Calvary Road Baptist Church


Romans 3.21-22a


Have you ever purchased anything without really checking it out? That is, have you ever acquired something that is really necessary, but when you acquired it you discovered after you had obtained it that you really didn’t fully appreciate what you’d received?

I remember when I graduated from engineering school at Oregon State University in 1973. Having decided between designing satellites for Hughes Aircraft Company and designing transmissions for Ford Motor Company, I felt compelled to buy a brand new car. I thought at that time, and really still feel the same way but for different reasons, that what you drive is far more important than where you live. You see, you can sleep in your car, but you can’t drive your house or apartment to work. Of course, in some cities public transportation is adequate, but in rural America, you have no job if you have no means of private transportation.

And now that I am a Christian I am of the opinion that having reliable transportation is far more important than living in a comfortable home, because you simply cannot effectively serve God without reliable transportation unless you are in a city with a well-developed public transportation system, but you can serve God without living in a nice house or apartment. You can’t go on visitation, you can’t get to and from Church, you can’t bring other people to Church, you can’t get to work, you are dependent on the whims and fancies of others to get you from place to place so you can do God’s will unless you have a motor vehicle. All of these things you cannot do without reliable transportation, but which you can do while living in a crummy house. And how do I know? Because I have lived in crummy houses.

But I was talking about buying a new car. I went out and looked for a while, and then I found the car I wanted, the car that met my needs, the car that I was satisfied with, and I bought it. And about two or three days after I bought it I set out for smoggy Los Angeles in April of 1973. As I drove South on Interstate 5, I encountered rain near Sacramento. So I turned the windshield wipers on, and they made one swipe of the windshield and stopped. “Broken already? What’s going on?” I turned them off and turned them on again. Same thing. One swipe. Boy, was I upset. A brand new car with broken windshield wipers. Down the highway, I went turning the wipers on and off, on and off, on and off. Then I got tired and left them on. And guess what happened? After thirty seconds they cycled. Then after another thirty seconds, they cycled again. That’s how I was introduced to my new interval windshield wipers. I had come to possess an automobile that was more than I had bargained for. My new Ford LTD was in that way, and in some other ways I was later to find out, better than I had known when I obtained it. Sometimes God blesses you in that way.

Do you realize that the same kind of thing is true of salvation? When you come to know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, assuming you’re a Christian this evening, you know some things about this reality called justification, this thing called becoming right with God, this reception of Jesus Christ and the gift of eternal life which is in Him. But you never know everything, and you never know even enough, until after you have become a Christian and you begin to learn what this blessed thing is that you have acquired by the grace of God. Part of what Paul accomplishes in his letter to the Christians in Rome is informing them that what they had acquired was actually better than what they thought they were getting when they came to know Christ.

Paul has already, in Romans 1.18-3.20, rehearsed to the Roman Christians their need, as well as everyone else’s need, to be justified, or, to put it another way, to become righteous in the sight of God. Beginning in Romans 3.21 and going all the way through Romans chapter 8, Paul, in an incredibly thorough fashion, explains to his readers the nature of justification. His readers, remember, were already Christians. But they were somewhat like a young college graduate who had come to possess a new car that had features and qualities beyond his expectation. And rather than sit back and allow his readers to discover the various features of justification, Paul is moved by the Holy Spirit of God to explain the features of justification.

As Paul begins dealing with the nature of this thing called justification, he focuses, first, on justification’s most important feature, faith. Indeed, Romans 3.21-31 is given over entirely to an explanation of this thing called faith, which is so vitally connected to righteousness or being right in the sight of God. In this message from God’s Word, as we look at Romans 3.21-22a, we notice that this thing called righteousness, which is what you get when you have been justified in the sight of God, this righteousness has been predicted in times past to be a righteousness which is appropriated by faith.

Having been already taught that works, even works of the Law, is not sufficient to make any sinner righteous in the sight of God, Paul now shows us what role faith plays in making sinners righteous in the sight of God. I invite you to stand, please, for the reading of God’s Word: 

21    But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;

22    Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ 

It is critically important to Paul’s explanation of how sinful man becomes right with God that he shows his readers that what he teaches, preaches, and stands for isn’t anything new and unexpected. What Paul proclaims is something that is as old as the Old Testament.

