|Romans: The Clearest Gospel of All
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
I want to begin this very important study by asking you a question, and that is, Has the law silenced your mouth? Has it made you speechless? Or are you still talking?
Now for those of you who havent studied the last lesson, you may be wondering what Im asking. Let me quickly review what weve covered.
In the last three studies, we have been studying Pauls explanation of the sinful problem of mankind. He begins in Romans 1:18 where he says:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
In other words, he says, and then he goes on to explain in verse 19 right to the end of chapter 1, that the problem of the Gentile world, is that they are ungodly. Man does not like to retain God in his mind. He wants to live without God. Last Sabbath, I read a statement from a company that did a survey in Seattle [Washington, U.S.A.] regarding religious attitudes. The majority of people living in Seattle feel that they can live good, moral, upright lives without God. Man thinks he can live without God, but when man turns his back to God, says Paul, the result is unrighteousness. And the reason why crime is increasing in this country is for that very reason. The more we turn our backs to God, the more sin will increase.
In chapter 2 up to 3:8, Paul turns his attention to the Jews. He says, You Jews are no better! The reason he makes this distinction between Gentiles and Jews is because, while the Gentiles had the knowledge of God through nature and they had the knowledge of His law in their conscience, this was only an implicit knowledge of God and His law. But over and above this, God had given a very clear, explicit revelation of Himself and His law to the Jews. Says Paul in Romans 3:2:
...First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.
But ultimately it makes no difference, because a knowledge of the law doesnt make you righteous. In the Jews there is precisely the same tendency of turning their backs to God, to Jehovah, and trying to worship their own gods and worship idols. Paul concludes in chapter 3:9:
What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge the Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.
He has proved and he has worked it from every conceivable angle, that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin. This means that we are by nature sold to sin. Even of ourselves, no person has, nor can produce a righteousness that will qualify him for heaven. There are none that are just. There is no one that does good. Paul concludes this dark, dismal picture of the human race in verses 19 and 20:
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
The purpose of the law is to silence us. Both the Gentiles and the Jews are under the law. The Gentiles have the law in their conscience. The Jews have the law in this written form. But ultimately, there are none righteous. Both are guilty under the law. Both deserve punishment. Therefore, says Paul, the whole world becomes guilty before God. And the question I asked at the beginning is: Has the law done that to you?
It is no use preaching the gospel to people who think that they can make themselves Christians by their good works. Im wasting my time. The first work of the Bible the first work of the gospel is to shut our mouths up. Has it done that to you? I know it has done it to me! I can say with Paul, In me, that is, in my human nature, there is nothing good. And Therefore, verse 20 says, by the deeds of the law how many will be justified in His sight? The answer is: no one, Jew or Gentile. All that the law can do is to give us a knowledge of sin.
The law has a very glorious part in the gospel! The law has to first show us that we are totally bankrupt when it comes to righteousness. And Paul has been doing exactly that in chapter 1:18 right up to chapter 3:20. After he had laid this foundation, after he had silenced his readers, both Jews and Gentiles, after he had painted this dark, dismal, hopeless picture of the human race, he says in Romans 3:21:
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.
In other words, the only way you and I can attain to righteousness, the only way you and I can be qualified for heaven, is through the righteousness of God that comes to us by faith alone, and it is only after you have understood what the law was given for. God never gave the law to save us. It was never given as a means of salvation. And number two, it was never given as an added requirement for salvation.
In the last study, we read Galatians 3:17 onward. Why did God give the law 430 years after He promised salvation to Abraham and his seed? It was not because He was adding another requirement. It was that the law might be a schoolmaster that will lead us to Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
I hope the law has done that. I believe that God has restored the law in Adventism for that very reason. You cannot preach the gospel without the law first doing its job. And I pray that it has done the job in your life and in mine, that you can say with Paul, I have no more confidence in this flesh.
Now that Paul has done that, he introduces his gospel, and he defines his gospel in verse 21 of chapter 3 right up to verse 31. And I would like to say without any question, that these eleven verses, verses 21-31 of Romans, are very crucial, because they sum up together, in a nutshell, what the plan of salvation is all about, how mankind is saved, and how that salvation becomes effective.
