Exposition of Romans 4:6-8, Only God can offer total amnesty

One of our foundational documents, the Declaration of Independence, declares that we have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately, those things are not that easy to come by. Happiness in particular has proven elusive for many.

In the final analysis, happiness —blessedness in the language of our Scripture passage — only comes from God, and it is based on not having our sins counted against us. Are you blessed?

(ESV) Romans 4:6-8

just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 7 Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;
8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.

As we follow Pauls argument in support of justification by faith apart from works of the law, we should note that he relies on the interpretation of OT revelation to make his point. All sound theology is based primarily on biblical revelation, not unguided human opinion or even traditional interpretations of the Bible.

Paul is also sensitive to the traditions of those who are his Jewish theological opponents. Jewish scholars had certain techniques they used for interpreting the OT. One such technique consisted of first locating two verses which contained the same word and then interpreting each verse in light of the other. Paul has been using Genesis 15:6 and the Greek verb logizomai (reckon or calculate), and he clearly set out to find another verse containing logizomai that also mentions forgiveness of sins. He found what he wanted in Psalm 32:1-2a, which says:

(ESV) Psalm 32:1-2a Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,

Paul also scores another point — according to the methods of his time — for getting his primary reference from the Pentateuch (Genesis 15:6) and a secondary reference from the prophets and the writings (Psalm 32:1-2a).[1] In the bargain Paul adds the voice of David to the example of Abraham. To his Jewish contemporaries, this was very skillful argument!

Since we are studying Romans, you may wonder why I am telling you about Pauls methodology. The reason is that you will run into Bible passages where you may not understand why the author — here Paul — chooses the words that he does. You should take away the lesson that there is always a reason, even if we do not always know it. And you should recall that this letter was not written in the first instance to us, even though its principles may be applied to us.

In Romans 4:6-8, Paul demonstrates another reason that justification must be found apart from works; too many of our works are actually sins! Grant Osborne explains: The particular works mentioned in the psalm are transgressions and sins. Not only can they not produce righteousness; they must also be forgiven and covered. Thus the flip side of Gods crediting righteousness is Gods not crediting sin to ones account.[2]

Paul speaks of the negative acts in two ways (4:7): lawless deeds (Greek anomia) and sins (Greek hamartia). The first term, anomia, refers to those lawless things done by people who care nothing for what God wants; the noun means here the product of a lawless disposition, a lawless deed.[3] The second term, hamartia, deals with those people who are mindful of Gods standards but fail to meet them; the noun means here a departure from . . . divine standards of uprightness.[4]

When he speaks of how God deals with these different types of people and violations, Paul says God forgives the lawless deeds and covers the sins. The only way God can forgive lawless deeds is by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (3:23, NET). God has dealt with the sins by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood (Rom. 3:25). In Israel the blood of the atoning sacrifice was poured by the high priest on the mercy seat, which was on top of the Ark of the Covenant. Jesus is our mercy seat, and his death supplies the blood that covers our sins (Rom. 3:25). He resolved Gods wrath against us.

Because he has dealt with our sins through the death of Christ, we are blessed (4:8) because the Lord will not count (logizomai) our sins against us!

How to obtain happiness

The Bible reveals Gods thinking, so its conclusions do not agree with those defined by culture. The good news is that to be happy or blessed, you do not need to be rich, powerful, young, beautiful, educated, or born into the right nation or family. All blessedness comes from God! To be happy, relate to God through faith in Jesus Christ and then devote yourself to strengthening that relationship.

1. How does society deal with sins and lawless deeds? How effective are those methods and how do they compare to Gods methods?

2. Through Christ there is a way to be forgiven before God and to have a fruitful relationship. In what ways do we or do we not provide ways for forgiveness between ourselves and other family members or among our friends?

Since God and God alone is the source of both amnesty for our sins and happiness based on faith in his Son, what possible reason could lead someone to neglect the opportunity?

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 265.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 110.

[3] BDAG-3, anomia, lawless deeds, q.v.

[4] BDAG-3, hamartia, sin, q.v.

Exposition of Romans 3:23-25a, God freely gives what we need

Most of us have never been in a physical situation that was both dangerous and impossible to escape. One reason is that most people who got into such situations are no longer with us! Those who are with us were rescued.

Yet the Bible makes clear that all of humanity has been in a lethal spiritual situation that was impossible to escape. Only God could craft a way for us to get out, and forging that way took the death of Jesus. If you have the faith to use that way, you will live. If not, you will learn what wrath really means.

