What are some of the most significant moments in history that you have lived through? In this passage, the words ‘but now’ show the enormous significance of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus – the great turning point of history!
Righteousness through faith
21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished 26 – he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the ‘law’ that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
Yesterday’s passage revealed our hopelessness – that we are all bound by our wrongdoing; stuck in our sin. ‘But now’ is a beautiful phrase that reflects the wonderful news – something we should never become immune to – that the grace of God changes everything. Of God’s great act of redemption, one theologian wrote, ‘His verdict is creative: he pronounces us, his enemies, to be his friends.’*
Not only has God come up with the solution; he has done this at great cost to himself (v 25). God himself has taken human form in the person of Jesus as ‘a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood’ (v 25). In the Old Testament the blood of animals ‘covered over’ human sins. But, as the writer of Hebrews shows us, Jesus satisfies God’s wrath against sin once and for all (Hebrews 9:12). We are saved, together, by faith (v 28).
*Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, trans. Edwyn C Hoskyns, OUP, 1933, p 93;
‘The righteousness of God, far, strange, high becomes our possession and our great hope’ (Karl Barth).* Thank God for his amazing mercy and grace.
* Karl Barth, The Word of God and Theology, trans. Amy Marga, Continuum Books, 2011, p 13.
Deeper Bible study
‘For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.’1
Long ago I watched a series about the war in the Pacific in the second world war. As each episode began, the introductory music would play and then a deep American voice would proclaim dramatically, ‘And now…’ Paul here uses ‘But now …’ (v 21) with the same sonorous effect. Having ruthlessly dug deep into our human plight, he now begins dramatically to dig us out.
God has done ‘a new thing’.2 God’s ‘righteousness’ here is God’s will to put things right, to remedy our condition (v 21). The ‘Law’ quite rightly itemised our failures but in Jesus Christ God has done something that redresses them. God makes things right by making us right, the same remedy applying to Jews and Gentiles. Christ is the one through whom we are redeemed from the slavery of sin (v 24); this happens by grace and through faith.
This is fully in accord with the ‘Law and the Prophets’ (v 21) – the Law here meaning the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament, most significant to Jews). Crucial to it all is Jesus’ act of self-giving, pouring out his own life-blood on the cross. This is a ‘sacrifice of atonement’ (v 25). It is the culmination of Jesus’ life of total devotion to the Father, through which he accomplished what no other human could ever do: a God-filled, completely holy life. This life is offered back to the one from whom Jesus came. It is an intercession for sinners.3 Christ’s self-offering on the cross is where he asks the Father, ‘forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’.4 So the cross becomes a mercy seat or place of atonement5 where we may ask, through Jesus, for God’s mercy, a mercy that the Father has long chosen graciously to bestow.
‘Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand’.6
Bible in a year
Read the Bible in a year: Leviticus 25,26; Psalm 25
Pray for Scripture Union
Pray for the Finance Team as they prepare for the audit, finalising the year-end accounts and pulling together the necessary paperwork.