Let me introduce you to seven men who will give us a guided tour of Romans 3:9-31.
Mr. Goodness hardly needs an introduction. We are all born hand in hand with him, know him well, and like him. After all, he tells us how good we are. And if we have any doubts, he helps us to find excuses, blame others, or find others that we can still look good beside.
As Mr. Goodness is extremely experienced, persuasive, and skillful, Paul spends the first few chapters of Romans attacking him with the sharp sword of Scripture. And in Romans 3:9-18 he “goes for the jugular” with thrust after thrust of multiple verses proving universal human sinfulness: “None righteous, no not one… none who understands… none who seeks after God…they have all turned aside… etc.”
With Mr. Goodness slumped on the floor, Mr. Guilty enters the room. And when Mr. Guilty enters the room, every mouth is stopped (3:19). Without defense, alibi, or excuse, we stop arguing with God.
Mr. Guilty drags us again and again to Mr. Law (we’ll look at him a bit later), who presents us with two documents: precepts to be obeyed and penalties to be suffered. And what can we say there but, “Guilty, guilty, guilty.” The precepts I have not obeyed. The penalties I cannot suffer.
Into this dark and gloomy room walks Mr. Righteousness. “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed” (v. 21). Mr. Righteousness has a nickname – Mr. Law Satisfier. He comes to law, looks at the precepts to be obeyed and the penalties to be suffered, and says, “I can do both. I can obey these precepts and suffer these penalties until there is nothing left to be paid.”
But how come Mr. Righteousness has a righteousness “apart from the law”? How can he be a law-satisfier apart from the law? It’s like saying red tomatoes are not red. This cannot mean what it seems to mean – a law satisfaction without satisfying the law. Rather it is a law satisfaction without any regard to our attempted law-satisfying.
Imagine if Mr. Righteousness walked into your yard with a wheelbarrow. Instead of admiring his perfection you start trying to put some of your own imagined law-keeping into his wheelbarrow. But he says “NO! I don’t want any contribution from you. I’m not interested in your law-satisfaction. I offer a law-satisfaction that is completely separate and independent from your attempted law-satisfying.”
It is also a “righteousness of God” (v. 21, 22). This is not a mere human righteousness but a divine righteousness. This is not a mere man that has obeyed the precepts and suffered the penalties. It is God himself. Can you imagine the value of that law-satisfaction!
We might conceive of a man who obeyed the precepts, suffered the penalties, and survived. That’s conceivable; but what good is that for anyone else? How can his righteousness extend beyond himself to any other human being. It might be enough for himself; he might be able to hand it over to someone else; but as it is only one human righteousness, it can only cover one human being. But divine righteousness is infinitely valuable and can extend to a multitude greater than any man can number.
Mr. Righteousness was witnessed to by the law and the prophets and has now been revealed even more clearly. Both Old and New Testaments point towards Mr. Righteousness. Who is Mr. Righteousness? It’s Mr. Jesus Christ. He can obey the precepts and suffer the penalties until they are exhausted. He is “the righteousness of God.”
So, here’s this soul chained to Mr. Guilty. And there’s Mr. Righteousness who can meet this soul’s deepest needs. But how to get rid Mr. Guilty and connect with Mr. Righteousness? That’s where Mr. Faith comes in. The righteousness of God is “through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe” (v. 22).
Mr. Faith comes to the soul, severs it from its guilt and connects it with Mr. Righteousness. As soon as this soul believes, faith smashes the chain of guilt and connects the soul with perfect righteousness (v. 25). All my guilt gone. His whole righteousness mine.
And this is not just for special believers, for those with special faith, or even strong faith. It’s “to all and on all who believe.” Instead of hearing, “Guilty, guilty, guilty!” the believing soul now hears not just, “Innocent, innocent, innocent!” but “Perfect, perfect, perfect!” All precepts obeyed, all penalties met.
The light has gone on, the dust is settling, and the soul is enjoying this salvation. Paul looks around and says, “Now, where is Mr. Boasting?” (v. 27). Mr. Boasting and Mr. Goodness were great allies. But with Mr. Goodness gone, Mr. Boasting is friendless. In fact, he’s very angry, especially with Mr. Faith. Because faith looks away from self to Christ. Faith turns the spotlight from self to Christ. Boasting is now evicted and runs away, cursing Mr. Faith. Oh, to be sure, he sometimes gets back together with Mr. Goodness and they stick their heads in the window again from time to time. But with the help of chapters like Romans 3 they are kept outside and at a safe distance.
So faith has chased away Mr. Goodness, Mr. Guilt, and Mr. Boasting. What about Mr. Law? Does Mr. Faith chase him away too? Let Paul answer: “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law” (v. 31).
Every other pretended way of salvation diminishes the law in one way or another: it’s requirements, it’s penalties, or it’s inner-penetration. In one way or another it makes void and diminishes the law. It helps people be saved by lowering the barrier, or by compromising justice. But this way of salvation strengthens and confirms the law. Mr. Righteousness reached the standard perfectly, and suffered the penalties fully. That’s why Paul says God is both “just and justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (v. 26). He is “a just God and a Savior.”
Mr. Goodness has gone. Mr. Guilt has gone. Mr. Boasting has gone. Who do we have left? Mr. Righteousness, Mr. Faith and Mr. Law. And then walks in our seventh man, Mr. Joy.
Mr. Joy says to Mr. Law “Are you happy?” “I’m happy,” he replies, “my demands have been met, my penalties satisfied. Rejoice!”
“Mr. Righteousness, you happy?” “Of course! I still have a perfect complete righteousness.”
“Mr. Faith, you happy?” “Sure, I’ve severed another soul from sin and united it with perfect righteousness!”
“And what about you, Soul?” asks Mr. Joy.
“Me?” says the soul, “Who could be happier! The law is satisfied. Guilt has gone. Righteousness is mine. And all by faith, without any contribution from me.” What a happy scene. What a happy soul!
“Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.”