May 20, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

Righteousness Is Provided For All

for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (3:22b–23)

The provision of salvation and the righteousness it brings is granted for all those who believe. Anyone will be saved who believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, for there is no distinction.

Preaching in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch, Paul declared, “Through Him [Christ] everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses” (Acts 13:39). In his letter to the church at Galatia, the apostle said, “A man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 2:16).

Jesus Himself said, “The one who comes to me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37). Anyone who believes in Jesus Christ—whether a murderer, prostitute, thief, rapist, homosexual, religious hypocrite, false teacher, pagan, or anything else—will be saved. Just as no one is good enough to be saved, no one is so evil that he cannot be saved.

That is the wonderful point of Romans 3:22. All those who believe will be saved, because in God’s sight there is no distinction. Just as everyone apart from Christ is equally sinful and rejected by God, everyone who is in Christ is equally righteous and accepted by Him. Even the “foremost of all” sinners, as Paul called himself (1 Tim. 1:15), was not too wicked to be saved.

There is no distinction among those who are saved, because there is no distinction among those who are lost, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Hustereō (fall short) has the basic meaning of being last or inferior. Every human being comes in last as far as the glory of God is concerned.

Righteousness Is Given Freely Through Grace

being justified as a gift by His grace (3:24a)

By the same token, no one is ahead of anyone else as far as salvation is concerned. Being justified refers back to the “alls” of the previous two verses—all those who have believed, of whom all were sinful. Just as there is no distinction among those who need salvation, there is no distinction among those who receive it, because they all are justified as a gift by His grace.

Dikaioō (justified) means to declare the rightness of something or someone. Justification is God’s declaration that all the demands of the law are fulfilled on behalf of the believing sinner through the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Justification is a wholly forensic, or legal, transaction. It changes the judicial standing of the sinner before God. In justification, God imputes the perfect righteousness of Christ to the believer’s account, then declares the redeemed one fully righteous. Justification must be distinguished from sanctification, in which God actually imparts Christ’s righteousness to the sinner. While the two must be distinguished, justification and sanctification can never be separated. God does not justify whom He does not sanctify.

Yet God justifies believers as a gift by His grace, not because of any good thing in the one who is justified.

By definition, a gift is something given freely, unearned and unmerited by the recipient. God’s greatest of all gifts is that of salvation through His Son, given completely out of His divine grace. “If righteousness comes through the Law,” that is, through human fulfillment of God’s divine standard, Paul declares, “then Christ died needlessly” (Gal. 2:21).

The law reveals God’s righteousness and exposes man’s unrighteousness. Grace, on the other hand, not only reveals God’s righteousness but actually gives His righteousness to those who trust in His Son. That gift of grace cost God the suffering and death of His own Son on the cross, so that, for the believer, there is nothing left to pay.

Righteousness Is Accomplished by Redemption

through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; (3:24b)

Apolutrōsis (redemption) is a strengthened form of lutros̄is, which carries the idea of delivering, especially by means of paying a price. It was commonly used of paying a ransom to free a prisoner from his captors or paying the price to free a slave from his master.

Because of man’s utter sinfulness and inability to bring himself up to the standard of God’s righteousness, the redemption of a sinner could come only by that which is in Christ Jesus. Only the sinless Savior could pay the price to redeem sinful men.[1]

Amazing Grace

Romans 3:22–24

There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

In the last study I introduced four doctrines found in Romans 3:21–31: (1) God has provided a righteousness of his own for men and women, a righteousness we do not possess ourselves; (2) this righteousness is by grace; (3) it is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ in dying for his people, redeeming them from their sin, that has made this grace on God’s part possible; and (4) this righteousness, which God has graciously provided, becomes ours through simple faith. We have already looked at the first of these four doctrines: the righteousness that God has made available to us apart from law. Now we will examine the second doctrine: that this righteousness becomes ours by the grace of God alone, apart from human merit.

That is the meaning of grace, of course. It is God’s favor to us apart from human merit. Indeed, it is favor when we deserve the precise opposite. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has written, “There is no more wonderful word than ‘grace.’ It means unmerited favor or kindness shown to one who is utterly undeserving.… It is not merely a free gift, but a free gift to those who deserve the exact opposite, and it is given to us while we are ‘without hope and without God in the world.’ ”

But how are we to do justice to this great concept today? We have too high an opinion of ourselves even to understand grace, let alone to appreciate it. We speak of it certainly. We sing, “Amazing grace—how sweet the sound—That saved a wretch like me!” But we do not think of ourselves as wretches needing to be saved. Rather, we think of ourselves as quite worthy. One teacher has said, “Amazing grace is no longer amazing to us.” In our view, it is not even grace.

There Is No Difference

This is why the idea expressed in Romans 3:23 is inserted at this point. For many years, whenever I came to this verse, I had a feeling that it was somehow in the wrong place. It was not that Romans 3:23 is untrue. Obviously it is, for that is what Romans 1:18–3:20 is all about. What bothered me is that the verse did not seem to belong here. I felt that the words “there is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” belonged with that earlier section. The verse seemed somehow an intrusion here, because Romans 3:21–31 is not talking about sin but about the way of salvation.

I think differently now, however. And the reason I think differently is that I now understand the connection between this verse and grace. The reason we do not appreciate grace is that we do not really believe Romans 3:23. Or, if we do, we believe it in a far lesser sense than Paul intended.

Let me use a story to explain what I mean. In his classic little book All of Grace, Charles Haddon Spurgeon begins with the story of a preacher from the north of England who went to call on a poor woman. He knew that she needed help. So, with money from the church in his hand, he made his way through the poor section of the city to where she lived, climbed the four flights of stairs to her tiny attic apartment, and then knocked at the door. There was no answer. He knocked again. Still no answer. He went away. The next week he saw the woman in church and told her that he knew of her need and had been trying to help her. “I called at your room the other day, but you were not home,” he said.

“At what time did you call, sir?” she asked.

“About noon.”

“Oh, dear,” she answered. “I was home, and I heard you knocking. But I did not answer. I thought it was the man calling for the rent.”

This is a good illustration of grace and of our natural inability to appreciate it. But isn’t it true that, although most of us laugh at this story, we unfortunately also fail to identify with it? In fact, we may even be laughing at the poor woman rather than at the story, because we consider her to be in a quite different situation from ourselves. She was unable to pay the rent. We know people like that. We feel sorry for them. But we think that is not our condition. We can pay. We pay our bills here, and we suppose (even though we may officially deny it) that we will be able to pay something—a down payment even if not the full amount—on our outstanding balance in heaven. So we bar the door, not because we are afraid that God is coming to collect the rent, but because we fear he is coming with grace and we do not want a handout. We do not consider our situation to be desperate.

But, you see, if the first chapters of Romans have meant anything to us, they have shown that spiritually “there is no difference” between us and even the most destitute of persons. As far as God’s requirements are concerned, there is no difference between us and the most desperate or disreputable character in history.

