The Bad News: We're All Guilty (Romans 1:18-3:20)

Why must righteousness be a gift from God? Because all humanity is unrighteous, corrupted by sin and unable to live according to God's perfect standards.

Though some people live better lives than others, at least from a human perspective, everyone is guilty before God - we've all missed the mark: "There is none righteous, not even one" (Romans 3:10). The whole of sinful humanity is in the crosshairs of God's judgment.

Pretty bleak picture, isn't it? If we stopped here, we would be doomed to despair and destruction. But there's more to the story.

The Good News: God Has Given Us His Righteousness (Romans 3:21-5:21)

How could sinful people possibly appease the wrath of God? We can't. So God Himself provided the way, through the death of His Son on the cross. Though we all have "sinned and fall[en] short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23), we can be "justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (3:24).

Just what does "justification" mean? Does it mean that, by accepting Christ's offer of salvation, we are made instantly righteous? No. It means we are declared righteous. We can enjoy a relationship with God as though we were righteous, even though we will spend all our years on earth working to get our day-to-day lives to catch up with our position.

Righteousness without works? Paul anticipated that his Jewish readers might struggle with this idea. Rituals, after all, played a major part in Jewish religion. Some of the Jews coming to Christ wanted to maintain that certain rites, such as circumcision, were a necessary component of salvation.

Yet Jewish history is filled with examples of justification by faith alone, and Paul was quick to bring them to light. First, Abraham, the father of the Jews, whose belief was "credited to him as righteousness" before he was circumcised (4:3). And next, David, whose sins were not credited to his account, though they certainly warranted God's wrath (4:7-9).

In 2 Corinthians, Paul put it this way: "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

That is truly good news! For Jew and Gentile, circumcised and uncircumcised alike.

Just as Adam's disobedience brought sin and death to humanity, Christ's obedience brings righteousness and life (Romans 5:18-19).

More Good News: We Don't Have to Live as We Used To (Romans 6-8)

Staying one step ahead of his readers, Paul anticipated the inevitable question: "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?" (Romans 6:1).

In other words, since we're justified and will remain so even if we sin, can't we just live however we want? "May it never be!" exclaimed Paul. "How shall we who died to sin still live in it?" (6:2).

Salvation doesn't free us to sin; it frees us not to sin (6:2-11). As believers in Christ, we are united with Christ Himself and His strength. Sin no longer has a claim on our lives. We're "alive to God in Christ Jesus" (6:11).

The daily process of living this new life in Christ is called "sanctification" (6:22). Whereas justification is God's declaration of righteousness, sanctification is our development in righteousness. Justification has to do with our position in Christ. Sanctification is the process of becoming more like Christ.

As growing Christians, we no longer live under the law, which showed us our sin and condemned us. Instead we live in the Spirit, who frees us to love and serve Christ.

Old habits die hard, though, as we all know. Even though we're new creatures in Christ and will one day be perfect, we retain the vestiges of our old, sinful nature in this life (Romans 7). This war of the two natures is a struggle for the Christian who truly wants to grow.

But even in the midst of the struggle, the Spirit who dwells within us gives assurance that we are children of God who will one day stand in His presence (8:16-18). We will one day be free from all sin and suffering (8:23-25). The Spirit even helps us pray when we can't find the words (8:26-27).