The Righteousness of God for All (Romans 3:21-31)

Main Idea: We did nothing to earn God's righteousness, yet He gives Himself to us.


Maybe I’m weird, but there’s a small part of me that kind of misses being a kid and going to school and getting grades. Anybody else like that? At school, you could always expect to get a grade based on your performance. And even though that led to a lot of anxiety, and I’m definitely glad I don’t have to do that anymore, there was a certain kind of security in knowing what you could expect. Whether you got good grades or bad grades, it was, in a way, comforting to know that your grade at school was directly linked to your performance at school.

So our teachers told us, “Put in the effort, and you’ll do well.” “Try hard, and you’ll succeed.” “Work harder, push yourself, never give up, and you can make something of yourself.” And that’s generally good advice. But I wonder if by constantly giving this kind of advice, we’re setting up our children to think that the goal in life is worldly success, and feel like failures when they don’t achieve it.

Because I knew a lot of kids who tried really, really hard in school, much harder than me, only to get failing grades. And I bet you know many people today who just don’t seem to catch a break, and no matter how much good they do, they just barely keep their heads above water. Maybe you’ve felt that way. I know I have.

When we feel that way, we’re often tempted to blame others, or blame the system. And certainly there’s enough blame to go around, but I wonder if by blaming others, we’re still grasping to hold onto this system of performance-based grades, and performance-based success, when it’s that very system that’s keeping us from enjoying and being truly productive in life.

Now, I’m not suggesting that schools don’t give grades. I’m only suggesting that maybe when it comes to life and faith, God desires that we look less at our own performance, and more at His.

Romans 3:21.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3:21?-?25)

Father, help us to trust not in our righteousness, but in Yours, given to us as a gift. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

The children in our church made this video a few years back. You might recognize a few of the kids.

[Video of The Greatest Hitter in the World]

It’s really crazy how much of our lives we spend trying to prove ourselves. We try to prove ourselves to others, that we’re worthy of their friendship. We try to prove ourselves to God, that we’re worthy of heaven. And I don’t know about you, but I often even try to prove myself to myself, that I’m living a good and decent life.

I really can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about how unworthy I am to be your pastor. If you’ve ever wished that you had a better pastor, just know that I’ve also wished you had a better pastor far more, with far more tears.

But this whole system of trying to prove ourselves is flawed. It’s funny how even while trying to prove ourselves good, we condemn others for being bad, even though we ourselves do the same things. So in judging others, we condemn ourselves. We saw that back in Romans 2.

So we all know it’s important to do good, yet kind of impossible to do enough good.

It’s kind of like trying to plan the perfect schedule. About 10 years ago, I was obsessed with trying to meticulously plan my time. I’d schedule time for exercise, and work, and even play. And for a while, I even did a good job keeping to the schedule. I think I was able to maintain this rigorous schedule for like 10 whole minutes!

We all know the good that we want to do, but it’s really hard to do it.

For several weeks leading up today, we’ve been focusing on how we can’t possibly earn forgiveness from God. We can’t justify ourselves before God. All people of all nations are rightly condemned by God because none of us are righteous. All Jews have sinned, and all Gentiles have sinned. That’s all people.

Our knee jerk reaction to this kind of news is to try harder. We think, “Ok, I’ve messed up, but I can make this right. Just tell me what I need to do!”

So God gave us the law. The Old Testament law tells us what we need to do. It’s like this perfect schedule that we just need to put into practice. But the Old Testament also proves that we’re incapable of keeping the law. We try to be righteous by obeying God’s law, but we fail. We try to keep the rigorous schedule, but 10 minutes later, we already have to commit to it all over again. And to make matters worse, Jesus made it clear that fulfilling the law isn’t just about outward obedience, but it’s a matter of the heart.

Matthew 5:21.

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:21-22)

Verse 27.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Matthew 5:27-30)

And Jesus’s half brother, James, wrote this:

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. (James 2:10-11)

So unless you’ve never had a sinful thought, the law can’t justify you. You can’t go to heaven by being a good student, or a productive citizen, or even by living like a good Christian. The work of our hands can’t make us righteous; we need a Savior to make us righteous.

Now, don’t take this analogy too far, but it’s kind of like trying to lift too much weight at the gym.

[Picture of Someone on the Bench Press]

I don’t lift, but from my one weight lifting class in high school, I learned that it’s important to always have a spotter when you bench press, especially when you’re not 100% confident that you can lift it safely. Why is that? Yeah, because if you try to lift more than you can actually lift, you can get seriously hurt, or even killed. So the spotter is there to save you when you need help.

The same is true in life. But when it comes to living righteously, we’re all trying to lift way more than we’re able to lift. You see, it’s good to strive for righteousness, but we just can’t do it on our own.

So, seeing us in our flawed condition, God had a choice. He could allow us to perish and go to hell forever, or He could do something about it. And God loves us so much that He was not willing for any to perish, but that all would reach repentance.

Romans 3:21.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. (Romans 3:21-22a)

So Scripture teaches that we did nothing to earn God’s forgiveness, yet He gives it to us anyway. We did nothing to earn God’s righteousness, yet He gives Himself to us. Righteousness doesn’t come through obeying laws, but through faith in Jesus.