I have in my library a fairly old book entitled Grace and Truth, written by the Scottish preacher W. P. Mackay. Wisely, in my judgment, the first chapter of the book begins with a study of “there is no difference.” I say “wisely,” because, as the author shows, until we know that in God’s sight there is no difference between us and even the wildest profligate, we cannot be saved. Nor can we appreciate the nature and extent of the grace needed to rescue us from our dilemma.

Mackay illustrates this point with an anecdote. Someone was once speaking to a rich English lady, stressing that every human being is a sinner. She replied with some astonishment, “But ladies are not sinners!”

“Then who are?” the person asked her.

“Just young men in their foolish days,” was her reply.

When the person explained the gospel further, insisting that if she was to be saved by Christ, she would have to be saved exactly as her footman needed to be saved—by the unmerited grace of God in Christ’s atonement—she retorted, “Well, then, I will not be saved!” That was her decision, of course, but it was tragic.

If you want to be saved by God, you must approach grace on the basis of Romans 1:18–3:20—on the grounds of your utter ruin in sin—and not on the basis of any supposed merit in yourself.

Common Grace

It is astonishing that we should fail to understand grace, of course, because all human beings have experienced it in a general but nonsaving way, even if they are not saved or have not even the slightest familiarity with Christianity. We have experienced what theologians call “common grace,” the grace that God has shown to the whole of humanity. Jesus spoke of it when he reminded his listeners that God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends his rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45b).

When Adam and Eve sinned, the race came under judgment. No one deserved anything good. If God had taken Adam and Eve in that moment and cast them into the lake of fire, he would have been entirely just in doing so, and the angels could still have sung with great joy: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come” (Rev. 4:8). Or, if God had spared Adam and Eve, allowing them to increase until there was a great mass of humanity in the world and then had brushed all people aside into everlasting torment, God would still have been just. God does not owe us anything. Consequently, the natural blessings we have are due not to our own righteousness or abilities but to common grace.

Let me try to state this clearly once more. If you are not a believer in Jesus Christ, you are still a recipient of God’s common grace, whether you acknowledge it or not. If you are alive and not in hell at this moment, it is because of God’s common grace. If you are in good health and not wasting away in some ward of hopeless patients in a hospital, it is because of common grace. If you have a home and are not wandering about on city streets, it is because of God’s grace. If you have clothes to wear and food to eat, it is because of God’s grace. The list could be endless. There is no one living who has not been the recipient of God’s common grace in countless ways. So, if you think that it is not by grace but by your merits alone that you possess these blessings, you show your ignorance of spiritual matters and disclose how far you are from God’s kingdom.

Unmerited Grace

But it is not common grace that Paul is referring to in our Romans text, important as common grace is. It is the specific, saving grace of God in salvation, which is not “common” (in the sense that all persons experience it regardless of their relationship to God), but rather is a gift received only by some through faith in Jesus Christ, apart from merit.

This is the point we need chiefly to stress, of course, for it takes us back to the story of the preacher’s visit to the poor woman and reminds us that the reason we do not appreciate grace is that we think we deserve it. We do not deserve it! If we did, it would not be grace. It would be our due, and we have already seen that the only thing rightly due us in our sinful condition is a full outpouring of God’s just wrath and condemnation. So I say again: Grace is apart from good works. Grace is apart from merit. We should be getting this by now, because each of the blessings enumerated in this great chapter of Romans is apart from works, law, or merit—which are only various ways of saying the same thing.

The righteousness of God, which is also from God, is apart from works.

Grace, which is the source of that righteousness, is apart from works.

Redemption, which makes grace possible, is apart from works.

Justification is apart from works.

Salvation from beginning to end is apart from works. In other words, it is free. This must have been the chief idea in Paul’s mind when he wrote these verses, for he emphasizes the matter by repeating it. He says that we are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (v. 24, italics mine).

One of the most substantial works on grace that I have come across is by Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, and it goes by that title: Grace. In the very first chapter Chafer has a section captioned “Seven Fundamental Facts About Grace.” I am not happy with everything he says in this section, particularly the last two of these points. But I refer to him here because of what he says about grace and demerit:

  1. “Grace is not withheld because of demerit” and
  2. “Grace cannot be lessened because of demerit.”

These are important points, since they emphasize the bright side of what usually appears to us as undesirable teaching.

Most of us resent the thought of “free” grace. We want to earn our own way, and we resent the suggestion that we are unable to scale the high walls of heaven by our own devices. We must be humbled before we will even give ear to the idea.

But if we have been humbled—if God has humbled us—the doctrine of grace becomes a marvelous encouragement and comfort. It tells us that the grace of God will never be withheld because of anything we may have done, however evil it was, nor will it be lessened because of that or any other evil we may do. The self-righteous person imagines that God scoops grace out of a barrel, giving much to the person who has sinned much and needs much, but giving only a little to the person who has sinned little and needs little. That is one way of wrongly mixing grace with merit. But the person who is conscious of his or her sin often imagines something similar, though opposite in direction. Such people think of God’s withholding grace because of their great sin, or perhaps even putting grace back into his barrel when they sin badly.

Thank God grace is not bestowed on this principle! As Chafer says:

God cannot propose to do less in grace for one who is sinful than he would have done had that one been less sinful. Grace is never exercised by him making up what may be lacking in the life and character of a sinner. In such a case, much sinfulness would call for much grace, and little sinfulness would call for little grace. [Instead] the sin question has been set aside forever, and equal exercise of grace is extended to all who believe. It never falls short of being the measureless saving grace of God. Thus, grace could not be increased, for it is the expression of his infinite love; it could not be diminished, for every limitation that human sin might impose on the action of a righteous God has, through the propitiation of the cross, been dismissed forever.

Grace humbles us, because it teaches that salvation is apart from human merit. At the same time, it encourages us to come to God for the grace we so evidently need. There is no sin too great either to turn God from us or to lessen the abundance of the grace he gives.

Abounding Grace

That word abundance leads to the final characteristic of grace to be included in this study. It is taught two chapters further on in a verse that became the life text of John Newton: Romans 5:20. Our version reads, “.… But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” But the version Newton knew rendered this, “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound,” (kjv.)

John Newton was an English clergyman who lived from 1725 to 1807. He had a wide and effective ministry and has been called the second founder of the Church of England. He is best known to us for his hymns.

Newton was raised in a Christian home in which he was taught many great verses of the Bible. But his mother died when he was only six years old, and he was sent to live with a relative who mocked Christianity. One day, at an early age, Newton left home and joined the British Navy as an apprenticed seaman. He was wild and dissolute in those years, and he became exceedingly immoral. He acquired a reputation of being able to swear for two hours without repeating himself. Eventually he deserted the navy off the coast of Africa. Why Africa? In his memoirs he wrote that he went to Africa for one reason only and that was “that I might sin my fill.”