Therefore, it would be unfair for me to tackle these eleven verses in one study. You would, number one, have spiritual indigestion, and number two, I would never be able to do justice to it in a single study. So Im going to deal only with three verses today. And then, next study, Ill deal with verses 24-26, and then, in the following study, with verses 27-31. In other words, were going to spend three studies on this passage because every word, every statement in this passage is loaded, and we need to dig and find out what Paul is saying.
With this in mind, lets begin our study of verses 21-23. I want you to notice first of all, that Paul introduces the gospel by two very important words. We tend to gloss over those words and we dare not. He introduces the gospel by two words:
These two words are tremendous. They are important and we need to come to grips with what Paul means by them. And I would like to show you at least three reasons why these two words are important.
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures....
You see, salvation was not an afterthought. God promised salvation from the moment Adam sinned. But salvation was only a promise to Adam. It was a promise to Noah. It was a promise to Abraham. Paul makes it clear that Abraham was saved by a promise. But now, it is no longer a promise. But now, it is manifested. Please look at the word. It is in the past tense. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is manifested.... In other words, it is now an historical reality.
The Germans have an excellent word for this, Heilgeschichte salvation history. It is no longer a promise, it is an historical reality. Therefore, we are not living in the period of B.C., we are living in the period of A.D. And this time factor must be applied not only in terms of the historical Christ, but also in terms of each believer, because every believer can divide his life into two periods, B.C. and A.D. Before Christ, you were under condemnation. There was no hope. There was no peace. There was no assurance. But now that you have accepted Christ, you are no longer living in that time period. Youre living now in the A.D. period. Christ has now become your righteousness. And this brings me to point number three.
I want to give you a beautiful promise. I want to do it for one reason. There are many Adventists who unfortunately have turned Ellen G. White into a legalist, when she is not. So Im going to read you this beautiful statement from Gospel Workers, page 161. Please take note of it.
The thought that the righteousness of Christ is imputed...
Have you got it? Not imparted! Which I believe in. The Bible teaches it and Ellen G. White teaches it, but she talking now of imputed righteousness.
The thought that the righteousness of Christ is imputed...
That is, put to your account. God reckons you like that. Not because of any merit on our part, but as a free gift from God.
...is a precious thought....
Is the righteousness of Christ to you a precious thought?
The enemy of God and man is not willing that the truth should be clearly presented....
I believe that statement! The churches are dying for a clear understanding of this truth. Our people are dying!
The enemy of God and man is not willing that the truth should be clearly presented for he knows that if the people receive it fully...
Not only taught it, but receive it. And that I cant do for you. I cant receive it for you. Thats your part. But he knows, the devil knows that if you could...
...receive it fully, his power will be broken.
Why? Because you have a tool now in your hands. You can say to him, But now the righteousness of God.
If he can control minds so that doubt and unbelief and darkness shall compose the experience of those who claim to be the children of God, he can overcome them with temptation.
In other words, the secret for victorious living is to be grounded in the righteousness of Christ. It is no use trying to produce apples from an orange tree. Am I correct? The ground, the fruit which is sanctification, is justification by faith. And if our people have not understood justification by faith, you can spend years, you can shout at them, you can promote them, you can push them, you can give them incentives, you can give them a trip to Hawaii (you know, if they sell so many books), but we will never produce the fruits as long as we are insecure about our salvation! And the first thing that God gives us is But now the righteousness of God.
But now, let us go back. We cant spend all our time on those two words. Says Paul, in chapter 3 of Romans, verse 21:
But now a righteousness from God....
What does he mean by that, ...the righteousness of God?
1. Well, number one, he means it is a righteousness planned by God. Do you know when He planned it? Before you and I were born. Before even Adam was created. Because Ephesians 1:4 says that:
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight....
And in Revelation, Jesus is called the lamb slain from the foundation of the world. You see, God knew that we would come into this terrible plight of sin. And before sin came in He had already planned our salvation in Jesus Christ. So number one, the righteousness of God means its a righteousness planned by God.
