We all view life from our own perspective, which is shaped by our experiences, our decisions, and our character. The death of the Lord Jesus on the cross is the most important event in all of human history. It can be understood in many different way. Here, Paul speaks primarily of the righteousness of God which is demonstrated in the redemption of fallen sinners. Man’s unrighteousness is evident in his rejection of the revelation of who God is, of what he is like, and of his standards for our conduct. God’s righteousness is evident in his response to man’s rejection of the truth and his rebellion; God’s righteousness is manifested in his wrath toward sin.
But, from God’s perspective, he saves people by judging their sin in the Jesus Christ. God provides the righteousness of his Son, received by faith, so that people may be justified in his sight.
1. The Law bears witness to the righteousness of God. The Law defines righteousness and unrighteousness. The Law condemns all mankind, for no one will ever meet God’s standard of righteousness.But it also promises a righteousness God himself provides. The Law continues to bear witness that Jesus is righteous, and that he is the Righteous One whom God promised would come to save his people from their sins.
2. Being right with God is not accomplished by keeping the Law. Keeping the Law cannot justify people or reveal the righteousness of God.
The Law’s function is something like the role of the Olympic judges. The judges recognize the best performance and announce the winner, but the winning performance is achieved apart from the judges. The judges cannot perform that which they praise; they can only identify that which is praiseworthy. The judges can take no credit for the excellence of the performer.
3. The righteousness of God was seen “apart from Law” and independently of Judaism. The Jews boasted in their possession of the Law. They should not have done so. It made them neither more righteous nor better than the Gentiles. The Law was a standard far too high for any Jew to live up to. The Law condemned the Jews as sinners just like the Gentiles.
Paul emphasises not only that God has supplied the righteousness which all people lack, but also the way in which God has supplied it. God’s righteousness has been provided in a way that is righteous. In Paul’s own words, “… that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26b).
God’s righteousness is given to everyone as a gift, on the basis of faith, and not on the basis of works. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Everyone fails to meet God’s standards for righteousness.
“Redemption” (v24) refers to the price that was paid and the debt that was cancelled, due to our Lord’s sacrificial death on Calvary.
“Atonement” (v25) refers to the satisfaction of God’s righteous anger, so that He can now deal with people graciously and benevolently.
The concepts of “redemption” and “atonement” are used to demonstrate and draw our attention to the justice of God. God has set the sinner free through Christ, but He has not done so by setting aside the rules. He has set the sinner free in Christ by satisfying the demands of God’s justice in Christ. Due to sin, a penalty was to be meted out and a price was to be paid. Christ paid that price and suffered that penalty (“redemption”). God’s divine wrath had to be appeased, due to man’s sin; Christ has appeased that wrath (“atonement”).
So, God condemns us, to demonstrate his righteousness. Likewise, God saves us, to demonstrate his righteousness. The determining factor in God’s choices and actions is not man’s salvation, but the declaration of his righteousness. God’s righteousness is displayed in everything He does and in everything He does not do.
Amazingly, God chooses to save, because all we deserve is his wrath. We gladly receive his grace, knowing that it suits and serves his purposes.
We will soon celebrate the resurrection of our Lord on Easter Sunday. The resurrection is not only a fact of history, it is a truth with profound significance. It is the demonstration of our Lord’s righteousness. The empty tomb of our Lord continues to testify to his righteousness!