We marvel at the incarnation. The eternal Son of God became man without losing any of his divinity. But he did something more than become man, something almost incomprehensible. He suffered and died in our place. He did this in order to become the sacrifice for our sins,as Paul points out in Romans 3:21–26.
Now God has revealed to you his righteousness. God has revealed this righteousness apart from law. Now it has been revealed. Paul is emphasizing the manifestation of God’s righteousness. Not that it has been unknown before–he goes on to tell you that it was witnessed by the Law and the Prophets. But now it has been revealed, see Colossians 1:26, 27. Paul emphasizes both newness and continuity. This righteousness was manifested without the law. Do not tone down “without the law.” In justification there is no preparation, contribution, or help provided by the works of the law. It is the law as commanding works that is excluded from justification, see Romans 8:3. Don’t put your trust in what you are doing!
This righteousness is witnessed to by the Law and the Prophets. Paul changes his use of the word, “law.” In one sense, the law pronounces condemnation, Romans 3:19. In another sense, the law witnesses to and proclaims justification by faith in Christ. The Old Testament, identified here as “the Law and the Prophets,” witness to God’s righteousness. The entire sacrificial system emphasized substitution. Abraham and Isaac understood that God provided the ram for a sacrifice instead of Isaac. David could sing about his transgressions being removed and forgiven, Psalm 103; Psalm 32. The substitution of the Lamb for the sinner comes through clearly in Isaiah 53. God’s righteousness had been witnessed by the Law and the Prophets—and it is now fully revealed in Jesus Christ.
What makes this righteousness so wonderful? This is God’s righteousness. “The righteousness of God” is more than the characteristic of God, his quality of justice and faithfulness. Certainly that is true of God, and it lies behind what Paul is saying. God’s justice alone would not save, but merely condemn. See Romans 1:17. This righteousness of God by faith is parallel to “the power of God unto salvation” to everyone who believes. This righteousness is a divine righteousness that, nevertheless, is a free gift (Romans 5:17), that is the one righteousness (5:18), and is the obedience of the one (5:19). In short, it is the righteousness of the God-man, Jesus Christ, placed on your account.
The specific point at which this righteousness of God becomes evident is–you! God has declared you just. You have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Paul again emphasizes that you along with everyone else, is a sinner, verse 23. But this time he shows sin for what it is, not by describing it in detail, as he did in Romans 3:9-20. Instead he points to the glory of God. Think of the glory of God as it descended on Mt. Sinai, and the people were afraid. Think of the pillar of cloud and fire. (Much contemporary worship focuses far more on what we want than on the weight of the majesty of God.) See your sin as what separates you from the glory of God. You were made in the image of this glorious God — yet you rebelled against him and treated his glory as something contemptible.
Yet, God has acquitted you — because Christ suffered in your place! Paul is elaborating on his theme of the righteousness of God. He contrasts God’s righteousness with salvation by keeping the works of the law. God declares you free from guilt. Paul is using legal terminology. To justify is to declare “not guilty.” Although salvation always involves a changed life, it is not first of all a subjective change. God declares you free from the guilt of your sin. A human judge can and should pronounce the verdict of “not guilty” on someone who is accused, but in which the jury finds the accused innocent of the charges. God declares sinners not guilty! Your justification is free. Paul is being gloriously redundant! You cannot pay for your justification. You cannot earn it by works, as Paul the Pharisee used to think, as works salvation in Eritrea indicates, and as many Americans think. Your decision cannot earn righteousness. This grace involves the heart of the gospel. Your justification is free, but it was purchased at great cost. Here is the language of commerce. You have been bought at a price. The price is the suffering of Jesus Christ. It includes the suffering that he underwent throughout his life, but the focus is in the sacrificial offering which Christ made as he offered himself on the cross. Included are the surrounding details described in he Gospels — being struck and mocked by the leaders of Israel, then being beaten and mocked by Pilate and Herod’s subordinates, and the agony of the crucifixion. “Redeem” means more than “liberate,” although that is part of the concept. The term means to buy back, to pay a price for something. We use the language in getting something back from a pawn shop. Christ gave his life as a ransom. His death was a substitute, Matthew 20:28.
“[T]he work of Christ consists not so much in his humility, not only in his death, but in his total — active as well as passive — obedience…. Since by his sacrifice Christ met the requirements of God’s justice, he objectively changed the relation between God and humankind and consequently, all other relations between humankind to sin, death, Satan and the world as well. The primary benefit, therefore, is the forgiveness of sins and consequently also deliverance from pollution, death, law, and Satan. Christ is the only mediator between God and humankind, the all-sufficient Savior, the highest prophet, the only priest, the true king.”Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3, p. 345
How does this divine righteousness become yours? Receive God’s righteousness by faith. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. When you are convicted of your sin, what do you say? What shall I do. Notice how frequently the noun, “faith” and the verb, “believe” are used. Faith is believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not merely following the example of Christ, imitating his faith. Rather, Christ is the object of your faith, the one in whom you trust. Jesus Christ was humbled for your salvation, Romans 1:3,4. He was raised and glorified for your justification, Romans 4:25. There is no faith apart from the person and work of Christ.
“The faith that is brought into relation to justification is not a general faith in God; far less is it faith without well-defined and intelligible content. It is faith directed to Christ, and when he is denominated “Jesus Christ” these titles are redolent of all that Jesus was and is personally, historically, and officially. It is Jesus Christ in terms of Romans 1:3,4 who is the object of justifying faith.”John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 111
If you have never put your trust in Christ, now is the time to do so. If you do trust him, remember that faith is not only an initial decision. It is a constant, daily, turning from sin to Christ. Believe and continue to believe. Walk in faith. This righteousness is to all who believe. Faith is effectual to salvation. There are none who truly believe who are not declared righteous by God. And this righteousness is to all who believe. God’s saving work in Christ cuts across the boundaries of separation between Jew and Gentile. None who believe are excluded. The crucial question for you this morning, is “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?” God is both just and the justifier of sinners.
Believe so that you reveal the glory of God. Believe so that you are delivered from condemnation and enjoy the bliss of eternal fellowship with God. But remember it is not ultimately about you. Your glorious redemption takes place so that God can be glorified. You sinned and came short of the glory of God. God displays his glory in declaring you just and restoring you to fellowship with him.
God has declared you “not guilty”! You’ve been purchased at an infinite cost, but this salvation is free to you. Paul summons you to trust this Savior. Have you responded to that summons?