Understanding the Gospel 
 by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira 

1 – The Righteousness of God

In 1972, my family and I had the “privilege” of being deported from Uganda by Idi Amin.  I say “privilege” because the other alternative was to be put into a concentration camp and be shot.  When we left, we lost everything.  Idi Amin would not allow us to even touch our bank account.  Each one of us was allowed one small suitcase and one hand luggage.  The total weight could not be more than 44 pounds.  We were allowed only $150 from our bank account for the whole family and that was all.

We were sent to Uganda by the brethren and deported from Uganda to Ethiopia by the government.  We arrived in 1973 and the Executive Secretary of the Union, who was an Ethiopian, said to me, “What happened to you there in Uganda can never happen to you here in Ethiopia.”  I said, “Why?” He said, “For two reasons.  Ethiopia is a Christian country and we respect private ownership.”  One year later he had to swallow those words.  We had the Marxist Revolution.  He lost his own house and he died last year in poverty, far from his country.

The Communist government didn’t care too much about the older people.  It was the youth they wanted, so they closed down all schools from tenth grade to university for two years.  There was no school, public or private.  They took the young people and put them in camps of 150 and brainwashed them on this atheistic, Marxist philosophy.  During those two years, we had about 8,000 youth in those camps.  They could not pray openly; they could not read their Bibles; they could not go to church and they were forced to work on the Sabbath.

To make matters worse, they had to raise their left arm and shout slogans.  Two of them in English were, “God is an impostor” and “Christ is a devil.”  Anyone who disobeyed was either shot or stoned to death.  I knew of only one student out of the approximately 8,000 who was willing to die for Christ.  The other students could not take that pressure.

When the students came back to the college where I was head of the Bible department, it disturbed me that we had failed to prepare our young people for the crisis.  The older people were no better, even though they didn’t face the same pressures as the young people.  I asked myself, “Where did we go wrong?” I discovered that these young people knew Bible doctrines but they were not established on the Rock, Jesus Christ.  They had no assurance of salvation; therefore, they had nothing to die for.

We spent a year trying to establish them in Christ.  One of the things I used was the Book of Romans.  It made a tremendous difference.  Some of those young people were willing to die for Christ after they knew Him.  Some of those young people spent six to eight years, the best years of their lives, in prison.  They were in a Communist prison, not in an American penitentiary where they have good food including dessert.  I worked with the Penitentiary prisoners at one time where they have TV, a library, a gym.

In Ethiopia, they were not even given food.  They were living in hovels filled with fleas, bugs, over-crowded, no food.  The family had to bring food.  The Christians forgot their denominations, met together and said, “Let us pool our food together and feed the whole crowd.”  One of those young people was a seventeen year old girl who was fifteen when I baptized her.  She was an introvert who hardly ever opened her mouth.  You never would have dreamed that she would stand for Christ.

They took her because she would not give up her faith in Christ.  They put her in stocks and for three months she was not even allowed loose to go to the bathroom, so you can imagine the mess she lived in.  They starved and beat her.  Finally, the huge 250 pound soldier, who was in charge of her, was so enraged that this young little girl was defying him that he undid the stocks, held her by the scruff of the neck and said, “I’m giving you five minutes to deny Christ or you’re dead.”  She said in a whisper, “I don’t need five minutes.  You can kill me now but you cannot rob me of my hope in Christ.”  He flung her on the floor and in his anger he jumped on her and broke her spine.  Then the other soldiers came to her aid.  She is now paralyzed from the waist downwards but she has a hope that she will not give up.

When I left Africa, the people said to me, “Please don’t forget us when you come to ‘the land of milk and money.’”  I have discovered here that money does not give you peace.  Two years ago, half a million teenagers, most of them coming from wealthy homes, attempted suicide in this country because money, wealth, and education cannot give you peace, only Jesus Christ can.  I don’t think I have to convince you that the good old days are coming to an end.  The future doesn’t look very promising even for this country.

No book of scripture, Old or New Testament, has made such an impact on the Christian church throughout its history as has the Book of Romans.  It is the book that turned Luther around and brought about the birth of the Reformation.  It was reading the Commentary on Romans that turned John Bunyan around.  He is known in England as the “Immortal Tinker of Bedford” and known in America as the author of Pilgrim’s Progress.  One of the great men of God was John Wesley from England.  He was a missionary in this country and went home to England very discouraged.  He had no hope and no assurance of salvation.

