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The NPP and Romans 3:22

August 15, 2006

The phrase “righteousness of God” if taken all by itself is admittedly ambiguous.  It could mean the righteousness that belongs to God as an attribute.  It could mean the righteousness God requires from us.  It could mean the righteousness that God gives to us.  I believe that the larger context requires the last meaning.  Let’s look at these two verses that Paul quotes in chapter 4 as examples of how the law and the prophets testify to this righteousness from God apart from law.  

Ro 4.3/Gen 15.6 “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”

Ro 4.7-8/Ps 32.1-2″Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;  blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

Why did Paul pick those two verses?  What do those two verses have in common?  They both contain the word ‘count’ or ‘reckon’ or in the old KJV ‘impute’.  They’re exactly the same in the Greek, they’re exactly the same in the Hebrew.  The Hebrew word is hashab.  To account or to reckon.  It is accounting language.  If we were to go out to dinner tonight in
Israel we would ask at the end of the meal for the heshbon.  The bill, the reckoning, the accounting.  So Paul is telling us that the righteousness of God is credited/imputed to our account when we believe.  Paul is explaining how it is that the righteousness of God comes through faith in Christ, and the answer is: by imputation. 

Although the phrase in verse 22 “righteousness of God” is ambiguous, there is thankfully another passage in Philippians 3 where Paul explains what he means with some extra prepositions thrown in for clarity. 

Philippians 3:9  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith

So here in Philippians 3:9 he substitutes the phrase righteousness from God for the phrase righteousness of God in Romans 3:22.

We should let Paul’s clear meaning there in Philippians 3:9 control our interpretation here in Romans 3:22.  This righteousness of God is a righteousness that comes from him, that is given to us to replace our own righteousness that comes from works of the law by which no human being can be justified. 

Do we stand before God in our own righteousness or in his righteousness?  That will determine whether we stand before him condemned or justified. 

How then do we receive this righteousness from God? Through faith in Jesus Christ.

This phrase too is interpretable in multiple ways.  Some would say that it means the faith of Jesus Christ, or the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.  Those who would deny the imputation of righteousness would read the verse this way:  God’s righteousness is revealed through Christ’s faithfulness.  Simple enough.  No imputation.

The strongest argument against this interpretation is simple.  The word faith occurs 18x in, and is the main theme of, Romans 3:21-4:25.  And every other time it unambiguously refers to man’s faith, not God’s faithfulness.

By way of a second argument I would point out the similarities between Romans 3:22 and the phrase “from faith to faith” in 1:17.  That too is a difficult verse, but there we concluded that “from faith” referred to the way of salvation and “to faith” referred to the scope of salvation.  So in 3:22 “through faith in Jesus Christ” refers to the way of salvation and “for all who believe” refers to the scope of salvation.

So the prepositions matter.  A lot.  I would urge you to memorize Romans 3:22 this way.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.

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