Perhaps, in accordance with what seems to be the general tenor and flow of Romans to this point, the focus should be more usefully directed towards the end of the verse and the whole world being held accountable to God? The “whole world” is significant, as is “held accountable.” Based on the “all peoples” focus of what had led to this statement, might we be better served if we hear Paul speaking towards a basis for justification (inclusion in the covenant people for the enjoyment of its promises and benefits) that is going to be on offer to all peoples?
If we hear Paul in this way, then our thoughts are undoubtedly driven to the message of the Gospel (Jesus is Lord) as the basis (covenant marker) by which God has now chosen to hold the world accountable Of course, Paul has described this Gospel (Jesus is Lord) as “God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (1:16b), adding “For the righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel” (1:17a).
If we believe this to be the case, and if we believe that this is Paul’s intention, and if we believe that the movement represented by this realization should be the recipient of our attention at this point in the letter, we are not at all disappointed to hear Paul say “For no one is declared righteous before Him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (3:20). Indeed, as Paul elevates the Gospel as the basis on which the whole world (Jews and Gentiles) will be held accountable to God, he naturally diminishes the works of the law (then current covenant markers) as the basis for the declaration of “righteous” (justified---included in God’s covenant family), reiterating that it is through the law, with the covenant markers serving as knowledge-providing reminders of the whole of the law and as the reminder that Israel had failed to adhere to the law and therefore had failed to rightly bear the divine image (sin).
It is now that Paul makes his bold move. Having built to this point, keeping the Jew/Gentile issue in focus and having placed all peoples under the same judgment regardless of their perceived status in relationship to the covenant, Paul writes “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed” (3:21). That is, the covenant faithfulness of God, or that which is the ultimate manifestation of His covenant faithfulness to His elect people, to all people, and to His creation, has been disclosed. What is the ultimate manifestation of His covenant faithfulness? What is it to which the law and the prophets have been pointing? Why, it is God’s own intervening action in and for the world, “namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ,” or Jesus the Messiah, “for all who believe” (3:22a).
While the “believe” portion of this statement is surely of significance, as believing in God, in His covenant faithfulness, in His messianic manifestation in Jesus, and in the claim that Jesus is Lord (the Gospel) are paramount to a kingdom-of-God-oriented life, the “all” of the statement, reflecting on what we have heard from Paul to this point, is just as significant. “All” plays into what closes this verse, which is “For there is no distinction” (3:22b). What does Paul mean when he says that there is no distinction? To what is he making reference? Obviously, based on what has led to this statement, he is asserting that there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile when it comes to their position in relationship to the covenant, to their need to enter upon the covenant, and the ultimate basis on which their membership in the covenant people rests (their covenant marker), which is the belief in Jesus as Lord.