Exposition of Romans 3:21-22, Christ made righteousness possible; we believe.

Mount Everest is a cruel place. Hundreds come every year to try their luck against the savage winds, the 29,030 foot altitude, and low temperatures. But worst of all is the death zone, those levels above 23,000 feet where the body cannot adjust. Once you enter the death zone, your body begins to shut down, and the time remaining is unknown, yet the summit juts a mile above you. So, you must keep moving in spite of exhaustion, pain, or adversity.

One survivor put it this way: “The only way to describe it is an utter exhaustion. You really don’t care if you die or if you just sit down and don’t go any further.”[1] If you sit down, you must get up — or die. No one can take you to safety.

The Bible explains that every one of us start out life in a spiritual death-zone, and time is running out. We all fall there and cannot get up. What then?

(NET) Romans 3:21-22

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed 22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, [verse break]

After his long presentation of humanitys universal guilt before God (1:18-3:20), Paul now returns to his theme from 1:17 — the unveiling of a righteousness from God that is entirely by faith.

In order to explain this passage, we will repeat something stated in previous posts. The first phrase — “the righteousness of God” — presents issues typical of Romans. That little word “of” can mean so many things! Of course, the difficulty actually goes back to the underlying Greek text. The Greek text has the phrase dikaiosune [righteousness] theou [of God], where the final noun is in the genitive case. Since the Greek genitive is a descriptive or limiting case as to kind[2], we are roughly speaking here of a God-kind-of-righteousness. In context, that righteousness contrasts with a man-kind-of-righteousness such as that practiced by the Jews, who were trying to get to heaven by keeping the law.

But how exactly does God relate to this righteousness? And what does this righteousness have to do with us? Douglas Moo gets to the point: “For Paul, as in the OT, righteousness of God is a relational concept. . . . We can define it as the act by which God brings people into right relationship with himself.”[3] The beauty of this definition is that it combines the saving action of God with the resulting status we have in his sight. Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are acquitted before God by his saving action. In other words, through faith in Jesus Christ, we receive the righteousness of God.

However, Paul has advanced his argument beyond what he said in 1:17 by adding the phrases “apart from the law” and “which is attested by the law and the prophets” (3:21). He has just demonstrated that no one will be justified by works of the law (3:20), and yet God demands righteousness of his people.

Before we leave 3:21, we will consider some important facts about how Paul presents his statements. First, note carefully the use of the phrase “but now.” Moo correctly says: “‘But now’ God has intervened to inaugurate a new era, and all who respond in faith — not only after the cross, but, as Rom. 4 will show, before it also — will be transferred into it from the old era.”[4] We got our first big clue about this new era in 1:4, where we learned that Jesus “was appointed Son-of-God-in-power according to the Holy Spirit by the resurrection from the dead” (NET).

Theologian Herman Ridderbos speaks about these two eras when commenting on 2 Cor. 5:17, “The old things stand for the unredeemed world in its distress and sin [Rom. 1:18-3:20], the new things for the time of salvation and the re-creation that have dawned with Christ’s resurrection.”[5]

The second thing to observe about how Paul presents his facts in 3:21 is his use of the Greek perfect tense, translated “the righteousness of God . . . has been disclosed.” After saying that the choice of the perfect tense is often deliberate, Wallace approvingly quotes M. Zerwick when he says, “The perfect tense is used for indicating not the past action as such but the present state of affairs resulting from the past action.”[6] The present state of affairs is that the righteousness of God stands in plain sight as a result of the past action of Christ in dying and rising from the dead.

As we enter 3:22, we encounter an interesting debate, although the outcome is not theologically significant no matter which view is right. On the one hand, we have the traditional translation of 3:22a given by the ESV: “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” With that we compare the alternative translation of 3:22a presented by NET: “the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe.”

The key question is whether,in the italicized phrase alone, Jesus is the object of faith (ESV’s translation faith in Jesus Christ) or Jesus is the one whose subjective faithfulness is meant (NET’s translation the faithfulness of Jesus Christ). Note very carefully that both translations end with the necessity of our own faith in securing God’s righteousness (for all who believe), and the decision on the disputed matter does not alter the necessity of our faith in Jesus for salvation.

