The Righteousness of God
Romans 3:21-26
But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;…

In various places this phrase signifies either that holiness and rectitude of character which is the attribute of God, or that distributive justice by which He maintains the authority of His law; but where it refers to man's salvation it signifies, as in ver. 21, that fulfilment of the law or perfect conformity to it in all its demands, which, consistently with His justice, God has appointed and provided for the salvation of sinners. This implies that the infinite justice of His character requires what is provided, and also that it is approved and accepted; for if it be God's righteousness it must be required and accepted by the justice of God. The righteousness of God, which is received by faith, denotes something that becomes the property of the believer. It cannot, then, be here the Divine attribute of justice, but the Divine work which God has wrought through His Son. This is, indeed, the righteousness of God, for it has been provided by God, and from first to last has been effected by His Son Jesus Christ, who is the mighty God and the Father of eternity. To that righteousness is the eye of the believer ever to be directed; on that righteousness must he rest; on that righteousness must he live; on that righteousness must he die; in that righteousness must he appear before the judgment seat; in that righteousness must he stand forever in the presence of a righteous God (Isaiah 61:10). This righteousness differs essentially from all other righteousness —

I. In its AUTHOR, for it is the righteousness not of creatures, but of the Creator (Isaiah 45:8).

1. It is the righteousness of God in the sense in which the world is the work of God. The Father created it by the Son in the same way as by the Son He created the world; and if the Father effected this righteousness because His Son effected it, then His Son must be one with Himself (2 Peter 1:1).

2. It was during His incarnation that the Son of God wrought out this righteousness. Before He acted as the Creator and Sovereign of the world — but afterwards as a servant. Before that period He was perfectly holy, but that holiness could not be called obedience, for it was exercised in making the law, and by it governing the world. But in His latter condition He became subject to the law, and in our nature conferred more honour on the law than the obedience of all intelligent creatures, and more honour than it had received of dishonour from all its transgressors (Isaiah 42:21).

3. The obedience of Jesus Christ magnified the law because it was rendered by Divine appointment (Zechariah 2:10, 11). It is impossible therefore to entertain too exalted an idea of the regard which God has for the character of His holy law.

II. In its NATURE this righteousness is two fold, fulfilling both the precept and its penalty. This, by any creature the most exalted, is impossible. The fulfilment of the precepts is all that could be required of creatures in their sinless condition. But the state of the Second Man was essentially different. Christ was made under the law, but it was a broken law; and, consequently, He was made under its curse (Galatians 3:13). Justice, therefore, required that He should fulfil also the penalty. A mere creature may obey the precept of the law, or suffer the penalty it denounces, but he cannot do both. But Jesus was capable at the same moment of suffering at the hand of God, and of obeying the precept to love God. This was made manifest during the whole period of His incarnation as well as at His death. By the sufferings of Christ the execution of the law was complete; while no punishment which creatures could suffer can be thus designated. It is He only who could put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. By enduring the threatened punishment He fully satisfied justice. In token of having received a full discharge He came forth from the grave; and when He shall appear the second time it shall be without sin — the sin which He had taken upon Him and all its effects being forever done away. But if nothing beyond the suffering of the penalty had taken place men would only have been released from the punishment due to sin: It they were to obtain the reward of obedience its precepts must also be obeyed; and this was accomplished to the utmost by Jesus Christ.

III. In its EXTENT. Every creature is bound for himself to all that obedience to his Creator of which he is capable. He is under the obligation to love God with all his heart, etc., and beyond this he cannot advance. It is evident, therefore, that he can have no superabounding righteousness to be placed in the way of merit to the account of another. And, besides this, if he has sinned, he is bound to suffer for himself the whole penalty. But the obedience of Jesus Christ, who is Himself infinite, as well as the punishment He suffered, being in themselves of infinite value, are capable of being transferred in their effects without any diminution in their respective values.

IV. In its DURATION. The righteousness of Adam or of angels could only be available while it continued to be performed. The moment, therefore, in which they transgressed, the advantages derived from all their previous obedience ceased. But the righteousness of God, brought in by His Son, is an "everlasting righteousness" (Daniel 9:24). It was performed within a limited period of time, but in its effects it can never terminate (Isaiah 51:6, 8; Psalm 119:142; Hebrews 10:14; Hebrews 9:12).

V. In its INFLUENCE. It is the sole ground of reconciliation of sinners with God, and of their justification, and also of their intercession (1 John 2:1). It is the price paid for those new heavens and that new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness. Man was made lower than the angels, but this righteousness exalts him above them. The redeemed people of God stand nearest to the throne, while the angels stand "round about" them. They enter heaven clothed with a righteousness infinitely better than that which angels possess, or in which Adam was created.

(J. Haldane.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;

WEB: But now apart from the law, a righteousness of God has been revealed, being testified by the law and the prophets;

The Righteousness of God
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