In Africa he fell in with a Portuguese slavetrader in whose home he was cruelly treated. This man often went away on slaving expeditions, and when he was gone the power in the home passed to the trader’s African wife, the chief woman of his harem. This woman hated all white men, and she took out her hatred on Newton. He tells us that for months he was forced to grovel in the dirt, eating his food from the ground like a dog and beaten unmercifully if he touched it with his hands. For a time he was actually placed in chains. At last, thin and emaciated, Newton made his way through the jungle, reached the sea, and there attracted a British merchant ship making its way up the coast to England.

The captain of the ship took Newton aboard, thinking that he had ivory to sell. But when he learned that the young man knew something about navigation as a result of his time in the British Navy, he made him ship’s mate. Even then Newton fell into trouble. One day, when the captain was ashore, Newton broke out the ship’s supply of rum and got the crew drunk. He was so drunk himself that when the captain returned and struck him in the head, Newton fell overboard and would have drowned if one of the sailors had not grabbed him and hauled him back on deck in the nick of time.

Near the end of the voyage, as they were approaching Scotland, the ship ran into bad weather and was blown off course. Water poured in, and she began to sink. The young profligate was sent down into the hold to pump water. The storm lasted for days. Newton was terrified, sure that the ship would sink and he would drown. But there in the hold of the ship, as he pumped water, desperately attempting to save his life, the God of grace, whom he had tried to forget but who had never forgotten him, brought to his mind Bible verses he had learned in his home as a child. Newton was convicted of his sin and of God’s righteousness. The way of salvation opened up to him. He was born again and transformed. Later, when the storm had passed and he was again in England, Newton began to study theology and eventually became a distinguished evangelist, preaching even before the queen.

Of this storm William Cowper, the British poet who was a close friend of John Newton’s, wrote:

God moves in a mysterious way,

His wonders to perform;

He plants his footsteps in the sea

And rides upon the storm.

And Newton? Newton became a poet as well as a preacher, writing some of our best-known hymns. This former blasphemer wrote:

How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds

In a believer’s ear!

It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,

And drives away his fear.

He is known above all for “Amazing Grace”:

Amazing grace—how sweet the sound—

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found—

Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

And grace my fears relieved;

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils, and snares,

I have already come;

’Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,

And grace will lead me home.

Newton was a great preacher of grace. And no wonder! He had learned what all who have ever been saved have learned: namely, that grace is from God, apart from human merit. He deserved nothing. But he found grace through the work of Jesus.

Bought with a Price

Romans 3:24

… justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

On September 17, 1915, the distinguished Professor of Didactic and Polemic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, stood in Miller Chapel to deliver an address to the newly arrived students. The subject had been announced: “ ‘Redeemer’ and ‘Redemption,’ ” and the young men were probably prepared for a difficult and weighty presentation. Instead Warfield talked about how wonderful the two words Redeemer and redemption are.

“There is no one of the titles of Christ which is more precious to Christian hearts than ‘Redeemer,’ ” the professor began. True, other titles are more often on our lips: “Lord,” “Savior,” others. But “Redeemer” is more intimate and therefore more precious. Warfield explained:

It gives expression not merely to our sense that we have received salvation from [Jesus], but also to our appreciation of what it cost him to procure this salvation for us. It is the name specifically of the Christ of the cross. Whenever we pronounce it, the cross is placarded before our eyes and our hearts are filled with loving remembrance not only that Christ has given us salvation but that he paid a mighty price for it.

How do we know this is true? In proof of his statement, Warfield appealed, not to great works of theology dealing with the cross—though there are many of them—but to the church’s hymnody. Many of the hymns in the hymnbook used that day at Princeton celebrated the Lord as Redeemer, and Warfield listed them:

Let our whole soul an offering be

To our Redeemer’s name;

While we pray for pardoning grace,

Through our Redeemer’s name;

Almighty Son, Incarnate Word,

Our Prophet, Priest, Redeemer, Lord; …

O for a thousand tongues to sing

My dear Redeemer’s praise; …

All hail, Redeemer, hail,

For thou hast died for me; …

All glory, laud and honor

To thee Redeemer, King.

Those are only six of the hymns he listed. He cited twenty-eight. But then, in case the students had missed his point, he did the same thing all over again with the words ransom and ransomed, which are near synonyms of “redeem” and “redeemed.” He found twenty-five examples.

“Redemption” and “Redeemer” are the words to which we now come in our phrase-by-phrase exposition of Romans 3:21–31—“God’s Remedy in Christ.” We have outlined the passage by citing four great doctrines found in it: (1) the righteousness of God, (2) grace, (3) redemption, and (4) faith, by which these blessings are conveyed to the individual. This is the third doctrine. It is most precious to us, because it describes what the Lord Jesus Christ did for us by dying.

A Misunderstood Doctrine

In his address Warfield spoke of the “cost” of redemption. But here a problem develops for some people. “Isn’t salvation supposed to be free?” they ask. “Haven’t you just talked about grace, the unmerited favor of God toward us? Salvation can’t be bought or sold. If you talk about God extracting a price for his favor, you make God cheap, begrudging, and mercenary. How can anyone believe that this is accurate?”

Because of such reasoning some scholars have tried to change the meaning of “Redeemer” and “redemption” from what I have suggested these words mean (and do mean) to something more like “release” or “deliverance,” that is, to the process of setting someone free without any idea of paying a price for it. They point to Luke 24:21 in which the Emmaus disciples used the word redeem in their conversation with Jesus, saying, “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” Obviously they were thinking of a political deliverance, not a commercial transaction. Or they point to Ephesians 1:14, “… a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.” They argue that there is no suggestion of a price in that statement. Rather, it is speaking only of our deliverance from the power of sin at the return of Christ.

Three Great Words

How should we respond to this objection? There are a number of ways. We could point out that the Emmaus disciples obviously misunderstood the nature of Christ’s redemptive work. We could emphasize that, although redemption includes the idea of deliverance and is a word sometimes used for “deliverance,” it is nevertheless a larger and more embracing concept. We might observe that, even though in the Bible a price for redemption is paid, it is never a case of our paying for redemption—we have no means of paying for it—but rather of God’s paying the price in Christ, so that salvation might be free for us.

These points are all valid. Nevertheless, in my judgment, the best way of getting to the meaning of redemption is by a careful examination of the biblical words used for it. There are three Greek words, plus two important Hebrew words or concepts.

The first Greek word is agorazō. It comes from the noun used to describe an open marketplace in Greek-speaking lands, an agora. An agora is where all sorts of things—wine, grain and oil, pottery, silver and gold ornaments, horses, slaves, clothing and household wares—were bought and sold. The verb agorazō, which is based upon the word agora, meant “to buy” something in such a marketplace. Clearly a price was involved. Not long ago I discovered that the Greek Orthodox community of Philadelphia was using the word for an annual outdoor bazaar at which those of Greek descent raise money for their church. It is advertised as “A Greek Agora.” Agorazō suggests that Christ’s saving work involves his purchasing us for himself in this world’s marketplace.

The second Greek word for “redemption” is related closely to the first. It is exagorazō. Clearly it is only the first word with the addition of the prefix ex, which means “out of.” So exagorazō means “to buy out of the marketplace,” with the idea that the object or person purchased might never have to return there again.