I read this story online, and I have no way of knowing if it’s true or not, but it does help us to understand a little bit about faith.

There was a letter found in a baking-power can wired to the handle of an old pump that offered the only hope of drinking water on a very long and seldom-used trail across Nevada’s Amargosa Desert:

[Picture of Desert Water Pump]

This is what the letter said:

“This pump is all right as of June 1932. I put a new sucker washer into it and it ought to last five years. But the washer dries out and the pump has got to be primed. Under the white rock I buried a bottle of water, out of the sun and cork end up. There’s enough water in it to prime the pump, but not if you drink some first. Pour about one-fourth and let her soak to wet the leather. Then pour in the rest medium fast and pump like crazy. You’ll git water. The well has never run dry. Have faith. When you git watered up, fill the bottle and put it back like you found it for the next feller. (signed) Desert Pete. P.S. Don’t go drinking the water first. Prime the pump with it and you’ll git all you can hold.”

You see, faith in Jesus is simply trusting God to do for us what we’re tempted to think we can do for ourselves faster and better. We can’t make ourselves righteous. Only God can do that. We can’t take heaven for ourselves, only God can give it to us.

And God gives this same gift to everyone. He doesn’t show favoritism. Jesus didn’t just come to save one small group of people, but all people. He said in Luke 19:10 that:

the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. (Luke 19:10)

And without Jesus, we’re all lost. So no matter who you are, Jesus came for you.

Back to Romans. Starting at the end of 22, it says:

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift (Romans 3:22b-24a)

I’m sure most of us are familiar with verse 23. It’s the first verse in what we call the Romans Road to salvation. It simply shows that we’re all in need of salvation, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But have you ever noticed what comes immediately after verse 23? Verse 24. Let me read it again.

all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift (Romans 3:23-24a)

Notice the progression of thought here. We sin, but Jesus saves. That’s the gospel. We sin, but Jesus saves. You see, the very ones who sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God are the very same ones who are justified by His grace as a gift. The very ones who deserve to be shown God’s wrath are given God’s righteousness.

It’s a gift. There’s nothing we need to do to earn it, because there’s nothing we can do to earn it. A gift is totally free!

Jimmy Donnelson is a popular YouTuber who goes by the name MrBeast. One of the things his channel is best known for is simply giving things away. One of the best examples of this was how in 2019, he heard about a man named Bobby Brown who had gotten hit by a car, spent several weeks in the hospital, and because of all that, he lost his job and was about to be evicted from his home. So when Jimmy heard about all that, he found Bobby and gave him a gift.

[Video of MrBeast giving Bobby a home]

Bobby couldn’t pay Jimmy back, and Bobby didn’t do anything to earn it in any way. It was a gift, and gifts are totally free.

And in reality, we’re in so much more need than Bobby was. We were all on the path to hell because of our sin, and there’s nothing we could do about it. So since we couldn’t earn salvation for ourselves, and because God loves us, God gives us salvation as a gift, and gifts are totally free.

Starting at the end of verse 24, Paul writes how we receive that gift.

through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3:24b-25a)

Propitiation is one of those big church words that confuse a lot of people, but it basically just means a sacrifice to God. Jesus sacrificed His life for us so that we would be forgiven. He allowed His blood to be shed so that we wouldn’t need our own blood to be shed for our sins. Jesus paid it all, and we receive forgiveness through simply believing in Him.

When Bobby Brown was given a home to live in as a gift, he had a choice to make. Would he believe that the gift was really his, or would he walk back out the door, refusing to accept the gift? Faith in Christ is the same way. Jesus died on the cross for your sins! He paid the price for your sins! But will you believe it? Will you put your faith in Jesus, trusting in Him alone?

We’re going to close this morning by briefly looking at the remainder of chapter 3, which answers the question, why is salvation by grace through faith alone?

Continue reading verse 25.

This was 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. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one 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 and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:25b-31)

We’ve talked before about how our inability to obey the law doesn’t nullify the system. But when Jesus paid the price for our sin, by doing so, He actually fulfilled and upheld the Old Testament law. He was righteous, but He died for our unrighteousness. So when we have faith in Jesus, we’re made righteous through His perfect obedience to the Father.

So in all of this, God is shown to be righteous because He alone can justify us, because He alone is just. So none of us have any grounds for boasting about how awesome we are. It doesn’t matter how you were raised, or how perfect your momma said you are, or how many A’s you got in school. We’ve all sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by His grace alone.

And it’s for all who believe.

All of life, we strive to become the greatest hitter in the world, and sometimes we convince ourselves that we are, but God’s message to us is to stop striving, and start resting in Him. Jesus makes us righteous not by works, but through faith.

Pastor Chris Huff

Pastor Chris Huff has been with us since July 2009.  He and his wife, Abby, have four children.  Chris is originally from St. Louis, MO and even though he was raised as a city boy, he has a small town heart. Chris is all over the internet, so you can find him on Facebook, Twitter,… (read more)

Bible Passages: Romans 3:21-31
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