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II. THE NEED FOR GOD’S RIGHTEOUSNESS 1:18-3:20
Paul began his explanation of the gospel by demonstrating that there is a universal need for it. Every human being needs to trust in Jesus Christ because everyone lacks the righteousness that God requires before He will accept us.
"Paul implicitly acknowledges that 1:18f> to 3:20f> is an interruption in his exposition of the righteousness of God by reprising 1:17f> in 3:21f> . . . Some think that the ’revelation of God’s wrath’ is a product of the preaching of the gospel, so that 1:18f> to 3:20f> is as much ’gospel’ as is 3:21f> to 4:25f> . . . But, although Paul clearly considers warning about judgment to come to be related to his preaching of the gospel ( 2:16f>), his generally positive use of ’gospel’ language forbids us from considering God’s wrath and judgment to be part of the gospel.
"We must consider 1:18f> to 3:20f> as a preparation for, rather than as part of, Paul’s exposition of the gospel of God’s righteousness." [Note: Moo, p. 92.]
B. The need of good people 2:1-3:8
In the previous section ( 1:18-32f>), Paul showed mankind condemned for its refusal to respond appropriately to natural (general) revelation. In this one ( 2:1f> to 3:8f>), his subject is more man’s failure to respond to special revelation. Since the Jews had more knowledge of this revelation than the Gentiles, they are primarily in view. As in the previous section, specific accusations follow general terms for sin (cf. 1:18f> with 1:23f>; 1:26-32f>; and 2:1-16f> with 2:17-29f>).
Paul addressed those people who considered themselves exceptions to humankind’s general sinfulness in this section of the epistle. Obviously many people could say in his day, and still more say in ours, that they are not as bad as the people Paul described in chapter 1. The writer dealt with this objection more generally in 2:1-16f> and more specifically about Jewish objectors in 2:17-29f>.
"Paul has still his statement in view, that the Gospel is the only power of God for salvation, and nothing to be ashamed of. If Judaism can save men, the Gospel is an impertinence; hence the radical failure of the Jew must be shown." [Note: Stifler, p. 36.]
"In chap. 2 . . . it is the second person singular, ’you,’ that Paul uses in making his accusation ( 2:1-5f>; 2:17-29f>). This does not mean that Paul is now accusing his readers of these things; were he to do that, the second person plural would have been needed. Rather, Paul utilizes here, and sporadically throughout the letter, a literary style called diatribe. Diatribe style, which is attested in several ancient authors as well as elsewhere in the NT (e.g., James), uses the literary device of an imaginary dialogue with a student or opponent. Elements of this style include frequent questions, posed by the author to his conversation partner or by the conversation partner, emphatic rejections of possible objections to a line of argument using me genoito (’May it never be!’), and the direct address of one’s conversation partner or opponent." [Note: Moo, p. 125.]
Paul asked four rhetorical questions in this section ( 3:1-8f>), questions that could have been in the mind of a Jewish objector. Probably Paul was simply posing these questions and objections to himself to clarify his view for his readers. This is, again, the diatribe style of rhetoric. "Then what" (Gr. ti oun) appears in Romans to raise questions about what Paul has taught to advance his argument (cf. 3:9f>; 4:1f>; 6:1f>; 6:15f>; 7:7f>; 8:31f>; 9:14f>; 9:19f>; 9:30f>; 11:7f>).
We could paraphrase the first question as follows. If Jews and Gentiles are both guilty before God, what advantage is there in being a Jew? Particularly, what advantage is there in being circumcised? The Old Testament regarded being a Jew and circumcision as privileges.
There are many advantages to being a circumcised Jew. Paul only gave the most important one here ( 3:2f>), but later he referred to others ( 9:4-5f>). The phrase "oracles of God" refers to special revelation. The word "oracles" (Gr. logia) stresses the fact that the Old Testament, and the Mosaic Law in particular, was the very utterance of God preserved and handed down by earlier generations (cf. 7:38f>; 5:12f>; 4:11f>). [Note: Cf. Sanday and Headlam pp. 70-71; and Harrison, p. 35.] "Entrusted" highlights Israel’s responsibility to guard and to propagate what she had received as a treasure.
Paul’s second question was this. God will not forsake His promises to bless the nation since some of the Israelites proved unfaithful, will He? The objection Paul voiced calls attention to the promises God had given Israel in the Old Testament covenants. These too constituted an advantage for the Jews.