It is hard to illustrate this in terms of contemporary purchases. The closest we can come is redeeming an object from a pawnshop. But if we remember that in the ancient world some of the chief objects of commerce were slaves and that slaves could be purchased out of the marketplace (redeemed) by the payment of a price, this becomes a rich idea for us. According to the Bible, we are all slaves to sin. By ourselves we cannot escape from this slavery. But Jesus has freed us. He has done it by paying the price of our redemption by his blood. That is why Peter writes, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:18–19). Here the idea of Christ’s death being the cost or price of our redemption is inescapable.

The third pertinent Greek word is actually a group of words based on the root verb . They carry further the idea of being purchased out of the marketplace, for the chief thought of these words is “to loose” or “to set free.” These words have an interesting development. itself meant only “to loose or loosen,” as in taking off a suit of clothes or unbuckling one’s armor. When used of persons, it signified loosening bonds so that, for example, a prisoner might be released. It was usually necessary to pay a ransom price to free a prisoner, however. So in time a second word developed from to signify this “ransom price.” It was lytroō. From it another verb developed: lytrõ which, like , meant “to loose” or “to set free” but, unlike , always meant to free by paying the redemption price. From these last two words the proper Greek term for redemption came about: lytrōsis (and the cognate word apolytrōsis). These words always had to do with freeing a slave by paying for him. In Christian vocabulary they mean that Jesus freed us from sin’s slavery by his death. Thus:

Long my imprisoned spirit lay

Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;

Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray,

I woke, the dungeon flamed with light:

My chains fell off, my heart was free,

I rose, went forth and followed thee.

As long as we know that the death of the Lord Jesus Christ accomplished that, we will love him for being our Redeemer.

Old Testament Background

Important as a study of these Greek words for redemption may be, it is nevertheless true that the richest words for understanding the redemptive work of Christ are in the Old Testament. I refer here to two of them.

First, kōpher, which, like lytron, means “a ransom price.” But it is richer than the Greek idea, because it refers to the redemption of a person who, apart from that redemption, would die. Let me explain. Suppose a person in Old Testament times owned an ox that had gored somebody to death. Under certain circumstances (we might describe this as manslaughter rather than homicide), the owner of the ox would be fined. But suppose there had been negligence. Suppose the ox was known to be dangerous and the owner had failed to secure the animal properly. In this case the owner of the ox could be killed. That is, he would have to forfeit his life for the one whose life had been taken. There would be little to be gained by one more death, of course. So Old Testament law provided a way by which, if the owner could come to an agreement with the relatives of the dead man, it would be possible for him to pay a ransom price, an indemnity, instead of dying. This ransom price was called the kōpher.

As I say, this term enriches our understanding of what the Lord Jesus Christ did in dying for us. For it is not only that in some way his death freed us from sin’s power. Christ did deliver us from sin’s power, but he also delivered us from death, which is the punishment God had established for transgressions (“The soul who sins … will die,” Ezek. 18:4b). Therefore, for us to be redeemed means life.

The final words I bring into this study of “redemption” are gāʾal, which means “to redeem,” and the related noun, gōʾēl, which means “kinsman-redeemer.” This latter term requires explanation.

It was a principle of Jewish law that property should remain within a family as much as possible. Therefore, if a Jewish person lost his or her share of the land through debt or by some other means, a solemn obligation evolved on a near relative (if there was one) to buy the property back again. This person, because of close relationship to the one who had lost the property, was a “kinsman,” and if willing and able to purchase the property and restore it to the family, he became a “kinsman-redeemer.” In some cases, where there was no male heir to inherit the property, the duty of the kinsman extended to marrying the widow in order to raise up heirs.

A kinsman-redeemer had to fulfill three qualifications:

  1. He had to be a close relative (a stranger would not do),
  2. He had to be willing to take on this responsibility (nobody could be compelled to do this work), and
  3. He had to be able to pay the ransom price (he had to have sufficient means at his disposal).

A Romance of Redemption

Those three conditions apply to and were fulfilled in the case of Jesus Christ. But to make them vivid, let me develop them in the context of an Old Testament story, the only story in the Bible in which we see a kinsman-redeemer in action. It is the story of Ruth and her “redeemer,” Boaz.

In the days of the Judges there was a famine in Israel, and a man from Bethlehem, whose name was Elimelech, left Judah with his wife, Naomi and two sons to live in Moab. Not long after this, Elimelech died, and shortly after that the sons married Moabite women. One was Orpah, and the other was Ruth. About ten years later the sons also died, and Naomi and the two daughters-in-law were left. Apparently the three were quite poor, so when Naomi heard that the famine in Judah had passed and that there was food there, she decided to go back to her homeland and live again in Bethlehem. Orpah took her mother-in-law’s advice and went back to her family, but Ruth insisted on staying with Naomi. Her entreaty (Ruth 1:16–17), which Naomi heeded, is one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible. Ruth said:

“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”

Back in Bethlehem, Naomi and Ruth were still quite poor, in spite of the fact that Naomi seems to have owned a piece of land (cf. 4:3), and the only way they could survive was by Ruth’s going into the fields at harvest time to “glean” behind the reapers. Gleaning means that she was allowed to follow the workmen and pick up any small bits of grain they discarded. The law of Israel established this right for poor persons.

Ruth went to a field belonging to an affluent man named Boaz who, as it turned out, was a close relative of Naomi, a kinsman of her deceased husband Elimelech. Boaz was kind to Ruth, in spite of the fact that she was a foreigner. He encouraged her to remain in his fields and instructed the workmen to protect her and be generous to her, allowing a good supply of the grain to fall behind.

Can we say that Boaz fell in love with Ruth the Moabitess? Yes, we can, even though these are not the words in which the ancients recounted such events. (Strikingly, the word love does not occur in the entire Book of Ruth, though it is a love story.)

Naomi seems to have recognized what was happening as well as realizing that God was arranging circumstances so that Boaz could perform the office of a kinsman-redeemer for herself, in regard to her inheritance, and for Ruth, in regard to raising up an heir. So she advised Ruth how to make her claim known to Boaz. When she did, Boaz was delighted, for it meant that Ruth was interested in him also and had not, as he said, “run after the younger men, whether rich or poor” (Ruth 3:10). Unfortunately, there was a kinsman closer to Naomi and Ruth than himself. Boaz promised to raise the matter with this kinsman and to perform the office of kinsman-redeemer if the other was unable or unwilling.

As it turned out, the other relative was interested in the land but was unable to fulfill the obligation to Ruth. So Boaz willingly bought the land and married Ruth. The story ends by relating that they had a son named Obed, who became the father of Jesse, who was the father of King David.

What a beautiful story! What a beautiful redemption for Ruth! J. Vernon McGee comments:

From the very beginning there was a marvelous development in the status of Ruth. First, she was found in the land of Moab, a stranger from the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world. Next she was brought by providence into the field of Boaz, under the wings of the God of Israel. Then she was sent to the threshing floor of Boaz; and there she was seen asserting her claim for a kinsman-redeemer. Finally, in this last chapter of the Book of Ruth, she is seen as a bride for the heart of Boaz and as a mother in his home. What splendid progress! What scriptural evolution! From a very lowly beginning she was lifted to the very pinnacle of blessing. All this was made possible by a goel who loved her.

