The words of Romans 3:19-20 are all too clear. “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. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
All are Lost
The book of Romans begins by demonstrating that all are lost. All have fallen under the penalty of sin. Especially those who have the Law—the Old Testament Law given through Moses. We are told that the whole world will be held “accountable to God” (3:19).
The word translated “accountable” or “guilty” (KJV) only occurs here in the Greek New Testament. It is defined as: “The state of an accused person who cannot reply at the trial initiated against him because he has exhausted all possibilities of refuting the charge against him and averting the condemnation and its consequences which ineluctably follow. Since not merely the Gentiles but the Jews too, who look down on them, are forced by their own divinely given Law to accept this, the result is that every mouth will be stopped and the whole world falls under the judgment of God to condemnation, unless God Himself establishes a new right, which is what R. 3:21 ff. proclaims as a reality actually accomplished in Jesus Christ.” (Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 558.)
Romans 3:19 contains the judicial sentence of the sinner. Ephesians 2:1 contains the spiritual state of the sinner, “you were dead in your trespasses and sins.” This harsh reality of sin is one we need to be reminded of often. Some today tell us that we should not preach against sin but only preach hope. “You don’t have to tell a drowning person they are drowning. You just have to tell them where to find help.” While we want to preach grace, we cannot preach grace without preaching the penalty of sin. We cannot preach hope, unless we preach of why we need hope. John the Baptist and Jesus began preaching and said, “repent.” Let us be like Jesus.
Before Paul was able to preach the glories of grace, he had to preach the horrible consequences of sin.
- For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin—Ro 3:9.
- Galatians 2:22, But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
Perhaps if we think about sin more, we could sin less.
Furthermore, the situation is worse still yet because we can do nothing to escape. We have sinned. We have cut ourselves off from God. We are completely dependent upon his gracious mercy for hope and revival. So Paul said in Galatians 2:16, “ we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”
So we have no hope in ourselves, but we have all hope in Christ. John Owen said, “There is no death of sin without the death of Christ.” (Elliot Ritzema, ed., 300 Quotations for Preachers (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012). “He that sins is human; he that grieves over sin is a saint; he that boasts of sin is of the devil; He that forgives sin is God.” G. Curtis Jones, 1000 Illustrations for Preaching and Teaching (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1986), 314.
In the blackness of sin, the golden text of the Bible shines the brightest. Focus upon every syllable of God’s grace. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (Jn 3:16–19).
All have hope—Romans 3:21-26
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought! My sin, not in part but the whole, Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
This is how it is well with any soul. Romans 3:21-16
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
In these five verses the words “righteousness” or “just” are used to translate the same Greek word which occurs seven times. The concept is a just relationship maintained by a declaration of acquittal of wrong and continued right living. Righteousness and justification can therefore be seen as the declaration of God and the aspiration of man. All that we lost, all that we refused, all that we forfeited in sin is regained through Christ.
Although we have sinned, God declared that we will be acquitted. Imagine if you will standing before the Judge of all the earth. You know your sin. God knows your sin better than you do. But as you dare to look up to the Judge to receive your sentence, you see that Jesus is your Judge. All is not lost!
The one who is your judge is also the one “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” The word “propitiation” is
“Propitiation properly signifies the removal of wrath by the offering of a gift. In the OT it is expressed by the verb kipper (Atonement). In the NT the hilaskomai word group is the important one. In modern times the whole idea of propitiation has been strongly criticized as savouring of unworthy ideas of God. ( L. L. Morris, “Propitiation,” ed. D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, et al., New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 975.)
John tells us “He is the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:2). The Judge is also our sacrifice.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Is 53:4–6).
The Epistle to Diognetus (likely written around 150AD) records stirring words describing this transaction of grace through faith.
And when our iniquity had been fully accomplished, and it had been made perfectly manifest that punishment and death were expected as its recompense, and the season came which God had ordained, when henceforth He should manifest His goodness and power (O the exceeding great kindness and love of God), He hated us not, neither rejected us, nor bore us malice, but was long-suffering and patient, and in pity for us took upon Himself our sins, and Himself parted with His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy for the lawless, the guileless for the evil, the just for the unjust, the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal. 3For what else but His righteousness would have covered our sins? 4In whom was it possible for us lawless and ungodly men to have been justified, save only in the Son of God? 5O the sweet exchange, O the inscrutable creation, O the unexpected benefits; that the iniquity of many should be concealed in One Righteous Man, and the righteousness of One should justify many that are iniquitous! (Joseph Barber Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, The Apostolic Fathers (London: Macmillan and Co., 1891), 508–509.)
How incredible! “Deeper than the ocean and wider than the sea is the grace of the Savior for sinners like me.”
This grace is received by faith. Some declare that the gift of God is received by “faith alone” and mean by belief alone. The New Testament uses the word “faith” to speak of the Christian system the “faith once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). The “faith” (the Christian system or law) is contrasted with “the Law” (the Mosaic Law) in Paul’s writing. So we understand that God’s blessings of grace are not received by “the Law” but rather through the Christian system of faith.
This great system of grace being received through faith is praised. Paul explained this reception of grace through faith in the Galatian letter.
“Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ga 3:21–28.)
For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. 32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. 33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!: (Ro 11:30–33).
How thankful we are for God’s liberating grace!
God’s Invitation to Grace
Just as King David sought Mephibosheth to display favor to the house of Jonathan, now God invites you to come to his table and be treated as a son of the King. The fifth chapter of Romans exclaims “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Ro 5:1–3). Romans 8:1-4 again declares:
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
Oh, the depths and the riches of God’s saving grace!
Why refuse this offer? Why refuse God’s grace? Be covered by his grace as you are immersed in water for the forgiveness of your sins.