I join grammarian Daniel Wallace, who, after a long analysis, says, ‘Although the issue is not to be resolved via grammar, on balance grammatical considerations seem to be in favor of [the NET Bible’s translation]”.[7] Many thoughtful authorities fall on each side.

In the final analysis, our salvation depends on Christ’s obedient death followed by his resurrection to become the Son-of God-in-power. When we put our faith in him, we obtain righteous standing before God.

In the zone

Jesus has been to the spiritual death-zone. He died there and rose again so that he might lift us up and take us to safety — as many of us as are willing to trust in his help.

1. How long did you spend in the spiritual death-zone, apart from Christ? What did it take for you to take his help and get out?

2. Who do you know who is still in the spiritual death-zone? What can you do to get them the only help -- Jesus Christ?

“Because God’s children are human beings — made of flesh and blood — the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death.” (Heb. 2:14, NLT).

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


[1] Everest: The Death Zone. Nova. PBS. 02-24-1998.

[2] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 76-77.

[3] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 74.

[4] Moo, Romans, 221.

[5] Herman Ridderbos, Paul, Trans. John Richard De Witt (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975) 45.

[6] Wallace, Greek Grammar, 573, citing M. Zerwick, Biblical Greek Illustrated by Examples (Rome: Pontificii Instituti Biblici, 1963) 96.

[7] Wallace, Greek Grammar, 116.

Exposition of Romans 3:20, The law reveals sin, not righteousness

Trying to get to heaven by keeping the law is like trying to get to Honolulu from Los Angeles by driving an automobile. There is a small problem called the Pacific Ocean!

The purpose of using the automobile in the analogy above is to focus attention on the immensity of the Pacific Ocean. Hold that thought!

(ESV) Romans 3:20

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

The law is like the automobile in the introduction; the Pacific Ocean is like our sin. Trying to get to heaven by keeping the law, we run into the immensity of our sin. As much as I like this analogy, it makes Honolulu equal to heaven, so dont go there! (Smile)

Moo summarizes the position taken by a majority of commentators: [They] viewed works of the law as a subset of the larger category good works; and they understood this verse, and others like it, to be refuting the idea that a person could gain a right standing with God by anything that the person did.[1] Upholding this position was one of the biggest contributions made by the Protestant Reformation in contrast to the Roman Catholic position that mixes works with grace in salvation. Both groups — Protestants and Roman Catholics — still adhere to their respective views.

The final clause of 3:20 — since through the law comes knowledge of sin — reveals something very important about the Law of Moses. The purpose of the law was not to provide a means of salvation; rather, the law was given to sensitize Israel to its need for Gods mercy and grace.

The Greek noun epignosis, translated knowledge in 3:20, means knowledge, recognition.[2] Notice the second meaning; the law gave Israel recognition of their human sinfulness. In that way they attained the knowledge of the inner problem that should have driven them into the merciful hands of God. Moo says, What is meant is that the law gives to people an understanding of sin (singular) as a power that holds everyone in bondage and brings guilt and condemnation.[3]

The law was never designed to produce righteousness. Instead, God intended that it point out our sin and thus point the way to his grace.

By sea or by air: that is the question.

By Gods grace, you get to make a choice. If you decide to follow the wide road that leads to destruction — trying to earn your way to heaven by more good deeds than bad ones — your short drive toward heaven will end just off Los Angeles, and we will pull your dripping car from beneath the surf.

If you want to take the narrow way that leads to life — trying to get to heaven by grace through faith — the next section of Romans will explain how to board the one flight that will soar over all your sin and take you there.

1. What life experiences lead us to think that all our goals including heaven can be reached by self-effort? What is the relationship between the American ideal of the self-made person and the idea of making our own way to God?

2. What types of wishful thinking are involved in thinking we define the terms God should find acceptable? Who has the last word in this scenario?

When you think about it, the Old Testament is extremely helpful in showing how certain get-to-heaven strategies work out. It shows that God selected the Jews to be the people to whom he would reveal himself and among whom he would dwell. He gave Israel an elaborate yet simple set of laws to govern this relationship and reveal to them their inability to overcome their sinful ways.

History shows plainly that the Israelites could not keep those laws and lost both God from their midst and then their homeland and freedom. We can be eternally thankful to God that he does not ask us to overcome our personal sin on our own. Instead, our merciful God has provided the solution in Jesus Christ.