In redeeming us, Jesus fulfilled a similar set of qualifications: (1) He became our kinsman by the incarnation, being born in this very town of Bethlehem; (2) he was willing to be our Redeemer, because of his great love for us; and (3) he was able to redeem us, because he alone could provide an adequate redemption price by dying. We rightly sing:

There was no other good enough

To pay the price of sin;

He only could unlock the gate

Of heaven, and let us in.

The redemption of Ruth may not have cost Boaz a great deal, at the most only money, but our redemption cost Jesus Christ his life.

The Death of Great Words

At the beginning of this study I referred to the address of the gifted theologian B. B. Warfield, given to the incoming class of students at Princeton Seminary in 1915. I return to it now because of something else it contains. Warfield had spoken of “Redeemer” and “redemption” as being among the most precious words in the Christian vocabulary. But he confessed, as he came to the end of his address, that this seemed to be changing. The precise biblical meanings of these words was being lost, and with them something precious about Christianity. Warfield said:

What we are doing today as we look out upon our current religious modes of speech, is assisting at the deathbed of a word. It is sad to witness the death of any worthy thing—even of a worthy word. And worthy words do die, like any other worthy thing—if we do not take care of them.… I hope you will determine that, God helping you, you will not let them die thus, if any care on your part can preserve them in life and vigor.

But the dying of the words is not the saddest thing which we see here. The saddest thing is the dying out of the hearts of men of the things for which the words stand.… The real thing for you to settle in your minds, therefore, is whether Christ is truly a Redeemer to you, and whether you find an actual redemption in him.… Do you realize that Christ is your Ransomer and has actually shed his blood for you as your ransom? Do you realize that your salvation has been bought, bought at a tremendous price, at the price of nothing less precious than blood, and that the blood of Christ, the Holy One of God? Or, go a step further: do you realize that this Christ who has thus shed his blood for you is himself your God?

We have fallen a great deal further away from these great concepts since Warfield’s time, and we are spiritually impoverished as a result. Yet the issue is the same. The questions are unchanged. Is Jesus truly your Redeemer? Are you trusting in him? Your answer to those questions will determine your entire life and destiny.[2]

23 The reason all must come to God through faith in Christ is that “all have sinned and fall short of [or lack, as in Mk 10:21] the glory of God.” This crisp summarizing statement repeats the point already established by Paul in 3:9, 19. The glory in view cannot be eschatological (as in 5:2), since even believers, for whom the sin problem has been solved, lack the future glory now. The suggestion that the glory is God’s approbation or praise (Denney, 610) is unlikely, since this meaning of doxa (GK 1518), common in Luke, is somewhat rare in Paul. Dodd, 50–51, seeks to link the glory with the image of God in man (cf. 1 Co 11:7), which is marred by sin. This is suggestive, but it would be more acceptable if Paul had used the past tense (“have fallen short”) to match the sense in the previous statement about sin. Probably the best interpretation is to associate the glory with the divine presence and the privilege Adam and Eve originally had of direct communion with God. This ever-present deprivation is depicted in the restriction of the glory to the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle and the denial of the right of access to the people except through the high priest once a year. God’s glory is the majesty of his holy person. To be cut off from this direct fellowship is the great loss occasioned by sin.

24 At first glance, it seems that Paul is committing himself to a doctrine of universal salvation, that all who have sinned are likewise justified. This impression is certainly incorrect. The problem can be handled in one of two ways: (1) to suppose that the reader is intended to supply something along this line: “Since all have sinned, all must be justified—if they are to be saved—by God’s free grace”; or (2) to understand the last phrase in v. 22 and all of v. 23 as semiparenthetical, so that the words “to all who believe” (v. 22) are followed directly by “are justified freely by his grace” (v. 24).

In the word “justified,” we encounter perhaps the leading doctrinal contribution of Romans. How to be just in God’s sight is the age-old human problem (Job 9:2; 10:14). To get at the meaning of the doctrine, some attention must be given to terminology. In classical Greek the verb dikaioō (GK 1467) was sometimes used to mean “do right by a person, give him justice.” As a result, it could be used in the sense of “condemn.” But in its biblical setting it is used in the opposite sense, namely, “to acquit” (Ex 23:7; Dt 25:1). It is clear both from the OT and the NT that dikaioō is a forensic term—it is the language of the law court. But to settle on “acquittal” as the meaning of justification is to express only a part of the range of the word, even though an important part (Ac 13:39).

There is a positive side that is even more prominent in NT usage—“to consider, or declare to be, righteous.” The word does not mean “to make righteous,” i.e., to effect a change of character. Some consider it ethically deplorable that God should count as righteous those who have been and to some extent continue to be sinful. E. J. Goodspeed’s translation, for example, defied the linguistic evidence and rendered dikaioō as “to make upright.” Goodspeed failed to realize that the question of character and conduct belongs to a different area, namely, sanctification, and is taken up by Paul in due course, whereas justification relates to status and not to condition.

In the background is the important consideration, strongly emphasized by Paul, that the believer is “in Christ.” This key Pauline concept is a truth that will be unfolded at a later stage in Paul’s presentation and summarized by him in 8:1 (cf. 1 Co 1:30; 2 Co 5:21). Nowhere is the relation between justification and being “in Christ” better stated than in Paul’s declaration, “that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ” (Php 3:8–9). To be justified includes the truth that God sees the sinner in terms of the sinner’s relation to his Son, with whom he is well pleased.

Though justification has much in common with forgiveness, the two terms ought not to be regarded as interchangeable. Even though forgiveness of sins can be stated in comprehensive fashion (e.g., Eph 1:7; 4:32), its continuing aspect, related to the ongoing confession of sin (1 Jn 1:9), sets it somewhat apart from justification, which is a once-for-all declaration of God in behalf of the believing sinner. The surprise for Paul was that God declares a person “righteous at the beginning of the course, not at the end of it” (Bruce, 102).

Sinners are justified “as a gift” (dōrean, GK 1562; NASB; NIV, “freely”). The same word is used in John 15:25, where it bears a somewhat different but not unrelated meaning—“without reason.” God finds no reason, no basis, in sinners for declaring them righteous. He must find the cause in himself. This truth goes naturally with the observation that justification is offered “by [God’s] grace.” Perhaps the best synonym we have for it is “lovingkindness” (NASB; NIV, “love”; see, e.g., Pss 23:6; 36:5; 130). It is a matter not simply of attitude but also of action, as the present verse attests. “Grace” (charis, GK 5921) lies at the basis of joy (chara, GK 5915) for the believer and leads to thanksgiving (eucharistia, GK 2374).