By referring to the unbelief of the Jews ( 3:3f>) Paul was looking at the root of their unfaithfulness to God. Of the generation that received the law at Sinai, for example, only two adults proved faithful, Caleb and Joshua. Still God brought the whole nation into Canaan as He had promised, though the unbelieving generation died in the wilderness.
Paul agreed. God would remain "true" (true to His word, reliable, trustworthy) to bless Israel as He had promised ( 3:4f>). God would even be faithful if everyone else proved unfaithful, not just if some proved unfaithful. Paul cited David’s testimony to God’s faithfulness after David’s own unfaithfulness as historic, biblical support.
The third question connects with David’s situation ( 3:4f>). Since the Jews’ failings set off God’s righteousness more sharply by contrast, might not God deal more graciously with the Jews in His judgment of them? Surely He would not be unrighteous in failing to take that into consideration, would He?
Evidently Paul felt constrained to explain that he was "speaking in human terms" or "using a human argument" because he, representing an objector, had suggested that God was unjust. Paul did not want his readers to conclude that he really thought God was unfaithful to His own person and word. He was just saying that for the sake of the argument.
"It [the technical term ’I am speaking in human terms’] constitutes an apology for a statement which, but for the apology, would be too bold, almost blasphemous." [Note: David Daube, The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism, p. 396.]
Paul’s answer was this. God will not show favoritism to the Jews even though by their unfaithfulness they glorify the faithfulness of God. If He did so, He would be partial and not qualified to sit in judgment on humankind.
3. Answers to objections 3:1-8
In chapter 2 Paul showed that God’s judgment of all people rests on character rather than ceremony. He put the Jew on the same level as the Gentile regarding their standing before God. Still God Himself made a distinction between Jews and Gentiles. In 3:1-8f>, Paul dealt with that distinction. He did this so there would be no question in the minds of his Jewish audience that they were guilty before God and needed to trust in Jesus Christ. The passage affirms the continuing faithfulness of God to His covenant people but clarifies that His faithfulness in no way precludes His judging sinful Jews.
"In thus allowing the Roman Christians to ’listen in’ on this dialogue, Paul warns his mainly Gentile audience that they should not interpret the leveling of distinctions between Jew and Gentile in terms of God’s judgment and salvation as the canceling of all the privileges of Israel." [Note: Moo, p. 180.]
The fourth question is very similar to the third. Perhaps Paul raised it as a response to his immediately preceding answer ( 3:6f>). It clarifies the folly of the idea expressed in the third question. What an objector might really be saying in question three comes out in question four. If my lying, for example, glorifies God by showing Him to be the only perfectly truthful person, why does God punish me for lying? Paul had been stressing reality and priorities in chapter 2. This objection gets down to that level. If circumcision is of secondary importance compared to perfect obedience to God, is not sinning of secondary importance to glorifying God?
Paul’s reply was that in spite of accusations to the contrary he had not taught that the end justifies the means. Circumcision was secondary, but it was not sinful. God will not overlook sin, though He will overlook lack of circumcision ( 2:26-29f>). If anyone thinks that God should overlook his sinning because in a sense it glorifies God, that person deserves condemnation ( 3:8f>). Paul implied that this objection is so absurd that it is not worth considering.
To summarize, in 3:1-8f> Paul raised and answered four objections that a Jew might have offered to squirm out from under the guilty verdict Paul had pronounced on him in chapter 2. The essential objections are as follows.
1. The Jews are a privileged people ( 3:1-2f>).
2. God will remain faithful to the Jews despite their unfaithfulness to Him ( 3:3-4f>).
3. God will be merciful since the Jews’ failings have magnified God’s righteousness.
4. God will overlook the Jews’ sins since they contribute to the glory of God.
Self-righteous people still raise these objections. Some people assume that because God has blessed them He will not condemn them (objection one). Some believe the character of God prohibits Him from condemning them (objection two). Some think that even though they have sinned God will be merciful and not condemn them (objection three). Some feel that since everything we do glorifies God in some way God would be unjust to condemn them (objection four).
"Thousands of so-called ’church-members’ not only have never been brought under real conviction of sin and guilt and personal danger, but rise in anger like the Jews of Paul’s day when one preaches their danger directly to them!" [Note: Newell, p. 78.]
