New Living Translation
39 Everyone who believes in him is made right in God’s sight—something the law of Moses could never do.
All who believe in the son Jesus are automatically giving entry to God’s kingdom and honor in the father
And by him all that believe are justified from all things,
&c.] Christ, as God, is not only the justifier of his people, who pronounces them righteous in the sight of God; but his righteousness imputed to them is the matter of their justification, or that by which they are justified; and not the works of the law, or obedience to the Gospel, or internal holiness, either in whole or in part, or the grace of faith, but the object of it, Christ, and his righteousness: and justification by this is complete and perfect; it is from all sin, original and actual, secret and open, greater or lesser sins; sins of presumption and ignorance, of omission or commission; from all things the law can charge with, as breaches of it; from all things which the justice of God can demand satisfaction for; and from all things that Satan, or a man’s own conscience, can justly accuse him of. And those that believe in Christ with the heart unto righteousness, are openly and manifestly justified in their own consciences, and can claim their interest in it, and have the comfort of it, as well as they were before secretly justified in the mind of God, and in their head and representative Jesus Christ. And from all sin these are justified of God, as Beza’s ancient copy reads, “for it is God that justifies”, ( Romans 8:33 ) against whom men have sinned, and whose law they have violated, and whose justice they have affronted, by reason of which they are liable to condemnation; but God justifies them, by imputing the righteousness of his Son to them, in which he views them as without fault, unblamable and irreprovable; and though all men are not justified, yet many are; even all the seed of Israel, all the elect of God, everyone that believes in Christ, as all do who are ordained to eternal life; Christ’s righteousness is imputed and applied to all these, and therefore they shall never enter into condemnation, but shall be acquitted and discharged from all things,
it is added,
ye could not be justified by the law of Moses;
that is, by the works of the law, or by obedience to it, because such obedience is imperfect; and therefore the law cannot justify, discharge, and acquit upon it, but instead thereof, must curse and condemn; as it does everyone, that does not do all things commanded in the law, and in the manner that requires; besides, if righteousness was hereby, the grace of God in justification would be frustrated, the death of Christ would be rendered null and void, and boasting would not be excluded; all which are contrary to the scheme of the Gospel. It may be observed, that pardon of sin and justification are two distinct blessings, or the apostle must be guilty of a great tautology; since having spoken of forgiveness of sin in the preceding verse, he speaks of justification in this, as another blessing enjoyed by and through Christ, and published in the Gospel, styled therefore the word and ministration of righteousness. And indeed they are distinct; in pardon the man is considered as a sinner, in justification as a righteous man; pardon takes away his sin, justification gives him a righteousness; pardon frees from punishment, but justification besides that gives him a title to eternal life; to pardon, the blood of Christ is sufficient; but to justification are required the holiness of Christ’s nature, the perfect obedience of his life, as well as his suffering of death; moreover, justification passed on Christ as the head and representative of his people, but not pardon; he may be said to be justified, but not pardoned: these two blessings make a considerable figure in the ministry of the word.
What does Acts 13:39 mean? [⇑ See verse text ⇑]
Paul is speaking in a synagogue near the middle of present-day Asia Minor. His audience consists of expatriate Jews as well as Gentiles who have dedicated themselves to the Jewish religion. The basis of their culture is acknowledgement of the one true God and the following of His laws. Now, Paul is saying that law cannot save them.
Paul’s entire message is about God’s salvation of Israel, from slavery, hardships, homelessness, and enemies. In each case, God used men who followed Him: Moses, Joshua, the judges, and Kings Saul and David (Acts 13:16–22). The entire book of Deuteronomy speaks about how God’s earthly salvation of the Jewish nation is provisional on their adherence to the Mosaic law.
Their understanding of the Savior, or Messiah, God promised fits right into this—the Messiah was to lead them in following the Law and winning independence from their enemies. John the Baptist announced that this Savior had come (Acts 13:23–25). Paul argued that the Savior was Jesus of Nazareth and showed how even His death and resurrection bore witness to His identity (Acts 13:26–37).
Paul is asking these good people to turn their assumptions about Messiah backwards: to believe the Messiah died. Israel is not independent from Rome. The Mosaic law would have been essential to maintain the cultural cohesion of a people that is regularly exiled, up to and including the diaspora that led to a synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. Now, Paul wants them to believe that the Messiah rose again, that political independence is still in their future, but right now He offers forgiveness of sins.
What they don’t quite understand is that sacrifices never saved apart from faith (Romans 3:27–28). Abel, Enoch, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob may have periodically performed sacrifices, but they were saved because they had faith in God’s promises to them (Hebrews 11:1–22). As Paul speaks, the ark of the covenant has been lost for centuries. The veil was torn decades ago (Matthew 27:51). And in a few more decades, Rome will sack Jerusalem, burn the temple, and exile the Jews. It will not be possible for the Jews to fulfill the law, and it still isn’t today. We all—Jew and Gentiles—need the Savior.
Acts 13:16–41 gives the transcript of Paul’s message in Pisidian Antioch. It is the only recording of Paul’s many synagogue sermons. Paul’s message can be broken into five parts, each identified with a call to heed Paul’s words: 1. God’s saving work in Israel’s history and promise of a future Savior (Acts 13:16–25); 2. The Savior’s story (Acts 13:26–31); 3. The prophecies of the Savior (Acts 13:32–37); 4. The nature of ”salvation” (Acts 13:38–39); 5. A warning to accept the Savior (Acts 13:40–41). Some Jews and many Gentiles do accept the message, but the synagogue leaders drive Paul and Barnabas out of town (Acts 13:42–51).
Acts 13 transitions Luke’s account (Acts 1:1) fully into a record of Paul’s ministry to spread the news about Jesus. The Holy Spirit calls Paul and Barnabas for their first missionary journey. They teach about Jesus’ offer of forgiveness of sins on the island of Cyprus and in the district of Pisidia in modern-day south-central Asia Minor. Along the way, they face opposition, desertion, and persecution: themes that will follow Paul throughout his life. But they also experience the joy of watching the people they’d least expect come to a saving faith in Jesus