In this passage, Paul explains that justification by faith in the gospel meets man’s need for righteousness. After having just said that the primary purpose of the Law is to give people the knowledge of sin, rather than as a way of being righteous before God, he says that God’s righteousness has been manifested apart from the Law. The implication is that God’s righteousness cannot be manifested through sinful attempts to obey the Law. However, the Law, or the Mosaic books of the nation of Israel, and the Prophets, or the rest of the Old Testament, has witnessed God’s righteousness without the Law. In other words, the Law and the Prophets do speak of God’s righteousness apart from the Law.
In verse 22, Paul reveals the kind of righteousness about which he has just written. It is a righteousness that is obtained by believing in Jesus as the Christ. Then, Paul lets his readers know that there is no distinction between the way in which Jews obtain this righteousness, and the way that Gentiles obtain this righteousness. He gives the reason for this lack of distinction in verse 23: everyone has sinned, and thus has fallen short of God’s glory. In other words, by sinning, people fail to glorify God. In this case, falling short of God’s glory means failing to be like God.
In verse 24, Paul reveals that the same people who have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, but are those who believe in Jesus Christ, are those who have been justified, or treated as righteous. However, this justification has not been earned, but was a gift by God’s undeserved blessing. Furthermore, the means by which this gift was given was the redemption, or ransom payment, which was made by Jesus Christ.
In verse 25, Paul explains how the redemption worked: God publicly displayed Christ as a propitiation, or atoning sacrifice, in His blood, or bloody death, through faith. This means that Christ’s death on the cross was the sacrifice that payed the ransom that God demanded for sinners. However, the reason that Paul adds the words, “through faith,” is that this sacrifice only payed the ransom for those who have faith in Jesus Christ.
Next, Paul presents the reason that God publicly displayed Christ as a propitiation in His blood through faith: it was to demonstrate His righteousness. This is a different righteousness than the one that Paul has previously mentioned in this passage. This is God’s righteousness with relation to sinners. The reason that God demonstrated His righteousness in the propitiation was that He had previously passed over, or not punished, sins previously committed. These sins are the sins that were payed for through Christ’s death. Christ’s death on the cross served as the punishment for the sins of all who had, and would, ever believe in Him. In verse 26, Paul clarifies what he means by God’s demonstration of His righteousness: He demonstrates His righteousness every time that He justifies someone because He has already been just in punishing his or her sins by punishing Christ. Therefore, God can treat sinners as if they are righteous because He has already treated their sinfulness as it ought to be treated. In other words, He can be gracious without ignoring justice.
In verse 27, Paul raises a possible question about justification by faith. The question is, “how can people boast when they are justified by faith apart from obedience to the Law?” The answer is, “they cannot.” The reason for this is that there is no reason to boast if one has done nothing to obtain the righteousness that they have. Furthermore, this lack of boasting is not through a law, or rule, of works, or good deeds, but through a law of faith. In other words, justification cannot be earned by doing good deeds, but can only be obtained by believing in Jesus Christ. The reason for this is that God is not only the God of Jews, but is also the God of Gentiles. Therefore, He has designed salvation so that those without the Law, the Gentiles, can be justified. In addition, He justifies Jews in the same way.
Finally, Paul answers a possible question about the same doctrine, which is, “Is the Law made to be worthless through faith in Jesus Christ?” The answer is, “no.” Rather, those who believe in Jesus Christ establish, or uphold, the Law. In other words, the Law is fulfilled by those who believe in Jesus Christ.