The phrase "What then?" introduces a conclusion to the argument that all people are guilty before God. Paul identified himself with the Jews about whom he had recently been speaking. Jews are not better (more obedient) than Gentiles even though they received greater privileges from God. Being "under sin" means being under its domination and condemnation.
". . . the problem with people is not just that they commit sins; their problem is that they are enslaved to sin." [Note: Moo, p. 201.]
Paul was writing to a primarily Gentile congregation, so he concluded rather than began his argument with an appeal to Scripture. Contrast the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews who took the opposite approach when he addressed a primarily Jewish readership. The collection of passages Paul used both affirmed the universality of sin ( 3:10-12f>) and showed its pervasive inroads into all areas of individual and corporate life ( 3:13-18f>).
In 3:10-12f> statement of the universality of sin opens and closes the passage. Sin has affected human intellect, emotions, and volition: all aspects of human personality. Note the repetition of "none" as well as "all" and "not even one," all universal terms. In 3:13-18f> Paul described the words ( 3:13-14f>), acts ( 3:15-17f>), and attitudes ( 3:18f>) of man as tainted by sin.
This passage is one of the most forceful in Scripture that deals with the total depravity of man. Total depravity does not mean that every person is as bad as he or she could be. It means that sin has affected every part of his or her being and consequently there is nothing anyone can do to commend himself or herself to a holy God.
"Depravity means that man fails the test of pleasing God. He [sic] denotes his unmeritoriousness in God’s sight. This failure is total in that (a) it affects all aspects of man’s being, and (b) it affects all people." [Note: Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology, pp. 218-19.]
The statement that "there is none who seeks after God" ( 3:11f>) means that no one seeks God without God prompting him or her to do so (cf. 6:44-46f>). It does not mean that people are constitutionally incapable of seeking God. People can and should seek God ( 17:26-27f>), and they are responsible for not doing so.
"Paul’s portrayal of the unrighteous person may seem overly pessimistic to many contemporaries. After all, do we not all know certain individuals who live rather exemplary lives apart from Christ? Certainly they do not fit the description just laid out. Although it may be true that many of our acquaintances are not as outwardly wicked as the litany would suggest, we must remember that they are also benefactors of a civilization deeply influenced by a pervasive Judeo-Christian ethic. Take away the beneficent influence of Christian social ethics and their social behavior would be considerably different." [Note: Mounce, p. 110.]
3:18f> concludes the quotations by giving the root problem (cf. 1:18-32f>).
"It is no kindness, but a terrible wrong, to hide from a criminal the sentence that must surely overtake him unless pardoned; for a physician to conceal from a patient a cancer that will destroy him unless quickly removed; for one acquainted with the hidden pitfalls of a path he beholds someone taking, not to warn him of his danger!" [Note: Newell, pp. 85-86.]
". . . this collection of OT quotations illustrates the various forms of sin, the undesirable characteristics of sinners, the effect of their action, and their attitude toward God. This is the same picture that Paul himself has been painting." [Note: Mickelsen, p. 1191.]
C. The guilt of all humanity 3:9-20
Having now proven all people, Jews and Gentiles, under God’s wrath, Paul drove the final nail in mankind’s spiritual coffin by citing Scriptural proof.
Paul added that, whatever the law (here the Old Testament) says, it addresses to those involved in it, namely, all the Jews. He wrote this to take the ground out from under a Jewish reader who might try to say that the passages just quoted refer only to the Godless. The result of its condemnation is that no one will be able to open his mouth in his own defense (cf. 20:11-14f>). "All the world" describes all of humanity again.
"Probably Paul is using an implicit ’from the greater to the lesser’ argument: if Jews, God’s chosen people, cannot be excluded from the scope of sin’s tyranny, then it surely follows that Gentiles, who have no claim on God’s favor, are also guilty." [Note: Moo, p. 206.]
