MANIFESTED APART FROM THE LAW
Now let us come back to Romans 3. Verses 19 to 26 are quite a difficult passage in the Bible. But after what we have seen concerning God’s righteousness and the righteousness that the Lord Jesus has accomplished, Romans 3:19-26 is wonderful. Verse 19 says, "Now we know that whatever things the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped and all the world may fall under the judgment of God." Why did God give man the law? It was given so that man would have nothing to say before God, so that every mouth may be stopped. God wants to show man that everyone is a sinner and that everyone has sinned. There is not one who has done good. Verse 20 says, "Because out of the works of the law no flesh shall be justified before Him; for through the law is the clear knowledge of sin." The ultimate purpose of the law of God was to show man that he is a sinner. The purpose of the law was not for man to be saved through it. The tone of the law is completely condemnatory. The law says that man should be condemned, that he should die, and that he should perish.
If the matter stopped here, there would be no gospel and everything would be over. But the matter does not stop here. Man cannot live by the law, but God has other ways. If you cannot pay back the money, God has other ways to pay it back for you. The first two words in verse 21 are marvelous; they mark a big turn in this matter. "But now." Thank the Lord that there is a turn! "But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been manifested." God’s righteousness was originally manifested in the law. But if that were the case now, we would be doomed. What does it mean to say that God’s righteousness was manifested in the law? It means that whatever you owed God you had to pay back. If you sinned, you had to perish. If you transgressed, you had to go into perdition. Thus, the law would manifest God’s righteousness. To punish sinners would be the most righteous thing for God to do. But thank the Lord, God’s righteousness is no longer manifested in the law. If His righteousness were manifested within the law, God would have to judge sinners. But the righteousness of God is manifested apart from the law, in which case, judgment falls on God Himself. The end of verse 21 says, "Witness being borne to it by the Law and the Prophets." Even the prophets in the Old Testament, including David and all the other prophets, testified to the same thing.
How is God’s righteousness manifested? Verse 22 says, "Even the righteousness of God through the faith of Jesus Christ to all those who believe, for there is no distinction." Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (v. 23), how can we obtain God’s grace? Verses 24 and 25 say that we are "justified freely...through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God set forth as a propitiation place." God has sent Jesus to redeem us from our sins and has set Him forth as a propitiation place. I believe we all know what the propitiation place is. The propitiation place is the covering of the ark in the Old Testament tabernacle; it was the place where God bestowed grace upon man. Every place on earth is defiled by sin. But this place, and only this place, is without sin. Now Jesus has become the propitiation place. How has He become such a place? By His blood being the surety. God has set forth Jesus as the propitiation place, and now through the blood of Jesus I can come by faith to God. God cannot do anything else but bestow grace upon me. Only after God has done this can we say that His forbearance and His passing over of sins in the Old Testament was righteous; and only after God has done this can we say that His justifying those who believe in Jesus in the New Testament is also righteous. We are saved today not because God glossed over our sins but because God has dealt with our sins. Before God we are not forgiven debtors, but paid up debtors who are forgiven.
(Gospel of God, The (2 volume set), Chapter 5, by Watchman Nee)