Our righteousness is God’s covenant justice in action. Through the act of God’s covenant justice, God declares us to be in the right (Ro 3:25). He also gave us faith to believe it (Eph 2:8-9).
Our righteousness is God’s covenant justice
The typical translations of Romans 3:19-26 make it hard to understand. N.T. Wright in his contemporary translation, THE KINGDOM NEW TESTAMENT, clearly brings out the meaning.
Now we know that whatever the law says, it is speaking to those who are “in the law.” The purpose of this is that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be brought to the bar of God’s judgment. No mere mortal, you see, can be declared to be in the right before God on the basis of the works of the law. What you get through the law is the knowledge of sin.
But now, quite apart from the law (though the law and the prophets bore witness to it), God’s covenant justice has been displayed. God’s covenant justice comes into operation through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah, for the benefit of all who have faith. For there is no distinction: all sinned, and fell short of God’s glory—and, by God’s grace they are freely declared to be in the right, to be members of the covenant, through the redemption which is found in the Messiah, Jesus.
God put Jesus forth as the place of mercy, through faithfulness, by means of his blood. He did this to demonstrate his covenant justice, because of the passing over (in divine forbearance) of sins committed beforehand. This was to demonstrate his covenant justice in the present time: that is, that he himself is in the right, and that he declares to be in the right everyone who trusts in the faithfulness of Jesus. Romans 3:19-26
The New American Standard Bible renders the same scripture this way:
Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:19-26 NASB
In his book, KNOWING GOD, J.I. Packer presents the meaning of the key words “justified” and “propitiation” we typically find in that portion of scripture.
And what does it mean to be justified? It means to be forgiven and accepted as righteous. And how do we come to be justified? Through faith—that is, self-abandoning trust in the person and work of Jesus. And how does Jesus’ blood—that is, his sacrificial death—form a basis for our justification? Paul explains this in Romans 3:24-25, where he speaks of “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood” (KJV). What is a propitiation? It is a sacrifice that averts wrath through expiating sin and canceling guilt.
This is the real heart of the gospel: that Jesus Christ, by virtue of his death on the cross as our substitute and sinbearer, “is the propitiation for our sins” 1 Jn 2:2. Between us sinners and the thunderclouds of divine wrath stands the cross of the Lord Jesus. If we are Christ’s through faith, then we are justified through his cross and the wrath will never touch us, neither here nor hereafter. Jesus ”delivers us from the wrath to come. 1 Thes 1:10 RSV
Jesus’ blood of the covenant in communion
Just before He was crucified, Jesus ate the Passover, meal with His disciples. The annual Passover supper was the most reverent gathering in the homes of Old Covenant Israelites. God commanded the Israelites to eat the Passover meal in remembrance of the Passover supper God had the Israelites eat when He passed over their first born male, delivering them from Egyptian bondage. The Passover supper was also a prophetic sign looking forward to their promised Messiah coming to deliver them.
While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom. Matthew 26:26-29 NASB
With that prophetic sign of the New Covenant, Jesus assures us of the forgiveness of our sins. We know He shed His blood for us.
And this is the message which we have heard from him and announce unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:5-10 ASV
Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, even as ye are unleavened. For our passover also hath been sacrificed, even Christ: wherefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 ASV
Christ’s blood cleanses our conscience,Old Covenant sacrifices didn’t
God gave His First Covenant with the law to hold His people Israel together and to help them come near. Priests offered blood sacrifices and other offerings to atone for sins. These pointed to the New Covenant sacrifice Jesus would make to cleanse our sin (1 Jo 1:7; 1 Peter 1:2), but religious rituals didn’t cure their guilty conscience. The blood of the Messiah purged our sin and cleanses our conscience so we can give ourselves up to the service of the living God.
But now Christ has made his appearance, a high priest concerned with blessings already won. The tabernacle of which he made use was the greater and more perfect one, the tabernacle not fashioned by any human hand, that is to say, the one which does not belong to this order of creation at all. Moreover, if he has entered the sanctuary once and for all, securing a deliverance which lasts forever, it was his own blood, not that of goats and calves, which was his means of accomplishing this. And indeed, if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled upon those who have suffered defilement hallows them, so as to restore their outward purity, how much more effective will be the blood of Christ, who, by virtue of the eternal spirit which was his, offered himself up to God, as a sacrifice free from all blemish; how much more effective, I say, will be Christ’s blood in cleansing our conscience, so that we turn our backs on actions without any life in them and instead give ourselves up to the service of the living God. Hebrews 9:11-14 Cassirer
Since God has declared us in the right, we have peace with God
Because God has declared us to be in the right, our guilt is washed away and we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have obtained access to his grace in which we stand. The following Word points out faith, hope and love and suffering, endurance and proven character
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations/sufferings, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance/endurance; and perseverance/endurance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Romans 5:1-5 NASB
Our hope of sharing the glory of God points to the environment of the kingdom to come. When we see the glory of God, He will have made all things right and He will have changed our mortal bodies into glorified bodies and we will know Him as He has know us. This hope doesn’t disappoint, because the Holy Spirit poured God’s love into our hearts (Rev 21-22).
God shows His love for us
While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man—though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation. Romans 5:6-11 RSV
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