The purpose of the law was not to provide people with a series of steps that would lead them to heaven. It was to expose their inability to merit heaven ( 3:24f>). Jesus had previously said that no one carries out the law completely ( 7:19f>). Paul had more to say about the works of the law (i.e., works done in obedience to the law, good works) in Romans (cf. 2:16f>; 3:2f>; 3:5f>; 3:9-10f>). If someone breaks only one law, he or she is a lawbreaker. The law is similar to a chain. If someone breaks even one link, the chain cannot save. If someone wants to earn God’s commendation of being perfectly righteous, he or she must obey God’s law perfectly (cf. 5:48f>). It is impossible therefore to earn justification (a righteous verdict from God) by performing the works that God’s law requires. [Note: See Kenneth W. Allen, "Justification by Faith," Bibliotheca Sacra 135:538 (April-June 1978):109-16.] 3:20f> probably serves to confirm human accountability rather than giving a reason for it. [Note: Moo, p. 206.]
Every human being needs the gospel because everyone is a sinner and is under God’s condemnation. In this first major section of Romans ( 1:18f> to 3:20f>), Paul proved the universal sinfulness of humankind. He first showed the need of all people generally ( 1:18-32f>). Then he dealt with the sinfulness of self-righteous people particularly ( 2:1f> to 3:8f>). He set forth three principles by which God judges ( 2:1-16f>), proved the guilt of Jews, God’s chosen people ( 2:17-29f>), and answered four objections Jews could offer to his argument ( 3:1-8f>). Then he concluded by showing that the Old Testament also taught the depravity of every human being ( 3:9-20f>).
The "righteousness of God" here refers to God’s method of bringing people into right relationship with Himself. His method is apart from Law (cf. 3:20f>). The definite article before "Law" is absent in the Greek text, though it probably refers to the Mosaic Law. Moreover the righteousness of God "has been manifested" (perfect tense in Greek, "stands manifested"), namely, through the coming of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament revealed that this would be God’s method even before He appeared. The reference to the Old Testament as the law and the prophets, two major sections of the Hebrew Bible, prepares the way for chapter 4 (cf. 5:17f>). There Paul discussed Abraham and David, two representatives of these two sections of Scripture.
III. THE IMPUTATION OF GOD’S RIGHTEOUSNESS 3:21-5:21
In beginning the next section of his argument Paul returned to the major subject of this epistle, the righteousness of God ( 3:21f>; cf. 1:17f>). He also repeated the need for faith ( 3:22f>; cf. 1:16f>) and summarized his point that everyone is guilty before God ( 3:22f>; cf. 1:18f> to 3:20f>). This brief recapitulation introduces his explanation of the salvation that God provides for guilty sinners that follows.
"The first main division of the epistle forms a powerful negative argument for the second, and was evidently so intended. Since man is a sinner with no help in himself and none in the law, what is left to him but to look to the mercy of God? . . . In a court of justice it is only after every defense has failed and the law itself has been shown to be broken, it is only at this point that the appeal is made to the judge for his clemency. The epistle has brought us to such a point." [Note: Stifler, p. 58.]
God’s righteousness becomes man’s possession and begins to operate in his life through faith in Jesus Christ ( 3:28f>; cf. 2:16f>; 11:22f>). Though pistis, "faith," can also mean "faithfulness," Paul almost always meant "faith" when he used this word. Strong contextual clues indicate when he meant "faithfulness."
Here Paul introduced the object of faith for the first time (cf. 1:16-17f>). He never said that people obtain salvation because of their faith in Christ, by the way. This would encourage the idea that our faith makes a contribution to our salvation and has some merit. Faith simply takes what God gives. It adds nothing to the gift.
"Faith . . . plays a double part in justification. It is the disposition which God accepts, and which He imputes as righteousness; and it is at the same time the instrument whereby every one may appropriate for his own personal advantage this righteousness of faith." [Note: Godet, p. 147. Cf. Newell, p. 108.]
Several writers have described faith as the hand of the heart. It does no work to earn salvation but only accepts a gift that someone else provides.
"The righteousness of God is not put ’upon’ any one. That is a Romish idea,-still held, alas, among Protestants who cannot escape the conception of righteousness as a something bestowed upon us, rather than a Divine reckoning about us." [Note: Ibid., p. 110.]
There is no distinction between Jews and Gentiles concerning their being "under sin" ( 3:9f>). Likewise there is no distinction regarding the manner by which Jews and Gentiles obtain salvation. All receive salvation by faith.
All must come to God by faith in Jesus Christ because all have sinned and fallen short of (i.e., lack) God’s glory (cf. 10:21f>). The glory of God refers to the outward manifestation of what God is. It includes especially the majesty of His powerful person and the sublimity of His supremely elevated position. [Note: Mickelsen, p. 1192; Harrison, p. 41.] Sin separates people from fellowship with a holy God. We lack both the character of God and the fellowship of God because of sin.
