Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and learners! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com. This week we take a deep dive on ideas surrounding righteousness. Significant themes include:
Atonement of Sin
Justification Through Grace
Paul is writing to the church at Rome. A church he has never visited. At the time he writes this letter these Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians are likely experiencing some tension with customs and cultures. This letter will eventually end up playing a significant part of the doctrinal foundation of Christian faith
This is the first week of a four week study in the book of Romans. The author is Paul. You may remember Paul was once a great persecutor of Christians. And now this work is perhaps one of the most significant Christian texts in terms of explaining foundational Christian doctrine. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible explains that Paul writes Romans “near the conclusion of the third missionary journey to Asia Minor and Greece”. While Paul is the author of Romans, he “dictated it to Tertius (16:22) while he was in Corinth, probably in the spring of 57 CE”.
Townsend’s Commentary highlights some interesting history about the Roman Christians. Townsend states “Christianity in Rome began among the Jews, yet because of the ongoing conflicts within the Jewish community, Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome. In their absence, Christianity in Rome became predominantly Gentile”. That’s interesting because it is yet another example of governmental persecution endured by our Jewish siblings. The expulsion occurred in 49 CE. “When Claudius died in 54 CE and the edict lapsed, Jews began returning to Rome. These Jewish Christians returned to churches that had become increasingly Gentile which likely created considerable tension between them and Gentile Christians (NISB)”.
Chapter three introduces a number of significant doctrinal terms. Those include the ideas of:
The central focus of verses 21 through 31 is the idea of righteousness through the grace of faith in Jesus Christ.
Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week:
In last week’s lesson the resurrection of Jesus had just occurred and the eleven disciples were in Galilee. After Jesus appearing to the eleven disciples some doubted. After all they had heard, seen, and experienced some of the disciples still doubted. When Jesus spoke to them saying “all power (or all authority) in heaven and on earth has been given to me” he was saying he had all the right, all the privilege, all the freedom and all the license to stand as God has given him victory over death. Jesus then gave them instructions, telling them to go. Not just to go, but to go and teach. The Savior, who was once called teacher, sent his disciples to teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. This is the commission that Jesus gave the disciples and that commission applies to all who call the name of Jesus as their Savior.
The text then moved to Acts chapter one verse six. In this scene the disciples are gathered together and they ask Jesus “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel”. The disciples were envisioning Jesus on the throne in the same way King David reined on the throne about one thousand years earlier.
Jesus tells them “it is not for you to know the times or the dates the Father has set by his own authority”. So in plain words, Jesus tells them you don’t need to know. There are some things that we simply can’t know and some things we just don’t need to know. There are some things that God is going to handle in God’s own good time.
This week we begin a four week study in the book of Romans. Over the next four weeks we will explore the spread of the Gospel. We will consider the ideas of righteousness, life in the Spirit, the call of gentiles, and called to new life in Christ. Townsend, Boyd’s, and Standard Commentary title this week’s lesson Called To Righteousness. The Scripture text comes from Romans 3:21-31.
What Takes Place in This Passage:
In the New Revised Standard Version, verse 21 begins “But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets,”. I like how this verse begins with “but now”. But now, is placed against what was. In other words, the righteousness of God is now not just through the law. Now, there is another way to righteousness. That’s important because righteousness deals with right relationships. And it is our relationship with God that secures righteousness for the Christian. We need a right relationship with God.
Verses 22 and 23 says “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ[d] for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God;”. In other words, this righteousness we so desperately need is available to anyone and can be received through faith in Jesus Christ. Verse 23 stands as a perpetual reminder that no one is perfect (except Jesus Christ). We all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
Paul is writing this letter to gentiles and Jewish Christians who likely still practice the tenets of the Torah. He reminds both groups that neither is perfect, that all have sinned, and that God’s righteousness is received through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul is essentially answering the question before it gets asked. Why is this righteousness necessary? The answer is because all have sinned. Both Jews and gentiles have sinned and cannot receive God’s righteousness in their own efforts or by keeping the law.
Verse 24 says they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. So, there are three significant theological terms in this one verse.
See below for the definitions for each of these terms but I want to highlight that our justification is freely given. Paul is emphasizing this for the Jewish Christians. They need to know there is no need for the sacrifices of the past. God’s grace through the atonement of Jesus Christ is enough.