One day a young friend of his said to him, “There is a prayer meeting in a little home on one of the side streets.  Why don’t you come?  I think you will enjoy it.”  At the beginning Wesley said, “What can these people give me?  I’m trained in theology.”  He went just to please his friend, heard the man behind the pulpit read from the preface of Luther’s Commentary on Romans and his heart was strangely warmed.  No wonder Luther described Romans as “the clearest gospel of all.”

To help us to understand, we will look at Paul’s introduction.

Romans 1:1:
Paul, a servant [in the Greek it says “slave”] of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God....

Paul’s parents had great dreams for this little baby.  They gave him the name Saul, the royal name of the king of Israel, because Paul was from the tribe of Benjamin.  But when he found Christ, he changed his name to Paul.  In Latin, it means “little.”  “For now,” said Paul, “I am nothing and Christ is everything.”

In the introduction, he says: “I am a slave of Jesus Christ called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.”

When Christ came to this world, He came primarily to be the gospel not primarily to explain or teach it, but it was Paul that God set aside to expound it.  We find proof of that in Acts 9 which is dealing with the conversion of Paul.  On his way to Damascus, Jesus met him there.  The flash of lightning with the thunder, the presence of Jesus, blinded him.

Then God spoke to Ananias, one of God’s servants and said to him, “I want you to go to the place called Straight where there is a man praying.  I want you to bless him, remove his blindness.”  Ananias knew about Paul.

Acts 9:13-14:
“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem.  And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

He is saying, “God, I think you have made a mistake.  You haven’t been reading the newspapers.”  Then God said:

Acts 9:15:
But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go!  This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.”

If anything, this verse should teach us a lesson.  Never judge people outwardly.  We have no idea how God will finish the work.  He will choose the most insignificant people to turn this world upside down.

In another passage, Paul is more specific.

Ephesians 3:8:
Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me:  to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ....

Paul was the theologian of the New Testament, which is why almost half of the New Testament is Pauline Epistles.  Romans is very special because all the other epistles in the New Testament, whether to churches or to people, were written to people to whom he had already verbally preached the gospel.  Because they had heard the gospel from him already, in his epistles he doesn’t spell out in detail what he had preached to them.

But Romans was a letter to a church that he had not yet been to or established.  He was writing to a people who had not heard him preach.  Unfortunately, there were no tape recorders in those days so the clearest explanation of Paul’s exposition of the gospel is found in the book of Romans.

When I was preaching Romans in one of my churches, one of the elderly members said to me, “Pastor, when are you going to change the subject?” In his mind, Romans was only one topic, but Romans is the full counsel of God.  It deals with the sin problem, the gospel, how that gospel is made effective in our lives, which is justification by faith, with the work of the Holy Spirit in our believers.  It deals with the Jewish nation and the gospel, with Christian ethics.  It’s all there.  We will study the key passages which will, I hope, do something that Paul intended for the readers of this epistle.

Paul says:

Romans 1:11:
I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong....

The purpose of writing this letter, the purpose of Paul’s desire to visit Rome, was to establish them and he is preparing them by writing this letter to them.  If there is ever a time for God’s people to be established, it’s now.  In 1982, one of my members wanted me to join a club called Wilderness Survival.  I said, “I may need that in Africa but why in America?” He said, “You will need it in the time of trouble.”

This club was learning all the edible weeds in the mountains of Idaho.  I said to him, “Brother, you have missed the point.  The issue of the time of trouble is not edible or inedible weeds.  You can eat all the dandelions you want but all the devil has to do is move you from Idaho to Colorado where the weeds are different.”

The issue in the time of trouble is also not sinless living, even though I believe God can give us total victory over sin.  But we will not know it because our nature will remain sinful until our dying day and it will tell us that we are sinners.  We will be agonizing because we will feel sinful.  The real issue in the time of trouble is, “Can God produce a people whose faith in Jesus Christ is unshakable?”

Jesus Himself said:

Luke 18:8b:
“However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

John tells us:

Revelation 6:17:
For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?

The only way God can produce a people whose faith is unshakable is for us to be established in Jesus Christ — in His love and His redeeming activity that took place 2,000 years ago.

