The Righteousness of God – Romans 3:21-26

This section is brief, but forms a theologically rich transition in the book of Romans. Having proven both Jew and Gentile stand before God condemned, Paul will now begin his argument that God himself has acted decisively to provide righteousness from God apart from the Law.

God Loved UsRomans 3:21-26 is one long sentence in Greek, although English translations usually break it up into several smaller sentences to assist readers to catch the flow of Paul’s thought. Several scholars have identified verses 24-26 as “early Christian confessional material.” Paul may have selected (and adapted) a well-known element of worship to support his thesis that God has provided righteousness through faith by means of the death of Jesus. There are several words Paul does not normally use (such as propitiation), implying he is adapting some existing confession of faith. However, since these verses are critically important to the argument of Romans, it seems unlikely

In contrast to his wrath (1:18), God is now revealing his righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ (v. 21-22). One problem with this paragraph is a single Greek word (δικαιοσύνη) can be translated as either righteousness or justice, two words with distinct meanings in English. Christianity tends to think of righteousness as a moral state (as opposed to sinfulness). Paul will use the word with that sense elsewhere, but here there is a contrast with the wrath of God toward those who have suppressed the clear revelation of God and rebelled against him.

Rather than venting wrath, God is now revealing how his justice will be satisfied. Humans are guilty of rebellion against God therefore ought to be found guilty when they stand before God as a righteous judge. But the death of Jesus serves as a propitiation, a sacrifice which turns aside wrath. Although this word is not particularly common in modern Christianity, both Jewish and Gentiles would have been familiar with a sacrifice which turns aside the wrath of a god. God is pleased with the sacrifice of Jesus and gives justice (δικαιοσύνη) for the sinner on the basis of that sacrifice.

A second problem is the meaning of the phrase “faith in Jesus” (pistis christou) in the NIV and ESV. The Greek does not have the preposition “in” so Paul may be referring to the faithfulness of Jesus in submitting to his death on the cross. This is a technical grammatical discussion and quite controversial in recent years. Usually the “new perspective on Paul” argues Paul meant the “faithfulness of Jesus” since the next phrase is “for all who believe.” If both phrases refer to our faith, then there is an awkward repetition. There are several other places in Paul’s letters where he uses a similar phrase and each might be interpreted as the faithful act of Jesus submitting to the Cross.

The traditional view is represented by the NIV and ESV is that the sinner’s faith in Jesus makes them right with God. When the sinner responds to God’s gracious offer of salvation, then they are “declared righteous” (justified) by God. This gets a bit ahead since the next two chapters of the book of Romans deal with how a sinner can be declared righteous by God.

There are several possible solutions in addition to these two popular suggestions. Paul does say “all who believe” (v. 22) and “received by faith” (v. 25), so even if Paul meant faithful act of Christ submitting to the cross in verse 22a, he is still clear that salvation is by God’s grace through our faith and not through works of the Law.

I have far more to say about justification as we move through chapters 4 and 5, but for now I want to focus on the shift from the wrath of God to the righteousness or justice of God. If Paul is right in his description of the total inability of humans to respond to God, then how does his solution in Romans 3:21-26 “solve the problem”? How does the offering of Jesus satisfy the justice of God?

Or to put it another way, how can we as Christians incorporate Paul’s view of propitiation into our theology and worship?

16 thoughts on “The Righteousness of God – Romans 3:21-26

  1. It is incredible to see how Paul goes from explaining and calling out humanity on their sin and unrighteousness to providing a solution through Christ. God has provided righteousness apart from the law. This is a huge transition and one that cannot be taken lightly. “Righteousness and justification, are, indeed, two sides of the same coin” (Moo, 1500). Moo’s view and outlook created a new way of looking at righteousness and justification for me. The new era of Salvation that God is provided that Moo discusses brings hope to humanity (Moo, 1508). Paul’s solution in Romans 3:21-26 “solves the problem” because even though all humans are under the power of Sin, Christ has opened up a way in which we can become right with God and receive salvation/eternal life. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross satisfies God’s justice because God loves humanity so much that He was willing to give His only son to die for our sin. This act of love on God’s part shows that humans mean more to Him then our sin and evilness. God is willing to over look, forgive and forget the evil we do by proving an alternative way, one that involves a personal relationship with Him. I personally could never do it. If I were in charge, the creator of all things and my creation turned their backs on me and time and time again failed me, there is no way that I could love and forgive them. I am so glad that that responsibility does not fall on me and that God is the ultimate judge and ruler over all.

