The Righteous of God: justification comes from believing in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21-16)

Romans 3: 21-26

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:21-26 NKJV


There is a great tendency for men and women to believe that God uses the faith of each to build a new person from. That is, humans make as axiomatic the falsehood that a “good God rewards good people”. Nothing could be further from the truth – what the Bible provides as the axiom – that is the most basic truth – is that all are sinners – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NKJV) and God begins anew and justifies us though Jesus Christ. The axiom therefore is “God rewards sinners who believe”.

This was the question that most bothered Martin Luther when he took a trip to Rome – he knew and thought he understood the ramification of Jesus’ imperative: “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20 NKJV). He understood these men were the best of the best – trained from a young age to know scriptures like no other, yet they did not understand them. The question that really bothered him was how anyone could ever please God – the task appeared impossible, and indeed is, if humans had to do so.[1]


The passage from Romans given above is where Luther found the answer to his question and the impetus to subsequently take the world from darkness into light (read about the reformation). The question before us is one of justification. It is clearly understood that one who is found wrong needs to pay. That is a wrong doer is condemned by a judge and is caused to pay for the wrong. Since all people have wronged God the payment is death because as the Bible indicates sin is punished by death, and since all have sinned, all deserve death. The reason is not because God is capricious but because of God’s holiness that one who is has sinned can never be made good enough to come into his presence. Jesus likens this of trying to put new wine into old wine skins; before glass wine was stored in stone bottles or bags made of calf skins. These were useful the first time they were used, but deteriorated with age. If reused and since nothing could make them strong enough and they would simply burst.[2] In my world, there are many instruments used in medicine that are simply disposed of, being impossible to clean them well enough and return them to a serviceable state not to cause harm to the next patient. Hypodermic needles are one, wound dressings are another – these can never be rendered clean enough to use again – they are disposed of. Humans tainted by sin can never be made good enough to enter God’s presence. For this reason Jesus tells Nicodemus in John’s Gospel (chapter 3) that one had to be born again[3].

One error Christians have appropriated is that Christ’s work on the cross forgave all people. While his work was efficacious enough to forgive all people, people must accept his death through faith in order to be saved – salvation is not imposed on anyone. The prison guard that wanted to know how to be saved was not told by Paul – “don’t worry, Christ has saved you”, but rather: ‘they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household." ‘Acts 16:31 NKJV.

What does justification mean

Justification is an instantaneous event where the judge proclaims that the person is right before the law and is acquitted. In the case of God, He declares the sinner right before Him. Justification is not a process. We can do nothing to influence the Judge in making his decision – this would be perjury. And furthermore, it does not take place over a life-time. A judge of a law court declares the person is right “not guilty” and is acquitted, or found guilty and is condemned in a single word – “guilty”; from that point onward the person is either let free or placed in goal. Our own acceptance by God is not a process; indeed it does not include us at all. Paul states we are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24 NKJV). Note the following:

1. Redemption is in Christ Jesus – that is, the cost of it – for all sin needs to be paid for - is in Christ Jesus; the wounds of the crucifixion remain in Jesus Christ even today[4]. The outcome is that we, who were wicked, are made right i.e. righteous before God; “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5 NKJV).

2. Justification is a grace offered by God – it is undeserved merit. This brings us back to the axiom – a good God rewards sinners who believe. He “passes over” the sins we have committed: “because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed” (Romans 3:25 NKJV). (This is what Passover illustrates).

3. The action of justification wipes the record clean, past, present and future, and accredits to our account all the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Our own righteousness is like filthy rages (literally used menstrual clothes[5]); it is the righteousness of Christ that God sees in us. This is hard to comprehend – we all like to demonstrate that there is something in us, yet, when we are saved, it is not ‘us’ that God sees, but the righteousness of Christ.

On what Ground are we justified?

The ground on which we are justified is: “even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference” (Romans 3:22 NKJV). Jesus Christ bore the punishment for the sin and it is on that ground God can justify us. There is an evil notion abounding in churches today that God does away with sin and He takes no count of them. This is untrue and a grievous lie. God does not merely put our sins aside – sin must be paid for, and He paid for them by crucifying His one and only (beloved) son. Suggesting that God does not account for sin impugns Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. God does account for the sins of men and women by placing them upon Christ – who bore the full punishment for them. This is grace – someone else taking the punishment we deserve. It is also what redemption is – someone else pays for our sin so we can enter heaven with Christ with nothing owing. “[O]ur great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:13-14 NKJV). Christ takes the punishment for our sin, past, present and future, and leaves us free to enjoy communion with Our Heavenly Father.

Understanding the ground of our justification brings us into full realization the nature of the predicament of our sin – we were condemned already. This is every one’s starting position. Yet another apostasy promulgated is that we can somehow we start from a position of some good - good enough that God can work with to develop a man or woman He wants. This lie comes from those who only read John 3:16 and not the other verses that give the context of the need for re-birth: “"He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18 NKJV, my emphasis). Our starting position is condemnation, that is we have missed the target and we cannot make our way back – in the same way an arrow cannot make its way back to the target if it flies by it.

The ground of our justification is Christ Jesus in whom we need to believe. This means we are not condemned. In Greek means that we are “not judged” (οὐ κρίνεται) where krino is the act of distinguishing or deciding whether something is right or wrong.

By what instrument are we justified?

The instrument is faith. There is no automatic forgiveness – the gaoler as mentioned above was not told he was saved – but rather, he had to believe in Christ Jesus and he would be saved. Alistair Begg puts it this way – the faith required of the gaoler and any person seeking salvation is the ‘sitting down faith’. He illustrates this by showing the absurd: one might say ‘I have faith to sit on thin air’. Of course this is absurd – the law of gravity will always intervene and that one would end up on the floor. We can only sit if we have a solid chair and likewise we can only be justified if we have faith in Jesus Christ. Another false notion in churches of this day is that faith is a merit that God takes account and renders justification based upon it. This is untrue – faith itself is the instrument; the chair is the faith in the above illustration – it is not faith in faith that saves, that is, the merit of it, but faith that Jesus Christ has paid for my sins, and I am free to come to the Father. As the hymn writer wrote: “I came to Jesus as I was, Weary and worn and sad; I found in Him a resting place”[6].

I found the following hymn illustrative

Come, every soul by sin oppressed;
There’s mercy with the Lord,
And He will surely give you rest
By trusting in His Word.


Only trust Him, only trust Him,
Only trust Him now;
He will save you, He will save you,
He will save you now.

For Jesus shed His precious blood
Rich blessings to bestow;
Plunge now into the crimson flood
That washes white as snow.

Yes, Jesus is the truth, the way,
That leads you into rest;
Believe in Him without delay
And you are fully blessed.

Come, then, and join this holy band,
And on to glory go
To dwell in that celestial land
Where joys immortal flow.

O Jesus, blessèd Jesus, dear,
I’m coming now to Thee;
Since Thou hast made the way so clear
And full salvation free.

John H. Stockton 1869; refrain by Ira D. Sankey, 1873


[1] Perhaps in 1519 or 1520. What he learnt and how he published them has made the annuals if history> To publish his opinions on the matter of indulgences, Luther posted a set of ninety-five statements on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517.

[2] “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined.” Luke 5:37 NKJV

[3] Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit." John 3:5-8 NKJV

[4] Revelation 5:6

[5] But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away. Isaiah 64:6 NKJV

[6] Horatius Bonar (1846) “I heard the voice of Jesus say”


David L Simon (7 September 2014)
\Romans\Romans 3 v 21-26 The Righteousness of God