In the King James Version Verse 25 introduces the term propitiation. The NIV and NRSV use “sacrifice of atonement” for the same concept. Here Paul is telling us the shed blood of Jesus Christ is the only acceptable sacrifice to be received by faith. And again, Paul answers the question of why before it is asked. Why is the shedding of Jesus’ blood necessary? Verse 25b says “He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished”.
Verse 26 explains “he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at this present time”. Paul is telling us here that God had and has a plan. That plan includes those who will be justified by faith in Jesus Christ.
Verse 27 reminds the Jewish Christians that they cannot boast of their heritage, or their works, because even the law requires faith. And he takes it a step further in verse 28 when Paul says “a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law”.
The lesson closes with 29-31 reminding us that God is God of both the Jews and Gentiles. There is only one God who justifies the circumcision by faith and the uncircumcised through the same faith. And finally, he essentially says it is by faith that we uphold the law.
A good theological dictionary will list several definitions relating to the term righteousness. There is civil righteousness, human righteousness, righteous indignation, original righteousness, righteousness of faith, and righteousness of God to name a few. It is a term that encompasses many aspects of both Godly and human virtue. But given all these terms, I’m inclined to simply define it as doing right by God and doing right by God’s people. If the saints are doing what’s right, they’ll be alright. I can think of no circumstance where God would be displeased with a saint doing what’s right. We are called to righteousness. We are called to do right.
Key Characters in the text:
Paul – Originally known as Saul of Tarsus before his conversion to Christianity. He was the most influential leader in the early days of the Christian church. Paul was a primary instrument in the expansion of the gospel to the Gentiles. Moreover, his letters to various churches and individuals contain the most thorough and deliberate theological formulations of the New Testament (Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible).
Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion):
Righteousness – Biblically the term embraces a number of dimensions relating to God’s actions in establishing and maintaining right relationships. Ethically it is a state of moral purity or doing that which is right.
Glory of God – The divine essence of God as absolutely resplendent and ultimately great (Rev 21:23). The praise and honoring of God as the supreme Lord of all (I Cor. 10:31; Phil. 2:11)
Justification – “A reckoning or counting as righteous”. God’s declaring a sinful person to be “just” on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ (Rom 3:24-26; 4:25; 5:16-21). The result is God’s peace (Rom. 5:1), God’s Spirit (8:4), and thus “salvation”.
Grace – Unmerited favor, God’s grace is extended to sinful humanity in providing salvation and forgiveness through Jesus Christ that is not deserved, and withholding the judgement that is deserved (Rom 3:24; Eph. 1:7; Titus 2:11).
Redemption – A financial metaphor that literally means “buying back”. Used theologically to indicate atonement, reconciliation, or salvation wherein liberation from forms of bondage such as sin, death, law, or evil takes place through Christ.
Atonement – The death of Jesus Christ on the cross, which effects salvation as the reestablishment of the relationship between God and sinners.
Propitiation – A theological term for making atonement for sin by making an acceptable sacrifice. Some English translations us the term to describe the death of Christ. Some theories of the atonement relate this to God’s wrath.
Sin – Various Hebrew and Greek words are translated “sin” with many shades of meaning. Theologically, sin is the human condition of separation from God that arises from opposition to God’s purposes. It may be breaking God’s law, failing to do what God wills, or rebellion. It needs forgiveness by God. (The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms lists over 30 definitions related to sin.)
Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas:
- Do The Right Thing (film by Spike Lee)
- Sin versus Grace
1) What is a right relationship with God?
2) All have fallen short of the glory of God. How do we bring glory to God?
There are a number of definitions related to the word righteousness. Likewise there are at least 30 definitions related to the word sin. Both words carry nuanced meaning and both can be explained in several ways. What is most important with either is to remember the love of God. It is that love that provides righteousness for a sinful people and again that love that forgives sinful people. Choose love, do right, and you’ll be alright.
So how do you show love when someone has sinned against you?
Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:
Next week is our second week in Romans. We will look at the idea of being called to life in the Spirit. Just as we covered sin this week we look at the burden of sin in the life of the saint and how that burden is lifted through the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit plays a significant role in the life of every believer.