How free is freedom?

I recently bought the SheReadsTruth + HeReadsTruth bundle of the ministry’s Summer study on Romans. I bought this as a study for my girlfriend and I to work on over the Summer and to be honest, I’m not ashamed to admit that I enjoy the aesthetic of the women’s study more than the men’s study, but that’s neither here nor there.


What caught my eye as I opened the study is the key verse that the SheReadsTruth team picked for Romans:


“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:23-24


Martin Luther, the famous Protestant Reformer of the sixteenth century, said of Romans, “This letter is truly the most important piece of the New Testament. It is purest gospel.” If the entire book is purest gospel, the key verse identified by the SheReadsTruth team is the absolute essence of this purest gospel.


I think a fun exercise is to break down the verse and truly understand just what each word and phrase means, so that we don’t lose the complexity and the simplicity of Paul’s writing to the church. When I did this, it reignited my heart and joy rooted in these sentences.


To give brief context, Paul is addressing a mixed group of Jews and Gentiles (3:9), Jews being the people of God under the Law and under the promises of God to Abraham, the Gentiles being those outside of those promises to this specific people group.


And Paul levels the playing field.


“For all…”


Paul does not discriminate, even though you may want him to after hearing what he’s about to say. He prefaces his message by proclaiming that whether you’re Jew or Gentile, whether you care or don’t care, whether you’re aware or not aware, this is true of you. That includes Paul himself! What could be so outrageously universal that literally no one can escape this truth about themselves?


“…have sinned…”


That’s it. That’s what we’re all guilty of. Sinning. This tense is past, meaning that even if you think that you haven’t sinned, you did. God says so. All have sinned. As the author of Ecclesiastes puts it, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” So what? What does it matter that everyone has sinned? Well, as Paul says later in this letter, “the wages of sin is death.” (6:23) Can it get any worse?


“…and fall short of the glory of God.”


Oh, yeah. It can get worse. Not only have we sinned, leading to death, we fall short of the one thing that we were designed to embrace: the glory of God. This phrase, “fall short,” is in the present passive, meaning that we continue to be in a state of falling short. There is not a time when we don’t fall short. We are always in the process of falling short of God’s glory. Every day that I wake up, I fall short of God’s glory.


That’s a very defeating verse. If Romans 3:23 wasn’t followed with Romans 3:24, I’d have some serious misgivings about the hope and life that’s found in the gospel. The point is that this verse sets the stage for the greatest act of love ever told. Yes, we all have sinned and yes, we continue to fall short of the glory of God, but in the midst of our depravity and shame…


“They are justified…”


Hallelujah rejoice! Even though we sin and fall short, we are justified before God. How? Do we even care? Isn’t this the best news ever? Why should we care about how we’re justified when just the fact that we are justified is such good news? I want to be justified before God and accepted and loved by him whatever it takes!




Do you know what it takes? Nothing. It’s free. God, through Paul, continues to revel layer after layer of beauty in his design to justify us. This word "freely" in the Greek is dōrean, which means freely as a gift or present; for nothing. That’s how much it takes. Nothing. This justification costs us nothing. It is given freely…


“…by his grace…”


This God who justifies us does so because he is gracious. He is kind and caring and loving and every other adjective a perfect father can be. He justifies us at the expense not of ourselves, but of his son. What does grace look like? It looks like the bloodied Jesus on the cross, for this shows what should have been our due, but instead he took it upon himself. Why?


“…through the redemption…”


That cross had a purpose: to redeem. The redemption that is in God’s grace is freely given to us in order to justify us to a God who cannot be with sinners, which is what we learned that we all are in verse 23. He redeems from what we are, to who he sees us to be.


“…that is in Christ Jesus.”


This is the foundation for our joy in the gospel. Christ, a title of Jesus that declares him as the chosen one of God to be a vessel of redemption so that we may be justified before God. All the other points of this verse are well and good, but if the climax of this verse is not the most moving moment in your soul, connect again with Jesus today and confess your sins and express your praise of his worthiness to be called “Christ.”


Sometimes, a deeper reading of a truth that we know in our minds will so impact and stir our hearts where Christ is our pleasure and joy. That is the result of justification, redemption, freedom: joy in Christ.