Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. - Romans 3:20 NIVThe condition of humanity that Paul paints in Romans 1:18-3:20 is a pretty bleak one. We are sinful with no chance of escaping the wrath of God at the judgement. Lost and without hope!
But once Paul has made clear the hopelessness of our situation he begins his discussion of the gospel, the good news. And it is quite a contrast. The passage below was identified by Luther as being the main point of Romans, and of the whole Bible, the most significant passage of all.
21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.The good news is that God has now revealed, and made available to us, his own righteousness. My own righteousness, at its best, was insufficient. But God has chosen to make me a gift of his righteousness. By his grace I am justified, declared to be righteous.
Romans 3:21-25a NIV
So what do I have to do to obtain this gift of God's righteousness? Nothing! Paul has gone to great lengths to argue that I am actually incapable of doing anything that will make God happy with me. Instead, God has made his righteousness available to me, as well as the rest of the world, as a freely given gift.
That gift is available to all who believe, who have faith in Jesus. This faith and belief is more than just an intellectual or one time response to God. Rather it is an on-going surrender of one's life to the Lordship of Jesus. It is a ceasing of the attempt to make myself good enough by my own efforts, and a surrender to the one who can make me into what he created me to be.
What I cannot do for myself, God has offered to do. How wonderful it is to be delivered from my hopeless condition and into eternal life in relationship with my creator.