If justification is a matter of “gift,” with grace as its basis, “the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” is the means a gracious God employed to achieve this great salvation. With the word “redemption” (apolytrōsis, GK 667), Paul employs the language of the slave market, namely the manumission of slaves. The benefit redemption brings in this life, according to Ephesians 1:7, is forgiveness of sins, and this is applicable in our passage. Another aspect, belonging to the future, is the redemption of the body, which will consummate our salvation (Ro 8:23; cf. Eph 4:30).[3]

22b–23 In something of a parenthesis, vv. 22b–23 remind us why this righteousness is available to all, and why, also, all need this righteousness. “There is no distinction” summarizes a key element of Paul’s presentation in 1:18–3:20, and is likely, therefore, to have special application to Jew and Gentile. In v. 23, Paul elaborates this point. His “no distinction,” as we would expect, has to do with the absence of any basic difference among people with respect to their standing before God. Jews may have the law and circumcision; Americans may lay claim to a great religious heritage; “good” people may point to their works of charity; but all this makes no essential difference to one’s standing before the righteous and holy God. Paul reduces the argument of 1:18–3:20 to its essence in a justly famous statement of the condition of all people outside Christ: “all have sinned and are falling short of the glory of God.” The second verb states the consequences of the first: because all have sinned, all are falling short of the glory of God. “Glory” in the Bible characteristically refers to the magnificent presence of the Lord, and the eternal state was often pictured as a time when God’s people would experience and have a part in that “glory” (e.g., Isa. 35:2; Rom. 8:18; Phil. 3:21; 2 Thess. 2:14). And just as this sharing in God’s “glory” involves conformity to the “image of Christ” (Rom. 8:29–30; Phil. 3:21), so the absence of glory involves a declension from (though not removal of) the “image of God” in which human beings were first made. “The future glory may be regarded as the restoration of the lost, original glory.”736 Paul, then, is indicating that all people fail to exhibit that “being-like-God” for which they were created; and the present tense of the verb, in combination with Rom. 8, shows that even Christians “fall short” of that goal until they are transformed in the last day by God.

24 The connection between this verse and the previous verses is not clear. Those who think a pre-Pauline fragment begins here find in the difficult transition evidence for a shift from Paul’s original dictation to the citation of a tradition. But whatever his dependence on tradition, Paul is himself composing the verses, and we need to determine what connection he intends. The participle “being justified” (dikaioumenoi) is most naturally taken as a modifier of one or both of the finite verbs in v. 23: “sinned” and/or “falling short.” If so, Paul’s purpose in highlighting the gift character of justification in the participial clause would presumably be to provide evidence for the total religious impotence of humanity. The objection to this interpretation is that it gives to a verse (24) that continues the main theme of the paragraph (justification/righteousness) a relatively subordinate role. Scholars suggest several other ways of relating this participle to its context, but perhaps the best suggestion is Cranfield’s. He argues that “being justified” is dependent on v. 23, to the extent that it has as its subject “all,” but that it also picks up and continues the main theme of the paragraph from vv. 21–22a. With this we would agree, with the caveat that “all” in its connection with “being justified” indicates not universality (“everybody”) but lack of particularity (“anybody”). Paul’s stress on the gift character of justification in v. 24 illuminates from the positive side the “lack of distinction” in God’s dealings (vv. 22b–23) even as it continues and explains the theme of “righteousness by faith” from v. 22a.

Paul uses the verb “justify” (dikaioō) for the first time in Romans to depict his distinctive understanding of Christian salvation (cf. 2:13). As Paul uses it in these contexts, the verb “justify” means not “to make righteous” (in an ethical sense) nor simply “to treat as righteous” (though one is really not righteous), but “to declare righteous.” No “legal fiction,” but a legal reality of the utmost significance, “to be justified” means to be acquitted by God from all “charges” that could be brought against a person because of his or her sins. This judicial verdict, for which one had to wait until the last judgment according to Jewish theology, is according to Paul rendered the moment a person believes. The act of justification is therefore properly “eschatological,” as the ultimate verdict regarding a person’s standing with God is brought back into our present reality.

Characteristic also of Paul’s theology is his emphasis on the gift character of this justifying verdict; we are “justified freely by his grace.”743 “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: unconstrained by anything beyond his own will.745 God’s justifying verdict is totally unmerited. People have done, and can do, nothing to earn it. This belief is a “theological axiom” for Paul and is the basis for his conviction that justification can never be attained through works, or the law (Rom. 4:3–5, 13–16; 11:6), but only through faith. Once this is recognized, the connection between v. 22a and v. 24 is clarified; that justification is a matter of grace on God’s side means that it must be a matter of faith on the human side. But the gracious nature of justification also answers to the dilemma of people who are under the power of sin (v. 23). As Pascal says, “Grace is indeed needed to turn a man into a saint; and he who doubts it does not know what a saint or a man is.”

What gives this paragraph its unparalleled significance is the number of perspectives from which God’s justification of sinners is considered. If “freely by his grace” indicates the mode of justification, as entirely free and unmerited, “through the redemption” illumines the costly means by which this acquitting verdict is rendered possible. “Redemption” translates a word (apolytrōsis) that comes from a family of words often used in the LXX to depict God’s preeminent act of deliverance: his rescue of his people from their captivity in Egypt. It is likely that Paul intends to mark Christ’s death as the new covenant equivalent to this act of redemption. With this exodus background in mind, many scholars are content to think “redemption” connotes, simply, “deliverance.” But the Greco-Roman use of redemption language suggests that the word has a further important nuance: the liberation or deliverance involved comes through payment of a price. In Paul’s day, “redemption” often referred to a transaction whereby prisoners of war, condemned criminals, and (especially) slaves were able to purchase their freedom.750 We think it likely that Paul is using the word with this connotation, presenting Christ’s death as a “ransom,” a “payment” that takes the place of that penalty for sins “owed” by all people to God. God, in Christ, pays the price necessary to “redeem” his people from their slavery to sin (see “under sin’s power” in 3:9). If we ask further the question “To whom was the ‘ransom’ paid?” it is not clear that we need to answer it. The usage of the word makes it clear that there need be no specific person who “receives” the “payment.” It is unlikely that we are to think of Christ’s death as a payment made to Satan by God, a view that became very popular in the first centuries of the Christian church. A more biblical answer, and one that might be implied by v. 25, would be that God, the judge who must render just verdicts, is the recipient of the ransom. If so, an equal emphasis must be placed on the fact that God is also the originator of the liberating process.

