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.