Romans 3:20-25 All Have Sinned

A little over a week ago, we finished week 1 with these incredible words out of Romans 2:11: “For God shows no partiality.” Not in distribution of blessing, nor in judgment. Today, we fast forward to one of Paul’s most profound statements of God’s divine blessing found in Romans 3:20-25. God, how I pray that you would speak today. I pray that you will teach us about you as we tear apart your Word and struggle for a glimpse of your unending grace and goodness. I praise you for your faithfulness; it knows no bounds! God, show us your glory. Draw near and whisper your love in our ears, let it wash over us as we seek your presence today. How we love you, Amen.

20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. Romans 3:20-25

        When God gave Moses the Law, Moses was leading the Israelites out of Egypt into the land God promised Abraham. These Israelites had been slaves of Egypt for four hundred years and had no idea how to function as a society or how to be faithful to one God when they had been ingrained to worship many gods in Egypt. The Law was God’s gift to them; it set up their entire society: both religion and government in one. God was the governing body and everything in their society was set up to keep them holy and pure, a righteous nation consecrated to their Covenant God. However, in giving the Law, the covenant contract between the Israelites and YHWH, the Israelites then had knowledge of right and wrong according to God’s standards as he had set before them. God then told Moses that when the Israelites entered the promised land, they were to take both blessings for keeping and curses for breaking the law upon themselves,[1] which we find fulfilled by Joshua in Joshua 8:31-35. Therefore, the Israelites were bound to the law through a contract that brought either blessing or curse according to their actions. Each sin, each failing of the contract, brought a curse upon their heads. They could be forgiven through their sacrifices, but they could never be fully justified. Verse 20 describes the curse of the law, but verse 21 begins with these beautiful words, “but now…” Upon Jesus’ resurrection, the curse of the law was broken. Praise be, to the Lord Most High!

Before Jesus Christ, the standards of righteousness were unattainable. But now, God’s righteousness has been born apart from the law in the form of Jesus, the Messiah. Verse 21 says that God’s righteousness has now been manifested apart from the law, but both the law and the prophets bear witness to it. God’s plan from the beginning of time was universal unity under the headship Christ. God revealed his plan to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 when he first called Abraham, saying, “by you all the nations of earth will be blessed.” God’s plan was never that we toil for perfection, knowing we can never attain its lofty goals. Instead, he wove history into a design that found fulfilment in the masterpiece of Jesus. Not only did God actively work history to bring forth Jesus, but he told the prophets exactly what his birth, his life, and his mission would look like. I am continually blown away by God’s willingness to share his plan with us, to allow us to partner with him in the building of his kingdom, and his unswerving faithfulness to his word.

God sent Jesus so that all who believe in him would be considered righteous, as Paul says in Romans 3:22. And then we have this amazing statement of unity, both in sin and in grace: For there is no distinction. God does not distinguish amongst peoples. Even in the Old Testament, the Israelites were God’s chosen peoples, but that did not mean he didn’t want or chase after each person on the planet. We find over and over and over in the Old Testament, God pulling other peoples and nations to himself: King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel, the kingdom of Nineveh in Jonah, the whole land of Canaan while the Israelites were in captivity in Egypt. God used Israel to be a light to the world – in their time. So many times, we who live in the New Testament era think that God was not there for anyone but the Israelites until Jesus. I cannot convey how wrong this thinking is. God has always been, is always now, and will always be a God who desires that each person comes to find love and relationship with him, their Creator. Even in the Old Testament period. “For there is no distinction…”

Each of us has sinned, as Romans 3:23 tells us; we have all fallen short. At no point in time are we able to place ourselves above another – no matter how heinous their crimes may seem. We have all fallen short. That is why God sent his son. There was no hope for reconciliation through the Law, because none could live it perfectly. Verse 25 says that God set Christ Jesus as a propitiation to be received by faith. Propitiation means “that which expiates sin… and thus reveals God’s righteousness and brings redemption.”[2] It is a word that connects the Jews with sacrifices offered on the altar of God. The propitiatory is the lid of the altar, upon which the blood of the sacrifice of atonement was sprinkled. It reminds those listening to Paul’s message that Jesus’s blood was the one poured out upon the altar, cleansing the sins of the world forevermore.

Not only did Jesus’ blood act as a sacrifice to atone for the sins, but verse 24 says that through the free gift of the blood of Christ Jesus there is justification. I love the word, “justified,” in the Greek translation; dikaioō. It is a legal word that brings forth the picture of God as the Ancient of Days[3] sitting upon his throne as he judges every deed of every man and woman who has ever lived. Schrenk tells us that Paul uses this word to denote the justification “enacted at the cross and known as a continuing gift [that] will be consummated in definitive acquittal”[4] on the coming Day of Judgement. This word is a present tense word meaning that we are being justified, being freed, being rendered righteous and innocent. Every day, we wake and God renews us again. Each time we sin, we call upon the one who hung on a cross and was lift up for our sakes, and God washes us new again. Each time we find ourselves bound by sin, by addiction, by chains of circumstances, God frees us. Each day, we choose to take off the old, filthy clothes of yesterday and put on the new clothes God has given us, and we are dressed with purity.[5] There is nothing you have done in your life that God cannot forgive when you choose to give your life to Christ. His mercies are new every day.

Not only does the blood of Christ justify us, but it redeems us. The Greek word for redemption, “apolytrōsis,” is also a present-tense word, meaning that we are delivered from the clutches of sin because of the ransom paid by Jesus.[6] Sin demands payment. Blood must be paid, sacrifice made, for our liberation. Jesus, the only one perfect and holy, is the only one who could pay that ransom. It cost him his life. It cost him his father’s favor. Physically and spiritually he lost everything so we could gain everything: death to sin and the consequences thereof, and life lived in the love and presence of the One Holy God for eternity.

Through the sacrifice of Jesus, the pouring of his innocent blood upon the altar, our pasts are justified and our futures redeemed. Paul tells us that this gift is for all; Jew, Gentile, man, woman, every nation, every tongue, every label that we have procured to divide and categorize humankind. The only label God sees is this: Imago Dei.[7] Made in the Image of God. Human labels cannot supersede the fact that each person is made in his glorious image. He desires that each person should come to him, washed pure in the blood of his beloved son, Jesus Christ, the Lord on High. If you have placed your faith in him, this gift is yours. Stand with Christ. Be united under his headship. We have “all sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” but we are all also “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

Praise be to God.



[1] Deuteronomy 28

[2] F. Büchsel, “hilastērion,” TDNT,  365.

[3] Ref. Daniel 7:9

[4] G. Schrenk, “dikaioō,” TDNT, 176.

[5] Ref. Zechariah 3:1-5

[6] Barrett, 69.

[7] Ref. Genesis 1:27

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