God’s Faithfulness (3:1-8)
1-2 In Romans Chapter 2, Paul has talked about the guilt and unrighteousness of the Jews. Now in verses 1-8 of Chapter 3, Paul takes the Jews’ side. Paul wants to present both sides—both the bad things about the Jews and the good things. Paul here acts the part of a defense lawyer defending the Jews in court. His method, as in Chapter 2, is to ask rhetorical questions.
Paul’s first question is this: if Jews and Gentiles are going to be judged by the same standards, is there any advantage in being a Jew? Yes, says Paul. The advantage is that the Jews have received the very words of God, that is, the Old Testament. In this world they are the witnesses, the spokesmen, of God.
3 Paul has shown in Chapter 2 that many of the Jews have been unfaithful to God. Does that mean that God Himself has been unfaithful too? Certainly not! says Paul. Even though some Jews have been unfaithful, God has remained faithful to them. God still lovingly regards the Jews as His chosen people.
In what way were the Jews unfaithful? One of the main ways they were unfaithful is that they did not believe the promises and prophecies written in the Old Testament about the coming into the world of the Savior Jesus Christ. Even after Christ came, they rejected Him. However, the fact that the Jews didn’t believe the promises about Christ doesn’t thereby make the promises void. Just because a blind man can’t see a light doesn’t mean the light is not shining!
4 Even if every Jew was a liar, God would still remain true, and His word would remain true. God will be proved right in [His] words, and His judgment will prevail (Psalm 51:4).
When man’s sin is revealed, God’s righteousness, by contrast, can be seen even more clearly. Just as a candle seems brighter in the dark than in the daylight, so does God’s righteousness appear brighter in the darkness of man’s unrighteousness.
5 If man’s unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, why then should God be upset about man’s unrighteousness? Someone could say (falsely) that God was being glorified by man’s unrighteousness, and that therefore God would be unjust or unfair to punish man for it. Certainly not! says Paul (verse 6).
6 Even though God’s righteousness appears more clearly when contrasted with man’s sin, God still hates sin and will certainly punish it. And His judgement will be completely just.
7 The question Paul asks here is similar to the question in verse 5. If God’s truthfulness (light) appears brighter when contrasted with man’s falsehood (darkness), why should God condemn our falsehood? Because just as light overcomes and “condemns” darkness, so God’s truth will condemn our falsehood.
8 In Paul’s time, some people were actually saying: “It’s okay to sin, because by sinning we are making God appear more holy and righteous.” Such an idea is totally false. Paul says about such people: Their condemnation is deserved.
Some non-Christians were even falsely accusing the Christians of saying the same thing: namely, that is was okay to sin because it made God seem more righteous. For example, Christians were falsely accused of saying: “The more we sin, the greater will be God’s mercy; therefore let us sin all the more so that God’s mercy will be even greater.” Or they were accused of saying: “Since we are saved by faith and not by works, it is no longer necessary to do any good works. No matter how much we sin, God will still forgive us and save us.” All these accusations were, of course, false. Christians do not believe these things.
No One Is Righteous (3:9-20)
9 Here Paul repeats his point that the Jews aren’t any better than the Gentiles, and the Gentiles aren’t any better than the Jews. Are we (Jews) any better? Paul asks. Not at all! Paul answers. All men are by nature equally sinful. Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. … There is no one righteous, not even one (verse 10).
10-12 In this next section, Paul quotes from various Old Testament passages. Here in verses 10-12, Paul quotes from Psalms 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Ecclesiastes 7:20.
These quotations are hard sayings. How can God speak so critically and harshly of mankind? Mankind doesn’t look at itself this way!
Nevertheless, these sayings are true. From these verses we can find out just how God does see mankind. When God created man in the beginning, He saw that what He had created was very good (Genesis 1:31). But then the first man and woman, Adam and Eve—the mother and father of all mankind—committed a very great sin (Genesis 3:1-6). After that, man’s heart became wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). And from that time on, God was not happy with mankind.
When we look at the men and women around us, most of them seem to us like pretty decent people. They don’t seem to be unrighteous. In what way, then, are all men by nature unrighteous?
All men are unrighteous because all men are basically selfish, or self-centered. Men naturally love themselves more than they love God. From childhood on, men put themselves first and seek first their own advantage. They may appear good on the outside, but in their hearts they do not heed God’s will. Rather, they follow their own will. This putting of man’s own will above God’s will is, in God’s sight, man’s greatest and most basic sin16 (see Romans 6:12 and comment).
