagers, no children. And no one can get right with God by the works of the law.

But now comes this major turn in the letter. Verses 21-22: "But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe." Aha! So there is a divine righteousness -a God-sent, God-given righteousness, that is not through the works of the law, but (verse 22 says) through faith in Jesus Christ, for all who believe. In other words, God's solution to the problem of sin and condemnation in Romans 1:18-3:20 is for God to send his Son Jesus to die for sin (which we will see in verse 24 next week) and to give us his own righteousness if we will trust in his Son. This is called justification by faith: God's reckoning his righteousness as our righteousness if we will trust in his Son.

This is what we saw back in 1:16-17 - the great theme of the first eight chapters of this letter. "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'But the righteous shall live by faith.'" What he began in 1:17, he now picks up in 3:21 - to unfold and explain and apply the righteousness that comes by faith.

"I Do Not Delight in the Death of the Wicked"

I wonder if this is precious to you. Have you ever - perhaps late at night, perhaps early in the morning - felt the frightening weight and ugliness of your own sinfulness, and had a sinking feeling in your stomach, that if you died right then and there, you were not sure you would go to heaven, but perhaps be cast by a just and holy God into everlasting fire, away from the presence of his glory? If you come to that place - and you will all come to that place - would not the sweetest words in all the universe be to hear God say, "I do not delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11). Trust me. Trust my Son. Cast yourself on us as your only hope. And, for the sake of my Son, I will put your sins away and give you my righteousness - I will give you my righteousness! - as a free gift and accept you and save you."

How about you, mothers? This is your day. Is this precious to you? I want it to be. I want the mothers of Bethlehem to be as bold as a lion - forever. Oh, that the mothers of Bethlehem would clasp to your breast the truth of justification by faith more closely than you clasp your dear child. Because then you would become for your children a bold and mighty model of how to stand unshakable and laugh at the future.

Go back to where we left off with these women of old. You recall that I said a few minutes ago, from 1 Peter 3:6, that the holy women of old hoped in God and were not terrified in anything. They were bold as a lion because they hoped in God. So I asked, did this "hope in God" in the Old Testament mean that God counted them as righteous? Because, according to Proverbs 28:1, it's the righteous who are bold as a lion.

Did the Old Testament Teach Justification by Faith

Another way to ask the question is: Was the teaching of justification by faith there in the Old Testament? Did these women come by their boldness differently than you do? Was their righteousness too the gift of God's righteousness? Were they justified by faith - which hopes in God (Hebrews 11:1)? This question is not foreign to our text. It is raised by our text.

Look at Romans 3:21 again. "But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets." Do you see those last words of the verse? What's the point of saying that? The free gift of God's righteousness comes to us "apart from the law," but "witnessed by the law." In other words, God brings about this gift of righteousness without using the works of the law to do it. He did it in the life and death of Jesus. But that very law taught this would be so, and called people to hope in God's mercy.

So what's the point of saying this? The point is that those Old Testament women who "hoped in God" - even though they did not know how God would justly pass over their sins or how God could count them as righteous and acceptable - nevertheless, were, in fact, justified by this faith in God and his promises. The point of Romans 3:22b " . . . being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets," is that the message of justification by faith was there already and pointed forward to a time when somehow God would demonstrate his righteousness in passing over former sins - including the sins done by these hoping women and all other Old Testament believers (see verses 25-26).

Now the easiest way to show this is by looking forward just a few verses into chapter four. Here we see two examples of how the Old Testament witnessed to justification by faith. In Romans 4:3 Paul refers to Abraham and quotes Genesis 15:6, "For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.'" That's Paul's first Old Testament illustration. Then in verse 6 he refers to David and says, "Just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works, [and then he quotes Psalm 32:1]: 'Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered.'"

So David and Abraham (or Genesis and Psalms) witness to the righteousness that comes by faith, even though they don't yet know the fullness of how it will come about through the life and death of Christ. And, for one other example, go back to Romans 1:17, where Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4, "In [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'But the righteous shall live by faith.'" So we have Genesis, Psalms and Habakkuk all testifying to this great truth that the righteousness that God accepts is by faith and not by works. They don't know yet fully how God can be just while justifying sinners by faith, but they trust.

Isaiah probably saw it more clearly than any other Old Testament writer. In Isaiah 53, he predicts the suffering life and substitutionary death and bodily resurrection of the Servant of the Lord (Jesus) and says in verse 11, "As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, and He will bear their iniquities."

So I answer my question concerning these women who hoped in God: Yes, when they hoped in God, God reckoned it as righteousness. They were justified by faith. And we will see in the coming weeks that it was Jesus, hundreds of years later, who carried their sins and vindicated the justice of God in passing over their sins.

This is why so many of them were fearless and bold. The righteous are bold as a lion. The righteous women laugh at the future with all its threats. But who is a righteous woman - or a righteous man or a righteous teenager or a righteous child -before God? The answer of the Old Testament: those who hope in God. The answer of the New Testament: those who hope in Christ who is God.

God Is the One Who Justifies

So, mothers, here is a gift - I think it is the greatest gift of all - when you come to the end of a day feeling miserably guilty, because you have been crabby all day and have spoken carelessly to the children or because you defiled your mind with soap operas or because you have overeaten on the sly to numb your sadness or because you have flirted with the idea of leaving him or because your anger is like a quiet cauldron or because the memories of your defiant youth play condemningly in your mind, then cast yourself helplessly and hopefully on the mercy of Jesus as your only hope, and God will count it as righteousness. And you will be able to sleep in purity and rise as bold as a lion. "Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies" (Romans 8:33).

Receive the gift of God, and rejoice in the happiest Mothers' Day of your life. And the rest of you? Do the same. Romans 3:22 says it is "the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe."

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