Romans 3:24 and the Gift of Righteousness
Let’s consider some more the meaning of the verb “to justify” It means “to declare righteous”. It’s not “to make righteous”. Justification doesn’t make you a righteous person, it is a declaration of your righteous status before God. It is a legal verdict. It is the opposite of condemnation. When a person is condemned he is declared to be wicked and sentenced to death. When a person is justified he is declared to be righteous and sentenced to live. Condemnation doesn’t make a person wicked. He really is wicked and is just declared to be so. So justification doesn’t make you righteous. It declares that the fact that you are really righteous before God.
You say, wait a minute. That’s where the analogy breaks down. For I’m not really righteous before God. O Christian, yes you are! Justification is no mere legal fiction. Justification is a declaration based on a reality. You really are righteous before God. Though you stand before him not in your own righteousness, but clothed in the righteousness of Christ…you really are clothed in the righteousness of Christ! So you really are righteous before God!
Here it is in the words of the great Scot Robert Haldane, “Many Christians are afraid to give the scriptural language on this subject the full extent of its meaning; and instead of representing themselves as…perfectly righteous by the righteousness of the Son of God, they look on their justification as merely an accounting of them as righteous while they are not so in reality. They think that God mercifully looks on them in a light which is more favourable than the strictness of truth would warrant. But the Scriptures represent believers as truly righteous, possessing a righteousness fully answerable to all the demands of the law.”
This is the wonderful doctrine of imputed righteousness. The righteousness of Christ is really given to me, credited to my account, covers my sin like a spotless white robe of righteousness. And I believe that it is clearly taught by Romans 3:24.
“Justified as a gift by his grace.” As a gift, by his grace. Is that redundant?… Does that mean anything more than just by his grace? Isn’t grace and gift the same thing? As a gift, by his grace. Doesn’t by his grace already mean that it’s a free gift? What is Paul meaning by adding the phrase as a gift?
He’s distinguishing between the grace of God, his unmerited favor, his disposition to lavish goodness upon people who don’t deserve it, and the gift of the grace of God. What is the gift of God’s grace?
The word grace is the common word that occurs all over the place in Paul and 24x just in Romans, but this word for gift occurs only in one other place in the book.
Romans 5:15-17 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”
The free gift is the free gift of righteousness. So the point is that justification is based on something. It’s not a legal fiction. It’s a declaration of righteousness based on the free gift of righteousness given to you by grace and received by faith. This is an awesome liberating truth that should give you great assurance and confidence before God. You really are righteous before God. Your faith may be strong today and weak tomorrow. Your progressive sanctification will have its peaks and valleys. But there is no waxing and waning of your righteousness before God. For you are clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ to which you can never add and from which you can never subtract. Exult in that and your heart will sing as you get up and run out of the valley of worldly wanderlust and confidently draw near to God again.