As he does in Eph. 1:7 and Col. 1:14, Paul adds that this redemption is “in Christ Jesus.” It is not clear whether Paul means by it that the liberation was accomplished by Christ at the cross or that the liberation occurs “in relation to” Christ, whenever sinners trust Christ. Favoring the latter, however, is the connection of “redemption” with the forgiveness of sins in Eph. 1:7 and Col. 1:14; and also 1 Cor. 1:30: “Christ was made … our redemption.” While, then, the “price” connoted by the word “redemption” was “paid” at the cross in the blood of Christ, the redeeming work that the payment made possible is, like justification, applied to each person when he or she believes.[4]

3:23 / For all have sinned. This is Paul’s categorical summary of the human experience. In chapter 3 he repeats this judgment nine times (vv. 4, 9, 10, 11, 12, 19, 20, 22, 23)! Regardless of the distinctions humans draw among themselves, in God’s sight “there is no difference.” All have sinned is an essential prelude to verse 24. Only in the light of grace can humanity recognize and lament its rebellion; only in the light of its rebellion is humanity humbled to receive grace. If humanity is to be saved, salvation must come from outside it, for on its own humanity stands under wrath. The Reformers referred to this as “alien righteousness,” salvation from outside, salvation not from humanity, but freely and entirely from God. Karl Barth presses this idea into service when he says, “Genuine fellowship is grounded upon a negative: it is grounded upon what men lack” (Romans, p. 101). There is no denominator common to humanity, whether social status, nationality, race, or whatever interests, which constitutes the fellowship of righteousness. All humans share a solidarity of impoverishment with one another in God’s sight. The one thing they have in common is that which makes them objects of both wrath and grace, their unworthiness before God.

Unworthiness is characterized by a falling short of the glory of God. Paul said earlier of those who sought glory and did good that “glory, honor, and peace” would await them (2:10). It might be supposed that the human predicament is actually a failure to “come of age” or attain its destiny. This is quite an alien thought for Paul. Falling short of the glory of God is surely a reference to Adam’s sin in Genesis 3. Humanity lacks glory not because it has failed in its potential, but because it has lost it through disobedience. The lacking of glory draws our attention not to a hopeful evolutionary spiral, but to the state of sin (“under sin,” 3:9), resultant from humanity’s exchanging the glory of God for its own will (1:21–23).

3:24 / In all Scripture there is probably no verse which captures the essence of Christianity better than this one. Here is the heart of the gospel, the mighty Nevertheless, the momentous divine reversal. Everything in verse 23 was due to humanity; everything in verse 24 depends on God. Paul slashed through the stubborn underbrush of idolatry and pride in order to remove any thought of a righteousness from below, for such a righteousness leads to boasting before God and distinctions among peoples. There is another righteousness, however, founded not on human stratagems but on the sovereign grace of God. By it humanity is justified freely. Freely underscores that God’s righteousness is unwarranted and determined by nothing but his sovereign will; “the beneficiary has no contribution to make: he receives all and gives nothing” (Leenhardt, Romans, p. 100). All this is motivated by God’s grace. How pleasant is the sound of this word after the incriminating argumentation which has gone before. In this word is the sum of the gospel, for in grace God acts towards sinners out of love and mercy rather than from wrath and judgment.

The heart of the matter is the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Here Paul depicts the work of Christ according to a second metaphor, deliverance from slavery. The Greek word, apolytrōsis, translated redemption, was frequently used in the Hellenistic world with reference to ransom paid for prisoners of war or redemption from slavery. Not the least significant aspect of this word is its concreteness: it refers to an event rather than an idea, a fact which must have been of some consequence to the addressees of the epistle, many of whom (to judge from the names listed in chapter 16) were themselves slaves or freed persons. Redemption means an act on behalf of an inferior, e.g., a prisoner, slave, or sinner. In the ot it often refers to the “redeeming” or buying back of slaves, indentured servants, or land (e.g., Lev. 25). More importantly, the term is often used in the ot of God’s deliverance of Israel from oppression in Egypt or exile in Babylon. But in the fulness of time, redemption happens by Christ Jesus. In the Christian faith redemption is defined by the person of Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on the cross. Redemption is an abstraction apart from the person of Jesus, whose name means “deliverer” in Hebrew. Redemption can never be severed from the person of Christ.[5]

23. for all have sinned—Though men differ greatly in the nature and extent of their sinfulness, there is absolutely no difference between the best and the worst of men, in the fact that “all have sinned,” and so underlie the wrath of God.

and come short of the glory—or “praise”

of God—that is, “have failed to earn His approbation” (compare Jn 12:43, Greek). So the best interpreters.

24. justified freely—without anything done on our part to deserve.

by his grace—His free love.

through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus—a most important clause; teaching us that though justification is quite gratuitous, it is not a mere fiat of the divine will, but based on a “Redemption,” that is, “the payment of a Ransom,” in Christ’s death. That this is the sense of the word “redemption,” when applied to Christ’s death, will appear clear to any impartial student of the passages where it occurs.[6]

23 πάντες γὰρ ἣμαρτον, “for all have sinned.” “All” continues the emphasis of 3:4, 9, 12, 19, 20. The aorist is used either because the perspective is that of the final judgment (as in 2:12, q.v.) or because the perspective is that of the decisive and universal character of man’s fall (see further on 5:12).

ὑστεροῦνται τῆς δόξης τοῦ θεοῦ, “lack the glory of God.” ὑστερεῖν is an antonym of περισσεύειν (see on 3:7), meaning “to lack, be deficient, fall short of” (cf. 1 Cor 1:7; 8:8; 12:24; 2 Cor 11:5, 9; 12:11; Phil 4:12). Linked with “the glory of God” (see on 1:21), it almost certainly alludes to Adam’s fall (the aorist [ἣμαρτον] and present combined having the same epochal implication as the perfect in 3:21). The thought of Adam’s fall as his being deprived of the glory of God was probably already a feature of Jewish reflection on the Genesis narratives (cf. particularly Apoc. Mos. 21.6—Adam accuses Eve, “you have deprived me of the glory of God”; see further Scroggs, Adam, 26, 48–49); although “image” and “glory” are closely related at this point, Jewish theology did not share the later Christian fascination with the question of whether Adam had lost the divine image (see Dunn, Christology, 105; and further on 8:29). Correspondingly, the hope of the end time could be expressed in terms of the restoration or enhancement of the original glory (Apoc. Mos. 39.2; 1 Enoch 50.1; 4 Ezra 7:122–25; 2 Apoc. Bar. 51.1, 3; 54.15, 21; cf. 1QS 4.23; CD 3:20; 1QH 17.15; see also Scroggs, Adam, 26–27, 54–56; Dunn, Christology, 106). Christian reflection is of a piece with the broader Jewish theology at this point; cf. particularly the way in which Heb 2:6–10 gives a Christological and eschatological interpretation to Ps 8:4–6 which talks of the glory which God had in view in making man (see further Dunn, Christology, 102–3, 109–110). Paul’s own use of the δόξα motif elsewhere in Romans shows how much he was influenced by the same line of reflection (cf. particularly 1:23 with 8:18–21). So Paul probably refers here both to the glory lost in man’s fall and to the glory that fallen man is failing to reach in consequence. The reference confirms the double thrust of Paul’s polemic: he reduces the difference between Jew and Gentile to the same level of their common creatureliness, so that this recognition of their creaturely dependence on the Creator’s power can be put to all as the paradigm of faith (cf. 4:17).

