By means of a chain of Old Testament passages Paul adduces the evidence for the proposition that by nature everybody is under the power of sin, and that accordingly “there is no one righteous, no, not one.” This being true, it follows that the attempt to gain salvation by performing works of obedience to God’s law will fail. “Therefore by law-works no flesh [mortal being] will be justified in his sight, for through law comes consciousness of sin” (3:9-20).
However, when for the sinner things begin to look very dark, the light of the gospel suddenly breaks through the gloom and dispels it: “But now, apart from law, a righteousness attested by the law and the prophets has been revealed, namely, a righteousness from God.” This righteousness, in order to be effective in the life of a person, must be appropriated by faith in Jesus Christ. This rule holds for everybody: Gentile and Jew alike, “for there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (verses 21-23).
The price paid by the Savior for the justification of those who place their trust in him, and through him in God Triune, was immeasurably heavy. It amounted to no less than the shedding of Christ’s blood, that is, the offering up of himself. This meant that the full burden of wrath was transferred from his people to himself, so that he, Lord Jesus Christ, bore it in their stead. All this took place in harmony with God’s design from eternity. What Jesus offered was therefore a voluntary wrath-removing sacrifice, made effective in the lives of God’s children by means of their God-given faith. Not until a person welcomes Christ into his heart and life by genuine, humble trust and self-surrender, does God pronounce him to be just; that is, free from every speck of guilt and therefore also bound to receive all the other blessings that are included in the term salvation.
Although it is true that this heavy penalty was not paid by Christ immediately upon the entrance of sin, and that accordingly throughout the entire old dispensation God treated with indulgence the sins of his people, punishment could not be delayed indefinitely. Divine justice had to be satisfied. During Christ’s entire life on earth and especially at Calvary the heavy price was paid: “God did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:31). God did this “to demonstrate his justice in the present time, that he might be just and the One who justifies the person who has faith in Jesus” (3:24-31).