I am going to reference Tom Kelby's study on Romans. In his study notes, he comments on the first part of this verse, "none is righteous". To explain this, Tom says, "No one is right before God. None of us, on our own, pass his inspection. At the very core, in the heart, man is desperately wicked."
Continuing on, "no one understands; no one seeks for God." If we were left to our own flesh, we would not seek God. We would live to fulfill our earthly desires, that which is sinful, and seek after exalting ourselves. We wouldn't understand the mysteries and secrets of the kingdom of God- we would be helpless.
"All have turned aside; together they have become worthless." By living for ourselves, we would turn from God. We would not fulfill the purpose for which we were created- which is to glorify God.
"No one does good, not even one." It's not saying that there is no good that ever comes out of man, but that if not living for the glory of God, and thus, living for ourselves, all good would be tainted with some selfishness- some evil and therefore, wicked in God's sight.
Do you remember, before you were saved when the Bible seemed foolish and completely confusing? Have you shared His Word with people who just don't understand? Although Scripture can still be challenging, in Christ, we have the ability to study and understand God's word. It has been made known to us. Mark 4:11-13 says: " And he said to them, 'To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.' "
22-25 ...the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned all fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in His divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
Tom Kelby's study:
If we are to grasp the ramifications of these verses, we need to understand the words found within them. This passage includes eight of the most important words a Christian can know: righteousness, faith, glory, justification, grace, redemption, atonement and blood. Let’s look at these words one at a time. Let the definitions sink into your heart. A proper understanding of these words will change your life!
1. Righteousness - This is a word that can be difficult for our minds to grasp, not because the meaning is obscured, but because our minds, which are often coated by years of non-Biblical thinking, have a hard time grasping the truth here. Carefully read Paul’s words in verses 21 and 22.
"But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe." Romans 3:21,22 Righteousness is “the character or quality of being right or just”. In other words, righteousness is perfect conformity to God’s will. Keep in mind, Paul has just gone to great lengths to prove that no one righteous (verse 10), but here, just 11 verses further, he says that,“righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” The righteousness he is discussing is from God, meaning it is not from man. It comes to all who believe. This righteousness doesn’t start with you; it comes to you. God gives righteousness to all who believe in Jesus Christ. This is not a “grade B” type of righteousness being discussed here. It is the very righteousness of God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 It is critical to understand that this righteousness is not earned. Indeed, it cannot be earned. After all, how can righteousness be attained when wickedness is the starting place? How can truth spring from error? Can a can of red paint ever have enough white mixed into it to be made truly white? As Jesus said, “a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” Righteousness can only spring from rightness. God is the only one who is right. Therefore, righteousness can only come from God. And God gives righteousness to all who believe in Jesus Christ. If you are a Christian, you are righteous. It is your very nature. Say it aloud, let this truth sink into your heart: “Because of Jesus, I am righteous!”
2. Faith - Notice how this righteousness comes: through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. Faith means, “firm persuasion.” This firm persuasion is to be in the living person of Jesus Christ. But the New Testament meaning of faith includes much more than just firm “mental” persuasion. True faith goes far deeper than that. It goes to the heart. The main elements in “faith” ... are (1) a firm conviction, producing a full acknowledgement of God’s revelation or truth e.g., 2 Thess. 2:11-12; (2) a personal surrender to Him, John 1:12; (3) a conduct inspired by such surrender, 2 Cor. 5:7.45 To be real, this firm persuasion includes total surrender, which will necessarily affect your conduct. If I firmly believe a fire is going to destroy my house, I will drop everything I am doing and I will act! I will make sure my family is safe. This sort of faith holds nothing in reserve. True faith is absolute trust in Jesus and abandonment to his will. The importance of faith cannot be overstated. "Without faith it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6). Our faith is not in a concept.It is in Jesus. Carefully look at the words in the verse below. “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.” Galatians 2:15-16 Our faith must be placed in Jesus Christ. Where is your firm persuasion? To whom have you surrendered? Who is inspiring your conduct? If the answer to these questions is not Jesus, you will surely fall.
3. Glory- In Romans 3:23, Paul indicates that our sin has caused us to fall short of God’s glory. Glory encompasses God’s nature and attributes - his love, goodness, holiness, purity, power, beauty, honor, distinction and righteousness. Wherever God is, there you will find his glory. The glory of God is so weighty it can be felt. Many saints have seen and felt this glory, at least in a measure. D.L. Moody, the 19th century American evangelist, had just such an encounter with the Lord one day while he was walking the streets of New York.
“Ah, what a day! - I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it, it is almost too sacred an experience to name - Paul had an experience of which he never spoke for fourteen years - I can only say God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand.”