24 δικαιούμενοι, “being justified.” The syntactical link with the preceding context is obscure (see Cranfield). But the sense is clear enough: Paul is describing, possibly by adapting preformed material (see Form and Structure), how “the righteousness of God” comes to effect “through faith in Jesus Christ.” The abruptness of the construction also helps underline the fact that it is precisely those who have sinned and fall short of God’s glory who are justified; cf. 5:20 (Wilckens). The passive indicative participle of δικαιόω is without parallel in Paul, but he does speak of God as ὁ δικαιῶν, “the one who justifies,” on several occasions (3:26; 4:5; 8:33; Gal 3:11), and the same tense is used in the passive to describe how justification happens as a general rule (3:28; Gal 2:16). The present tense also serves to span the temporal gap between the two decisive epochal moments in salvation history which he has in view: Christ’s atoning death (v 25) and the final judgment (v 20). Cf. the switch from present to future in 3:28, 30; and see further on 1:17.

δωρεάν, “as a gift, without payment.” cf. Gen 29:15; Exod 21:11; Josephus, Life 38, 425; War 1.274; Matt 10:8; 2 Cor 11:7; 2 Thess 3:8; Rev 21:6; 22:17.

τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι, “by his grace.” For χάρις, a dynamic word like δικαιοσύνη, as denoting God’s outreach in gracious power, see on 1:5. Where δικαιοσύνη, however, is qualified by the relationship to which it refers, χάρις denotes the unconditional character of God’s action—an emphasis doubled by conjoining it here with δωρεάν; cf. particularly 5:15: ἡ δωρεὰ ἐν χάριτι. It is important to recall that Judaism also saw its covenant relationship with God as given by grace (cf. Philo, Sac. 57; 2 Apoc. Bar. 48.18–20; 75.5–7; and see further Introduction §§5.1 and 5.3)—an emphasis which Paul would not dispute (11:5); see also EWNT 3:1098–99. But in Paul’s perspective this recognition of God’s covenant choice had been too much obscured by current Jewish emphasis on law and works of law. Paul is here, therefore, developing a different understanding of God’s covenant choice and righteousness, by setting grace in antithesis to the law and works (implicit here; explicit in 6:14–15 and 11:6) and asserting the human correlative to be faith (cf. particularly 4:16).

διὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως, “through the redemption,” “act of liberation” (neb). ἀπολύτρωσις is a little used word, but certainly known not least in Jewish writers in the sense of ransoming a captive or prisoner of war from slavery (Ep. Arist. 12, 33; Philo, Prob. 114; Josephus, Ant. 12.27; see further BGD); Deissmann’s famous example of its use in reference to sacral manumission (Light, 327) should not be allowed to dominate the interpretation, since it is only a particular application of a broader concept; on the other hand, we should not forget that many of Paul’s audience in Rome were themselves slaves or ex-slaves (Leenhardt; see Introduction §2.4.2). The uncompounded word (λύτρωσις) is more widely used, in the LXX at any rate (about 10 times), in the same sense of “ransoming”; it is quite possible that Christian tradition or Paul himself deliberately chose the weightier compound form to strengthen the sense of ransoming from (sin) or back (to God; cf. Moulton, Grammar 2:298, 299). But it is almost impossible to doubt that behind the text lies the strong OT motif, expressed in regular use of the verb λυτροῦν, particularly of God as redeemer of his people Israel and especially of Israel’s being ransomed (from slavery) in Egypt—prominent in Deut (7:8; 9:26; 13:5 [LXX 6]; 15:15; 21:8; 24:18), the Psalms (25 [24]:22; 26 [25]:11; 31:5 [30:6]; 32 [31]:7; etc.) and Second Isaiah (41:14; 43:1, 14; 44:22–24; 51:11; 52:3; 62:12; 63:9). That Paul is drawing on typical emphases of Israel’s covenant faith is indicated also particularly by Pss 111[110]:9 and 130[129]:7–8. The distinctively Christian note is not given in the ἀπολύτρωσις, but in the ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ. For the debate on whether the concept of “redemption” includes the idea of paying a price (the stronger the LXX background is thought to be, the less is it likely that the two go necessarily together) see particularly Marshall, who makes a helpful clarification of the distinction between “price” and “cost” (“Redemption,” 153 n.4). See further especially Kertelge, Rechtfertigung, 53–55; also EWNT 1:332–34. The word includes the process of redemption, not just the event of crucifixion (see Wennemer); in the Pauline literature ἀπολύτρωσις (like δικαιόω) contains the “already/not yet” tension within itself (8:23; 1 Cor 1:30; Eph 1:7, 14; 4:30; Col 1:14); note the striking parallels in 1QM 1:12; 14:5; 15:1.

ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, “in Christ Jesus,” is the first occurrence in Romans of a phrase much loved by Paul and distinctive of his theology (6:11, 23; 8:1, 2; 9:1; 12:5; 15:17; 16:3, 7, 9, 10; etc.—more than 80 times in the Pauline corpus); outside the Pauline corpus as such in this distinctive Pauline usage elsewhere only in 1 Pet 3:16 and 5:10, 14; the use of the phrase in Clement and Ignatius (e.g., 1 Clem 32.4; 38.1; Ign. Eph. 1.1; Trall. 9.2) is almost certainly a reflection of Pauline influence. That in this phrase here at least Paul looks back to the decisive act of Christ’s death and resurrection by which the new epoch had been introduced is certainly indicated by the context (vv 21, 25)—“through Christ Jesus,” “determined by the fact that Jesus Christ died and rose” (Neugebauer, quoted by Kramer, 143). But since this new epoch is also characterized by the continuing Lordship of Christ (not just initiated by him), it is difficult to exclude the thought of a redemption which is “in Christ” for those who are “in Christ Jesus” (cf. ἐν νόμῳ—3:19). Since deliverance from sin comes about through death (6:7), it is only by participation in Christ in his death and new life that redemption from sin can begin to be experienced now (6:1–11); to the usage here cf. particularly 8:2; 1 Cor 1:4; 2 Cor 4:10–12; 13:4; and Gal 2:19–20. This fuller connotation should remind us that Paul’s concept of the risen Christ as “person” is by no means simple or easy to accommodate to modern understanding of persons; for Paul to be or share “in Christ Jesus” is to experience a (personal) power which embraces the individual, which has the character of Christ’s dying and rising and which effects an equivalent dying and rising in the one “in Christ” (see further Dunn, Jesus, 324 and 326–38; and below on 6:11 and 15:17).[7]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1991). Romans (Vol. 1, pp. 207–209). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Boice, J. M. (1991–). Romans: Justification by Faith (Vol. 1, pp. 355–370). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

[3] Harrison, E. F., & Hagner, D. A. (2008). Romans. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, pp. 70–71). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Moo, D. J. (2018). The Letter to the Romans. (N. B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, G. D. Fee, & J. B. Green, Eds.) (Second Edition, pp. 246–251). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[5] Edwards, J. R. (2011). Romans (pp. 101–103). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[6] Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 228). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[7] Dunn, J. D. G. (1998). Romans 1–8 (Vol. 38A, pp. 167–170). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

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