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Romans 3:9-31 (web)

Conclusion: All Are Guilty Before God

3:9 What then? Are we better than they? No, in no way.
For we previously charged both Jews and Greeks, that they are all under sin.
3:10 As it is written, "There is no one righteous. No, not one.
3:11 There is no one who understands.
There is no one who seeks after God.
3:12 They have all turned aside.
They have together become unprofitable.
There is no one who does good,
No, not, so much as one."  (Psalms 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Eccles. 7:20)
3:13 "Their throat is an open tomb. (Psalm 5:9)
With their tongues they have used deceit."
"The poison of vipers is under their lips;" (Psalm 140:3)
3:14 "Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness."  (Psalm 10:7)
3:15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood.
3:16 Destruction and misery are in their ways.
3:17 The way of peace, they haven't known."  (Isaiah 59:7,8)
3:18 "There is no fear of God before their eyes." (Psalm 36:1)
3:19 Now we know that whatever things the law says,
it speaks to those who are under the law,
that every mouth may be closed,
and all the world may be brought under the judgment of God.
3:20 Because by the works of the law, no flesh will be justified in his sight.
For through the law comes the knowledge of sin.

3:21 But now apart from the law,
a righteousness of God has been revealed,
being testified by the law and the prophets;

3:22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ
to all and on all those who believe.

For there is no distinction,
3:23 for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God;
3:24 being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus;
3:25 whom God set forth to be an atoning sacrifice{or, a propitiation},
through faith in his blood, for a demonstration of his righteousness
through the passing over of prior sins, in God's forbearance;
{sacrifice of atonement: "as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away sin"}
3:26 to demonstrate his righteousness at this present time;
that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him who has faith in Jesus.

3:27 Where then is the boasting? It is excluded.
By what manner of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith.

3:28 We maintain therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.
3:29 Or is God the God of Jews only?
Isn't he the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also,
3:30 since indeed there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith,
and the uncircumcised through faith.

3:31 Do we then nullify the law through faith?
May it never be! No, we establish the law.

Discussion Questions

Are there any good people in the world? (Compare with Mark 10:18)
How might the word "good" be understood differently?
How can God hold accountable those who are not under the law?
What is the benefit or purpose of the law?
How does it make us conscious of sin and why is this essential?
What is different about the righteousness which is from God
and the righteousness which is from the law?
What does it mean that "a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law"?


There is No One Righteous

Rom 3:9-12  What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one,  there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."

An important point to note here, which cannot be emphasized enough, is that he is saying that all are under sin in that all have actually sinned. Verse 10 and following are filled with evidence that all are under sin based upon their behavior. I say this because there those who reckon that God reckons sin prejudicially, reckoning guilt upon those who haven't actually sinned. Such is not only not the case, but in fact would be contrary to God's judicial nature.

The Psalmist writes, "Everyone has turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one." Ps 53:3 And likewise, "There is no one who does good" Ps 14:1

And yet there those the Bible refers to as righteous. For example, "Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout." Lk 2:25a and the Psalms and Proverbs says a great deal about the righteous in contrast with the wicked. So also with regards to seeking God. Yet not so with regards to a perfect standard. "A certain ruler asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good— except God alone." Luke 18:18,19 We speak of some people being "good" and yet by God's standard no one is good. And likewise with regards to doing which is right and seeking God.

However the fact that bad behavior universally characterizes the human condition begs the question as to why that is.

Bad Mouthing the Human Condition

Rom 3:13,14
"Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit." (Ps 5:9)
"The poison of vipers is on their lips." (Ps 140:3)
"Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness." (Ps 10:7)

While by "their" the Psalmist is referring to particular people, Paul is using these verses as indicators of what is typical of the human condition. Jesus said, "the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’" Mat 15:18

Such is characteristic of the human condition.

Violence and Arrogance, it's only Human

Rom 3:15-18
"Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways,
and the way of peace they do not know." (Is 59:7,8)
"There is no fear of God before their eyes." (Ps 36:1)

Violence is also characteristic of the human condition. In fact history books are mostly about war. Now much as God loves everyone, he doesn't like everyone. One category of people he doesn't like are those who love violence. "The LORD examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates." Ps 11:5  Such sin separates us from having a relationship with God. The quote from Isaiah 59 starts, "Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt." Is 59:1-3a Such is the human condition.

But despite the consequences, people characteristically have no fear of God. The quote from Psalm 36 goes, "An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before his eyes. For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin." Ps 36:1,2 And again while the Psalmist is referring to a certain category of people, these attributes are characteristic of society in general, and true of each individual from time to time. And as Paul said earlier, "Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them." Rom 1:32 People become desensitized to their own sinfulness due the influences of society, the sinful nature we all have, and the devil. Whether at times, or in general, we all flatter ourselves too much to detect or hate our sin.

The Law Exposes Sin

Rom 3:19,20 Now 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 held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

Paul previously concluded that everyone is in some sense under the law. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) Rom 2:14,15 So while the Law of Moses is rather explicit as to what constitutes sin, even those ignorant of the law of Moses are aware of a law by which the reckon what is right and wrong, of which all also fail to live up to, and consequently are accountable.

Law, whether it be the law of Moses, or the law of the conscience, invokes an awareness of ones sinfulness, because no one lives up to it. Also, to state the obvious, here he's associating sin with misbehavior. For how could law invoke a sense of guilt if not with regards to behavior. I say this again for those who have the misconception that God reckons guilt to those who haven't actually done anything wrong. For the standard by which people are held accountable is with regards to their behavior in comparison to law.