2. After He planned it, He promised it to the human race immediately after Adam fell. Do you remember what happened after Adam fell? God came to visit him. Now why did God come to visit him? Well, Adam and Eve thought that He was coming to punish them, to execute judgment upon them, or to use a good American expression, they thought He was coming to zap them. Was He? No! Why did He come? He came to give them the promise of salvation. He promised this to Adam and Eve. He promised this to Noah. He promised this to Abraham and through the prophets. And thats what Paul means in Romans 3:21:
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.
He is saying, This promise was witnessed by the law and the prophets.
The law means the Torah, the books of Moses, and the prophets are the rest. But God did not simply promise. He fulfilled that promise in Jesus Christ. So it is a righteousness planned by God, it is a righteousness promised by God, it is a righteousness that is provided by God. And you know, you and I did not make one ounce of contribution towards that righteousness. It is all of God! How do I know? Because after saying But now the righteousness of God, he adds the phrase, apart from the law.... And that phrase has caused much confusion in the Christian church. What did Paul mean, that now we have the righteousness of God apart from the law? Or, as your King James says, without the law? What does he mean?
Well, Ill tell you what it does not mean, but many Christians teach this. They teach that Jesus or God tried to save man through His law when He gave it to Moses. But because it failed, He did away with the law and He introduced grace. And therefore, they say, without the law means that from Christ onward the law has been done away with and we are saved only by grace.
This is the theology of those who divide the Bible into sections, into dispensations, and teach that God has, in different dispensations, dealt with mankind in different ways. They deny a fundamental truth of scripture and that is the unity of the Bible. The Bible doesnt teach that God has different ways of salvation. Theres only one way that God saves mankind, from Adam to the last man, and that is through His righteousness as a gift to us through Jesus Christ. God doesnt have two or three methods. Salvation by grace is not an afterthought because the law failed.
Then what does Paul mean by the phrase apart from the law? Well, whatever it means, it must never contradict Romans 3, verse 31. Because there in verse 31, I read:
Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
Do we do away with the law through faith or through this doctrine of righteousness by faith? And the answer is not just no. Its a very strong NO! Certainly not in the New King James version. The King James says, God forbid! Its unthinkable! On the contrary! We who preach righteousness by faith establish the law. So, Paul does not mean that apart from the law means that God did away with the law to introduce grace. But I have still not answered the question. What does he mean then by apart from the law? Well, there are two statements that will help us.
First of all, you need to realize that phrase apart from the law is written in the context of Romans 3, verse 20. What does it say in verse 20?
Therefore, no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
Therefore, by observing the law, how many will be justified? No one. What he means is that the righteousness of God is entirely from Him and we have not contributed one iota in terms of our law keeping. The conclusion proves this. Look at Romans 3, verse 28, which is the conclusion of his argument:
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
In other words, the righteousness that God offers mankind is planned, promised, provided, fulfilled from heaven, in Christ. Its a heavenly robe (often known as the righteousness of Christ); its a heavenly garment, without a single thread of human devising. It is entirely from God. You and I have not contributed towards that righteousness, one iota. In other words, it is entirely a GIFT! Its FREE! And thats what Romans 3, verse 24 comes out with:
...And [all] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
You and I cannot contribute one iota towards it. Thats why in Romans 3, verse 27, he says:
Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith.
There is no boasting in righteousness by faith. Why? Because it is all of God and a gift to us. This is why we can use those two words, But now the righteousness of God. You see, you cant use these two words as long as you are looking at yourself and your performance, trying to make yourself a better Christian or improving your standing before God. The moment you do that, you cannot use this phrase, But now the righteousness of God apart from the law.... because there is no boasting in righteousness by faith. It is all of God. So, what is Paul saying here? He is saying: But now God has obtained for us a righteousness which He planned and provided in Christ without any contribution from you or from me. It is entirely His work. It was promised before, but now it is an historical reality.
That is what verse 21 is saying.
Now comes the question. How can I have this righteousness? What must I do for this righteousness to become mine? Well, do I have to pay some money? Well, Ill tell you, if you pay me some money Ill offer it to you. I wish I could say that. But I cant. Does it mean going on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, like the Muslims go to Mecca? The other day I received a letter from a company, and it said, If you can get 30 of your members to take a trip to the Holy Land, we will give you a free ticket!
