For All Have Sinned
Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for 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 set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (NKJV)
The Apostle Paul wrote the letter of Romans to the church in Rome while in Corinth, Greece for three months in A.D. 56-57. The letter was written to both Jew and Gentile (non-Jew) believers.
This letter is full of doctrine, and this passage is the heart of the letter. We are looking at the Christian doctrines of righteousness, justification, redemption and propitiation.
Doctrine is heavy. So, we are in for some heavy lifting. Without diving deeply into Theology, I will attempt to make this passage understandable to the lay person. I will try to lighten the load.
Proper interpretation requires keeping the meaning of the verse in the passage, in the book of the Bible and in the Bible itself. In the previous passage, Paul wrote of the knowledge of sin. The verse preceding this passage, verse 20, reads: “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”
So, the “law”, the Old Testament broadly speaking, informs us of sin. Sin means to miss the mark. When the American Indian falls short of the target with his arrow, he refers to the act as sin, in his language.
So, the Old Testament informs us of sin and points us to the Remedy for sin, Jesus Christ. In this passage, Paul explains this remedy in some detail.
The Remedy gives us the “the righteousness of God” (v. 21a), among other things. The remedy “apart from the law is revealed” (v. 21b). The Remedy is separate from the law. The Remedy was “revealed” by the witness of “the Law and the Prophets” (v. 21c). The Old Testament pointed us to Jesus Christ.
“The righteousness of God” comes “through faith in Jesus Christ” (v. 22a). When we confess our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and become a Christian, we are given righteousness. God imputes His righteousness upon us as we impute our sins upon Jesus Christ.
This righteousness is imputed “to all and on all who believe”, upon all who become Christians (v. 22b). “There is no difference”, between Jews or Gentiles (v. 22c). Jews do not have an advantage, even though they were originally God’s people.
This is because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (v. 23). Every person, Jew or Gentile, has fallen short of the mark of perfection as established by a perfect God.
So, God’s righteousness is imputed upon each of us when we become a Christian. This is an act of God, and, because of this, we may not feel any different when we become a Christian, even though we are different. We become “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
We become “justified freely by His grace” (v. 24a). We receive justification by the Judge, Jesus Christ Himself, who will one day judge the world. We cannot earn this justification. It is given freely by God through His grace.
His judgment is to drop all charges against us. We are found innocent, His blood shed on the cross has covered all of our sins. They are cast “as far as the east is from the west” (Ps. 103:12).
He has forgiven and forgotten all of our sins, those of yesterday, today and tomorrow. He has forgiven and forgotten all of the sin in the world for all those who believe in Him.
The Old Testament believers looked forward to this promise of forgiveness being fulfilled just as the New Testament believers looked backwards to the fulfillment of this promise on the cross.
This promise was fulfilled “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (v. 24b). Christ redeemed us of our sin, just as we redeem a coupon for something of greater value. In this case, Christ redeemed our slavery to sin for our freedom under His grace.
This redemption was accomplished in Jesus Christ “whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood” (v. 25a). Propitiation is the noun of the verb to propitiate. “A propitiation” is the One, Jesus, who is the object of the verb. To propitiate means to appease, or, in this case, to appease, or please, God.
We please God through our obedience to Him. Our first act of obedience must be “through faith” in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior (v. 25b). We cannot please God until we first accept Him (Isaiah 64:6).
This act of redemption was “to demonstrate His righteousness” (v. 25c). It was to show the righteousness of God, and the imputed righteousness of those who believe in Him
“In His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed (v. 25d). Sins committed by Old Testament believers were “passed over”, reconciled by God through animal sacrifice, but they were never done away with. Thus, the need for continual sacrifices on the Day of Atonement, the day to be reconciled to God, to become atoned, at one, with God.
But now, “the present time”, the church age, Christ came and demonstrated “His righteousness” by forgiving all sin, once and for all, for those who receive His sin sacrifice on the cross (v. 26a). Jesus confirmed this on the cross by proclaiming “It is finished!”, as His last words before His death (John 19:30).
He demonstrated His righteousness “that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus”, that He could be “just” and still punish sin, as required, and could also be the “justifier” of those who believe in Him, Christians (v. 26b). He came that sin would be punished, but His people, Christians, would still be happy.
For even though all have sinned, all do not have to pay the penalty for their sin. Instead, Christians are assured of eternal life in Heaven.
Online Bible Commentary