We will lay the foundation for this study and then, move quickly to Romans 3.  Romans 1:15-17 is the theme of this whole book of Romans.  Paul has preached the gospel in Asia Minor, now he says:

Romans 1:15-16:
That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.  For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes:  first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

In those days, when an emphasis was needed, it was put in the negative.  If Paul was living today, he would say, “I am going to glory in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Rome was the capital of the world that counted in those days.  It boasted of military power; it boasted of philosophy; it boasted of architecture; in everything it boasted.  But there was one thing in which Rome had failed miserably and that was in conquering sin.  Paul says, “Ashamed?  Why should I be ashamed?  The gospel is the power of God.  Not of Rome, not of men, but the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”

Verse 17:

Romans 1:17:
For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed [made effective] — a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written:  [quoting from Habakkuk 2:4] “The righteous will live by faith.” [He that is just by faith shall live]

The gospel is not partly your righteousness and partly Christ’s righteousness; it is the righteousness of God, period.  He that is just by faith does not begin living when Christ comes.  We begin living from the moment we are justified by faith.

The passage in Romans 3:9-20 sums up what Paul says from Romans 1:18 right up to Romans 3:8. 

Romans 3:9-20:
What shall we conclude then?  Do we have any advantage?  Not at all!  For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin.  As it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God.  All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

“Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.”

“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”

“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”

“Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.”

“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
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 God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

When Paul begins to preach the gospel to the Romans, he does not begin by preaching Christ.  He begins by preaching the universal sin problem.  The gospel is not for good people; it is for sinners.  We can go one step further.  It is not simply for sinners; it is for people who are one hundred percent sinners, who are totally helpless, incapable of saving themselves.

In order to present the gospel, the first thing he has to do is to destroy all confidence in self.  In Romans 1:18-32, he looks at the human race in general and says that we are sinners by nature and performance.

Romans 1:18-32:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.  Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.  They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator — who is forever praised.  Amen.

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts.  Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.  In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.  Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.  They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.  They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.  Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

We have a dual problem.  We are ungodly; our very nature is anti-God and the result is unrighteousness.

The church of Rome was made up of two groups — Jews and Gentiles, who normally sat apart.  They didn’t mix so easily in those days and when the messenger read the first part of chapter one to the end of that chapter, you can imagine the Jews nodding their heads saying, “Yes, we always knew that these Gentiles are all sinners.”  There are some who look at other Christians that way.  They say, “You are Philistines.  We are the true people.”  We may be surprised when we go to heaven who will be there.

But in Romans 2 Paul lashes out at the Jews.

Romans 2:
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.  Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.  So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?  Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.  God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”  To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.  But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.  There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil:  first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.  For God does not show favoritism.

All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.  For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.  (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law.  They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)  This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth — you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself?  You who preach against stealing, do you steal?  You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?  You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?  You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?  As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised.  So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised?  The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.

A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical.  No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.  Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.

“You Jews claim to be God’s people; you claim to know the law; you claim to teach babies but by breaking the law you are blaspheming the name of God.  You are no better than the Gentiles.  In fact, there will be Gentiles who will pass the judgment more than you even though they don’t have the law explicitly.”  Then, he says, that ultimately there is no difference between Jew and Gentile.  Yes, the difference is that the Gentiles have the law through their consciences and a revelation of God through nature but the Jews have the explicit knowledge of God and His law through revelation, through the Bible.  Ultimately, it makes no difference because all in both groups are sinners.

The conclusion is in Romans 3:9:

Romans 3:9:
What shall we conclude then?  Do we [Jews] have any advantage [over Gentiles]?  Not at all!  For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin.

The word “under” was a term used in Paul’s day.  Paul lived in a slave society where between 40% to 60% of the population of the Roman Empire were slaves.  A slave was totally under the dominion of his master.  He owned nothing, not even the shirt on his back.  He had no choice, no freedom; he was totally dominated, ruled by his master.  Paul is saying that is exactly what we are under sin.

In Romans 7:14 Paul says the law is spiritual:

Romans 7:14:
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.

He says both are under sin.  Then, in Romans 3:10-18, he quotes texts from the Old Testament, one is from Ecclesiastes, one from Proverbs, one from Isaiah, the rest are all from Psalms, proving that this is what the Bible was teaching all along.

Romans 3:10-18:
As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God.  All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

“Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.”

“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”

“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”

“Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.”

