Romans Chapter 3

The Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. God’s righteousness abides even as those that call themselves by His name fail in every way. God’s grace is unfathomable against the backdrop of man’s wretchedness. All men are under condemnation. The law’s purpose is to convict all men of sin. Preach grace and you’ll be accused of promoting sins. No one can be justified by the works of the law. God’s righteousness for all who believe. Justified freely. Since salvation is by grace and through faith, there can be no boasting. Preach faith and you will be accused of trying to nullify the law.

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God’s promise of salvation will forever hold true

1Therefore what advantage does the Jew have, or what is the value of circumcision? 2Actually, there are many advantages. First of all, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. (Romans 3:1-2)

At the end of the previous chapter, Paul showed that a true Jew is not one who is only circumcised outwardly in the flesh, but one whose heart is circumcised by the Spirit (which can only be by faith). On the other hand, a Gentile who is not circumcised, but fulfilled the law (hypothetically, as no one can fulfill the law), is a true Jew indeed. This raised the question: what then is the advantage of being Jewish? There is an advantage, if they do take it, that through them God revealed his plan of salvation, of the coming Messiah, through the prophets.

3What then? If some did not believe, does their unbelief nullify the faithfulness of God? 4Absolutely not! Let God be proven true, and every human being shown up as a liar, just as it is written:” so that you will be justified in your words and will prevail when you are judged.” (Romans 3:3-4)

Paul seemed to be restraint in observing that only some among the Jews did not believe, but in fact, an overwhelming majority of them rejected Christ. Does this mean God failed in leading them toward this saving faith? I struggled with verse 3 quite a bit until I painstakingly studied the original Greek from the Complete Word Study Bible by Eugene E. Carpenter, Warren Baker and Spiros Zodhiates. It appeared whole phrase “nullify the faithfulness of God” is taken and translated from the Greek as a whole: καταργέω πίστις Θεός ὁ (katargéō pístis Theós ho), especially the word pístis, coded to Strong number 4102, which may be translated more accurately as: doctrine, a belief system based on Christ as Savior of mankind.

So that’s what that means. Though God had given through the Jews prophesies concerning Christ, their overwhelming unbelief can neither make God rescind, nor make untrustworthy, His promise of saving those who believe to the utmost. So in the end, those that spread doubt of His Word, will be shown to be liars, and He will be proven true.

God’s grace is unfathomable

5But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is he? (I am speaking in human terms.) 6Absolutely not! For otherwise how could God judge the world? 7For if by my lie the truth of God enhances his glory, why am I still actually being judged as a sinner? (Romans 3:5-7)

I’m not sure why Paul brought up this point. I wouldn’t have brought up this philosophical discussion which appears to say: God needs me to be unrighteous so he can be righteous. But if there were Greeks in the audience who loves philosophy, they would, so Paul tried to give them an answer? I wouldn’t dignify this dumb question with an answer, because the people who posed such question were probably not interested in an answer anyway. In 1 Corinthians 1:22-23 Paul wrote that the Jews demand signs while the Greek wanted philosophy, but he was only interested in preaching Christ crucified. Maybe at the time of the Corinthian writing Paul realized the futility of trying to answer these type questions.

Preach grace and you’ll be accused of promoting sins

8And why not say, “Let us do evil so that good may come of it”?- as some who slander us allege that we say. (Their condemnation is deserved!) (Romans 3:8)

What is it about Paul, or what has he been preaching, that cause some folks to accuse him of encouraging sins? Paul calls this a slanderous accusation. If we race ahead to latter parts of this epistle we will see the reason for this accusation. Folks must have made this accusation based on numerous evangelical messages Paul spoke here and there in the Bible land. They’re accusing him of going too easy on sins, that he’s making grace cheap, that his message of God’s amazing grace is encouraging people to sin.

Their condemnation is deserved? I can see at least two ways the slanderers deserve their condemnation. One, the obvious reason of their being included with the rest of mankind. Two, God opens another way through Christ for which Paul is now preaching, the way for sinners to receive the free gift of life, but the lawkeepers simply cannot stand to let anyone get a free ride, they prefer to be judged by the law than to admit their utterly sinful condition and humble themselves like those that they call sinners. How can they get to heaven if they don’t accept God’s free grace? It’s this second condemnation that Paul warned them about. Jesus must have known there would be such doubters when he told the parable of the prodigal son.

All men are under condemnation

9What then? Are we better off? Certainly not, for we have already charged that Jews and Greeks alike are all under sin, 10just as it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one, 11there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God. 12All have turned away, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, not even one.” 13“Their throats are open graves, they deceive with their tongues, the poison of asps is under their lips.” 14” Their mouths are a full of cursing and bitterness.” 15” Their feet are swift to shed blood, 16ruin and misery are in their paths, 17and the way of peace they have not known.” 18“There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:9-18)

Who are “we”? We read from Romans 1:5-6 that it appears that the church at Rome is predominantly Gentile. Yet Paul seems to spend an inordinate amount of time helping them put their trust in the law in its proper place concerning their salvation. But it doesn’t matter, Jews or Gentiles, or modern Christians like us, they all have their own respective laws, and hence are all under sin.

The law does strange things to people. The Jews thinking that since they have the law, they’re elevated above Gentiles sinners. Perhaps they’re comforted by the fact (or an illusion?) that sacrifices can somehow take care of all their sins, and they become sin-free until next time they have to offer sacrifices again. But this faulty assumtion runs rampant in the Gentile world as well. They have their own conscience-based law and their own man-made way of offering sacrifes for the remission of sins. I encountered a man who, upon my sharing Christ with him, immediately defended his goodness by telling me stories of how he helped lots of boat-people folks with his medical skill when they were in search of freedom from. Even our ancient pair of parents, governed by the law of their conscience, Adam and Eve, came up with the fig leaves to cover their nakedness.

