For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
(Romans 3:20-24 ESV)
Once again we have Paul hammering away at this idea that righteousness comes through faith in Jesus Christ and not from following the Law. If you remember, I said in another post that Paul’s thesis in Romans is that famous line from Habakkuk, “the righteous shall live by faith.” (Hab. 2:4) The rest of Romans is, then an explanation of this thesis. Another way of explaining this is that faith trumps obedience. After all, a person can do all the right things and still be far from Christ and His righteousness. The law can only give knowledge of sin. It can’t stop it. In fact the great irony of the law is that by following the law, one is almost guaranteed to break the first Commandment have no other god than God. The law removes one’s focus from God and on to it. But, if one follows God, then one simply follows what the law says and more. I believe it was John Calvin that compared the law to a measuring stick. All the “you shall nots” become “you will nots”. The believer simply has God at the forefront of his or her thoughts and does not lie or steal or murder etc…
Like I pointed out recently, we can see that Paul is pointing things out that have been in place since the beginning of time as we know it. Faith in God has always been the priority over even obedience. Adam failed in his faith before he disobeyed and that was what God called him on. Faith is what Abraham is praised for. That is what Jesus is getting at when He gives His Two Commandments and says that all the law and the prophets depend on them. Even the law demonstrates that faith is more important than obedience since the law can only, at best, point to sin. Faith points to God. In our faith, we also point to God and that, I think, is the very definition of righteousness.