Romans 3: 21 – 31.
The totality of the gospel of Jesus Christ is encapsulated in this portion of the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (viz., Rom 3:21-31) which Martin Luther called “the chief point, and the very central place of the Epistle, and of the whole Bible.” Paul propounded that since the beginning of creation, God’s self-revelation meant that man was aware of His eternal power and divine nature, and we are without excuses not to obey Him. The result of that rebellion meant that all have sinned in our preference to worship ‘ourselves’ (viz., idols created by man’s hands) instead of the Creator. And at the end of the day, it boils down to humans being left to their own devices, with devastating results (Rom 1:28-32). He determined that since no one is able to keep the whole Law, none are righteous, as the Law surfaces our consciousness of sin. Paul invariably debunked religiosity masquerading as righteousness, concluding that there is no difference between Jews and Greeks in their sinfulness before God (Rom 2; Rom 3:1-20). The Apostle’s goal in these early narratives was to categorically delineate the most significant problem in life (viz., the nature of sin and God’s justification) before he dives into its solution; for if this existential problem is not unequivocally defined, the solution will equally be nebulous.
Paul then gets into the nitty-gritty of what God had actually achieved through Jesus Christ. The Law and the Prophets bore testimony to a righteousness that was demanded by God, and this righteousness had now been disclosed apart from the Mosaic Covenant. His righteousness comes through our faith in Jesus Christ in as much as He was faithful, He becomes the object of our faith (Rom 3:21; c.f., Phil 2:8-11). Hence, God’s righteousness is available to anyone; it is imputed to everybody without distinction, who possess faith in Christ (Rom 3:22-26; Rom 4:22-25). How is that possible given God’s holiness? The work of Christ through the cross had enabled God to declare us just, even though we are sinners. No religious sacrifices by sinful man will ever appease God or justify anyone. Therefore, the chronicle of the cross is about God Himself becoming both the subject (i.e., God is the Judge of our sin) and the object of propitiation (i.e., through Jesus) of our sin. Justification signifies that we have been set free from the curse of sin, free from God’s condemnation of sin because Christ had paid for our sin, and His bequest of the Holy Spirit in our lives (Rom3:24-25; Rom 5:1-5). His redemptive work in us does not cease there, as the human heart is transformed through regeneration (Heb 10: 16-18;c.f., Jer 31:33) as we walk in step with His Holy Spirit. The Apostle explained that God was patient in the past over man’s sins until the coming of Jesus when He presented His Son as an atoning sacrifice in His blood, in the demonstration of His righteousness in the judgment of sin (Rom 3:25-26).
Finally, Paul focused on the crux of the matter of our faith (Rom 3:27-30; exploring in further depth in the ensuing chapter, viz., Rom 4). No one is justified by observing assiduously the Law; the reality, of course, is that as fallen beings, no one is able to keep the whole Law punctiliously (Rom 4:1-8). We are saved by faith, which is a gift from God (Eph 2:8-10), and undeviatingly there is nothing for us to boast about. Therefore, we cannot work for our faith, but can only trust in God’s grace for it, as He chooses to justify those who approach Him on the basis of faith. So, is a man justified by faith apart from works of the Law? Certainly not, since the whole purpose of the Law was to point towards God’s gracious love and self-disclosure in the gospel in Jesus Christ. And because we trust in Him completely, His Holy Spirit transforms us from glory to glory (2Cor 3:16-18); all due to the work of Christ on the cross!