With that in mind, notice first the character of this righteousness which is by faith that was predicted, and then the communication of this righteousness which is by faith that was predicted. 


Verse 21 commences, “But now.” “But now” is Paul’s way of showing us that he is changing gears. He showed us the need for justification. Now he deals with the nature of justification by explaining to us the character of this righteousness he is talking about that is different than the righteousness which people think comes by doing works of the Law.

The character of this righteousness is seen in its designation: 

“But now the righteousness of God without the Law.” 

I stated a few moments ago that these next 11 verses in Paul’s letter deal primarily with the subject of faith. But what Paul is doing here is designating the kind of righteousness which this faith, that he is talking about, acquires for the believer. In English his designation is “the righteousness of God without the Law,” but the word order in Greek is the “without Law righteousness of God.” Think if you will think of two kinds of the righteousness of God. There is the “by works of the Law righteousness of God” and the “without Law righteousness of God.” We have already seen that the first kind is unattainable by sinners. It is completely beyond our reach to obtain the righteousness of God which is obtained by works of the Law. What Paul is about to show us is that the “righteousness of God without the Law” is also beyond our reach, but that it is attainable by faith.

“Who ever heard of such a thing, Paul? What new thing are you trying to spring on us?” Even in our day people will very commonly and predictably attack some thought or idea because it is perceived as being new. “Who ever heard of such a thing?” It is called the Semmelweis-reflex.[1] The label “Semmelweis-reflex” was coined to describe the automatic rejection of ideas without giving the slightest thought, inspection, or experiment, simply because it challenges entrenched paradigms. Claiming that hand washing would save lives, a doctor named Ignaz Semmelweis faced ridicule and strong opposition from medical colleagues back in the day. To be sure, the Semmelweis-reflex existed long before that name was attached to it. And if Paul’s enemies could prove that his Gospel was new no one would believe it. After all, why would God, Who has dealt with man for thousands of years, suddenly devise a new way for sinful men to become right with Him? So you can see how important it is for Paul to establish that this “righteousness of God without the Law” is not some new thing. To that end he points out that this “righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets.” Dividing the Old Testament into that part which was written by Moses, the Pentateuch, and that part which was written by the prophets, which was the other 34 books, Paul claims that both sections of the Old Testament predict this “righteousness of God without the Law.” Do both sections make such a prediction? Consider but two examples, first with respect to the Pentateuch:

Genesis 15.1-6:     1  After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I

1  After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.

2  And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?

3  And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.

4  And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.

5  And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.

6  And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness. 

Does this episode in Abram’s life not occur before the Law was given to Israel? It does, by four centuries. Therefore, we have righteousness without the Law, don’t we? And Genesis is obviously in the Pentateuch. We now consider the prophets, specifically the book of Isaiah: 

Isaiah 53.11:  “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.” 

In this, the greatest of the prophetical books, in this chapter predicting the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, we have those with iniquities being justified. And it’s not the consequence of doing works of the Law, but the direct consequence of Jesus Christ, God’s “righteous servant,” Israel’s Messiah, bearing their iniquities. That is the “righteousness of God without the Law.” So, we see in its revelation, in both the Pentateuch of Moses and the prophetical portion of the Old Testament, that the “righteousness of God without the Law” is not something new. It has always been a part of God’s plan for sinners getting right with God. 