“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Then he concludes:

Romans 3:19:
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.

“Now we know.”  You and I must reach this stage — “now we know” — because the formula of the gospel is made up of two parts, “Not I” and “But Christ” and the hardest part of the formula is “Not I.”  The flesh is willing to admit that it is a sinner but the flesh will not admit that we are one hundred percent sinful.  We want to find something good in us but Paul says:

Romans 7:18:
For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.

In the Old Testament, we are told that, from head to foot, we have nothing good in us.

Romans 3:19-20:
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law [Remember, the Jews and the Gentiles were both under the law — one explicitly, one through the conscience], so that every mouth may be silenced [stop boasting; stop telling yourself or others how good you are] and the whole world [the whole human race] held accountable to God.  Therefore [in view of this] no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

It is Paul saying it and if you have anything against that you can argue with him — if you see him in heaven — because if you are trying to go to heaven by the law, you won’t see him.  If you don’t believe me, read Galatians 5:4.  Christ has become of no value, you who are trying to be justified by the law.

Galatians 5:4:
You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.

Romans 3:20:
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

Whose sin?  Not your brother’s, not your sister’s, your sin.

Before you jump to any conclusion, I am not against the law, neither is Paul.  Paul is trying to make it clear that the law was never given as a method or a means of salvation.  When it comes to Christian living, especially Romans 13:8-10, he upholds the law as a standard of Christian living.

Romans 13:8-10:
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no harm to a neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

The gospel is good news for all men.  The gospel is the birth, the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, period.  Sanctification is the fruits of the gospel and if you have not produced the fruits, it is evident that you have not understood the gospel and responded to it.

Matthew 7:16:
By their fruit you will recognize them.  Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?

But Jesus did not say you would be saved by the fruits.  Let us not add to scripture what it does not say.  Sanctification or holy living or Christian living is the fruits of salvation and the second coming of Christ is the hope of the gospel.

We must be clear that when Paul is describing the gospel, he is talking of the holy history of our Lord Jesus Christ — His birth, His life, His death, His resurrection, period.  But he also makes it clear that this gospel, when it is responded to in faith, will produce a people who reflect the love of God and love is the fulfillment of the law.  Having said this, let me show you how he introduces the gospel.

After painting this dark, dismal, hopeless picture of mankind which is very discouraging to the proud heart, he introduces the gospel by two words — “But now.”  That is typical Paul.  He spent a long time on the sin problem and now he introduces the gospel.  Let me give you a couple of examples where, when writing to a church and to an individual, he simply reminds them of what he gives in detail in Romans.

In Ephesians 2:1-3, we have in summary what Paul wrote in detail in Romans 1:18 right up to Romans 3:20.  [Note:  In the King James Version, there is a phrase in Romans 2:1:  “He made alive” in italics.  When you come across any italics in the King James Version, it means it was not there in the original.  Paul did not write it.  The scribe probably did.  It is there in verse 5 but not in verse 1.]

One more point in this passage is that Paul uses two pronouns.  In fact, he uses three pronouns in Ephesians but here in this passage he uses two — “you” and “we.”  The “you” refers to Gentiles and the “we” refers to Jews.

Ephesians 2:1:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins....

This is not dealing with performance.  It is dealing with their nature, their equipment.  They were dead in trespasses and sins.  Verse 2 is dealing with performance.

Ephesians 2:1-2:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient [that is, those who are disobedient to the gospel].

Then, in Ephesians 2:3, he adds the Jews:

Ephesians 2:3:
All of us also lived among them at one time [not only you Gentiles but we Jews], gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts [that is performance].  Like the rest [just as you others], we were by nature deserving of wrath.

He paints this dark, dismal, hopeless picture.  But if you read verses 4-6, you have the gospel in a nutshell.

Ephesians 2:4-6:
But because of his great love for us [the cause is not because we deserve it but because of His great love], God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus....

Then he says,

Ephesians 2:8:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God....

Titus was a Gentile who was a co-worker with Paul.  In Titus 3:3-4, it is the same idea except it is in summary because these churches already knew the gospel through Paul.

Titus 3:3:
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.  We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.

There is nothing good about that, but there is a “but.”

Titus 3:4-6:
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior....

In Romans 3:21, we will look at those two words, “but now.”  We cannot ignore them.

