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In chapter Romans 3:1-20 we have the great indictment, the summing up of all that has gone before. There is no moral distinction between Jew and Gentile. All are bereft of righteousness. All are shut up to judgment, unless God has a righteousness of His own providing for them.
That the Jew has certain advantages over the Gentile is acknowledged as self-evident, and of these the chief is the possession of the Holy Scriptures, the oracles of God. But these very Scriptures only made his guilt the more evident. Even if they did not really have faith in these sacred writings yet their unfaith cannot make void the faithfulness of God. He will fulfil His Word even if it be in the setting aside of the people He chose for Himself. He must be true though all others prove untrue. In judgment He will maintain His righteousness, as David confesses in the 51st Psalm (vers. Psalms 51:1-4).
Does man’s unrighteousness then but prepare the way for God to display His righteousness, and is it a necessity of the case? If so, sin is a part of the divine plan and man cannot be held accountable. But this the apostle indignantly refutes. God is just. He will judge men for their sins in righteousness. And this could not be if sin were foreordained and pre-determined. If the latter were true man might have just cause to complain: “If the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto His glory, why yet am I also judged as a sinner?” And in that case what was being slanderously reported by some as the teaching of Paul, “Let us do evil that good may come,” would be correct. But all who so plead show themselves deficient in moral principle. Their judgment is just.
Then in verses Romans 3:9-20 we have the divine verdict on the entire human race. The Jew is no better than the Gentile. All alike are under-that is, slaves to-sin. And this the Old Testament confirms. Like a masterly lawyer he cites authority after authority to prove his case. The quotations are largely from the Psalms, and one from the prophet Isaiah. (See Psalms 14:1-3; Psalms 53:1-3; Psalms 5:9; Psalms 140:3; Psalms 10:7; Isaiah 59:7-8; Psalms 36:1.) These are testimonies the Jew could not attempt to refute, coming as they do from his own acknowledged Scriptures. There are fourteen distinct counts in this indictment or summary of evidence.
1-“There is none righteous, no, not one.” All have failed in something.
2-“There is none that understandeth.” All have become wilfully ignorant.
3-“There is none that seeketh after God.” All seek their own.
4-“They are all gone out of the way.” They have deliberately turned their backs on the truth.
5-“They are together become unprofitable.” They have dishonored God instead of glorifying Him.
6-“There is none that doeth good, no, not one.” Their practices are evil. They do not follow after that which is good.
7-“Their throat is an open sepulchre,” because of the corruption within.
8-“With their tongues they have used deceit.” Lying and deception are characteristic.
9-“The poison of asps is under their lips.” It is the poison inserted into the very nature of man by “that old serpent the devil and Satan” at the very beginning.
10-“Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness” for “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.”
11-“Their feet are swift to shed blood.” Hatred produces murder, and, alas, in how many ways it is manifested!
12-“Destruction and misery are in their ways,” because they have forgotten God the source of life and blessing.
13-“The way of peace have they not known,” for they have deliberately chosen the ways of death.
14-“There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Hence there is no wisdom in them.
Can any plead “Not guilty” to all of these charges? If so, let him speak. But none can honestly do so. And so he concludes, “We know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped and all the world become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (vers. Romans 3:19-20).
It is God saying again, as in the days of Noah, “The end of all flesh is come before Me!” “They that are in the flesh cannot please God.” “The flesh profiteth nothing.” How slow we are to learn this! How hard it is for the natural man to give up all pretension to righteousness and to fall down in the dust of self-judgment and repentance before God, only to find he is then in the very place where grace can meet him!
The law was given to a special people as we have seen. They alone were “under the law.” That Gentiles were not, we have already been told in chapter Romans 2:12-14. How, then, does the failure of those under the law bring in all the world as guilty before God? An illustration may help. A man has a desert ranch of large extent. He is told it is worthless as pasturage or farming land. He fences off twelve acres; breaks it, harrows it, fertilizes it, sows it, cultivates it, and reaps only sagebrush and cactus! It is no use trying out the rest, for all is of the same character. He says it is all good-for-nothing, so far as agriculture is concerned. Israel was God’s twelve acres. He gave them His law, instructed them, disciplined them, warned them, restrained them, protected them, and sent His Son to them; and Him they rejected and crucified. In this act the Gentiles joined. All are under judgment to God. There is no use of further test. There is nothing in the flesh for God. Man is hopelessly corrupt. He is not only guilty, but is utterly unable to retrieve his condition. The law but accentuates his guilt. It cannot justify. It can only condemn.
How hopeless is the picture! But it is the dark background on which God will display the riches of His grace in Christ Jesus!
Lecture 4 - Romans 3:21-5:11
The Gospel in Relation to our Sins
It is with a sense of the greatest relief that we turn from the sad story of man’s sin and shame to contemplate the wondrous grace of God as told out in the gospel, the divine remedy for the ruin that came in by the fall. And this presentation of the good news is in two parts: it presents the gospel first as having to do with the question of our sins: and then when that is settled, as having to do with our sin; the sin-principle, sin in the flesh, the carnal mind which dominates the unsaved, unregenerated man. The first theme is fully taken up in chapters 3:21 Timothy 5:11, and this we will now consider.
“BUT NOW”-exclaims the apostle. It marks a decided change of subject. Now that man has been fully shown up, God will be revealed. Now upon the proven unrighteousness of all mankind “the righteousness of God is manifested.” Of old He had declared, “I will bring near My righteousness.” This is in no sense a wrought-out, legal righteousness, such as man was unable to produce for God. It is a righteousness “without the law,” that is, altogether apart from any principle of human obedience to a divinely-ordained code of morals. It is a righteousness of God for unrighteous men, and is in no wise dependent upon human merit or attainment.