How is this kind of righteousness imparted? That is, since the “by works of the law righteousness of God” is unattainable, how in the world does the sinner acquire this kind of righteousness which was predicted in the Old Testament so that he might have standing before God? By means of faith. See? Now Paul gets to his subject for the rest of the chapter. There are two sides of this thing called faith:

First, we read, “even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ.” “Here for the first time in the epistle Christ is explicitly referred to as the object of faith.”[2] Thus, it is clear that faith in God is necessary but not sufficient to be justified. One must have faith in Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the living God. This righteousness of God which is without the Law turns out to be “the righteousness of God which is by faith.” See how faith and Law are mutually exclusive? And beyond that, notice that it is “by faith of Jesus Christ.” And just what is the “faith of Jesus Christ?” Is it faith that Jesus Christ has in another, in God? Is it faith that comes from Jesus Christ and is given to the sinner? Or is it faith that, specifically, has Jesus Christ as its object? Faith in Jesus Christ. It just so happens that Greek syntax allows for each of these three interpretations, so we must turn elsewhere for a clue about the meaning. Since faith is the “evidence of things not seen,” Hebrews 11.1, and since Biblical faith is the confidence that the sinner has in God, option number one can be ruled out. The “faith of Jesus Christ” in this verse is not the trust that Jesus Christ has in another. Jesus Christ is not a sinner that He needs to trust another. Amen? That means the other two options are possible. The “faith of Jesus Christ” is either faith that comes from Jesus Christ, which Ephesians 2.8-9 and Romans 10.17 certainly allows for, or it is faith placed in Jesus Christ, as Ephesians 1.13 allows for, and I think is the meaning here. Read these three passages with me so we can fix the meaning of the phrase before us in our thinking: 

Ephesians 2.8-9:

8  For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

9  Not of works, lest any man should boast. 

Romans 10.17:

“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” 

Ephesians 1.13:

“In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise.” 

Ephesians 1.13 best describes, in my opinion, what Paul refers to when he writes “faith of Jesus Christ.” I think it refers to faith in the person of Jesus Christ.

Next, we read, “unto all and upon all them that believe.” Here we are told by Paul that this “righteousness of God without the Law” either comes via faith that Jesus Christ gives to the sinner, or that it comes via faith that is placed in Jesus Christ, on one side of the coin. That’s the Lord Jesus side of the coin. But on the other side of the coin is the believer. Do you want the righteousness of God? You know that you cannot obtain it by works of the Law. But it seems that folks who are believers, “them that believe,” are those of us who have either received faith from Jesus Christ or who have placed our faith in Jesus Christ, and have this righteousness. The “unto all and upon all” are those, you and me, who believe in Christ. 

Imagine yourself a Christian in the city of Rome. When you heard the Gospel message that you were a sinner, and in need of a Savior you were convicted by the Holy Spirit and drawn to Jesus Christ. But after you trusted Christ to the saving of your sinful soul you “realized” that you had left the faith of your fathers and departed from the historical faith of the Bible. Or so you thought. You’re still committed to Jesus Christ as the Son of God risen from the dead Who forgave you of your sins and imparted to you a new life. But you’re saddened a bit that you have left the faith so familiar to you, the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Then comes Paul’s letter showing you beyond doubt that your faith is the faith of your fathers. You haven’t departed from that which was given to Abraham. Those who rejected Jesus Christ have. Those who insist on adherence to the Law of Moses as a means of being righteous in the sight of God have. Not you. This Christianity thing was good when you trusted Christ. Freedom from guilt. Peace in your heart from sins forgiven. Love for your fellow man. But this stuff Paul comes along with is icing on the cake. As great as salvation was thought to be when you were first saved, it is shown to be even better in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Far from being some new kid on the block, this righteousness of God without the Law is the righteousness that was spoken of throughout the Old Testament, and is the righteousness which any man can have through faith in Jesus Christ.

Isn’t that great for us, brothers and sisters? It sure is. But my unsaved friend, it’s also great for you. You see, this righteousness is apart from the Law. You don’t get this righteousness by doing good things. You get it only through the avenue of faith.

“But I don’t have faith.” That’s an obstacle easy to overcome. The Lord Jesus Christ has plenty to give to sinners. He gave me what I have. And He’ll give you what you need.

Surely you recognize the need to be saved. Recognize also the nature of this salvation He provides. It is acquired only by faith in Jesus Christ, the only Savior of sinful men’s souls.



[2] C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistle To The Romans, Volume I (ICC), (Edinburgh: T & T Clark Limited, 1975), page 222.

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