I call that bribery and correction. I had to write them and say, Sorry, I have already been there. I worked there. And all I saw was corruption. Theres nothing holy about the Holy Land. Believe it or not. Theyll rob you left, right, and center, if you dont know the truth.
I dont get righteousness by faith through going to the Holy Land. I do not get it by paying money. I do not get it by doing something. How then does this righteousness become mine? Pauls answer in Romans 3, verse 22 is:
This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference....
What Paul is saying here is that the righteousness of God is ours through faith in Jesus Christ, and this applies to all. Whether you are a Jew, or whether you are a Gentile, or whether you lived in Old Testament times, or whether you lived in New Testament times, there is only one way that God can save you, and that is through the righteousness of God which is made effective through faith alone, and nothing else.
Now, of course, this word faith is sometimes misused and misunderstood. So, I would like briefly to explain what it means. Im going to use only the book of Romans. Ill give you some other texts to look up if you want to.
Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.
In other words, we cannot come to the knowledge of the gospel through rationale, or through investigation through the scientific method. It comes to us by the preaching of the word, and that is why Romans 10, verse 15 says:
And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!
That is the secret of beautiful feet in Gods eyes! How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel. So number one, there has to be a knowledge of the gospel. That is why we have to witness! Gods righteousness is available to all mankind, but unfortunately, all people do not know it. And the first requirement to have faith is to know the truth. I believe that God has raised the Advent movement to finish this mission. For Jesus said in Matthew 24:14:
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
God will not send His Son the second time, until the world has had a chance to say, God, thank you for Your unspeakable gift! Or reject Him.
If God comes to you married women who have passed the age of child bearing and tells you, By the way, next year youre going to have a son, what will you say? Youll have two options. After you have visited the general hospital, they will say, Who told you this nonsense? I hope they wont, but they will say, Well, Im afraid I have bad news. Its impossible for you to have children. Youve passed that age. But God says YOU WILL! Do you believe that? Did Abraham believe that Sarah would have a child after she had passed the age of child bearing? Faith is believing the impossible!
In 1961, I was selling books for my school fees to Newbold [College], in a town called Kiruna, 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle in Sweden. Its the only place where I found more mosquitos than in Africa. They had mosquitos everywhere. And big ones, too! Bigger than the African ones. They must have imported them from Texas. They were huge and they liked to suck your blood. Anyway, for six weeks the sun never went down below the horizon. They call it The Land of the Midnight Sun. The first weekend, the first Friday night, my friend John, who was a dean, and I, waited to see how low the sun would go. We knew from the calendar that it would be at the lowest point at quarter past midnight. So we waited and it went down to an angle [above the horizon]. I took my watch and photographed the sun with it at midnight.
Later I showed this slide to my African brethren on the equator, where the sun sets, all year round, at 6:15 p.m. One old man who had never been to school, he could not read or write, came up to me and said, Who are you trying to deceive? We know what you did! You changed your watch to 12 oclock and then you photographed the sun! Dont give me that nonsense! he said. Now, if I had money, I would have bought him a ticket and took him to Kiruna and let him see it with his own eyes. And I would say, Now, what do you think? And he would say, Youre correct!
God tells you that, in Christ, you have never sinned. Or if I may use the words of Steps to Christ [by Ellen G. White]:
When you accept Christ, God looks at you as if you have never sinned.
Do you believe that? Or do you say, Well, Im not good enough! I dont feel righteous!
God says, I dont care what you feel. Im telling you that you are righteous in My Son!
And you say, Well..., like Sarah laughed when the angel said, Next year your wife will have a son. What if you do? You could say, Where did these fellows go to school? They need to go to Loma Linda [University in California, U.S.A.] and discover that you cant have children after you pass the age of child bearing. God is able to do the impossible and He has done the impossible in Jesus Christ. Do you believe it? But there is a third requirement.
Through him and for his names sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.
This message has to be obeyed, the obedience of faith.
