Written By Victor Stanley Jr.
In Romans 3:21-4:25 the Apostle Paul presents an argument that, at the time, was radical, especially to his Jewish readers. He states that the righteousness of God has not only been manifested in the here and now, but that it has been manifested apart from the law. Looking back at chapter 2 we see that the Jews believed that they were justified by being members of the covenant community via circumcision and obedience to the law, that is that these were the outward signs of those who belonged to the covenant. And in the first half of chapter 3 Paul levels the playing field by showing that no one, Jew or Greek, is righteous.
First Paul speaks of the righteousness of God being revealed in and through Christ, that through faith in Christ one is made right with God and now experiences the righteousness of God. This happens because Jesus is the propitiation for the sins of those who believe in him, thus allowing people to enter into right relationship with God due to the satisfaction of His wrath through Christ’s atoning sacrifice. Propitiation is the Greek word “ἱλαστήpιον” which really carries with it the idea of the mercy seat covering the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament, simply put, Christ serves as the place where propitiation is made, but also as the propitiation itself, he is the place where atonement is made and the blood sacrifice given to atone for sin.
Second Paul uses Abraham as the type for righteousness being given through faith. It is in this section that one finds an apparent tension between Paul and James’ views on justification, however, a deeper look reveals that the tension is only apparent and not actual. Paul quotes Genesis 15:16 to show that Abraham’s justification came through faith not works. What causes tension is that James quotes the same passage in James 2:20-24 and emphasizes that Abraham was justified by his works and not faith alone. Yet in verse 22 James says that faith was active with Abraham’s works, and this “active faith” that James speaks of coincides with the “obedience of faith” that Paul speaks of in Romans 1:5. Paul actually says at the beginning of Romans that the purpose of his apostleship is to bring about the obedience of faith among all nations including the church in Rome. Paul and James seem to be emphasizing different points along the same road; Paul pointing out that justification is by grace through faith, and James pointing out that the evidence of that justification is works, and faith absent works is not true faith.
What one finds in this section of Romans (3:21-4:25) is Paul laying out how God’s righteousness is made known through Christ by means of Christ offering Himself up as the atoning sacrifice for all those who place their faith in Him. Furthermore, when people place their faith in Christ the righteousness that is in Him is credited to them because of their faith, and this faith is evidenced by works, yet it is not the works that justify, but rather the grace of God through faith apart from the law.
 Ben C. Blackwell, ed., Reading Romans in Context: Paul and Second Temple Judaism (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2015) 59-61.
 Ibid, 47.
 Douglas J. Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans: A Theological Survey, Second Edition, Encountering Biblical Studies (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2014) 67.
 Büchsel, Friedrich, and Johannes Herrmann. “Ἵλεως, Ἱλάσκομαι, Ἱλασμός, Ἱλαστήριον.” Edited by Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–.
 Donald Grey Barnhouse, Expositions of Bible Doctrines: Taking the Epistle to the Romans as a Point of Departure, vol. 2, 5 vols. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1999).