    • Well said Autumn. God sends Jesus to take our place are a “holy and unblemished” sacrifice for our sins, so human do not have to pay the penalty of our sins. I agree that I too would not be able to personally sacrifice a loved one of mine to pay the debt for someone else’s crime, but I am so thankful God is able. I believe displays how God absolutely loves us. He knew we, humans, could not have a relationship with Him if we were not purged of our sins, so He sent Jesus in our place and we believe that it is so to have relationship with Him (Romans 3:23-26).

  2. I believe that Paul is right in his assessment that humans can do nothing themselves to turn away the wrath of God, which is just in itself because of the wrong that man has done. Paul is also clear in Romans that the law was a temporary means of turning away the wrath of God but that a sacrifice was needed that would be permanent and completely turn away the wrath of God. Because of the imperfection of humans we can never offer something perfect to God, however, God requires something perfect. Therefore man can do nothing themselves but the perfect Jesus can. He is our sacrifice and high priest, offered for our sins to take away the punishment deserved and turn away the wrath of God. Jesus bore that wrath. I believe that this wrath is completely deserved and we can incorporate it into worship knowing that we have a completely just God, meaning that His wrath was not of any wrong doing. Jesus loves us perfectly and yet we see that we require atonement. This isn’t Jesus being stubborn and full of hate, it is a necessary requirement.

  3. It is only possible for God himself, Jesus, to solve the problem. He made it so that it is an act of grace through faith for all who believe (3:22). This grace united us all. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (v. 23). Jesus became our “sacrifice of atonement” because God is just, and sin cannot go unpunished (v.25). Because of humanity’s terrible sin, what Jesus did on the cross for us becomes an unimaginable and completely underserved gift, yet this does not diminish God’s justice or righteousness because he sent his son to become a propitiation for us. He does not just ignore sin, but he is a merciful God.

  4. Paul is right in stating humans can not anything to save themselves. We were stuck in our pattern of sin, which is passed on from the father. In this cycle of sin, there is nothing we can do. But God, being just in character, has to punish sin. Jesus in the perfect human, whose comes along to take God’s wrath. God is also being righteous by being merciful. In the Old Testament, sins were covered by the blood shed of a spotless lamb. This mirrors what Jesus did on the cross. Jesus is the one whose blood is shed to cover our sin. Fully human, fully God, He made it right with God and satisfied the Fathers wrath. This act of Jesus taking our place on the cross should bring us to a place of praise and worship. This should give us a humble heart, knowing we did nothing to receive this gift. There can be no boasting because we have not done anything to achieve salvation on our own.

  5. It is interesting to note that Paul is not known to use the word propitiation. For Paul to use this word in Romans 3:25, specifically this group of verses needs to be noted and dug into for understanding. Paul used this word because it would resonate with the audience of this letter. They, as the author of this article, suggests that they understood God’s wrath from history of the nation of Israel and the concept of slavery and using money to free someone under bondage. For this analogy of God to exhibit this concept was word play for the audience to understand and reflect on God’s work that He has done and will do through Jesus. God placated His wrath on all of humanity because of their sin by offering Jesus Christ to settle this wrath. This is wording the audience would understand and hopefully be convicted by! For me, I read it skimming over these words and not registering these analogies. Now, with more insight and context, what Paul is writing about justification and righteousness stems from God and what He did. This truth should impact us!

  6. The turning aside of God’s wrath that we are all deserving of is more than just a few lines in Romans 3. Paul points out that it is “by the law that requires faith” that we are justified in God’s eyes. This propitiation of Jesus loses some of its significance when translated into modern-day Christianity for us Gentiles. Jesus died on the Passover, a reminder to Jews that he is just like the spotless and perfect lamb that the “Jews” sacrificed back when they were in slavery in Egypt and that they sacrificed in the Temple every year during the Passover feast. In English, we think of a lamb as a helpless little creature that can do no wrong. But to Jews, it is more than that. Jesus took the place of that lamb on that particular passover (symbolically) and was the propitiation offering for all people. It is helpful to know some background details that enrich our understanding.

  7. Since the original sin, people’s sins were covered by sacrifices. However, they were only covered by these, not forgiven. God would have been just simply to send Adam and Eve to hell as soon as they had sinned. However, He showed forbearance, and allowed humans to live, though fallen. This decision was justified when He sent Christ to die on the cross: He was the final and perfect sacrifice that could forgive any and all transgressions. One may argue that forbearance is not just, but one could make an argument from a modern court: when a person is given the death penalty, they are put on death row. They have a death date coming, but it isn’t here yet. God gave us the same thing, but with an additional and just way out. I believe that seeing what God has done for us should make us worship Him for His patience and love and mercy, but also for the fact that He provides a just way for us to be saved.

