Romans 3:21-25a, 27-30
God’s Answer to Our Dilemma
So we have a problem; simply put, we are law-breakers both by nature and by choice in open rebellion against the divine Law-Giver. We are accustomed to saying that we are sinners, but Paul has thus far spoken instead of law and our breaking of it. And it seems to me that “law-breaker” is a more descriptive and legal (scholars like to say, “forensic”) term than “sinner” as it speaks more to our willful and criminal activity thus rendering us without excuse and culpable before God. We therefore have no standing before God, or right standing before God, and are justly subject to condemnation by Him. Concerning “righteousness” as either a descriptive or legal category, we have none.
But Paul isn’t writing so much of our lack of righteousness; no, he is concerned instead about God’s righteousness. This entire passage is about God’s righteousness, a righteousness which Paul says “has been manifested apart from the law … the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” Now we all would understand that God is righteous as that term refers to his holy and infinitely moral character; or to put it another way, to be perfectly morally righteous is simply what we expect of the One we call God. But another dimension to this “righteousness of God” is added here. After proclaiming the obvious—that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”—Paul then tells us that those who believe “are justified by His grace as a gift.” Now the words, “righteousness” and “justified,” come from the same Greek root; that is, to be “justified” is to be “made right.”
So Paul is giving us this wonderful news: Our infinitely holy and righteous God is making those who believe in His Son righteous before Him by His sheer grace as a gift. God pronounces those guilty unrighteous people who believe in Christ “guiltless” by covering them with His Son’s very own righteousness, the righteousness of God. And how does He do this? He does this through the blood of His dear Son who bore God’s just wrath and penalty on the cross (propitiation) for our sins, our lawlessness, and who thereby paid the price for our redemption.
And so God Himself has justified (made right) us through faith in His Son apart from the law since the law could not make us right but only prove us to be law-breakers. Paul even calls this new understanding of justification the “law of faith” which excludes all boasting as it is God’s work and not ours for ALL who believe, Jew and Gentile—and yes, you, too.