But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;…
This passage contains the pith and kernel of the whole Epistle. All that precedes just clears the ground for it. All that follows is related to it as explanation, illustration, confirmation, or application.
I. RIGHTEOUSNESS IS THE GREAT END OF THE GOSPEL. This is taken for granted throughout the Epistle.
1. With inspired insight Paul surveyed the condition of mankind, and put his finger at once on its great root evil. This was not poverty, pain, death, but moral corruption. He saw that that was the greatest gospel which could lift men out of the mire of wickedness and set their feet on the rock of righteousness.
2. Their righteousness is real righteousness — not the covering of the leper with a fair robe, but the curing of the leprosy. The righteousness of the gospel is indwelling goodness out of which all virtues flow. Nothing short of this will satisfy —
(1) The requirements of God. He will not endure sham goodness. The God of truth, hating all lies, cannot see a man to be righteous who is not righteous.
(2) The ends of redemption. That would be a most immoral gospel which promised remission of the penalty leaving the disposition of wickedness uncorrected. The true purpose of the gospel is (Titus 2:14).
(3) The needs of our own souls. Ever since the war between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent began, mankind has felt that sin was misery, and righteousness blessedness. The hunger and thirst for righteousness may be stifled with morbid cravings for evil things. But in our better moments it wakes up, and then we feel that it is not enough for the skin to be safe if the heart is diseased. We do not want merely not to be hurt. We want "to be good."
3. Paul sometimes uses "righteousness" in the "forensic" sense, i.e., to treat as righteous rather than to make righteous (Romans 4:1-3; Romans 5:1). But he knew that "to justify" meant both to make righteous and to forgive; and so he passes from one to the other with little apparent discrimination, because he sees that they are only two faces of the same fact. On the one hand, the act of forgiveness is the most powerful inducement to a change of character. They who are forgiven most love most. Thus justification produces righteousness. On the other hand, since God is aware of this influence of forgiveness He must confer the pardon with a reference to it. He must see that in forgiving the sinner He is taking the best step towards destroying the sin.
II. RIGHTEOUSNESS IS A GIFT OF GOD. St. Paul has demonstrated the impossibility of man's acquiring righteousness by himself. Night cannot produce day. Water will not rise above its level. Marah will never sweeten itself. We cannot grow righteous by natural development, since you can only evolve what has been previously involved, and we have all lost the goodness of original innocence. History has proved that the best of laws could not secure this end. Law is good for detecting wickedness. It is the standard by which we are measured, but it has no power for lifting us up to that standard. Now we can see the value of the great promise of the new dispensation, of a righteousness of God — made by God, given by God. This is the essential idea of the religion of grace. Therefore the great requisite is to be in such relations with God that we may receive the gift. If we are far from or at enmity with Him, we are shut out from it. We therefore need to be reconciled to God. Consequently —
III. RIGHTEOUSNESS IS RECEIVED THROUGH FAITH IN CHRIST. This faith is not the mere belief in a doctrine, but active trust in Christ, practical reliance on His grace, obedient loyalty to His will (John 15:10).
1. By faith in Christ as the sacrifice for sin we are reconciled with God. Christ having offered Himself to God on our behalf we are called to look to Him as "the Way" to the Father. If through pride or unbelief we think that we can dispense with a Saviour, we must not be surprised if God rejects our overtures towards reconciliation (Acts 13:38, 39). The offering of Christ not only secures forgiveness, but through this cleanses our conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Hebrews 9:14).
2. By faith in Christ as the revelation of God we grow into the Divine image. Christ is the pattern man because He is the Son of God. To be righteous is to be like God, like Christ. When we trust to Him faithfully, we shall walk in His footsteps in the irresistible desire to be near Him, and thus we shall unconsciously grow up into the likeness of Him and share His righteousness.
3. By faith in Christ as our Lord and Master we are led into obedient loyalty to His will. He who trusts Christ must trust Him in all His relations. Thus the faith which is reliance on a Saviour becomes loyalty when it turns to a King. Then the righteousness which refused to come at the cold, stern bidding of law springs forth as a very passion of devotion.
(W. J. Adeney, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;