But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:21-23)
In these verses we see two functions of God's law. First, it shows us where we go wrong. Because of the law, we know that we are helpless sinners and that we must come to Jesus Christ for mercy. Second, the moral code revealed in the law can serve to guide our actions by holding up God's moral standards. We do not earn salvation by keeping the law (no one except Christ ever kept or could keep God's law perfectly), but we do please God when our lives conform to His revealed will for us.
After all this bad news about our sinfulness and God's condemnation, Paul gives the wonderful news. There is a way to be declared not guilty - by trusting Jesus Christ to take away our sins. Trusting means putting our confidence in Christ to forgive our sins, to make us right with God, and to empower us to live the way He taught us. God's solution is available to all of us regardless of our background or past behavior. In this context the righteousness of God is not an attribute of God, but an act of God whereby He declares a sinner righteous. This is righteousness from God.
Some sins seem bigger than others because their obvious consequences are much more serious. Murder, for example, seems to us to be worse than hatred, and adultery seems worse than lust. But this does not mean that because we do lesser sins we deserve eternal life. All sin makes us sinners, and all sin cuts us off from our holy God. All sin, therefore, leads to death (because it disqualifies us from living with God), regardless of how great or small it seems. Don't minimize "little" sins or overrate "big" sins. They all separate us from God, but they all can be forgiven.
God revealed to people how they should live, but no one can live up to God’s perfect way. We have all sinned and no one can live up to what God created us to be; we all fall short of His glory. We cannot save ourselves because as sinners we can never meet God’s requirements. Our only hope is faith in Jesus Christ.
being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, (Romans3:24)
Those who believe (Romans 3:22) are justified, that is, “declared righteous,” freely, without cost, by God’s grace, or “favor.” Christ Jesus died to provide redemption, which means He died to pay the price required to ransom sinners. By paying the penalty of their sin through His death, Jesus can free people from their sin and transfer His righteousness to those who believe in Him. On the basis of Christ’s righteousness alone, believers can approach God’s throne with praise. Through God’s initiative, they have been restored to a proper relationship with Him.
Justified means to be declared not guilty. When a judge in a court of law declares the defendant not guilty, all the charges are removed from his record. Legally, it is as if the person had never been accused. When God forgives our sins, our record is wiped clean. From His perspective, it is as though we had never sinned.
Redemption refers to Christ setting sinners free from slavery to sin. In Old Testament times, a person's debts could result in his being sold as a slave. The next of kin could redeem him - buy his freedom. Christ purchased our freedom and the price was His life.
whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans3:25-26)
By His death, Christ satisfied the justice of God. He paid the penalty of sin in full. Paul cites two reasons why the righteousness of God comes through Christ’s death. The first is to demonstrate that God Himself is righteous, and did not judge the sins committed prior to the Cross. The second reason for the Cross is that God wanted to show that He is both righteous and at the same time the One who can declare sinners righteous. Because of Christ’s death, God does not compromise His holiness when He forgives a sinner.
Word Focus: propitiation - (Gk. hilasterion) (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 9:5) G2435: This term is derived from the Greek verb hilaskomai, a word which has three meanings: (1) “to placate” or “to appease”; (2) “to be propitious and merciful”; or (3) “to make propitiation for someone.” The New Testament never describes people appeasing God. Instead, as Luke 18:13 and 1 John 2:2 make clear, the New Testament describes God as being merciful to, or making propitiation, for us. God provides a merciful expiation, or atonement, of the sins of believers through the death of Christ. But since Paul also speaks of God’s wrath, it must also speak of the conciliation of God’s anger by means of a sacrifice—namely, the sacrifice of His Son. John states that God demonstrated His love to us by sending His Son to become “the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Just as in the Old Testament God met His people when the blood of the sin offering was sprinkled on the altar, so Christ’s death brings us into fellowship with God.
Christ is our sacrifice of atonement. In other words, He died in our place, for our sins. God is justifiably angry at sinners. They have rebelled against Him and cut themselves off from His life-giving power. But God declares Christ's death to be the appropriate, designated sacrifice for our sin. Christ then stands in our place, having paid the penalty of death for our sin, and He completely satisfies God's demands. His sacrifice brings pardon, deliverance, and freedom.
What happened to people who lived before Christ came and died for sin? If God condemned them, was He being unfair? If He saved them, was Christ's sacrifice unnecessary? Paul shows that God forgave all human sin at the cross of Jesus. Old Testament believers looked forward in faith to Christ's coming and were saved, even though they did not know Jesus' name or the details of His earthly life. Unlike the Old Testament believers, you know about the God who loved the world so much that He gave His own Son (John 3:16). Have you put your trust in Him?
References: NKJV Holy Bible, Life Application Bible (NIV), the Nelson Study Bible.