Romans 3:21:
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.

  1. The gospel is presented to the human race in the context of our sinfulness.  In 1 Timothy, we are told:

    1 Timothy 1:15:
    Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst.

  2. “But now” involves a time factor.  When we read the whole of verse 21, we see what is meant by a time factor.

    Romans 3:21:
    But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.

    The Old Testament period, which is before the time Christ came, men such as Abraham and all those mentioned in Hebrews 11 were saved by faith in a promise.  Romans was written after Christ came but the moment Christ came, the promise became a reality.  Paul is saying that the righteousness of God apart from the law was promised by the Law and the Prophets, which is the book of Moses and the rest of the Old Testament, but now it is manifested, it is witnessed, it is reality.

  3. There is a third reason why we need to understand the two words, “But now.”  We need to use those words as a weapon against Satan.  Satan comes to you, a Christian, and knocks you down for the seventy-first time.  When he says, “You are not good enough to be saved,” he is right.  None of us are good enough to be saved.  We will never be good enough to be saved even if we were to live as long as Methuselah.

    But now, how do you respond?  Do you lie down defeated?  Or do you get up and say, “Yes, Satan, you are absolutely right.  I am not good enough to be saved.  But now the righteousness of God saves me!” You have a weapon.  When we understand justification by faith the shackles that Satan binds us with will be broken.  Christ has set us free from the accusation and condemnation.  Satan accuses us day and night because we are sinners day and night.  We are sinners even when we are sleeping.

Romans 3:21:
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.

There you have that phrase again.  Paul’s definition of the gospel is the righteousness of God.  Paul means it is a righteousness planned and initiated by God Himself.  We had no part in that plan.  It was God who planned it from the foundation of the world.

In Ephesians 1:4, Paul tells us we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.

Ephesians 1:4:
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight....

The book of Revelation says He is the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world, that is, even before Adam was created.

Revelation 13:8:
All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast — all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.

The fall of Adam did not take God by surprise.  He had already planned our salvation in Jesus Christ.  It was fulfilled by Jesus Christ with no contribution from us.  This is a garment woven in heaven without a single thread of human devising.  That’s why Paul uses the phrase “apart from the law.”

Romans 3:21:
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.

Let us see what he means by “apart from the law,” because there is a misunderstanding of that phrase.

There are Christians, mainly those who belong to the doctrine of Dispensationalism, who say:  “From Moses to Christ, man was put under the law and his salvation was based on the basis of his relationship to the law.  But because that failed, God came along with the Old Covenant which meant He did away with the law and introduced grace.  Therefore, grace is apart from the law.  The law was done away with.”

There is only one problem with that interpretation.  It contradicts Romans 3:31.

Romans 3:31:
Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith?  Not at all!  [God forbid.  The Greek says, “It’s unthinkable.”] Rather, we uphold the law.

How could he, say on the one hand, the law was done away with; on the other hand, we establish the law.  Paul does not contradict himself.

So the question we must ask is, “What did he mean by that phrase, “apart from the law”?  Notice Romans 3:20.  Paul is writing in context.

Romans 3:20:
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

In verse 20 he tells us that, by the deeds of the law, none will be justified.  He is saying, in verse 21, that the righteousness of God has no human contribution.

Romans 3:21:
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.

Our law-keeping has made no contribution towards the righteousness of God that saves us.  He brings this out in his conclusion.

Romans 3:28:

Romans 3:28:
For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

Once again, Paul is dealing with how we are saved.  He is not undermining the law.  There was no word, in Paul’s day, in the Greek language in which the New Testament is written, that was equivalent to our English word “legalism.”  So, wherever you read the phrase “deeds of the law” or “works of the law,” that is the word or the phrase in the New Testament which we would say is “legalism,” which is using the law as a means or a method of salvation.

Can God, through His Holy Spirit, give us power to keep the law?  The answer is, “Yes.”  But that law-keeping does not contribute towards the righteousness of God.  It is the fruits of the gospel.  It does not contribute towards the gospel.  I have heard preachers say, “Yes, it is the gospel because sanctification is also good news.”  I have no disagreement with that.  So is winning a lottery good news.  Just because it is good news doesn’t mean it is the gospel.  Don’t forget, the gospel is unconditional good news.  Sanctification does require something from me.  I have to walk in the Spirit for the Spirit to produce the character of Christ in me.  But the gospel is free, a gift, unconditionally, and we shall see this in our study of Romans 5.

