Romans 3:21-31 – God’s Righteousness Revealed


Paul, writing  a faith and relationship building letter to the early church in Rome, stated his thesis in 1:16-17 – namely, that he is not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God to bring salvation to all who believe. In those versus he states that this same salvation is for the Jews as well as the non-Jews and that the righteous will live – by faith. He began in 1:18 to explain these two important sentences.
He reaches the end of a major teaching at 3:20 – the law does not make anybody righteous, it simply shines the light on our sin and our sin will find us all guilty before God.

Structure of Romans 3:21-31

  • 21-22a – The Law reveals the righteousness of God
  • 22b-24 – The righteousness of God means judgement has no favourites and salvation has no favourites
  • 25-26 – the atonement reveals God’s righteousness
  • 27-31 – boasting is removed and only faith remains

Comments on the text


  • ‘Righteousness’ is to be right with God – to be at peace instead of in conflict with God. Those who will pass God’s perfect judgement and declared righteous (see rom 2:5,13). To be safe from God’s wrath, we need to be righteous in his sight.
  • The law and the prophets (the Old Testament) prophecy or speak about a righteousness of God. It is superior to the law. God and his righteousness are not subject to the law but the other way around.


  • This righteousness (being declared right with God) is a gift! This is what grace means – to receive righteousness when we do not deserve it!
  • It is not given to all humanity but to those who would believe in Christ and put their faith or trust in Christ. This is no light sentence to be glanced over. Paul has been describing the guilt of all humanity and the wrath of God on all of us since Romans 1:18! Now he states who and why we can be saved! Our salvation is through trusting in Jesus instead of the law, instead of our goodness, instead of religion, instead of our best wishes. There is an object for our faith and that is Jesus and no other. It is not enough to simply be a person of faith if that faith is in anything or anyone else!
  • But there is no limit to the number of people who can be saved – it is available to ALL who believe. If you believe, then you can be assured of your salvation.
  • For both Jew and gentile – Paul has been consistently proving this for the last two chapters. Regardless of who you are, this gospel is for you to hear and respond to in faith.


  • Paul States plainly again that all are guilty and all have access to salvation through one means. John 14:6
  • Redemption is through Christ. We have all fallen short of God’s glory but Jesus has paid the difference. Our guilt makes us indebted to God with a debt we cannot pay – but Jesus has redeemed us like you redeem something from the op shop. He has paid the price owed. Paul goes on in verse 25 to explain this very thing.


  • Paul said in verse 21 that the law and the prophets testify to this righteousness of God. Here in verse 25 he shows that the vocab of the law is used to explain how Christ has redeemed those who believe.
  • Atonement – describing how two parties are unified – ‘at-one-ment’
  • For sacrifice of atonement see Leviticus 16:15-16
  • The sacrificial and ceremonial laws of the Old Testament are prophesying of the one true atonement for sin which was Christ shedding his blood on the cross. Colossians 1:20
  • God’s righteousness is revealed because he proves himself to deal with our sins according to the requirements of the law. Through the crucifixion we see God acting perfectly and justly with sin – not just ignoring it but holding back his wrath until he deals with it though his own Son – that is, the Christ – the messiah – the suffering servant of Isaiah’s prophecy. NB God is not subject to the law but he saves in accordance with it because the law was given to point us to that salvation!


  • Therefore he remains just when he declares sinners justified (righteous) if their trust is in Jesus.


  • These verses need no breakdown because they draw to conclusion all that he has said. They support Paul’s argument at the beginning of the chapter when he insisted (‘certainly not!’) that God is right and people are wrong. God has not broken his promises or the law but has upheld the law! (v31)
  • The law that requires works verses the law that requires faith – to boast in the law that requires you to obey it and remain righteous is an empty boast because it only highlights your sin. But to boast in the law that is by faith is to boast in the works of Christ who has fulfilled the law and redeemed us by faith! We trust Jesus rather than our own works.
  • Paul will boast in this just as he proclaimed in 1:16 ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel’


  • Righteousness – how do you get right with God and stay there? This is the crucial question of the bible.
  • Redemption – the process of being paid for.
  • The law and the prophets testify or bear witness to the true gospel of God. They prophecy of this righteousness of God who acts rightly in every way and who gives us the gift of his righteousness when we hear the gospel and believe.
  • Salvation by grace alone through faith (eph 2:8-10)
  • God is right when he acts.
  • Faith beats law!


  1. Repent and believe the good news
  2. There is one verdict for all humanity: guilty. There is one way to be saved: the atoning sacrifice of Christ. This is the good news that Paul was so keen and obligated to preach (1:14-15). And we too ought to be keen and obligated to proclaim it.
  3. Paul has helped us understand Romans 1:17 – from faith to faith – saved through faith from first to last. Works has nothing to do with it!


  1. Paul has layed down the gospel for us. Can you explain the gospel without using the same words that Paul has used?
  2. What place does works play in the life of a Christian? Be careful how you answer this that you don’t make works part of your need to be saved.
  3. Name one thing that is more important than this message of salvation. How does your answer affect decisions in your life for work, money spending, teaching children and basically everything? Your prayers?

2 thoughts on “Romans 3:21-31 – God’s Righteousness Revealed”

  1. two questions:
    a) RSV and NIV11 use righteousness of God, NIV uses righteousness from God in verses 21 / 22 and in v 25/26 RSV and NIV11 use show God’s righteousness but NIV uses demonstrates his justice. Why the change between RSV to NIV and then to NIV 11?

  2. Thanks David – and congratulations on being the first to use the comments section to discuss stuff about the text and interact online! I hope that my answer won’t scare off any future questions!

    This is an excellent observation and a beautiful example of a group using different bible versions to uncover complications in the text.

    I’ll try and answer the question as directly as I can…

    Verse 21 in the Greek is most obviously ‘righteousness of God’. The NIV84 translators, however, used the grammatically plausible option of ‘from’ to underscore the message of verse 22 – that God is giving his righteousness to those having faith in Christ. It is technically correct to translate it this way but not obvious. Paul did mean ‘righteousness from God’ in Philippians 3:9 but used different Greek words to make this clear. The phrase: righteousness of God can carry two messages at the same time: 1) that the righteousness that is being revealed is God’s righteousness – his attribute of being right and 2) that it is this righteousness that is being given – the righteousness of God as opposed to the righteousness of the law. So, based on what is the most obvious translation from the Greek and one that makes perfect sense, the RSV and the NIV11 win.

    Now, what about the word confusion of ‘justice’ (NIV84) and ‘righteousness’ (RSV/NIV11) in verses 25-26? A similar answer is given: both words are permissible from the Greek and the NIV84 translaters chose to use justice to fit in with the comments of verses 26 which talk of being just and justified.

    The same Greek words are used to translate just/right, justified/pronounce righteous, justification/righteousness. This creates a translators problem because which English word should they use in each place? Should they consistently use the same English word or can they use alternatives in order to make things clearer if possible? Compare these two equally correct verses to illustrate the issue:

    “He did this to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be right and the one who pronounces righteous those who have faith in Jesus.”

    “He did this to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

    Could we then write of verse 21: “But now apart from the law the justification of God has been made known”? The words justice and righteousness are not exactly synonymous but they are very tightly intertwined. The ‘justice’ words describe more of a legal statement “you are justified” where as the righteous word group (or the ‘right’ word group) implies more of a moral or ethical practice. When God declares us as justified (just if I’d never sinned) he is equally declaring that we are righteous (living rightly in relationship to God) – the two words are not synonymous but when you use one, you can equally use the other. So, the translator’s question when faced with the same Greek word is: which English word shall they use?

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