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) 206.

[2] BDAG-3, epignosis, recognition, knowledge, q.v.

[3] Moo, Romans, 210.

Exposition of Romans 3:13-19, Plan on lacking words before God

Going to court is no fun. If you are the defendant, it is scary indeed. If you have no defense, the feeling defies description.

If God is your judge, luck plays no role and error is not possible. What will you say before God?

(ESV) Romans 3:13-19

Their throat is an open grave;

they use their tongues to deceive.

The venom of asps is under their lips.

14 Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.

15 Their feet are swift to shed blood;

16 in their paths are ruin and misery,

17 and the way of peace they have not known.

18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.

Douglas Moo tells us about the structure of the series of OT texts for today’s lesson: “The next four lines (verses 13-14) describe sins of speech, each line referring to a different organ of speech [throat, tongue, lips, mouth]. Verses 15-17, on the other hand, focus on sins of violence.”[1]

C.E.B. Cranfield notes that the amount of space devoted to sins related to speech is striking.[2] Paul is telling us that if you want to know about the human heart, just open your ears! If you watch much news, it may not be long before you hear yourself wishing someones death or severe punishment. After hearing your own words, imagine what a casual discussion is like in a terrorist cell!

For thoughtful people, the prevalence of lies and the venomous nature of certain lips (3:13) is well known. We take it in stride and become blind to its frequency. For example, think about advertising; it is often the business of telling people that they need something which they do not need. Consider how children defend their conduct to parents and what adults tell one another during the dance of dating. We are awash in lies!

While all major translations agree on the translation “bitterness” in 3:14, the noun may also mean “animosity, anger, [and] harshness.”[3] That means that some people who would think themselves exempt because they are not bitter would indeed be condemned as either angry or harsh.

NLT at times uses a bit of poetic license, but they probably get it right in 3:15 by saying, “They rush to commit murder.” Shall we talk about drive-by shootings, gang initiations, honor killings, abused children and all the rest?

Actually, the verse just discussed (3:15) should be taken together with 3:16-17, because they all come from Isa. 59:7-8a. Think of terrorism and the description of 3:15-17 falls right into place.

Thomas Schreiner offers keen insight on 3:18 by saying:

The ferocity and brutality of human sin as described in verses 13-17 might cause one to understand it primarily in sociological terms. Thus Paul reminds the reader [in 3:18] that the root and basis of all sin is the failure to fear and reverence God. Sin is fundamentally theological in nature, but it has terrible sociological consequences.[4]

Our challenge in 3:19 is to define terms and use the contextual clues to our advantage. Note that the word law (Greek nomos) occurs twice. In the first case, the law likely refers to the entire OT because Paul has just quoted from both the Prophets (including Isaiah) and the Writings (including Psalms). The second mention of “law” probably refers to the five books of Moses because of the phrase under the law.

When we get to “so that every mouth may be stopped” (3:19), we are talking about the Jews because their conduct under the law makes them accountable to God. Moo explains the metaphor by saying: “The terminology of this clause reflects the imagery of the courtroom. Shutting the mouth connotes the situation of the defendant who has no more to say in response to the charges brought against him or her.”[5]

The Gentiles are no better off. Schreiner puts the matter well: “How could the whole world be liable to God’s judgment because of a law given to the Jews? The answer is not that difficult. If the Jews, who had the privilege of being God’s covenantal and elect people, could not keep the law, then it follows that no one, including the Gentiles, can.”[6] Oh my!

So, both Jew and Gentile stand before God guilty of sin, without excuse, and lacking a single effective word in defense of their actions. Many will be profoundly shocked to be standing there!

The longest day

How many times have you seen news about those who feel bitter because justice cannot be done in a certain situation? But wait! Everyone will stand before God and give an account of their actions, so how can anyone escape justice? They cannot. No one gets away with it!

1. Since all of us are accountable to God for our actions, how could or should that fact change your general behavior?

2. If you have trusted Jesus Christ, you will have something to say when we all stand before God. Express it in your own words.

“And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before Gods throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books.” (Rev. 20:11-12, NLT)

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) 202.

[2] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 194.

[3] BDAG-3, pikria, bitterness, anger, harshness, q.v.

[4] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 167.

[5] Moo, Romans, 205.

[6] Schreiner, Romans, 168.