(Article for publication week of 8-1-2012 AD)
“But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all, and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:” (Romans 3:21-22).
“The righteousness of God” is a phrase that we find many times in the Book of Romans, and is fundamental to our understanding of the doctrine of justification and of salvation. Paul used this expression in chapter one, verse seventeen to introduce his great theme in the Epistle to the Romans. A careful reading of our text today reveals that Paul is not referring to the “righteousness of God” as one of His essential attributes, but rather he is describing the righteousness that is imputed to the believer in Christ. It is the very “righteousness of God” which is accounted to the believer. Judicially, God considers a believer in His Eternal Son to be as righteous as Himself. What a glorious gospel!
This is a most astounding truth of God’s word. Although the believer is in and of himself ungodly (Romans 4:5), God imputes the righteousness of His Son to him, yea, to everyone who believes in Him. God declares every believer in Christ to be righteous. Because of the justifying righteousness of Christ, the believer is in right relation to the law of God. This is the only way a poor sinner can ever have his record right with God, that is by imputed righteousness.
Now, Paul declares here in our text that this way of justification had been witnessed by the Old Testament (“the law and the prophets”). God’s way of salvation has always been the same. Abraham and David, and every other Old Testament saint were justified by the imputed righteousness of Christ (Romans 4:3,6). The Old Testament believers did not have the light that we now have, but they were just as saved as we are. With the coming of Christ and the giving of the New Testament there was a full manifestation of what had always been the gospel of grace. What Abraham and David believed for their salvation is now fully manifest to us. The very righteousness of God is “unto and upon all them that believe.”
The righteousness of God is “unto” them that believe. That is, it is a free gift. Salvation is a gift, not an offer. Remember, we have already shown in previous articles that it is God Who justifies (Romans 8:33), and we are justified without any cause in us (Romans 3:24). A poor sinner can do nothing to save himself, or help save himself, so he simply trusts in the merits of Christ for his whole and sole righteousness. So the justifying righteousness of Christ is said to be “unto” the believer.
But notice also that the justifying righteousness of Christ is “upon” the believer. This tells us that the righteousness of Christ covers us. Thus did David say, “blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered” (Romans 4:7). The prophet Isaiah wrote so sweetly (see again how the Old Testament gave the gospel witness), “. He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness.”
Finally, let us see that this righteousness is unto and upon everyone that believeth. Though your sins be as black as the hinges on hell’s gates, the righteousness of Christ is counted as yours through faith in Christ. Remember, God justifies the ungodly. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). My text promises that everyone who believes in Christ for his whole and sole righteousness is right with God, that is justified. May the Holy Spirit draw you to the Saviour, and give you faith to believe in Him for justifying righteousness.