We were created for God’s glory (Isaiah 43:7). In the same way that you desire people to know the real you, God desires us to know the real God, in all his glory! He wants us to see him and know him as he really is. Unfortunately, sin has caused man to fall short of this glory. I believe this is part of the emptinessman feels. We were created for much more than we have ever known. Like a race horse that has spent its entire life in a stable, never allowed to experience the thrill of running free and testing the limits of his legs and lungs, we were created to be revelers in and partakers of God’s glory; yet sin has closed the door, keeping us from the very thing we were created for. I want to know this glory and experience it and live in it. Moses had this same desire. He asked to see God’s glory, yet he was only allowed to see God’s back, for, as God explained in Exodus 33:20, “... you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” This experience alone, while it was only a partial viewing of God’s glory, was enough to make Moses’ face glow and frighten the Israelites! Imagine what it will be like when we see God’s face! The wonder of Romans 3:23 is that if sin is what causes us to fall short of the glory of God, then righteousness must be what causes us to be restored to a position where we can see and know his glory, albeit only in part here on earth, but at the coming of the Lord Jesus, we will know him fully! What a day that will be!
4. Justification - In verse 24, Paul indicates that those who believe are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” This word means “the legal and formal acquittal from guilt by God as Judge, the pronouncement of the sinner as righteous, who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ.” It is important to notice that justification is much more than just being declared not guilty. Justification is also the declaration, by God himself, that you are righteous! Think about this! God has examined you and declared you righteous in his eyes. If God is for you, who can be against you (Romans 8:31)? It is God who justifies. Who is it that condemns? Romans 8:33,34
5. Grace- Grace describes the “friendly disposition” behind God’s giving. God delights in blessing for he is the “compassionate and gracious God” (Exodus 34:6). He gives with joy, liberality, and favor. The ideas of debt, works and repayment are totally foreign to the idea of grace. As Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved”. Praise God for his grace. If this were not his disposition, none could be saved.
6. Redemption- In ancient times, slaves were often freed from their owners by the payment\ of a ransom. In the same way, our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, paid a heavy ransom to free us from our bondage to sin and death. Let the weight of this thought sink into your heart. Your justification did not come cheaply. Someone needed to pay a ransom to free you. If no one came to pay the ransom, you would remain a slave. That someone was Jesus. He died to set you free. The purchase price he paid will not be paid again. Those who have been set free are free forever, for the ransom Jesus paid obtained eternal redemption for you. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. Hebrews 9:12
7. Atonement- Jesus’ death paid the price for your sins because it was a sacrifice of atonement (NIV). Other Bible versions may use the word propitiation (KJV, NAS, ESV). The idea of a “sacrifice of atonement” and a “propitiation” is the same: “The act by which God restores a relationship of harmony and unity between Himself and human beings.” We must remember that God does not need to be reconciled to man. It was not his desire or any action on his part that caused separation. Man sinned against God. The enmity exists on our part. God is just. He cannot simply ignore or cover over the penalty for sin. God’s justice would not have been satisfied if he simply erased the penalty for sin. The price for sin needed to be paid, and it needed to be paid by a man, as man was the guilty party. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 1 Corinthians 15:21. For this reason, God himself, in the person of the Lord Jesus, was born a man, so that he might become that “sacrifice of atonement.” We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6 The iniquities “of us all” were laid on Jesus. Therefore, his death and resurrection established “grounds for reconciliation” for all who will accept what he has done through faith in his blood.
8. Blood - The final word we will look at is blood. It is strange to think that blood, something we normally recoil from, actually was the “currency” that purchased our freedom. But blood and forgiveness go hand in hand. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 1 Peter 1:18-20 ... without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Hebrews 9:22 Jesus’ blood, unlike the sacrifices required by God in the Old Testament, is not a temporary solution. It is not a bandage that hides a gaping wound. His blood doesn’t merely “cover” our sins; it totally washes them away! “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” Isaiah 1:18 And this is not a temporary solution. Jesus’ blood will never lose its power. Jesus obtained eternal redemption for us! We were redeemed, not by the perishable, but by the imperishable blood of Jesus! If God is eternally satisfied with this sacrifice, who are we to question its efficacy? If he washed your sins and guilt away by the blood of Jesus, why hold on to them any longer? The Christian has eternal redemption by the blood of Jesus! What a glorious thought! Just think what awaits us in heaven! To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his presence without fault and with great joy ... Jude 1:24 If you have confessed Jesus as your Lord, say this verse aloud, for the reality of it must sink in. “I will be presented before God’s glorious presence without fault and with great joy!” What a day that will be!
Tom has other in depth studies that are available for purchase on his website: https://www.handstotheplow.org/index.html