Can this righteousness of God obtained for all men in Christ become mine?  Do I have to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Lands?  No.  I made it because I worked there.  Maybe some of you won’t but I thank God that is not necessary.  Do I have to pay money to the pastor?  No.  That is not what the Bible says.  How then can this righteousness of God become mine?  And the answer is only one word:  faith.  Let me add another word — faith alone.

Now let’s pause for an explanation of what the word faith, in the New Testament, means because there is a misunderstanding here.  There are three basic elements needed to make up New Testament faith.

  1. In order to have faith, we must have a knowledge of the gospel, because faith is never in and of itself.  It is always in an object and that object is Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

    Jesus said:

    John 8:32:
    “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

    The word truth here is not the Sabbath, not the state of the dead.  He explains what he means:

    John 8:36:
    So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

    Romans 10:17:
    Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ [the message of Christ preached].

    That is why we need to proclaim the gospel.

  2. We have to believe the truth and I will say the truth is too good to be true.  When my book was published, it was given the title Beyond Belief.  I asked them why they chose that title.  They said, “Because the gospel is so good that too many will think it is too good to be true.”  But it is the Word of God; Christ is saying it, Paul is saying it.

    Belief is a mental assent to truth.  Let me give you an example.  In 1961, as a student at Newbold College working for my tuition, I sold literature in a town 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle in Sweden.  The sun did not set at all for six solid weeks.  It was in the sky 24 hours a day.  It was the “Land of the Midnight Sun.”  Well, the big question was, “When does the Sabbath begin?” There were three positions, but I took the position that it was when the sun was at the lowest point.

    The first Friday I waited until midnight.  Just after midnight the sun was supposed to set at 12:15, so I photographed the sun with my watch in front.  I took this slide and showed it to some Africans in Kenya, which is on the equator where the sun sets at approximately 6:30 all year round.  One old man, who had not had the privilege of going to school, said, “Who are you trying to fool?” So I said to him, “Didn’t you see the picture?” He said, “Yes, but you are lying.”  I said, “How do you explain it?” He said, “Very simple.  You took your watch, turned it to 12:00 and photographed it at 5:00 in the evening and you’re telling us it is midnight.”

    Now, I showed him the truth but he didn’t believe it.  If I’d had enough money I would have bought him a ticket and taken him there.  In December they told me they don’t see the sun there at all for six weeks.  Remember how Thomas reacted when the disciples told him for the first time, “Jesus is risen”?  Remember what Jesus said after he had rebuked him?

    John 20:29:
    Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

    Too many Christians stop at a mental assent to truth.

  3. There is a very important third element which I will deal with in detail later on but I will give it to you in summary now.  You have to obey the truth.  We have a song, “Trust and Obey.”  What we need to obey is the gospel.  The result of that will produce a commandment-keeping people.  Obeying the gospel is not obeying the law, because the law and the gospel are not the same thing.  The gospel is the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    To prove this, read:

    Romans 1:5:
    Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.

    After Paul defines the gospel as concerning Jesus Christ he says, “the obedience that comes from faith.”  That word obedience is a genitive preposition which in Greek means a word that describes faith.  Faith is obedience.  Talking to the Roman Christians, Paul says:

    Romans 6:17:
    But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey [the gospel] from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance.

    Paul tells the Jews.

    Romans 10:16-21:
    But not all the Israelites accepted the good news.  For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?”  Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.  But I ask:  Did they not hear?  Of course they did:  “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”  Again I ask:  Did Israel not understand?  First, Moses says, “I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.”  And Isaiah boldly says, “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.”  But concerning Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”

    “The reason you are lost is not because God did not keep His promise but because you have not obeyed the gospel.”

    In Galatians, Paul says,

    Galatians 5:7:
    You were running a good race.  Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth [the gospel] ?

    Let me give you a text that you are all familiar with.

    1 Peter 4:17:
    For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God [our Lord Jesus Christ] ?

In this series, we will cover what it means to obey the gospel.  Let’s go to Romans.

