God’s plan of salvation
21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. (Romans 3:21-25 NIV)
For us to understand these verses properly I want to spell out the meaning of a few vitally important words. Righteousness. Sin. Justification. Redemption. Sacrifice of atonement.
Righteousness – how can we be right with God?
21 But now God’s way of putting people right with himself has been revealed. It has nothing to do with law, even though the Law of Moses and the prophets gave their witness to it. 22God puts people right through their faith in Jesus Christ. (Good News Bible)
By nature we are not right with God – we are separated from God. By themselves human beings can never become righteous. But Paul talks here about a righteousness from God. It is not a righteousness which anybody can earn or deserve. It does not come by obeying the Jewish Law or any other set of rules. It is not something anybody can achieve by human effort. This righteousness before God, a right relationship with God, is God’s gift to all who put their trust in Jesus Christ.
The reason we are not righteous, and could never become righteous, is what we have looked at in previous weeks. The problem of sin.
Humanity’s problem – sin
Romans 3:10 As it is written: “There is no-one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no-one who understands, no-one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no-one who does good, not even one.”
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (NIV)
Sin brings on God’s anger and leads to God’s judgment. Sin deserves to be punished! Sin separates us from God – spiritual death and sin also leads to physical death. How much can I get away with and still get into heaven? Absolutely nothing!
God’s solution – justification
24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (NIV)
24But by the free gift of God’s grace all are put right with him through Christ Jesus, who sets them free. (Good News Bible)
The English word the New International Version uses for this process of being made righteous is Justification. It simply means “being made just” or being made righteous. When we are justified God makes it “just as if I’d” never sinned. All are sinners. Everybody faces God’s judgment. But those who put their faith in Jesus Christ are declared righteous by God. Their sins are wiped away.
So here is the good news! God brings us into a right relationship with Himself. And He does so by his grace. It is a free gift we can never earn or deserve. GRACE – God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense. That is the “redemption which came by Christ Jesus,” the freedom which Jesus has provided for us.
And God sets us free Through Christ’s death on the cross
25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. (NIV)
25 God sent him to die in our place to take away our sins. We receive forgiveness through faith in the blood of Jesus’ death. (New Century Version)
25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. (New Living Translation.)
Jesus’s death was a sacrifice of atonement. Atonement could be rewritten “at one ment”. Jesus’s death brings us back to God and makes us one with God again. All we need to do, indeed all we CAN do, is receive by faith what Christ’s death in our place has bought for us.
25 We receive forgiveness through faith in the blood of Jesus’ death. (New Century Version)
25 People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. (New Living Translation.)
It’s all about faith, as Paul said from the beginning of this letter to the Romans.
16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
Salvation is for those who believe. It is the gift of righteousness received by faith, because “the righteous will live by faith.
We are saved by faith – but what does this saving faith mean? If we want to understand how being saved by faith works out, Paul says in Romans 4, we need to look at the life of Abraham.
Saved by faith, not by works
4 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
NOT saved by a life of good deeds, earning heavenly brownie points. We can NEVER be good enough for God.
4 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. 5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.
Salvation is NEVER by good works. It can never be earned or deserved, only gratefully received. It is all the gift of God’s grace, God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.
6 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
7 “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.
8 Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.”
Saved by faith, not by rituals
9 Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. 10 Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! 11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. 12 And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
The Jews of Jesus’s time were making a big mistake. They were thinking that God would love them and forgive their sins just because they were Abraham’s descendants and had gone through the ritual of circumcision. But Paul is saying that circumcision was a sign of the gift of righteousness which FOLLOWED AFTER Abraham’s faith, and did not COME BEFORE his faith.
In the same way Christian rituals are only outward signs of an inward reality, which FOLLOW faith and certainly do not replace it. We are saved by FAITH, not by an act of thanksgiving and dedication of a child, not by believer’s baptism, not by confirmation or church membership. We are saved by FAITH alone.
Saved by faith, not by obeying the law
Romans 3: 27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
Romans 4: 13 It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, 15 because law brings wrath.
We are saved by faith, not by obeying rules, not by obeying the Jewish Law, not by obeying the 10 commandments. We live according to God’s rules, not to earn our salvation but to express our gratitude for all God has done for us! Nobody can be saved by keeping the rules because nobody lives up to God’s perfect standards. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. There is none who is righteous, no not one!
“God our Father has made all things depend on faith so that whoever has faith will have everything, and whoever does not have faith will have nothing.” Martin Luther
So what does it mean to have saving faith?
Saving faith is believing God for the impossible!
16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.
18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.”
The example of faith which Paul points to is Abraham and Sarah trusting God for the conception and birth of their son and heir, Isaac. Despite both being so old and Sarah unable to have children, they believed God’s promise and so Abraham did indeed become the father of many nations with the miraculous birth of Isaac. In the same way we Christians put our trust in God’s promises, and rely on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to bring us forgiveness and eternal life.
22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” 23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.
So let us be clear what saving faith is like. The great reformation theologian John Calvin said,
We are saved by faith alone – but saving faith is never alone
Faith is not just having the right intellectual answers to theological questions. As the life of Abraham shows us, faith is expressed in actions. Abraham’s obedience at the age of 80 in leaving his home in Ur of the Chaldees to go to the land God promised him. Abraham’s faith in trusting God for an heir. His obedience in being prepared even to sacrifice that heir Isaac on Mount Moriah if God had commanded it.
James 2: 20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
“Throughout Abraham’s life God was continually giving new glimpses into His own glorious nature. With every temptation, call to obedience, or demand for sacrifice, a new and deeper revelation was entwined. This fed his faith, and gave it unstaggering strength.”
Faith is much more than intellectual assent. It is practical obedience – stepping out into the unknown and trusting that God will keep His promises.
Corrie Ten Boom “FORSAKING ALL I TAKE HIM”
PBT: “FACTS lead to ACTIONS when I TRUST in my HEART”
We don’t just need ORTHODOXY – right thinking. We also need ORTHOPRAXIS – right living! When we look for somebody to respond to the gospel we are not just listening for what they say they believe, but also looking to see that they live out their faith in practice.
James 1:22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
James 2:14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
True faith will ALWAYS express itself in actions!
“Faith alone saves, but saving faith is never alone. It is always accompanied by great sacrifices for Christ’s sake.” –Richard Wurmbrand.
So we are saved by our faith. NOT by good works. Not by observing rituals. NOT by obeying commandments, but by stepping out and trusting God for the impossible. One final story, suitable for these snowy days.
When a traveller in the early days of the wild west, came to the Mississippi river, he discovered there was no bridge. Fortunately it was winter and the great river was sheeted over with ice. But the traveller was afraid to trust himself to it, not knowing how thick it was. Finally with infinite caution, he crept on his hands and knees and managed to get halfway over. And then he heard a remarkable noise from behind him. Cautiously he turned, and there, out of the dusk, came another traveller, driving a coach and four horses with a great load of coal over the ice, singing as he went!
We are saved by faith alone – but saving faith is never alone.