To come to God, the first step a man must take is to recognize this, his most basic sin. if a man does not recognize his sinful state, he will see no need to come to God and ask for forgiveness. And if he doesn’t ask for forgiveness, how will he receive it? And if he doesn’t receive forgiveness, how will he be saved? That’s why, in verse 11, God says that there is no one who understands. There is no one who understands that all men are sinners. For this reason there is no one who seeks God to ask for forgiveness.
Let us learn to look at ourselves as God looks at us. Otherwise, we shall be deceived into thinking we are good when we are not. An ant may imagine that it’s an elephant, but it will still remain an ant! So it is with man; we are always imagining that we are better than we are. Our hearts are naturally deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9). One of Satan’s chief tactics is to deceive us, to blind us to our own sin and wickedness.
13 The saying, Their throats are open graves, means that men speak words that deserve the death penalty (Psalm 5:9).
The expression poison of vipers means slander and abuse (Psalm 140:3).
14 Paul here quotes from Psalm 10:7. In verses 13-14, we see the importance of sins of the tongue in this overall picture of man’s wickedness (see James 3:3-8).
15-17 These verses are quoted from Isaiah 59:7-8. The way of peace (verse 17) is the way of making peace with God. That way is to repent of one’s sins and turn to God in obedience.
18 Paul here quotes from Psalm 36:1. The Psalmist says that man has no fear of God. Why should man fear God? Because God hates sin, and will punish man for it on the day of judgment. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7). The wise man acknowledges his sin and fears God.
19 The Jews, of course, were familiar with all these Old Testament passages that Paul quotes in verses 10-18. But they thought that they applied only to the Gentiles, and not to themselves! Here Paul tells the Jews that these verses apply to them also. Whatever the law (that is, the Old Testament) says, it says to those who are under the law (that is, the Jews). So when the law says, “There is no one righteous” (verse 10), that includes the Jews too. Therefore, every mouth will be silenced. No one will have anything to say in his own defense; there will be no excuses. On the day of judgment, every one will stand silent before God.
20 The Jews thought that by observing the law they would be declared righteous. But Paul says here that no one will be declared righteous … by observing the law. The reason is simple: No one can observe the law perfectly in every detail all the time. Only if one were to observe the law perfectly would he be declared righteous (see Gal-atians 3:11; James 2:10 and comments.)
Instead of declaring us righteous, the law, in fact, declares us guilty—both Jew and Gentile alike. But the law does one important thing for us: it makes us aware of our sin. It makes us aware of how far we have fallen from God’s standard, of how far we have drawn apart from God. And for every man and woman, this awareness is the first step in turning to God.
Righteousness Through Faith (3:21-31)
21 Paul here repeats what he wrote in Romans 1:17, namely, that a new righteousness has been revealed, a righteousness that we can receive through faith in Jesus Christ (verse 22).
This righteousness is apart from law. That is, it is not based on the Jewish law; it is separate from the law. Paul has already shown in verse 20 that it is impossible to be declared righteous by observing the law. Therefore, if a person can’t be declared righteous by observing the law, another way is needed; and that way is through faith in Jesus Christ (verse 22). This new righteousness, then, is Christ’s righteousness, which we receive through faith in Him. Paul says here that the Law and the Prophets17 (the Old Testament) testify to this new righteousness. This is not some new teaching that Paul has invented; it is taken right out of the Jewish Scriptures. The Old Testament pointed to the coming of Christ. It also pointed to a new day when the law—which had first been written on stone tablets—would be written on men’s hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-33). When the law is written on men’s hearts by faith, then they will be declared righteous in God’s sight.
22 Before we can be saved, we must first be declared righteous by God (see Romans 1:17). No unrighteous person will ever be accepted by God or allowed into the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, this new righteousness, we can say, is a righteousness that gives salvation. And to obtain it, all we need to do is believe in Jesus; that’s all. And this righteousness is for all people, not only Jews. There is no difference, says Paul, between Jew and Gentile; they can both equally receive this righteousness.
23 In this verse Paul repeats the truth written in verses 10-12. All men are unrighteous. All men have disobeyed God in matters large and small. Therefore, all men need this new righteousness.
All men fall short of the glory of God. We all are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Therefore, we all should reflect God’s glory. But because of our unrighteousness, we do not. We are like a dirty mirror. Only one man has ever perfectly reflected God’s glory—and that man is Jesus Christ (see John 1:14 and comment).