  8. As a human being, who is a fallen creature from God, whereas the result of Adam disobedience which leads to original sin. Since humans intrinsically occupied the original sin, there’s no path or any sacrificial system for the forgiveness of our iniquities. Back in the OT, God commands his people Isrealaite to offer an animal sacrifice for their sin, which the forgiveness on their sin is not eternal but temporal. Paul clearly taught us that, (1) humans are sinful by nature and the wrath of God is revealed, (2) no one is righteous, but (3) the sacrifice that came from Jesus Christ which is presented by God himself. And the only reason why God is satisfied with the atonement of Christ is that Christ Himself has no sin at all. We have been given the righteousness of God through faith. The only escape to the wrath of God is believing in the redemption that came from Jesus.

  9. Or to put it another way, how can we as Christians incorporate Paul’s view of propitiation into our theology and worship?

    Paul’s view of propitiation is this: “We are put right with God through Christ’s faithful giving of himself to death for us, and by our grateful acceptance of that gift in faith,” (Moo, 83). Paul had just finished showing that all humans are sinful and hopelessly under sin and deserving of God’s wrath. Now Paul is showing that because of Jesus’ sacrifice, God’s wrath has been appeased. Just like how all humanity was condemned by sin, now all are freely offered salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Therefore, Paul’s view of propitiation should really be at the center of our theology and worship. Theology because it is the center of our belief system. Jesus dying for our sins and being raised from the dead is one of the biggest things that separates Christianity from many other religions. It’s what makes us unique, that God loves us enough to sacrifice his son in order to save us, but also to have a personal relationship with us. This should then lead us to a heart of worship, driven by our gratitude and thankfulness to God. It is not just the reason behind our worship, but also what we are thankful for and what we praise God for.

  10. I wrote a fairly lengthy response to your 1:17 post which somehow seems not to have registered. When I tried to repost it I was told i was duplicating but I suspect the first never arrived…. this may have problems too. In short I find myself in agreement with Michael Bird on this issue. Incorporated righteousness based on the value of Christ’s sin/wrath bearing vicarious suffering.

    • It was sent to spam. There were two very similar ones, I approved the longer of the two. When two posts come in like that the spam filter gets excited.

      Now I need to read the long response….!

  11. It has hard to understand this concept of Jesus’ atonement for sins without identifying the concept of regeneration but since this is a bible class I will refrain from the topic. Jit seem s to be that the main concept here is how Jesus is the atonement for our sins and whether it is Jesus’ faithfulness (Rom 3: 22) or our faith in Christ that saves us. Or is it a mixture of both? Rit is more common to translate rom 3;23 as through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” opposed to translating the verse to through faith in Jesus Christ” because there is no “in” with the Greek language used here.( Long, 2019, October 16).

    First Paul uses the word “given” in Rom 3:23 signify that the righteousness that one has is indeed given to them Paul also says in the same verse “to all who believe.”(rom 3:23, Niv). So it seems that God righteousness through Jesus is both something that is given and at the same time something one believes in. Paul uses this same analogy when describing how Abraham “believed in God and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Rom 4:5).

    To understand atonement Jesus offering one must first understand the sacrificial system which Paul is referring to in Rom 3:22 in both Judaism and Greco- roman culture there would be sacrifices made which “turns aside wrath” from a god (Long,. In Lev 16:15-16 there is instruction on how priests would sprinkle blood on the “atonement cover” their is a list in Leviticus where the priest would sprinkle blood in order to atone for the sins of Israelites.

    Paul uses this concept talking about Jesus in Rom 3:25 by that “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement through the shedding of his blood to be received by faith” (NIV).

    So, it seems that it is through the faithfulness of Jesus one is justified by the atonement He made for humanity in order those that those who may receive it may partake in eternal life( rom 3:17). But it is not the action of receiving by faith Christ’ atonement that justifies a person. it is the faithfulness of Jesus Christ who justified sinners from their sins through being the sacrifice which turns God’s wrath or justice away from focused on humanity and on God himself (Jesus). So that one is now able to have access to God in way never before because of the justification made by Jesus to which one is can now believe and receive life (rom 316-17).

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