"We now come to the greatest single verse in the entire Bible on the manner of justification by faith: We entreat you, study this verse. We have seen many a soul, upon understanding it, come into peace." [Note: Newell, p. 114.]
It is all who believe ( 3:22f>), not all who have sinned ( 3:23f>), who receive justification ( 3:24f>). [Note: See Blue, pp. 338-50.] Justification is an act, not a process. And it is something God does, not man. As mentioned previously, justification is a forensic (legal) term. On the one hand it means to acquit ( 23:7f>; 25:1f>; 13:39f>). On the other positive side it means to declare righteous. It does not mean to make righteous.
"The word never means to make one righteous, or holy; but to account one righteous. Justification is not a change wrought by God in us, but a change of our relation to God." [Note: Newell, p. 114. See also Moo, p. 227.]
Justification describes a person’s status in the sight of the law, not the condition of his or her character. The condition of one’s character and conduct is that with which sanctification deals.
"Do not confuse justification and sanctification. Sanctification is the process whereby God makes the believer more and more like Christ. Sanctification may change from day to day. Justification never changes. When the sinner trusts Christ, God declares him righteous, and that declaration will never be repealed. God looks on us and deals with us as though we had never sinned at all!" [Note: Wiersbe, 1:522.]
God, the judge, sees the justified sinner "in Christ" (i.e., in terms of his relation to His Son) with whom the Father is well pleased ( 8:1f>; cf. 3:8-9f>; 1:30f>; 5:21f>). Justification includes forgiveness but is larger than forgiveness.
"God declares that He reckons righteous the ungodly man who ceases from all works, and believes on Him (God), as the God who, on the ground of Christ’s shed blood, ’justifies the ungodly’ (4.5). He declares such an one righteous: reckoning to him all the absolute value of Christ’s work,-of His expiating death, and of His resurrection, and placing him in Christ: where he is the righteousness of God: for Christ is that! . . .
"We do not need therefore a personal ’standing’ before God at all. This is the perpetual struggle of legalistic theology,-to state how we can have a ’standing’ before God. But to maintain this is still to think of us as separate from Christ (instead of dead and risen with Him), and needing such a ’standing.’ But if we are in Christ in such an absolute way that Christ Himself has been made unto us righteousness, we are immediately relieved from the need of having any ’standing.’ Christ is our standing, Christ Himself! And Christ being the righteousness of God, we, being thus utterly and vitally in Christ before God, have no other place but in Him. We are ’the righteousness of God in Christ.’" [Note: Newell, pp. 100, 104.]
God bestows justification freely as a gift. The basis for His giving it is His own grace, not anything in the sinner.
"Grace means pure unrecompensed kindness and favor." [Note: Lewis Sperry Chafer, Grace, p. 2.]
Grace (Gr. charis) is the basis for joy (chara), and it leads to thanksgiving (eucharistia).
The redemption that is in (i.e., came by) Christ Jesus is the means God used to bring the gift of justification to human beings. The Greek word for redemption used here (apolutroseos) denotes a deliverance obtained by purchase (cf. 20:28f>; 2:6f>; 1:18f>; 6:20f>; 7:23f>; 3:13f>). Everywhere in the New Testament this Greek word, when used metaphorically, refers to "deliverance effected through the death of Christ for the retributive wrath of a holy God and the merited penalty of sin . . ." [Note: A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, s.v. "apolutrosis," p. 65.]
Paul’s use of "Christ Jesus," rather than the normal "Jesus Christ," stresses the fact that God provided redemption by supplying the payment. That payment was the Messiah (Christ) promised in the Old Testament who was Jesus of Nazareth.
Though the question of who received the ransom price has divided scholars, Scripture is quite clear that Jesus Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice to God ( 23:46f>).
"Before you leave 3:24f>, apply it to yourself, if you are a believer. Say of yourself: ’God has declared me righteous without any cause in me, by His grace, through the redemption from sin’s penalty that is in Christ Jesus.’ It is the bold, believing use for ourselves of the Scripture we learn, that God desires; and not merely the knowledge of Scripture." [Note: Newell, p. 116.]
