Paul, having leveled so manifest and comprehensive condemnation upon all men, Jew and Gentile, to the purpose of removing from their minds any thought of their own righteousness as sufficient for God’s demands, now turns his attention to the sole means by which humanity are justified before God. The initial transition is the all-important contrastive “but” to all that has preceded. “But now,” Paul says, the righteousness of God has been manifested. In contrast to all the manifest unrighteousness of men, yet God has manifested His righteousness—and that apart from the Law! For God’s righteousness is not under the condition of Law, nor does His righteousness require the Law for it to be valid, but God is righteous in Himself, and so the manifestation of His righteousness does not depend upon the Law. But though the righteousness of God does not depend upon the Law, yet do all the Scriptures (including the Law) testify to God’s righteousness.
If not by Law, how then is the righteousness of God accomplished toward men? It is the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus the Christ. Trust in the Sovereign Savior is the evidence of God’s righteousness. Who then may receive the righteousness of God? All those who believe in Christ for their righteousness shall receive the righteousness of God on their account, and with no further distinction than this faith in Christ. Justification is not a matter of being born of one tribe or another, nor having been given the Law, nor does it come from wisdom or power or wealth. Only by faith in Jesus Christ is the righteousness of God revealed.
There can be no distinction other than faith, for all that Paul has said previously, but to sum up all that he has just said in one phrase, and so to close the argument against all, Paul states that all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. The “all” here not only includes all classes of people, but all people indeed, for if faith is the evidence of justification, the personal merit of anyone according to the requirements of the Law has proven unfit.
That no one possesses righteousness upon their own merit is further revealed in Paul’s reference to justification as God’s gift of grace the has been given for our redemption through Christ Jesus. God has freely justified those who will believe in Christ for their redemption from guilt before the Law. God, eternal, all wise, all powerful, and all sufficient has freely chosen in Christ those whom He is pleased to justify.
This Christ Jesus, our redemption, has merited justification for us by being publicly displayed as a propitiation for sin. Just as the yearly lamb of sacrifice was publicly slaughtered and its blood sprinkled over the mercy seat, which held the book of the Law and upon which God set His glory, so this Jesus’s blood was shed before the throne of heaven where God was pleased to pour out His wrath upon Jesus for our sins and to thus accept us as holy and blameless upon the righteousness of Christ. The blood of Christ therefore atones for sin, and achieves God’s double satisfaction—He is pleased that His wrath has been poured out on sin, the sin that Jesus became for us; and He is pleased that His favor has been poured out on us through Christ’s righteousness on our behalf. In God’s awaiting the sacrifice of Christ, He did pass over a great many sins of His people in order that His righteousness might be displayed in bearing for us the penalty for those sins. Therefore God demonstrated not only His longsuffering, but His mercy and grace to cover our sin and lay our iniquity upon Himself in Christ.
The demonstration of God’s righteousness has been fully revealed in the present time, that is, in the time of Christ, for Christ’s time on earth is the centerpiece of redemptive history in the full self-disclosure of His divine nature, for in Christ’s holy life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection we see God to be both just (for He punishes our sin in Christ) and justifier (for He redeems us from sin in Christ) of every one who has faith in Jesus.
If Gentiles boasted in their wisdom and ignorance and Jews boasted in the Law, who then is able to boast in what comes nothing whatsoever from their work or merit? It is impossible to boast in oneself in the free grace of God who is just and justifier. Yet if justice comes according to law, by what law does it come? Not by works, for then we might boast, but it is by faith, the passive acknowledgement of God’s free gift—revealed to us by faith.
So again, Paul states it most clearly so as not to be misunderstood. One is justified by faith, that is, trusting in the work of Christ and the character of God, apart from our ability to keep the Law by our obedience. Our obedience accomplishes nothing for our justification, nothing for the remission of our sins, nothing for the satisfaction of God’s wrath, nothing for the acceptance of God’s love, nothing for our inclusion into God’s family. But Christ’s obedience accomplishes all of these things on our behalf, as we trust in Him for our righteousness.
So it is not the Law that has revealed who are the chosen of God, but God is the God of the Jews and the Gentiles. The Jews were blessed to be given the oracles of God, but this blessing was not their justification. God is the savior of all men, that is, of every tongue and tribe of the earth, and not only the Jews.
One people of God exist for God is one. For God has chosen to justify from among the circumcised as well as the uncircumcised, not by works, but by one faith in the one man whose righteousness is sure, God the Son, the Son of Man, Jesus Christ.
If then our justification is not accomplished by our obedience to the Law, does the faith by which we are saved make the Law null and void? Paul emphatically denies the affirmative to this question and asserts the contrary—the Law is not made null, but is rather established by faith. For it is only by faith that the Law is rightly obeyed—for who can love the Law who is not already justified before it? The one who looks to the Law for justification will only hate the Law, for it condemns what we do in sin. Yet for the one whose sins have been forgiven in Christ and whose righteousness before the Law is secured in Him, the Law becomes our means of praising the God who has freely justified us by His grace. No longer does the Law condemn us, but it encourages us because our faith is in Christ’s merit and in God who graciously justifies in Christ.