Romans 3:24:
...And all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

This gospel is made effective by faith alone and this applies equally to the Jews, to the Gentiles, to the Old Testament times, and to the New Testament times.  God doesn’t have one, two, three or four methods of salvation.  He has only one.  Dispensationalism is not correct because there is only one way to be saved.  The only difference is that, in the Old Testament times, you were saved by faith in the promise of the coming of Jesus Christ.  In the New Testament you are saved by faith in the historical Christ who has already come.

There is no difference between Jew and Gentile and the reason is given:

Romans 3:23:
...For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God....

“For all have sinned.”  That is in the aorist tense in Greek, which means something that took place once and for all.  We will study later when we all sinned in the past in Romans 5:12-21.  But besides that, besides the fact that we have sinned in the past, now in the present continuous tense, “And fall (continually) short of the glory of God,” which is another way of saying we are sinning.  We sinned in the past, we are sinning in the present.  By inheritance and by performance, we are all sinners.

Romans 3:24:
...And all are justified freely by his grace [not by what you did] through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

“The redemption that came by Christ Jesus,” which is through His birth, life, death, and resurrection.

Romans 3:25a:
God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood — to be received by faith.

“A sacrifice of atonement”  in Greek is the same word in the Old Testament for the mercy seat that was over the ark of the covenant that had the Ten Commandments that condemn us.  There is a wonderful truth in 1 John:

1 John 2:2:
He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

That’s the gospel.  The trouble is we know it, but the world doesn’t know it.  We are the ones who will tell them.

Romans 3:25:
God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood — to be received by faith.  He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished....

Here is a verse that is greatly misunderstood.  One day, speaking to pastors at a workers’ meeting, I said, “Nowhere in the Bible have I found even one text that says that justification is only the forgiveness of past sins.  I challenge you.”

One pastor stood up and said, “I want to challenge you.”  I said, “Fine, but please don’t use Romans 3:25.”  He said, “How did you know I was going to use that text?”  I said, “They all do that.”  He said, “Why don’t you want me to use that text?” and I said, “Because I do not want to embarrass you in front of the pastors of whom you are overseer.”  He said, “No, I can handle it.”  I said, “All right.  Here it is.”

I told him that Paul is not talking about the past sins of the individual believer.  He is saying that, before the cross, God forgave sins, that is, He forgave Abraham; He forgave Noah; He forgave the Old Testament saints out of forbearance, out of patience, out of kindness.  Legally He had no right to forgive them because the law says, “Without shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.”

Hebrews 9:22:
In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

But, since the cross, God has become righteous; He has become just.  This brings me to a very important point.  There are people today, scholars in the churches and pastors who are saying that Christ did not have to die in order to forgive us.  That is based on human rationale, not on the Word of God.  May I remind you what Jesus said when He introduced the Lord’s supper?  He took the cup and said, “This blood is shed for the remission of sins,” not to influence us.

Matthew 26:27-28:
Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you.  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Now it is true the cross of Christ must influence us.  The worst heresies are not heresies that teach lies but the worst are those heresies that are teaching truth but also denying truth.  What I have just described to you is the heresy of the moral influence theory which is not teaching error but it denies truth; it denies forensic justification or legal justification which is based on the blood of Christ.  Jesus had to die to save us.

Look at Romans 3:26:

Romans 3:26:
...He did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

The law of God can never justify a sinner.  You won’t find one text in the Bible that says the law justifies sinners.  But Paul tells us, in Romans 4:5, that God does justify the ungodly.

Romans 4:5:
However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.

How can a holy God justify the ungodly when His own law will not justify a sinner?  Isn’t God going against His own law?

Now please don’t say that the reason God can justify us is because Jesus died for us.  In Provansha’s book, The Remnant Crisis, he rejects the forensic atonement and he says, “This doctrine of substitution, taught by some Christians is based on a faulty Roman law because no law allows an innocent man to die for the guilty.”  We will find the answer to how we solve the problem in these studies.

Romans 3:26:
...He did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

In Romans 3:26, God demonstrates His righteousness in the present time, that is, after the cross, that He is not only justifying sinners but He is just in doing it if you believe.

Romans 3:27:
Where, then, is boasting?  It is excluded.  Because of what law?  The law that requires works?  No, because of the law that requires faith.

