Romans 3: 21 – 26.
This segment of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans was described by Martin Luther as the heart of the Bible. In the preceding chapters, the Apostle laid the groundwork before he exposited how God set about achieving justification by faith through Christ. Mankind had been judged by God and found wanting, as none were considered righteous (c.f., Rom 3:10-18), despite the fact that God’s law was written on their hearts, with their consciences bearing witness to it (Rom 2:12-16). Our sin is related to our idolatrous nature, our dogged forsaking of God in preference to idols in our lives. Paul then commenced this section by stating, “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God had been manifested…” It is indicative that he was making a transition in contrasting the Old and New Testaments: in the Old Testament, one’s righteousness was based on submissively observing the Laws that were given to Moses by God, while the New Testament signified that this same righteousness is now based on faith in Christ. The latter revelatory process of righteousness in Christ was not a sudden one but had been announced by the Law and the Prophets throughout Biblical history, as Paul follows this up in the following chapter (Rom 3:21).
Since there is an unbridgeable barrier between sinful men and a holy God, reconciliation with God would be an impossibility without us possessing His righteousness. However, everyone had sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Therefore, God provided a way Himself under the New Covenant, that this exceptionally privileged provision of our imputed righteousness is available to anyone who expressed faith in Jesus Christ, with no ethnic or cultural distinction (Rom 3:22-23).
In New Testament parlance, redemption, a legal term, often refers to the ransoming of prisoners of war, slaves, and condemned criminals. For example, a debtor, unable to settle his debt sold himself into slavery, until such time when that debt was paid, or someone coming along to buy his freedom. God is our ‘creditor’ due to His wrath against our sin, and He substituted or propitiated Christ in our place at the cross to redeem us (Rom 3:24-25; c.f., Psalm 51). The perfectly just for the perennially unjust, where all our sins are ransomed. Not unlike the Old Testament sacrifices, where any sin was paid for with the shedding of the blood in reconciling the person back with God; this becomes a portrayal of Christ’s sacrifice at Calvary for our sins (Heb 9:15-22). The redemptive work of Jesus Christ provided the basis for God’s gift of grace facilitating our justification through faith.
How can God mercifully save people without compromising his justice? Quite apart from the cross being a comprehensive demonstration of God’s justice against all sin, Paul implied that while the sacrificial system was a legitimate way of dealing with sin in the past, it did not constitute an adequate or final answer to the problem of sin and sinning, where God’s punishments in the past were temporal, in that the fullness of His wrath was held back. Only with the sacrifice of Christ, when God bore the full impact of His judicial wrath against sin, to declare us just, was there a satisfactory solution to the judgment over sin (Rom 3: 25-26). That is the core of the gospel! In the cross, God demonstrated His love, righteousness, and holiness, taking on the penalty for sin Himself, He defeated sin and death. The repercussions of justification by faith for redeemed humanity is monumental, as we only benefit from its fruits by our position in Christ, and as men and women justified before the eyes of God, how then should we live before His Presence? Our ongoing challenge in living life is to be transformed by the Spirit of Christ, reflecting God as we interact with everyone and everything in our environment and being explicitly transparent and accountable in righteousness and humility.