Summary: What is in view here is our salvation. God is revealing how He saves us. He is revealing how we are made right with Him. We call this justification. It is how we are made righteous before God.
Up to this point in the book of Romans, we have seen how every human being stands condemned before God. The picture has been painted of a humanity that is utterly and totally without any hope. All of us stand before God guilty as charged. And there is absolutely nothing that any of us can do about it.
But that is not the final word. If it were left at that, we would have no choice but to live in despair, without any hope for deliverance. Thank God that He provides a turning point.
This turning point is symbolized by the first two words of verse 21 - But now. The contrast is between "then" and "now." It is a great transition. Then we were lost in sin, but now something has changed. Knowing the truth that follows will change our lives. We will be able to say, like the blind man who had been healed by Jesus, "One thing I know. I was blind but now I see!"
The Gravity of Sin
21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:21-23)
Humanity stands condemned before God, but now something has happened that may change the verdict. God has intervened. He has taken action. Paul tells us that the righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known. And what is this righteousness? It is the righteousness from God which comes through faith in Jesus Christ. It is not our righteousness. It is God's righteousness. It is the righteousness which comes by believing in Jesus Christ alone.
What is in view here is our salvation. God is revealing how He saves us. He is revealing how we are made right with Him. We call this justification. It is how we are made righteous before God.
The first important principle we need to see is that justification is predicated on the gravity of sin. The case that Paul has been building in the previous chapters of Romans is stated again very succinctly in verse 23: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. This is our position. And it is precisely because we are in this predicament that God must act. If God does not act, then we have no hope.
Because of the gravity of our sin, which we call human depravity, there is absolutely nothing that we can do to save ourselves. Try as we might to be righteous, our righteousness is never enough. The best we can do to be righteous is compared by Isaiah to filthy rags. If R stands for the righteousness that we must achieve to be pleasing to God, then all the righteous deeds we could ever do would always add up to -R. The reason it always adds up to -R is because righteousness means that there can be no unrighteousness mixed in. No unrighteous deed, thought, action or inaction can be included. God's standard for righteousness means perfect righteousness. And none of us attain that righteousness.
So God provides a righteousness that is quite apart from anything we can do. It is the righteousness from God that is in view here. It is the righteousness that is provided by Him to us as we believe through faith in Jesus Christ. It is not our righteousness. It is God's righteousness which is made available to us through Jesus Christ.
And it is all predicated on the depth and gravity of our sin. Because of our sin God had to act. And because of his love for us, He did act.
The Greatness of Sacrifice
24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 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; 26 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 3:24-26)
The second principle we need to understand is that justification is possible because of the greatness of the sacrifice of Christ. The Apostle Paul says that we are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. This is God's gift of salvation to us. And how did it come? It came as God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. This is the basis for our justification. This is the basis for our salvation. Knowing this truth can liberate us.