Boasting is excluded because a Christian is justified by the doing and dying of Christ.  We have made no contribution.  Not even our faith contributes towards our salvation.  So when somebody tells you, “I was saved three months ago,” please correct him.  He was not saved three months ago.  We were all saved 2,000 years ago.  He accepted salvation three months ago.  Faith doesn’t contribute towards our salvation.  We are never saved because of our faith.  Nowhere in the Bible does it teach that.  We are saved by faith or through faith.  Faith is an instrument, a channel by which we receive the righteousness of Christ but it doesn’t contribute one iota towards the righteousness of Christ.  The doing and dying of Christ is all perfect and complete in saving mankind.

Romans 3:28:
For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

Then Paul asks,

Romans 3:29-30:
Or is God the God of Jews only?  Is he not the God of Gentiles, too?  Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.

He says he has already shown us that both are sinners.  There is only one way that God will save the Jews and only one way that God will save the Gentiles and that one way is justification by faith in the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ — nothing else!

But remember, there were Jews in the Roman church.  Some of them were Judaizers, who were a group of Jewish Christians who dogged the steps of Paul constantly everywhere he went.  They would come to a church and say, “You know, we heard that Paul gave you the gospel.”  The believers would say, “Yes.  He gave us a wonderful message.”  Then the Judaizers would say, “Yes, thank God he preached Christ but do you know that he did not give you the whole truth?  He is not a genuine apostle.  He’s a self-appointed apostle.  He was not among the twelve and his gospel of grace alone is incomplete.  Can you imagine that God would take you to heaven just by faith?  Now you know that’s too good to be true.  God expects you to do something, He expects you to be circumcised; He expects you to do some good works; He expects you to keep the law, then you can go to heaven.”

This was the first big issue in the first General Conference in the Christian church.  In Acts 15, we read that the issue was circumcision and the keeping of the law.

Acts 15:5-21:
Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”

The apostles and elders met to consider this question.  After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them:  “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe.  God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.  He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.  Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?  No!  We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.  When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me.  Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles.  The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:  ‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent.  Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’ — things known from long ago.  It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.  Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.  For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”

Romans 4 deals with this and we will come to it later.  Remember, there is only one way you and I can be saved.  So the Judaizers were saying, “Paul, you are doing away with the law.”  Paul knew they were saying this and asked them the question:

Romans 3:31:
Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith?  Not at all!  Rather, we uphold the law.

There is one word missing in your English Bible that throws off the meaning of this statement.  The word faith is preceded by the definite article “the.”

What Paul actually said is, “Do we then make void the law through the faith.”  By that he did not mean the believer’s faith.  God is not saying here, “If you accept the gospel, if you believe in the gospel, then the Holy Spirit comes into you and then He gives you the power to keep the law.”  He does say that in Romans 8, but this is not what he is saying here.  What he is saying here is, “Does the doctrine of justification by faith, which I have just expounded, bypass the law?  Does it nullify the law or does justification by faith stand up against the scrutiny of the law of God?

The answer is “Yes, the righteousness that God gives us in Christ perfectly meets the demands of the law.”  The demands of the law on us are twofold.

  1. The law demands perfect obedience.  Christ perfectly obeyed the law.

  2. Because we are sinners, the law also demands perfect justice.  The soul that sins must die.  Jesus died.  In the doing and the dying of Jesus Christ, the law was perfectly met.

How does faith make it yours?  This is not legal fiction, nor is it a make-believe salvation.  The righteousness of God fully satisfies the law on your behalf, on my behalf, on everybody’s behalf who believes in the gospel so that when we stand before the law of God in the Investigative Judgment and the law says, “Did you obey me?” you don’t tell the law, “I did my best.”  The law will say, “I didn’t ask you that.”  Or don’t tell the law, “I kept most of your commandments; occasionally I failed.”  The law will say, “You failed once, you’ve had it.”  It took one sin for Adam to die.  Eve brought the fruit and Adam knew it was the forbidden fruit.  The moment he ate it, he came under condemnation.

We will not stand before the law because we are believers.  We have an Advocate who will do that.  But if I had to stand before the law and the law said to me, “Have you obeyed me perfectly?” I will say, “Yes.”  “When did you obey me perfectly?” “In Christ.”  “But you’re a sinner; you must die.”  And I will quote:

Galatians 2:20:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

“I was crucified with Christ.”  And the law will say, “I have nothing against you.  Heaven is yours.”  I will take my crown and lay it at the feet of Jesus Christ.  That’s the gospel.

May God bless you that you shall know this truth and the truth will set you free.

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