The Righteousness of God is a term of wide import. Here it means a righteousness of God’s providing-a perfect standing for guilty men for which God makes Himself responsible. If men are saved at all it must be in righteousness. But of this, man is utterly bereft. Therefore God must find a way whereby every claim of His righteous throne shall be met, and yet guilty sinners be justified from all things. His very nature demands that this must not be at the expense of righteousness but in full accord with it.
And this has been in His mind from the beginning. It is “witnessed,” or borne testimony to, “by the law and the prophets.” Moses depicts it in many types of remarkable beauty. The coats of skin wherein our first parents were clothed; the sacrificial victims accepted in behalf of the offerers; the wonderful symbolism of the Tabernacle; all tell out the story of a righteousness provided by God for the unrighteous sinner who turns to Him in faith. The prophets, too, take up the same story. They predict the coming of the Just One who was to die to bring unjust men nigh to God. “Deliver me in Thy righteousness,” cries David. “Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow,” he prays. “He hath clothed us in the garments of salvation, in the robe of righteousness,” says Isaiah, for “the chastisement of our peace was upon Him” who was “bruised for our iniquities.” “This is His name,” exclaims Jeremiah, “whereby He shall be called, the Lord our Righteousness.” “I will save you from all your unclean-nesses,” is the promise through Ezekiel. To Daniel the angel Gabriel foretells the making of “reconciliation for iniquity” and the bringing in of “everlasting righteousness.” The so-called Minor Prophets take up the same strain, and all point forward to the Coming One through whom salvation will be secured for all who repent; Jehovah’s Fellow, who will become the smitten Shepherd for man’s redemption. “To Him give all the prophets witness that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43).
The righteousness of God is a “by faith” righteousness. It is not “by works.” Faith is taking God at His word. So He has sent a message to man to be believed. It is the offer of an unimpeachable righteousness to all, but is only upon all them who believe. There is a question as to the reading here. Some editors reject “and upon all.” But there can be no question of the underlying truth. God freely offers a righteousness to all. It is the covering of all those who believe, and of them only. All need it alike, for all have sinned. There is no difference as to this. No man has come up to the standard. All have come short of the glory of God. But He is not looking for merit in man. He offers His righteousness as a free gift. So we read, “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (ver. Romans 3:24).
To be justified is to be declared righteous. It is the sentence of the judge in favor of the prisoner. It is not a state or condition of soul. We are not justified because we have become righteous in heart and life. God justifies first, then He enables the justified one to walk in practical righteousness. We are justified freely. The word means “without price!” It is the same as in John 15:25, “They hated me without a cause.” There was nothing evil in the ways or life of Jesus, for which men should hate Him. They hated Him freely. So there is no good in man for which God should justify him. He is justified freely, without a cause, when he believes in Jesus.
This is “by grace.” Grace is not only unmerited favor. Grace is favor against merit. It is the goodness of God, not alone to men who have done and can do nothing to deserve it, but it is favor shown to men who have deserved the very opposite. “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”
“Sovereign grace, o’er sin abounding;
Ransomed souls the tidings swell,’
Tis a deep that knows no sounding;
Who its length and breadth can tell?
On its glories
Let my soul forever dwell.”
In order thus to show grace in righteousness to admittedly guilty sinners God must have a just and satisfactory basis. Sin cannot be overlooked. It must be atoned for. This has been effectuated “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Redemption is a buying back. Man’s life is forfeited because of his iniquitous ways. He is sold under judgment. Christ the Holy One-God and Man in one glorious Person upon whom the violated law had no claim-took the guilty rebel’s place, paid the utmost penalty, thus redeeming the believing sinner from the wrath and curse to which he had sold himself.
“He bore on the tree, the sentence for me,
And now both the Surety and sinner are free.”
And He who died lives again and is Himself the abiding propitiation-literally, the mercy-seat, the place where God can meet with man through Christ’s atoning blood-available to faith. The apostle clearly alludes to the blood-sprinkled mercy-seat on the ark of the covenant of old. Within the ark were the tables of the law. Above were the cherubim, “justice and judgment” the habitation of God’s throne. They are ready, as it were, to leap from that throne to execute God’s righteous wrath against the violators of His law. But sprinkled upon the mercy-seat is the blood that typifies the sacrifice of the cross. Justice and judgment ask no more. “Mercy rejoiceth against judgment,” for God Himself has found a ransom. Till the Lord Jesus suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, to bring us to God, the sin-question was not really settled. “It was not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins.” Old Testament saints therefore were all saved “on credit,” as we say. Now that Christ has died the account is closed, and God declares His righteousness in pretermitting sins down through the past ages when men turned to Him in faith. It is not our past, sins He refers to in verse Romans 3:25. It is the sins of believers in the ages before the cross. And now God declares at this time-since the work is done-His righteousness, for He has shown how He can be just and yet justify ungodly sinners who believe in Jesus. This leaves no room for boasting on man’s part, rather for shame and contrition in view of what our sins cost the Saviour, and of joyful praise as we contemplate the grace that wrought so wondrously on our behalf. Human merit is barred out in the very nature of the case. Salvation is through grace by faith. “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” This then embraces lawless Gentiles as well as law-breaking Jews. The same evangel is for all. He who is the Creator of all has passed none by. He will justify the circumcised, not by ritual, but by faith, and the uncircumcised Gentile through faith likewise.
Does this invalidate or ignore the law? Not at all. The law condemned the breaker of it and demanded vengeance. This Christ has borne, so the majesty of the law is upheld, yet sinners are saved.
“On Christ Almighty vengeance fell That would have sunk a world to hell; He bore it for a chosen race, And thus became a Hiding-place.”
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Romans 3". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17