One of the most famous verses in the Bible is Romans 3:23. As many of us know, it teaches that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. As we go through the book of Romans together, I felt that it was necessary for us to study this humbling truth, and the justification that is available through Christ. The verse itself reads,
[F]or all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God;Romans 3:23
In the above, the apostle Paul is abundantly clear. All of us have sinned. To say otherwise is false, and makes God a liar (1 John 1:8-10). While such statements are not pleasant to hear, I actually think it is good to be reminded of them at times.
I feel that way because the verse is a great equalizer. It puts all of us in our place, and compels us to humility. Not only before God, but also toward one another! This is possible because we all share the same place. All of us need the mercy of God, for each of us have fallen short of the Almighty. This place of weakness and failure is a powerful guard against the temptations of pride and arrogance. It helps us speak to others without being puffed up, remembering that all of us have been in the position of sinning and being unprepared for the glory of God.
Thankfully, the righteousness of God is demonstrated in how we are elevated out of that terrible state through Christ.
The Righteousness of God
While Romans 3:23 is an extremely important verse, it is necessary to keep in mind that it was not written in isolation. Considering the text by itself leads to only a partial understanding of what it says. As we read the verses that surround it, various other concepts are also discussed. To me, one of the most impressive of these is the righteousness of God. Verses 21 through 26 speak of it often.
- A Righteousness of God Has Been Revealed (vs. 21)
- Righteousness of God Through Faith in Jesus Christ (vs. 22)
- A Demonstration of His Righteousness (vs. 25)
- Demonstrate His Righteousness at This Present Time (vs. 26)
All of these teach us important facts about God’s righteousness in connection with our sinfulness. The first two of these are actually related. The revelation of the righteousness of God is apart from the law is a reference to the righteousness of God that is through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. This was first testified of by the law and the prophets, but was not readily apparent to those who lived during the time of Moses and the prophets. Further clarification on God’s righteousness is understood when we learn that it is through faith in Jesus for all those who believe. It is separate from obedience to the Mosaic Law.
These notions of separation from the Law and that faith in Jesus is available to all further highlights the concept of equality that I mentioned above. Both Jews and Gentiles can know the righteousness of God. All people, not just the Children of Israel, can have redemption in Christ Jesus. This sameness is even more easily seen when we ignore the verse divisions that we find in our Bibles today.
When I think of Romans 3:23, I remember the words, “For all have sinned.” Interestingly enough, that is not how the thought really begins. If you take the end of verse 22, and add it to the beginning of the next, it says, “For there is no distinction, for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.”
Again, humility is necessary between all of us. The Jews who had the oracles of God sinned at times. The Gentiles who worshipped idols did the same, just in different ways. When it comes to sin, there is no distinction between Jews and Gentiles. We all need grace and mercy. None of us are excused.
Justified Freely by His Grace, Through What?
After verse 23 there is a sudden change in the text. The apostle speaks of us being justified freely by His grace. The inclusion of the word “freely” reminds us that we cannot earn the grace of God. We don’t obtain it based on our own merit. In fact, we have no merit or reason why we should be justified by His grace at all! At least if we leave God out of the equation. However, He had other plans for us.
God doesn’t desire for us to remain in our lost state. He doesn’t want us to be continually separate from Him. So He justifies us freely by His grace through at least three main acts that are related to our salvation. They are shared in verses 24 and 25 of the passage. For context, let’s read verse 23 and following,
[F]or all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; 24 being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God sent to be an atoning sacrifice, through faith in his blood, for a demonstration of his righteousness through the passing over of prior sins, in God’s forbearance; 26 to demonstrate his righteousness at this present time; that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him who has faith in Jesus.Romans 3:23-26
In the above, we observe three incredible events related to God’s grace. These include the redemption that is in Christ, His sacrifice, and the passing over of sins. They are referred to in the context of our justification, and all are necessary. If any one of them is lacking, we are at a loss, and still in our sins. Although each of these subjects are worthy of its own study, I will briefly discuss them here.
Following Paul’s mention of God’s grace, the first thing he refers to is redemption that is in Christ Jesus. A simple way of thinking about it is that those who are in Christ have been purchased by the Lord. He paid the purchase price for us by sacrificing Himself for our sins. Because we are redeemed, we are set free from the bondage of sin and death. We are no longer slaves to sin thanks to Jesus Christ.
This notion of being redeemed by the Lord continues into the very next thought. Paul describes how God sent Jesus to be an atoning sacrifice to redeem us. Now, I know that Jesus’ sacrifice is of extreme importance for us, but I want to take a moment to stress a particular word here.
Have ever noticed how it says, “Sent”?
God sent His Son, who was with His Father in His glory! He was in the place of unimaginable perfection, glory, holiness, love, and more! Jesus was sent from that flawless place in glory to a world tainted by the effects of sin, with the intent to die a horrible, terrible death on a cross as the Lamb of God. Being a perfect, spotless sacrifice for an untold number of people who would reject Him.
It is awesome that He did come into this world to be a propitiation. He did not have to sacrifice Himself, but He did so out of love toward us. He provided a means by which God’s attitude toward us could be changed so that we are no longer at enmity with the Father. 1
In connection with these two key ideas, the apostle also describes a third. The remission of sins that are past, as said in the KJV. The World English Bible speaks of it as passing over of prior sins. With the inclusion of the statement, we have further acknowledgement of God dealing with our sins in the sacrifice of Christ. God provides a means by which we can have a remission of sins while also fulfilling His justice against them.
Such integration between these concepts by the Holy Spirit is phenomenal, and may not be appreciated by us as much if we only focused on Romans 3:23. Thanks be to God for His grace, mercy, and longsuffering with us!
Faith in His Blood
As I already shared, multiple ideas are associated with God’s grace and righteousness. We explored His actions that were done on our behalf. However, I feel compelled to point out a couple of other things from the text. In verse 25 we are told that we are justified freely by His grace through faith in His blood. This is a key concept, for it speaks of the faith that we need in order to be in Christ, and it must involve His blood. Its importance is further strengthened when we remember that Romans 3 isn’t the only place where it is discussed.
- Romans 5:9 explains that we are justified by His blood.
- Colossians 1:20 describes Jesus’ part in reconciliation, and peace being made through the blood of His cross.
- Hebrews 10:19 teaches that we can enter into the holy place through His blood.
All of this makes perfect sense in relation to the rest of the passage under discussion. We are justified freely by God’s grace, and He justifies those who have faith in Jesus (vs. 26). We have to have faith in His blood, which is connected with His sacrifice for us. His sacrifice on the cross demonstrates God’s great love for us, in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). Having redeemed us in Christ Jesus, we are justified and have the remission of sins.
While we have all sinned, through God and His Son, we can be transformed and justified in Jesus Christ. No longer looking back, but rather facing forward, looking to Jesus, and hoping for the glory that awaits us in Christ our Lord.
1. Sproul, R.C. (2020, April 8). What Do Expiation and Propitiation Mean?. Ligonier Ministries. https://www.ligonier.org/blog/two-important-words-good-friday-expiation-and-propitiation/
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