One of the biggest and most important doctrines in the history of the church is the doctrine of justification. As a Christian, we believe that we are justified by faith alone. A few years ago, I examined this as the subject of a term paper on Romans 3:21-31. I am going to post part of that paper over the next several week to examine justification. If you have any questions or thoughts, please leave a comment, or send me an email.
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. 26 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.
27 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. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also,30 since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is considered by many Christians to be Paul’s guide to systematic theology. While the letter contains many parts that are in fact very systematic in their theology, the letter is a situational letter addressed to a specific people. In order to use proper hermeneutics, we must remember the original author, original audience and the original intent. When the modern reader takes into account all of those factors, the ability to understand the theology of Paul becomes much clearer. The theme of justification through faith is a theme that is seen throughout the entire letter. According to the New American Commentary, “At the very beginning of Paul’s letter to the Romans we encountered the theme that runs throughout the entire epistle. Paul stated that he was not ashamed of the gospel because in it is revealed a righteousness from God that is completely dependent upon faith.” In Romans 3:21-31 Paul teaches that justification comes from faith alone. The great reformer Martin Luther called this passage “the chief point, and the very central place of the Epistle, and of the whole Bible,” so it would be evident that this theme would be at the center of the very central place of the letter.
What is Justification?
To understand justification through faith alone, one must understand the concept of justification first. Before one can understand justification, one must understand the human condition. Romans 3:23 says it plainly, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This makes the human condition very clear; all people are sinful and guilty before God. Humanity’s sinfulness goes deeper than the actions that people commit. According to Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” The sinful condition of man is the product of the rebellion of Adam. Adam’s rebellions allowed sin to enter the world, and as the passage states. our sinful nature has been passed down through the generations and has in fact condemned all of mankind. By virtue of being human, all people everywhere have fallen short of God’s standard and stand guilty before him. By understanding the human condition and the need for justification, we can explore what justification is.
“Justified is a legal term meaning to declare righteous.” Justification is the means that people are made righteous before God. What makes Christianity so different is that it is not a works based religion. In every other major religion, the deity is appeased by the works of its followers. If that were the case with Christianity, then righteousness, or justification, would be achieved through the observance of God’s laws. That is not the case, Romans 3:21 says that, “…the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law…” which means that no one is able to be made righteous before God through observance of the law. Paul tells us in Romans 7 “…if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin…” because the law has shown what sin is. RC Sproul says it clearly, “Without law there is no sin; without commandments there can be no transgressions.” The law has the power to convict us, to call us sinful, but is incapable of making anyone righteous. The law cannot both convict and acquit people. In order for man to have a chance at salvation, there has to be another way to be justified.
 Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 113.
 Douglas J. Moo, Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000).
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 3:23.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 5:12.
 David S. Dockery, “The Pauline Letters,” in Holman Concise Bible Commentary, ed. David S. Dockery (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 546.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 3:21.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 7:7.
 R. C. Sproul, The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1994), 121.