Righteous, righteousness, just, justifier
All of these words come from the same root word in Greek. They have the same basic meaning.
Ryrie 3:21 righteousness. Used in various ways in the Bible, righteousness refers: (1) to God’s character (John 17:25); (2) to the gift which is given to everyone who receives Christ (here and 517); and (3) to standards of right living (6:18; 2 Tim. 2:22).
For additional study of what “righteous” means see:
Romans 3:1-8-Paul says that the Jews are blessed (they have an “advantage”, “benefit”) because they were the ones who first received the Law of God. Some have not responded in faith...but this just goes to demonstrate and validate the righteousness of God...in that, He extended the message to them even though He knew that they would not respond. Someone might try to argue that since the Law demonstrates the righteousness of God and as a result demonstrates the unrighteousness of men, then God is the cause of their unrighteousness. He says that this is a ridiculous argument. The Law does not cause men to be unrighteous…but it identifies the unrighteousness that they have caused. Some have then even tried to go a step further and suggest that if God is glorified when men are shown by the Law to be unrighteous…then they should practice unrighteousness even more so that God will receive even more glory. Paul simply says that the condemnation, the judgment that men receive for this kind of attitude is just (correct). In other words, that very kind of thinking is evidence of their unrighteousness because no truly righteous person would ever try to manipulate the Law and God so that they could sin.
Romans 3:9-20-Paul says that Jew and Gentile are all guilty of sin and that no one will be justified by his own works, by keeping the Law. The Law was never meant to be a means of salvation, but the Law was meant to reveal the need for salvation. Paul then quotes and paraphrases several Old Testament passages that state that all men, Jew and Gentile alike, are guilty of sin (Psalm 5:9; 10:7; 14:1-3; 36:1; 140:3; Isaiah 59:7-8). He then makes certain that his readers understand that the purpose of the Law was not to be a standard to be kept that would create righteousness in men’s lives. But rather, that the Law was a standard that when compared to men’s lives would show their total failure to be righteous and would identify them as sinners.
Romans 3:21-31 The Means of Salvation
Righteousness has been made possible apart from the Law. The “Law and the Prophets” (this is a term that was commonly used to speak of what we refer to as the Old Testament) teach this very truth. The righteousness of God has been made available to everyone through faith in the life and death of Jesus Christ. This same righteousness applies to those who lived before Him (:25). Righteousness is not something that I accomplish. It is something that is accomplished for me by Jesus Christ and that He offers to me as a gift.
Verses 25-26 mean that God did not immediately execute judgment for sin upon those who lived before the death of Jesus. He knew that He would one day send His Son to die on the cross and that there He would judge the sins of the entire world…all men and women who have ever lived…both before and after the cross. So, with this in mind…He did not execute His judgment for sin on those who lived before the cross of Jesus. He executed judgment for their sins and our sins (past, present, and future) on the cross.
That greatest of all acts of God’s grace was further demonstrated by His divine forbearance, as He passed over the sins previously committed. God is not unaware of nor does He condone even the smallest sin. His forbearance is therefore not a sign of injustice but of His patient and loving grace. “The Lord is not slow about His promise,” Peter assures us, “but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
God’s justice and grace are on a perfect and infinitely grander scale than human wisdom can perceive or comprehend. Because of His justice, no sin will ever go unpunished; yet because of His grace, no sin is beyond forgiveness. Therefore every sin will be paid for by the sinner himself in the form of eternal death and punishment in hell or it will be paid for him because he has placed his faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on his behalf.
Paresis (passed over) does not carry the idea of remission, as the King James Version renders it, but refers to passing by or overlooking. In the context of God’s forbearance, the meaning is therefore that of a temporary passing over sin and of withholding judgment on it for a certain period of time. After the Fall, when God could have justly destroyed Adam and Eve, and therefore the human race, He passed over the sins of fallen mankind. Even in the Flood the Lord saved eight people, not because they were perfectly righteous but because they trusted in Him. In the same way, the many subsequent judgments of God recorded in Scripture were never universal, but were rendered upon specific individuals, groups, or nations.
The psalmist Asaph understood something of why God allows many wicked people to live and thrive, often at the expense of those who are less sinful. He wrote that God, “being compassionate, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them; and often He restrained His anger, and did not arouse all His wrath. Thus He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and does not return” (Ps. 78:38–39).
In his discourse before the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers on the Areopagus (Mars Hill) just outside Athens, Paul said, “Having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30–31).
(Romans: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, John F. MacArthur, 3:25b-26, Logos Bible Software)
Prayer: Lord, thank You for Your grace. The Law shows us in vivid detail the extent of our sin and that there is no way that we could ever pay for it, ourselves. Thank You that You sent Jesus to provide salvation.