Verse 4. That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, &c. This verse expresses the design of God in sending his Son, and in condemning sin in the flesh. He did thus condemn it, ἵνα, in order that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled. The meaning, therefore, of this passage is determined by the view taken of ver. 3. If that verse means, that God, by sending his Son, destroyed sin in us, then of course this verse must mean, ‘He destroyed sin, in order that we should fulfil the law;’ i.e. that we should be holy. But if ver. 3 is understood of the sacrificial death of Christ, and of the condemnation of sin in him as the substitute of sinners, then this verse must be understood of justification, and not of sanctification. He condemned sin, in order that the demands of the law might be satisfied. This is the view of the passage given even by the majority of the early Fathers, and by almost all evangelical interpreters, including the Reformers. “Qui intelligunt Spiritu Christi renovatos legem implere, commentum a sensu Pauli penitus alienum afferunt; neque enim eo usque proficiunt fideles, quamdia peregrinantur in mundo, ut justificatio legis in illis plena sit, vel integra. Ergo hoc ad veniam referre necesse est; quia, dum nobis accepta fertur Christi obedientia, legi satisfactum est, ut pro justis censeamur.” That this is the true meaning of the passage appears not only from the connection and the course of the argument, but also from the following considerations: 1. It is consistent with the strict and natural meaning of the words. The word δικαίωμα, here used, means, first, something righteous, and then, second, something declared to be righteous and obligatory, an ordinance or precept; and, third, a righteous decision, a just judgment, as when in Rom. 1:29, the heathen are said to know the δικαίωμα, the righteous judgment of God; and, fourth, the act of declaring righteous, justification. In this sense δικαίωμα is antithetical to κατάκριμα. The δικαίωμα τοῦ νόμου, therefore, may mean, the righteous requirement of the law, that which satisfies its demands. In strict accordance therefore with the sense of the words, we may explain the passage to mean, ‘that the demands of the law might be satisfied in us.’ That is, that we might be justified. Christ was condemned, that to us there might be no condemnation. He was made sin, that we might be made righteousness, 2 Cor. 5:21. Or, if we take δικαίωμα in the sense of (Rechtfertigungsurtheil) a declaration of righteousness, an act of justification, the same idea is expressed: ‘Sin was condemned in Christ, in order that the sentence of justification might be fulfilled, or carried into effect in us.’ This is the explanation which Eckermann, Köllner, Philippi, and other modern interpreters adopt. 2. The analogy of Scripture. To make this passage teach the doctrine of subjective justification, that we are freed from condemnation or delivered from the law by our inward sanctification, is to contradict the plain teaching of the Bible, and the whole drift and argument of this epistle. 3. The concluding clause of the verse, (who walk not after the flesh, &c.) demands the interpretation given above. In the other view of the passage, the latter clause is altogether unnecessary. Why should Paul say, that Christ died in order that they should be holy who are holy, i.e. those who walk not after the flesh? On the other hand, the second clause of the verse is specially pertinent, if the first treats of justification. The benefits of Christ’s death are experienced only by those who walk not after the flesh. The gospel is not antinomian. Those only are justified who are also sanctified. Holiness is the fruit and evidence of reconciliation with God. There is no condemnation to those who walk after the Spirit; and the righteousness of the law is fulfilled by those who walk after the Spirit. In both cases, the latter clause is designed to describe the class of persons who are entitled to appropriate to themselves the promise of justification in Christ. 4. Finally, as intimated in the above quotation from Calvin, it is not true that the righteousness of the law, in the sense of complete obedience, is fulfilled in believers. The interpretation which makes the apostle say, that we are delivered from the law by the work of Christ, in order that the complete obedience which the law demands might be rendered by us, supposes what all Scripture and experience contradicts. For an exposition of the last clause of the verse, see ver. 1.
—Charles Hodge, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. New Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Louis Kregel, 1882), 399–400.