Therefore Paul felt the need to remind them of the real work of the law: to point out their utter wretchedness, but not to give them the righteousness that they hope to get through it.

The law’s purpose is to convict all men of sin

19Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. (Romans 3:19)

Who are under the law? It is obvious that Paul is writing this to the church at Rome, so his audience must be to a large extent “under the law.” But if we jump forward to Romans 6:14 Paul remind the church to the fact that they should know that they are NOT under the law. But Paul had to write this letter, so these folks needs to get their facts straight about the role of the law in God’s plan of salvation. The law speaks only to those under the law. Are you Christians under the law? You want to be under the law? But Paul says you’re NOT under the law (Romans 6:14), so am I missing something? According to this verse, if you so choose to be under the law, you’d better be very silent and admit that … you’re wrong.

No one can be justified by the works of the law

20For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20)

Contrary to the assumption of a large majority of Christians, the works of the law do not improve their relationship with God, nor do they make them right before Him. As a matter of fact, the more there is a reliance on the law, the more people feel guilty, because that is what the law does: it increases the knowledge of sin.

God’s righteousness for all who believe

21But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed- 22namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:21-23)

Apart from the law, meaning it contributes nothing to what that follows: God’s righteousness, the righteousness that will be imparted on those that believe APART from the law. And this manner of God giving gift to man did not only happen after Christ come, but predicted and foreshadowed from a long time ago through the prophets and the old testament.

God gives this righteousness to all who believe, equally, and without distinction, because there is no such thing as a difference between spiritual and carnal Christian: all are equally sinful, from pulpit pounder to the lowliest of trespassers. Jesus gave a hint of this truth in the parable of the vineyard workers (Matthew 20:1-16). Sprinkled throughout Paul’s many epistles, we read that where the law is relied upon, there is boasting (Ephesians 2:8-9), as we soon shall see in verse 27 this challenge to those who boast because of the law (Romans 3:27).

Justified freely

24But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:24)

Justified freely. No fine print. No but. No other qualification. No works. This free justification discourages any boasting by anyone who uses the law to exalt themselves above others. Because all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, no person is better than another. Surely what Paul wrote here is nothing new to folks during his time, and surely this verse is the reason Paul is slandered of making it easy for people to fall into sin (Romans 3:8). This gracious treatment of the prodigal son is what that causes such consternation in his brother: Father, you are too easy with this ungrateful, undeserving brother of mine!

25God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. 26This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesusʼ faithfulness. (Romans 3:25-26)

The mercy seat is the covering of the ark where the blood was sprinkled in the Old Testament ritual on the Day of Atonement. But this mercy seat sprinkling of blood for forgiveness, as done by Christ, is a once-for-all event, never to be repeated again. And it’s available to the asking just by believing.

Jesus’ sacrifice was effective for all sins of mankind committed from the beginning of time until his death. What about after He died? If future sins are not covered, Jesus would have to die again, wouldn’t He? Paul didn’t feel he needed to mention future sins as it should be obvious to his reader the meaning of the all sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice.

Last but not least, it is Jesus’ faithfulness, not ours. We have faith in Him, but it is His faithfulness even to death on the cross.

Grace/Faith = No Boasting

27Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded! By what principle? Of works? No, but by the principle of faith! 28For we consider that a person is declared righteous by faith apart from the works of the law. (Romans 3:27-28)

By now we should see that there is an enmity between faith and works; an enmity in the sense of which gets you God’s righteousness, but not enmity in the sense of their being apples and oranges. Works is not meant for, and can never be, a means to achieve God’s righteousness. And even when works are produced through a man, it shouldn’t be his fleshly work either, but God working in and through him so that in the end, God has all the glory. Your job, your only allowed work, is to believe in the One God has sent (John 6:29).

29Or is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not the God of the Gentiles too? Yes, of the Gentiles too! 30Since God is one, he will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. (Romans 3:29-30)

The Jews made the mistake in thinking that since they were entrusted with the oracles of God, they inherited God’s righteousness as a result. But Paul said this is not so. To have the law is nothing until you also do the law, failing to do so, your circumcision become nullified; the Gentiles may not have the law, but if they do it, they even get a better circumcision, the one in their heart. This we discussed in earlier parts of this letter. The fact of the matter is God intended to save both Jews and Gentiles.

Paul touches a great nerve when he says God justifies even the Gentiles who does not have the law, as he already wrote of this in verse 21 (Romans 3:21) that God justifies the ungodly apart from the law. This led to the second accusation that the theology Paul is promoting is an attempt to nullify the law, which he will address in the following verse. The first accusation was his message gives people a license to sin in verse 8 (Romans 3:8). Therefore it shouldn’t come as a surprise to us that the lawkeepers of Jesus’ time saw in him what Paul is preaching to the world in his messages, now encapsulated in this Roman letter.

Preach faith and you will be accused of trying to nullify the law

31Do we then nullify the law through faith? Absolutely not! Instead we uphold the law. (Romans 3:31)

Who says those that speak endearingly of a salvation by grace through faith attempt to nullify the law? Absolutely not! It is because of the law that Jesus had to die on the cross. The law will continue to speak so all mouth must be silent, and all men must see how far they fall short of the glory of God.

Nghi Nguyen

- Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: This is my own opinion on the topic, which does not necessarily reflect the church's theology, or beliefs of the individuals in it — Nghi Nguyen

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