“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” Romans 3:21-22
In the book of Romans, Paul weaves some of the most deep, impactful, beautiful writings on the themes of sin, faith, and righteousness. But what does it mean for God’s righteousness to be manifested and why “apart from the Law?” If we look just before the passage quoted above, it will answer one of our questions. Paul writes that no one will be made righteous by works of the Law, since the Law brings knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20). The Law will never be able to accomplish what God’s righteousness can. This is why it is necessary for righteousness to be apart from the Law. However, this seems to contradict a statement he makes later on in Philippians.
When listing his credentials prior to his faith in Christ, Paul claims that he was blameless in regard to righteousness based on the Law (Philippians 3:6). In his zeal for the Law, he had committed himself to moral purity and “lived without fault.” However, this righteousness from the Law is insufficient. Rather, true righteousness comes from knowing Christ and sharing in his suffering and resurrection. (Philippians 3:7-11).
Two Types of Righteousness
We are now faced with two types of righteousness: righteousness that comes from works of the Law and righteousness that comes from God. How could one be superior to the other? And why is righteousness based on the Law ultimately worthless? The reason is this: the righteousness of God encompasses more than just moral purity. Just as a husband may be morally pure but completely fail in his relationship with his wife, so too may a man live an upright and faultless life and yet fail in being righteous. This is because God’s righteousness is relational.
It is based in His actions and faithfulness toward His covenant people (Judges 5:11). It is His trustworthiness and ability to fulfill all His promises (Isaiah 51:8). God’s righteousness is paired with His kindness (Psalm 145:17) and exercised in His deep, intimate, covenantal love and faithfulness (Jeremiah 9:24). Righteousness from the Law builds self-conceited moral superiority while God’s righteousness builds relationship. The Law creates religious zealots (Galatians 1:14; Philippians 3:4-6). God’s righteousness transforms us into His children. (Galatians 3:26; Romans 8:14; 1 John 3:1).
We see this clearly in Romans 1:16-17. In that famous statement, Paul says that he is unashamed of the Gospel, since it is the power of God to save all who believe. God’s righteousness is revealed beginning and ending in faith. In saying that “the righteousness of God is revealed,” Paul asserts that God is shown to be trustworthy and dependable to fulfill His promise. He acts in complete and total faithfulness to His covenant. To further illustrate this point, Paul ends his assertion with a promise: “The righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:17; Habakkuk 2:4). Much more can be said about this single verse. It is rich in truth, encouragement, and hope. One could write more than 50 pages on this single sentence (trust me). However, I’ll end on this:
We know that God’s righteousness is relational as it is only accessible by means of another relational quality: Faith. Biblical faith is not a blind or reasonless faith. The word itself is derived from the word for “rock” or “stone,” and is therefore a belief in something solid, firm, and unmovable. Faith is also reciprocal, as those who have it will themselves be strengthened and made firm. (Isaiah 7:9). For us, faith is an unwavering trust in the unalterable promise of our unfailing God. This brings us back to our second question: what does it mean for God’s righteousness to be manifested? The word itself means to become clear, known, and plainly seen. There is no greater picture of God’s faithfulness to His promise than what is plainly seen in Christ, his death, and resurrection. He has shown us how rich His love and deep His commitment are. Let us therefore press on in the righteousness of knowing God.