Paul stressed faith in this verse. Therefore we should probably understand his reference to the public display of Christ as being an allusion to His presentation in the gospel rather than to His crucifixion.
There are two possible meanings of "propitiation" (NASB) or "sacrifice of atonement" (NIV). The Greek word (hilasterion) is an adjective that can substitute for a noun. It means having placating or expiating force. [Note: A Greek-English . . ., s.v. "hilasterios," p. 301.] It could refer to Jesus Christ as the place where God satisfied His wrath and removed our sins. This is the substantival usage, translated "propitiation." In favor of this interpretation is the use of this Greek word to translate the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant ( 25:17f>, LXX; 9:5f>). However, it seems more natural to take hilasterion as referring to Jesus Christ as the sacrifice that satisfied God’s wrath and removed our sins (cf. 18:13f>; 2:17f>). This is the normal adjectival use, translated "sacrifice of atonement" (cf. 2:2f>; 4:10f>). Jesus Christ was the sacrifice, but the place where God made atonement was the Cross.
The translation "through faith in His blood" (NIV) correctly represents the word order in the Greek text. Paul elsewhere urged faith in the person of Jesus Christ ( 3:22f>; 3:26f>). Probably Paul mentioned His blood as representing His life poured out as a sacrifice of atonement instead of the person of Christ here to draw attention to what made His sacrifice atoning (cf. 5:9f>; 1:7f>; 2:13f>; 1:20f>). This then is a metonymy, in which the name of one thing appears in the place of another associated with it.
The full idea of the first part of the verse would then be this. God has publicly displayed Jesus Christ in the gospel as a sacrifice of atonement that satisfied God’s wrath and removed our sins. His sacrifice becomes efficacious for those who trust in Him.
The antecedent of "this" (NASB) is the redemption ( 3:24f>) God provided in Christ, as is clear in the NIV translation. Another reason God provided a sacrifice of atonement was to justify (declare righteous) God’s own character (i.e., to vindicate Him). This was necessary because God had not finally dealt with sins committed before Jesus died. God had shown forbearance, not out of weakness or sentimentality but because He planned to provide a final sacrifice in the future, namely, at the Cross.
"Passed over" (NASB) or "left . . . unpunished" (NIV) is not the same as "forgave." Two different though related Greek words describe these two ideas, paresis and aphesis respectively. God did not forgive the sins of Old Testament saints finally until Jesus died on the cross. The blood of the animal sacrifices of Judaism only covered (removed) them temporarily. God did not exact a full penalty for sin until Jesus died. It is as though the Old Testament believers who offered the sacrifices for the expiation of sin that the Mosaic Law required paid for those sins with a credit card. God accepted those sacrifices as a temporary payment. However the bill came due later, and Jesus Christ paid that off entirely. [Note: See also Jarvis Williams, "Violent Atonement in Romans: The Foundation of Paul’s Soteriology," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 53:3 (September 2010):579-99.]
"Paul has thus pressed into service the language of the law-court (’justified’), the slave-market (’redemption’) and the altar (’expiation’, ’atoning sacrifice’) in the attempt to do justice to the fullness of God’s gracious act in Christ. Pardon, liberation, atonement-all are made available to men and women by his free initiative and may be appropriated by faith." [Note: Bruce, pp. 101-2.]
A. The description of justification 3:21-26
Paul began by explaining the concept of justification. [Note: See Carl F. H. Henry, "Justification: A Doctrine in Crisis," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 38:1 (March 1995):57-65, for discussion of the crisis that Protestant Catholic rapprochement poses for the doctrine of justification.]
"We now come to the unfolding of that word which Paul in Chapter One declares to be the very heart of the gospel . . ." [Note: Newell, p. 92.]
This verse explains the significance of Jesus Christ’s death since the Cross. It demonstrates God’s righteousness, the subject of Romans, by showing that God is both just in His dealings with sin and the Justifier who provides righteous standing for the sinner. Note that it is only those who have faith in Jesus who stand justified.
3:21-26f> constitute an excellent explanation of God’s imputation of righteousness to believing sinners by describing justification. These verses contain "God’s great statement of justification by faith." [Note: Newell, p. 92.] To summarize, God can declare sinners righteous because Jesus Christ has paid the penalty for their sins by dying in their place. His death satisfied God’s demands against sinners completely. Now God declares those who trust in Jesus Christ as their substitute righteous.