24 Here in this very important verse Paul gives us the essence of the Gospel of Christ. Men are justified freely by [God’s] grace; this means that men are saved freely by God’s grace (see Ephesians 2:8 and comment). At first men had no hope, no hope of being righteous, no sure hope of being saved.18 But now, because of His great love and mercy, God has provided a means by which men can be saved: namely, faith in Jesus Christ.
Our salvation is given freely. We don’t have to do all sorts of good works in order to be saved; we don’t have to earn our salvation. Jesus Christ has “earned” our salvation for us; He has paid the price of our salvation. The price was His own life.
Paul says here that we are justified … through the REDEMPTION that came by Christ Jesus. justification is one part of our salvation. When we are saved, it means we also have been justified. Being justified and being saved always go together; you can’t have one without the other.
Both justification and salvation are free gifts of God, and both come through faith in Jesus Christ. justification is the first stage of being saved; it opens the way for us to receive all the other blessings of salvation (see General Article: Way of Salvation).
25 How does Christ save us? Paul answers that question in this verse. God presented him (Christ) as a sacrifice of ATONEMENT, as a propitiation. A sacrifice of atonement is an act in which another person takes our punishment for sin. Once punishment has been given to someone else for our sins, then those sins are no longer counted against us; we are set right with God. Thus we can say that Jesus is our propitiation, or sacrifice of atonement. He took man’s sins upon Himself and accepted the punishment for them. Our sins are “paid” for; God will no longer hold them against us.
What is the punishment that God gives for sin? It is death (Romans 6:23). Therefore, for Christ to take our punishment, He had to shed His blood; that is, He had to die. Thus it is through faith in his blood (or death) that Christ becomes our personal propitiation. We have to have faith that Christ has died to take away our sins; otherwise, His death, His sacrifice of atonement, will be of no benefit to us (see Mark 10:45; 1 John 2:2 and comments).
From all this we can see two things about God: first, His justice (or righteousness); and second, His love. Because God is just and righteous, He must punish sin. It was to demonstrate his justice that God punished Christ for our sins. But it was also because of His love for us that He punished Christ in our place. In punishing Christ, God was, in actuality, taking the punishment Himself. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son (John 3:16).
In order to appropriate the benefits of Christ’s sacrif icial death for us, we must do only one thing: believe in Him and in what He has done for us. Through faith in Christ, through faith in His death (blood), we are declared righteous and will escape condemnation on the day of judgment.
One phrase in this verse remains to be commented on: in his forbearance he (God) had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished. For hundreds of years God had shown the Jews great forbearance (patience). He had delayed punishing their sins. He wanted to give them the chance to repent and place their faith in Jesus. And still today, God continues to show forbearance to all men. He desires that all men obtain salvation (1 Timothy 2:4). Therefore let us encourage men and women to believe in Christ while there is yet opportunity!
26 Here Paul restates what he has said in verses 24-25. God sent Christ to be our propitiation in order to demonstrate his justice (by punishing sin). God did this for two reasons. First, He did it so as to be just. Second, He did it so as to be the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. In these two reasons we see again both God’s justice (righteousness) and His love. We must never separate these two characteristics of God—righteousness and love; they always go together.
27 On what principle, or on what basis, does God justify man freely? Does He justify man on the principle of observing the law—that is, because of a man’s good works? No, says Paul. No man is justified (declared righteous) by the works of the Jewish law (see Galatians 2:15-16 and comment). Thus there is no place for boasting. No one can say: “By my good works I have proved myselfrighteous and thus deserving of salvation.” Rather, says Paul, it is by the principle of faith that man is justified and saved (see Ephesians 2:8-9 and comment).
28 Here Paul concludes the above discussion by saying that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the (Jewish) law.
29-30 Therefore, because man is justified apart from the Jewish law, the Gentiles have just as good a chance of being saved as the Jews. God is the God of both Jews and Gentiles, and He loves them both equally. God will justify the circumcised (the Jews) by faith, and He will also justify the uncircumcised (the Gentiles) by faith. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile (verse 22).
31 If faith is the only thing necessary for salvation, is Paul saying that the Jewish law is worthless? Not at all. Paul says he does not nullify the law by this faith, but rather he upholds the law. The law says: sin must be punished. Faith says: Christ bore that punishment. Therefore, faith does not oppose the law, or nullify the law; rather, faith upholds the law. Faith (or, we can say, Christ) fulfills the law. Because when the law could not save man, faith in Christ could (see Matthew 5:17 and comment). Christ Himself came and opened up for us the way of salvation. And through faith in Him we can enter into that salvation (see Romans 8:3-4 and comment).