On Redemption and the Ongoing State of Righteousness

Romans 3:23-26

Having established the degree of self-righteousness amongst the Jews who would have been present in the reading of this epistle, Paul once again removes from them this self-appointed mantle of righteousness. “It makes no difference, for all have sinned,” exhorts the beloved apostle. Note what he does not say. He does not say that all were born sinful, neither that all have a sinful nature, but rather merely that all have sinned. Each of us, though formed in the womb by the Lord, in His likeness, have sinned. Having received the Law in our hearts, we have made the conscious decision to turn away from Him and to give in to sin.

This is such a scathing statement against the Jews, who considered themselves to be above all other nations and people, who considered themselves beloved and favored of the Lord. Paul, here we see, “levels the field” against them. And so that they could neither elevate the righteousness that they had attained, nor elevate the sins of the Gentiles, Paul adds that not only have all sinned, but that all have sinned, and because of that sin, all have fallen short the glory of God. See, even in being exposed as sinners, it would still be possible for the Jews to downplay their sins and to elevate the sins of the Gentiles. You can almost hear them proclaiming, “yes, I’ve sinned, but my sin was far more forgivable than his sin.” Paul wanted to remove that mindset before it had even been able to be formed within. This glory of God to which Paul refers is eternal righteousness and eternal life. And what Paul effectively says here is that a Gentile’s sin falls short of that glory; a Scythian’s sin falls short of that glory; a barbarian’s sin falls short of that glory; a Jew’s sin falls short of that glory. James teaches us that all sin is equally sinful (James 2:11). Thus, if all men have committed a sin, regardless of what that sin is, then all men are sinners; thus all men being equally sinful, all men are therefore equally in need of the grace of the Lord, even the Jews.

Paul goes on to speak of us being “justified freely by His grace.” This word justification is an ongoing state of righteousness, not a one time “not guilty” verdict, as is often thought. The word he uses here, “dikaioo,” literally translates “to render righteous.” See, so often, when we consider salvation, we think of it as a one-time, once for all, card stamped, ticket purchased event. Salvation, however, as Paul images here, is instead this freedom that we could not attain to without the grace of the Lord. And that is what was missing from the Jew’s mentality. Through the grace of the Lord, through faith in the Lord, we are enabled to turn away from the slavery to sin in which so many of us are trapped. The Jews sought to do so through the works of the Law, which relying on their own willpower to obey the Law, would never have happened. The Law itself didn’t have the power or the purpose of freeing us from sin, merely to call our knowledge to it and to give us the means to make amends for it once we committed it. The power of the grace of the Lord, however, gives us the ability to actually turn away from it. That’s why I get so offended when I hear someone who claims to be a believer say that they have no power over their sin; they are declaring that their own lustful urges are more powerful than the One that they claim to be the Lord of their life. Rather, when we turn away from those things in faith, trusting in the Holy Spirit to free us from that bondage, then we are enabled through the Holy Spirit and the grace that is of the Lord to become truly freed from our bondage. When you turn away from the world, away from the flesh, and choose instead to walk with Him in faith, then you are able to overcome that weakness, to attain to the “righteousness of God.” Our faith in Him and love for Him produce the obedience that only He can offer us, the obedience that overcomes the longings of the world. But that obedience does require much work, and much sacrifice, on our behalf. It requires being willing to suffer for Him name, and to surrender those things which we innately love. That is why Peter teaches us that “whoever suffers in the flesh has ceased from sin.” This is why the Lord tells us that “whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

And this justification requires redemption, which is a term that I feel is used more often than it is understood. We consider the term “redeemer,” the term “redemption,” as these easy things. Much like many things in our faith, we hear the word so often that it often loses it’s meaning. We think of the crucifixion in terms of the pretty paintings and the kids movies; and then a movie like “The Passion” comes out and we can’t watch it because “it’s too graphic.” But, in much the same way, we think of the word redemption and we think of it as someone sitting down at a table making a deal. This word hearkens back, however, to the blood offerings, the sin offerings, of the Old Testament. This redemption requires that a sacrifice be offered in our stead, and offering that could free us not only from sin, but from death. The Old Testament demanded that the offering be unblemished, spotless, pure. That was the sin offering of Jesus, which could free us from the power of sin. It was this perfect sacrifice that could not only atone for our sins, but could also bring us into eternal righteousness and life. Through the sacrifice of the only sinless, perfect sacrifice, Jesus freed us from the power of sin through His perfect life; and through the resurrection, freeing us from the power of death itself. Trampling down death with death, that those who abide in Him no longer shall die.

And, why did the Lord do all of these things? Why offer redemption to any of us, much less to all who would come to Him in faith? Paul explains it beautifully here. The Lord offers this gift of freedom, this gift of salvation, so that His righteousness, His justice, His fairness, could be demonstrated. See, if God had chosen only an elect few to grant this salvation to while predestining all others to perish in iniquity, then He would be proclaimed, rightly so, neither just nor righteous. Likewise, if He determined that all would be saved and live regardless of their faith, neither would He be just. There must be punishment and reward for their to be justice. No, His righteousness is displayed perfectly in that no one receives any partiality; but rather, all are offered the same opportunity, the same grace, the same freedom, and the same will to choose whether they will receive it or reject it. That is the just God, the righteous God. The One who offers the same chance to each person equally and then, based on their own free decision, they receive either grace or condemnation. But, they know in advance what the outcome of their choice is.

Our ongoing faith in Jesus is the only way that we receive the righteousness of God. Justification is not a one time decision, it is a way of life. It is the decision that we make every day, every moment, of our lives to walk with Him in faith. It is Christ living in us and we in Him. To be justified is to be in communion with Him in an ongoing, dynamic, growing life with Him. And the offer of that life is equally available to all; regardless of ethnicity, nationality, background, previous life experiences, financial background, occupation; any other labels of “qualification” that we could imagine to put on it. Each of us have sinned equally, for the One who created any part of the Law created all of the Law, and to disobey any part of the Law is to disobey the creator of the Law. Each of us have sinned equally and each of us is able to receive the offer of salvation equally. It, my brothers and sisters, is up to us if we choose to accept, or to reject, this offer to walk with Him.

May the grace of the Lord be with you all, my beloved family.

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