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Romans 3 and the Plan of Redemption


Each month, we will be highlighting a particular theological topic here at the BLB blog. This month, we are highlighting the topic of soteriology—the doctrine of salvation through Jesus Christ. The following is adapted from the Blue Letter Bible Institute’s soteriology class.

Let’s talk about the plan of redemption in Romans 3.

For those of you who like to outline the Book of Romans, I believe there is a definite division between verse 20 and 21. Romans 3:20 is a summary of the opening three chapterin which it’s talking about condemnation—why all men are condemned and lost before God. The verse says “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).

And the revelation that God has given us on how the guilty are condemned is threefold:

  1. Creation (Romans 1)
  2. Conscience (Romans 2)
  3. Commandments of the Law (Romans 3).

All three condemn us. And verse 21 is just such a beautiful break both in the original text and here in English when it says, “But now….” I mean, you could preach a whole sermon on those two words. “But now…”

We were condemned and lost, but now—praise the Lord—there’s been a change:

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”
(Romans 3:21)

That’s an interesting statement right there because he just told us that by the law was the knowledge of sin and how we’re all guilty.

What he’s saying is that when Christ died, He has provided righteousness and that is now being manifested. You don’t need the law to do that. But it was witnessed to by the law and prophets as they, through the sacrificial system and all the prophets predicting that a redeemer would come. The Old Testament is replete with promises that this Redeemer would one day come.

When Paul wrote the Book of Romans, he knew that day had already come. Christ Jesus is that Redeemer. “But now…” he says, writing after the death of Christ, it’s fully manifested.

Romans 3:22-31,

“the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood…”
(Romans 3:22-25)

The Greek word propitiation is the one that is used in translations of the Old Testament Hebrew for mercy seat in the Holy of Holies. That slab of gold on the top of the ark and with the cherubim looking down on it. That’s where the high priest put the blood of the sacrificial animal once a year on the Day of Atonement, the only time he ever went in there. And he was the one only one to go in there. So, “God set forth Jesus in this redemption, to be a propitiation [a mercy seat] through faith in his blood [not the blood of the animal that was there], to declare [to announce] his righteousness for the remission [or forgiveness] of sins that are past…”

Paul mentioned this because the Jews commonly had an insecurity about that, knowing that the blood of bulls and goats would not take away sin. So Paul wanted to declare that when Jesus died, His blood was shed, His blood took care of sins that are past.

“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.
Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”
(Romans 3:26-28)

It’s a fascinating argument when you think for three chapters he’s been telling them how they are condemned. By the law is the knowledge of sin. Everybody’s guilty. And now, he says, you we are declared righteous by faith without following the law at all. Quite a remarkable statement!

“Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.”
(Romans 3:29-31)

When we show the whole principle behind the law, we are reminded that the law was a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. It shows us we were sinners and, thus, admits our need for a Savior. We don’t wipe out the law; we establish the law’s purpose very clearly – to bring us to Jesus. The law reminds us of the substitutionary sacrifices that were once required but is now satisfied in Jesus.

In order for God’s enemies to spend eternity with Him, someone had to fulfill the demands of God’s moral law. That Someone is Jesus. He was our propitiation. He substituted Himself for us. We are united with Him in His death and resurrection. Let us turn to Him and thank the Lord God for authoring this wonderful plan of redemption.