Righteousness of the Law vs. the Letter of the Law—Romans 2:26-27
“If those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker” (Romans 2:26-27).
If the Jewish people were unable to keep the Law, how did the Gentiles, who had no knowledge of the Law, accomplish it? They did it because instead of fulfilling the letter of the Law they kept the righteousness of the Law (Rom. 2:26 KJV).
The difference is huge. A person can fulfill the righteousness of the Law by faith in Jesus, but no one, Jew or Gentile, can keep the Law. The Jewish people were pursuing righteousness as a reward for the things they did, instead of trusting in the only one who could provide what they sought. In the previous verse, Paul announced their habitual sin disqualified them from obtaining righteousness through the Law (Rom. 2:25).
In Romans 3, Paul explains what the righteousness of the Law is, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Rom. 3:21-22). Both the Law and the Prophets testified to righteousness through faith and not by trusting in themselves to fulfill the letter of the Law.
The Gentiles, who were not physically circumcised, were regarded as if they were because they had obtained the righteousness of the Law through faith in Christ. This brought judgment on the Jewish people who were relying on themselves and their ability to keep the commandments.
Jesus was the only one able to fulfill the letter of the Law. When we trust in Jesus as our savior, a miracle happens: He transfers the righteousness He earned through fulfilling the Law to us (2 Cor. 5:21). Through faith in Christ alone, we fulfill the purpose the Law has in our lives to point us to Jesus to be justified by faith (Gal. 3:24).
Original article published June 13, 2009.