The reason why Paul has spent so much time on the subject of law and sin is because the gospel is not relevant to those who have not been convicted of sin. Thus, particularly to those who reckon themselves "good", Jesus especially brings up the law, so as to convict them of sin.   On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" He answered. Luke 10:25,26 But one can only be saved by law if one keeps the law. Problem is no one keeps the law, so there has to be another way to be saved apart from law.

Another Way to Righteousness

Rom 3:21-24 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference,  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

These verses I would characterize as the key to understanding Romans. Under the law, a righteous standing with God is a function of one's behavior. But under the gospel, one's righteous standing with God is not a function of one's behavior. There is no actual salvation under the law in that all have fallen short of God's standards of righteousness with regards to their behavior. It is not that all are sinners in some positional sense, but rather all have actually committed sin and consequently are guilty due to misbehavior. And consequently all are disqualified from having a righteous standing with God according to law, not having lived up to it.

But there is a different way to obtain a righteous standing with God. In contrast to the performance based salvation, this righteousness is given as a gift. It is something given freely, of which one does not work for, of which Paul will elaborate upon in the rest of Romans chapter 3 and chapter 4. "Grace" is the idea of God magnanimously forgiving our sins, not requiring any payment from us, but rather absorbing the cost of our sins Himself. However, though unconditional with regards to our behavior, this righteousness is condtioned upon faith in Jesus Christ, a fact of which will also be the subject of the rest of Romans, and of which Paul wrote in Galatians, "the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe." Gal 3:22

But much as this way of righteousness is different than that obtained by obedience to the law, the Law of Moses as well as the prophets allude to this second way of righteousness. For example, Jeremiah prophecied, "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—  not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD.  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more." Jeremiah 31:31-34

God's Sacrifice of Atonement

Rom 3:25,26 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—  he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

The atoning work of Christ on the cross was all about satisfying the demands of justice. The way the atonement works is that "God is just" 2Th 1:6 and what follows that verse indicates that there are two arms of justice. One punishes the wicked and the other compensates victims of unjustified suffering. Jesus, dying as a victim of unjustified suffering, was awarded compensation with which he used to pay off the debt of others regarding their sin, one arm of justice canceling out the other, so that the grace of forgiveness may be applied, justice having been satisfied.

Jesus was uniquely qualified to do so. For it is written, “No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him— the ransom for a life is costly” Ps 49:7,9 No mere mortal can atone for the sins of others. But Jesus was not a mere mortal. He is LORD and Creator. For “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” John 1:3 And thus the value of his unjustified suffering was so much more than that of a mere mortal that it could pay for the sins of the world.

"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace" Eph 1:7 And with regards to the extent of his atonement, "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." 1John 2:2 But to be qualified to be saved one must put faith in Christ, one essential element of which is putting faith in his atoning work on the cross as being sufficient for the payment for one's sins.

However prior to justice being satisfied God did forgive sin, such as David's sin, ""Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him." Rom 4:7,8 By doing so it may appear that God was unjust. He forbore with such a thing in anticipation of justice being satisfied on the cross at which time he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Thus God demonstrates that he is just in that forgiveness is not granted apart from the payment of the penalty of sin, and he is the justifier in that he paid for sin on our behalf. Paul speaks to overseers of the church saying, "Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood." Acts 20:28b

Justified by Faith apart from Performance

Rom 3:27,28 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

Here Paul begins to segue into the implications that this righteousness is not obtain by human effort. It is not obtained by obedience to commands, nor by ritual, ceremony, nor by living up to a certain standard. One is qualified to receive this righteous standing with God simply by faith - by believing in Christ. Much of what will follow with show that faith is distinct from works. In fact faith is an attitude. It is not a work.

Paul reminds Peter, "We know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified." Gal 2:16

But remember again what the Law is. The Law is the 10 commandments. "On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"  He answered: "’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’"  "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." Luke 10:25-28 That is justification by observing the Law. It is a performance based salvation. Such a person is saved by perfectly and consistently loving God and loving others. But that is not how New Covenant justification works. Under the New Covenant a person is not saved by loving God and loving others. Rather a person is saved by believing in Jesus.

The former could boast of saving themselves. The former could boast of their own goodness. But those who have put their faith in Christ cannot boast of having worked for their salvation, which is by faith and not works.

Faith - the Same Requirement for Jew and Gentile

Rom 3:29-31 Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.

With regards to salvation through faith in Christ, there is no difference between Jew and Gentile. Peter said, "We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we (Jews) are saved, just as they (Gentiles) are." Acts 15:11 and "He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith." Acts 15:9 Likewise Paul said, "Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all." Col 3:11 

But those who believe salvation can be obtained by works characteristically bring down God's standards of behavior to their own. Jews today who boast in the Law don't themselves actually follow the Law. But likewise there are whole Christian denominations who replace salvation through faith in Christ with a system of legalism whereby one is only saved by conforming to the standards set by their denominational dogma.

By making a way of salvation by faith apart from law, the holiness of God is preserved in the Law. Which is to say that God's standard of holiness is perfection. And as such rather than bring down his standards to accommodate sinners, he made a completely different way for sinners to be saved, which is by faith and not by human effort. This does not nullify the law in that if anyone never sins, they are justified under the law. Yet no such person actually exists except the Lord Jesus himself.

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources

Jan 28,2022