"Justification is the act of God whereby He declares the believing sinner righteous in Christ on the basis of the finished work of Christ on the cross." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:522.]
". . . the direct exposition of the righteousness by faith ends with the twenty-sixth verse. If the epistle had ended there it would not have been incomplete. All the rest is a consideration of objections [and, I might add, implications], in which the further unfolding of the righteousness is only incidental." [Note: Stifler, p. 67.]
The characteristics of justification are that it is apart from the Law ( 3:21f>), through faith in Christ ( 3:22f> a), for all people ( 3:22-23f>), by grace ( 3:24f>), at great cost to God ( 3:24-25f>), and in perfect justice ( 3:26f>). [Note: Wiersbe, 1:523-24.]
There is no place for human boasting in this plan of salvation (cf. 2:8-9f>), though the Jews were inclined to boast because of their privileges ( 2:17f>; 2:23f>). The reason is that God’s provision of salvation by faith springs from a different law than salvation by works does.
"One would think that the sinner would love to be forgiven at no cost. Unfortunately that is not the case. After all, sinners have their pride. They desperately want to claim some role in their own redemption." [Note: Mounce, p. 38.]
Salvation by works rests on keeping the Mosaic Law. This does not mean that the Mosaic Law required works for salvation but that those who hope to earn salvation by their works look to the Mosaic Law as what God requires. God’s gift of salvation, however, rests on a different law (principle) that God has also ordained and revealed. This "law" is that salvation becomes ours by faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is what God requires, not works.
". . . He has sent His Son, who has borne sin for you. You do not look to Christ to do something to save you: He has done it at the cross. You simply receive God’s testimony as true, setting your seal thereto. (I often quote 1:15f> to inquiring sinners: ’Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.’ In response to my question, they confess that ’came’ is in the past tense. Then I say, ’How sad that you and I were not there, so that He might have saved us, for He has now gone back to heaven!’ This shuts them up to contemplate the work Christ finished when He was here; upon which work, and God’s Word concerning it, sinners must rest: that is faith.) You rest in God’s Word regarding Christ and His work for you. You rest in Christ’s shed blood." [Note: Newell, p. 109.]
Paul continued to appeal to his Jewish audience in these verses as in the former two. If justification is by the Law, God must be the God of the Jews only since God only gave the Law to the Jews. Paul’s point was that there are not two ways of salvation, one for the Jews by works and the other for Gentiles by faith. This is only logical, he reasoned, since there is only one God who is the God of all humankind. Paul probably used two separate prepositions in 3:30f> ("by," ek, and "through," dia) simply for literary variety. [Note: Moo, p. 252.] His point was that there is only one method of obtaining God’s righteousness. [Note: Harrison, p. 46.]
B. The defense of justification by faith alone 3:27-31
Having shown what justification is, Paul went on to reaffirm that it is available only by faith. He proceeded to expound the great theological thesis of 3:21-26f>. 3:27-31f> state this theme, and chapter 4 elucidates and elaborates it.
Paul was not saying that the Law is valueless. The absence of the definite article "the" before the first occurrence of "Law" in this verse in the Greek text does not indicate that Paul was only thinking of law in general, as the context makes clear. Even though he believed in salvation by faith Paul saw the Law as having an important function. [Note: See Femi Adeyemi, "Paul’s ’Positive’ Statements about the Mosaic Law," Bibliotheca Sacra 164:653 (January-March 2007):49-58.] Probably he meant that its function is to convict people of their inability to gain acceptance with God by their own works ( 3:19-20f>). Another view is that Paul meant the Old Testament (law) testifies to justification by faith. [Note: Godet, pp. 166-67; Henry Alford, The Greek Testament, 2:346; Cranfield, 1:224; et al.] A third view is that faith provides the complete fulfillment of God’s demands in His Law. [Note: Moo, pp. 254-55; et al.] The Law is not something God has given people to obey so they can obtain righteousness. Man’s inability to save himself required the provision of a Savior from God. The Law in a sense made Jesus Christ’s death necessary ( 3:24-25f>).
The point of 3:27-31f> is that justification must come to all people by faith alone. Paul clarified here that this fact excludes boasting ( 3:27-28f>). It is also logical in view of the sovereignty of God ( 3:29-30f>), and it does not vitiate the Mosaic Law ( 3:31f>).
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Romans 3". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/
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