(ESV) Romans 3:23-25a

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

Romans 3:23 is familiar to many evangelical Christians as a frequent reference to the universal sinfulness of humanity, and that evaluation also covered all Christians prior to their believing in Jesus Christ (3:22). However, the clarity of the front half of the verse runs headlong into the obscurity of the second half. Thomas Schreiner says concerning the second half, “The phrase . . . (doxa tou theou, the glory of God) is ambiguous.”[1]

Though he prefers a different idea, C.E.B. Cranfield reluctantly admits, “Taken by itself, [the Greek phrase] he doxa tou theou could, of course, mean the approbation [approval] of God, as it does in John 12:43 (cf. John 5:44), and it is so understood here by some.”[2] I join John Calvin, the Protestant reformer, who said, “The glory of God I take to mean the approbation of God, as in John 12:43, where it is said, that they loved the glory of men more than the glory of God.”[3] Before we may share God’s glory, we must receive his approval, and Paul will shortly explain that must come through faith in Jesus Christ. The translation “approval of God” also works in Romans 5:2 as recognized by the standard Greek lexicon.[4]

In a way, humanity’s lack of approval by God is the mirror image of the lack of approval of God by men cited by Paul in Romans 1:21. Paul has already explained that the consequence of that rejection was that God gave them over to a mind incapable of making sound choices (1:28).

Most commentators advance a different idea about 3:23b. Douglas Moo expresses the general view taken by most: “Paul, then, is indicating that all people fail to exhibit that being-like-God for which they were created.”[5] According to this idea, Adam shared in divine glory before the fall (Genesis 3), although Genesis says nothing explicit about that.

(ESV) Rom. 2:24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

The second thing that is true of all (3:23) who put their faith in Jesus Christ (3:22b) is that they are justified (3:24), meaning declared righteous. That concept is qualified in two ways: (1) this justification occurs by his grace as a gift (3:24), and (2) this justification occurs through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (3:24). We will deal with these qualifications one at a time.

In the phrase “by his grace as a gift” (3:24), the italicized portion means that we received this freely. When Jesus sent out the twelve apostles, he told them, “Freely you received, freely give” (Matt. 10:8, NET). Paul has already said we all lacked God’s approval prior to trusting Christ, but God freely gave us a gift. Why? He did so by his grace, which is a favorable disposition toward us that results in an act of divine kindness. In fact, kindness is often a good synonym for grace. Moo says: “Grace is one of Paul’s most significant theological terms. He uses it typically not to describe a quality of God but the way in which God has acted in Christ.”[6]

Next we will consider the phrase through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (3:24), which is another qualification on the action of justification. The word translated “redemption” (Greek apolutrosis) means here, “release from a captive condition, release, redemption, deliverance.”[7] Schreiner tells us, “Secular Greek literature leaves no doubt that a price was involved for redemption.”[8] Since it is Christ who died for the sins of the world, it is clear why this deliverance is found in Christ Jesus (3:24) and nowhere else!

(ESV) Romans 3:25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

Romans 3:25 presents further information about Christ Jesus (3:24) by means of a relative clause introduced by whom. This clause says two things about Jesus: (1) God put him forward as a propitiation by his blood (3:25), and (2) this benefit from Christ’s blood sacrifice is received by faith (3:25).

The English word propitiation is not often heard these days outside of theological settings. The notes for the Holman Christian Standard Bible say: “The word propitiation has to do with the removal of divine wrath.” Jesus’ death is the means that turns God’s wrath from the sinner; see 2 Cor. 5:21. As we saw in Romans 1, some wrongly object to the idea of God’s wrath.

After saying that propitiation cannot be separated from divine wrath, Schreiner explains: “Romans 13 confirms this conclusion, for human sin provokes the revelation of God’s wrath (1:18), and the righteous judgment of God involves his wrath (2:5; 3:5-6). . . . God himself took the initiative to appease his own wrath.”[9] To appease God’s wrath, Jesus had to shed his blood in death for our sins (3:25).

As he does throughout Romans, Paul stresses our response to what God has done by saying it is to be received by faith (3:25).

The cost of grace

Those innocuous words “by his blood” (3:25) spell out the price of our deliverance: the death of Jesus Christ for our sins. Probably you have heard the old saying that salvation is free because Jesus already paid for it.

1. What do you think about the idea that God provided the means to resolve his own legitimate wrath against your sins?

2. How do you feel about having been redeemed from a spiritual trap you could never have escaped on your own?

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, 5 even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ by grace you are saved!” (Eph. 2:4-5, NET).

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 187.

[2] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 204.

[3] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, Trans. R. Mackenzie (Edinburgh, publisher unknown, 1961) 74.

[4] BDAG-3, doxa, honor (meaning 3), q.v.

[5] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 226.

[6] Moo, Romans, 228.

[7] BDAG-3, apolutrosis, deliverance, q.v.

[8] Schreiner, Romans, 189.

[9] Schreiner, Romans, 191.