Then, in chapter 6 of Romans, speaking about the Roman Christian, in verse 17 he says:
But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted.
The Roman Christians believed, obeyed the gospel. And then in chapter 10:16, turning to the Jews, the Jewish nation whom he loved, but who had turned their backs to Jesus Christ, he says:
But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed our message?
They have not all obeyed the gospel.
So you Romans, salvation is yours. You have obeyed the gospel. You Jews, dont blame God. In Christ, you have righteousness, but you have not obeyed the gospel. And it is not because you did not hear the gospel! You heard it, but, as Isaiah said [Isaiah 53:1]:
Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
What does it mean to obey the gospel? Does it mean doing something?
The answer is no! It means surrendering your will to the truth as it is in Christ. You see, God has rewritten your history in Christ. He put you in Christ and He rewrote your history.
And because we are sinners, there was something essential that had to take place,(and well cover this when we do verse 31), and that is that you and I had to die! The wages of sin is death [Romans 6:23]. Jesus did not come to change the death sentence. He did not come to substitute the death sentence. He came to fulfill it. And, in Christ, it was fulfilled! For, in Christs death, it wasnt just one man dying instead of all men, or in place of all men. In Christ, all men died in one Man! That is the true doctrine of substitution. II Corinthians 5:14:
For Christs love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.
When One died, all died. Obeying the gospel is to say with Paul [Galations 2:20]:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lived in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
When we have understood the true meaning of faith, the fruit [or result] is always holiness of living, because Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The life He lived 2,000 years ago He can live in you. But He doesnt do that to give you assurance or to save you, but as evidence of righteousness or justification by faith. Obedience to the gospel is saying, Not I, but Christ.
How is this righteousness effective? Through faith alone! Not through faith plus works. Through faith that works! But never plus works. Paul continues [Romans 3:22-23]:
...There is no difference [between Jew and Gentile], for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God....
What does he mean here? The word sin means missing the mark. In other words, the word sin means coming short of the glory of God. Now, is Paul repeating himself twice? Is he saying that all are coming short of the glory of God and all are coming short of the glory of God? The answer is no.
I want you to look at those two statements. Paul makes two statements in verse 23. The first one, all have sinned, is in the past historic tense. He uses what we call in Greek the aorist tense, meaning something that has happened once and for all in the past: All have sinned. And the question we must ask is: When did all sin in the past?
He doesnt answer the question here, but he will answer the question in Romans 5. The answer is (and we will cover that in detail) that all have sinned in Adam. We cant deal with this right now. I know this is a big problem, but you have to wait until we come to Romans 5:12. He uses the same phrase in the same aorist tense in Romans 5:12:
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned....
Death comes upon all, because all have sinned. However, Paul is saying in verse 23 of chapter 3: Besides that, we are presently, continuously coming short of the glory of God.
The second statement, [all] fall short of the glory of God, is in the present tense. So not only have we sinned in Adam, but, apart from that, we also are sinning. Therefore, whether you look at our heritage, or whether you look at our performance, there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, none of us are qualified for heaven. The only way that you and I can make it to the kingdom of God is through righteousness by faith, the righteousness of God that comes to us by faith. Thats why at the beginning of this study, I asked the question, Have you been silenced by the law? If you havent, then you can never say, But now a righteousness from God, apart from [my deeds of the] law, has been made known....
Its no longer promised; its a reality! It has become mine through faith alone. My hope is built on nothing else, but Jesus Christ and His righteousness. That is why you and I can have hope! That is why I dont have to lie on the ground every time Satan knocks me down. In Christ, God looks at me perfectly and fully justified. It is from that position that I walk the Christian life with hope and assurance. If I dont have that assurance, I am always concerned about my security and, as long as I am concerned about my security my eternal security I can never serve Christ with a clear, free of self, motive. God wants us to serve Him without a selfish motive. We cannot do that unless He has first liberated us from the fear of eternal death.
And He has done that in justification by faith. That is why it is extremely important that we understand what Paul is trying to say to us.
May God bless us, so that you and I, having been silenced by the law, can say, But now the righteousness of God....
That is my prayer for each one of you in Jesus Name. Amen.