The Answers to Jewish Objections: Romans 3:1-8
Based upon Paul’s case in Romans 2:17-29, it appears that the Jew has been reduced to a position of equality with the heathen (Romans 1:18-32) and the hypocrite (Romans 2:1-16). So, if a Jew stands under the condemnation of God, even as the heathen and hypocrite, in spite of his possession of the Law and his practice of circumcision, what is the advantage of being a Jew? Paul answered this objection by reminding the Jew that his greatest advantage was the possession of the Word of God. This great treasure was entrusted to him to share with the world. This great treasure revealed to him the will of God. This great treasure told him of the coming Messiah. But the Jew failed to share God’s Word and to obey God’s will, thus he stood accountable to God.
Thus we have Paul’s case against the Jew and all men who count on religion to make them right with God. Religion cannot make a man right with God nor will it exempt a man from God’s judgment. Religious people stand in need of the righteousness of God just as much as the worst sinner. The only hope for religious and irreligious men alike is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The Good News is not just for bad guys!
Ordinances are not enough!
The Jews prided themselves in the rite of circumcision. It was the symbol that they were the people of God. The Jews however, relied upon this external rite apart from a personal, spiritual experience with God. Many people today rely upon baptism, confirmation, and church membership to assure themselves that they belong to God. But ordinances, rites, and rituals are not enough. They are worthless unless something has happened to a person’s heart. An ordinance, like baptism, is meaningful only insofar as it is the outward expression of an inward experience with the Lord Jesus Christ.
GOD’S PERSPECTIVE OF MAN
In our study of Romans 1:18-3:8 we have likened Paul to a skillful prosecuting attorney building a case against mankind. We have watched him masterfully present God’s case against the heathen (Romans 1:18-32), the hypocrite (Romans 2:1-16), and the Hebrew (Romans 2:17-3:8). Beginning with Romans 3:9, Paul presents the closing arguments of God’s case against mankind by addressing humanity in general. As we have noted in earlier lessons, the purpose of Paul’s arguments have been to show that all men are in a hopeless and helpless condition apart from God. We have noted that all men stand in need of the righteousness of God, regardless of whether they are depraved heathen, smug hypocrites, or self-righteous moralists. Paul’s closing arguments in Romans 3:9-20 indict all men. His arguments accentuate the hopeless condition of mankind. Paul however, has presented God’s case for a reason. His convicting arguments serve as the prelude to the proclamation of the glorious Good News of the salvation that is available to all men by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. His arguments confirm the fact that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. No man has an advantage and all men stand in equal need of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. In his closing argument, Paul addresses the matter of the condition of man, the character of man, and the culpability of man. These arguments present God’s perspective of man.
The Character of Man: Romans 3:9-12
Paul begins his closing argument by stating that all men are on the same footing with God. No man has a special status and no man is exempt from God’s judgment. The reason all men are on equal footing is because all men are “under sin” (see Romans 3:9). This means that all men are under the power and control of sin as well as under the wrath and judgment of God for sin. In order to support his point that all men are under sin, Paul quotes a series of verses from the Old Testament that illustrate the sinful character and conduct of man and show why man is culpable before God.
First, Paul begins by stating that all men are unrighteous: “As it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one'” (Romans 3:10). The word “righteous” means in right standing with God. Second, Paul declares that all men are unreasonable: “There is none who understands” (Romans 3:11a). Man is unreasonable in his understanding of God and in his attitude toward God. He does not understand how offensive his sin is to God nor what God has done to provide the salvation he ignores. If men understood these things they would not hesitate to be saved. Third, Paul states that all men are unresponsive: “There is none who seeks for God” (Romans 3:11b). Someone has said, “The Bible is not a record of man seeking God, but rather a record of God seeking man.” Jesus said, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Fourth, Paul declares that all men are unrepentant: “All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one” (Romans 3:12). Men have abandoned the way of life prescribed by God and in the process have become useless or bad.
The Conduct of Man: Romans 3:13-18
Paul turns his attention from the character of man to the conduct of man in Romans 3:13-18. In these verses Paul describes both the wicked words and wicked ways of man. Still quoting from the Old Testament in Romans 3:13, Paul declares that men reveal the evil condition of their hearts through their speech. Their speech is foul and filled with lies. In addition to that, their words are filled with poison. Paul likens men to the asp whose bite is poisonous. How often men behave like snakes, striking out at one another and injecting poisonous words into one another. In addition, men’s mouths are filled with cursing (impiety toward God) and bitterness (animosity toward men).
Paul goes on to show that it is not only what men say that exposes them to God’s judgment, but what they do as well. While Romans 3:13-14 illustrate that man’s words are deceitful and venomous, verses 15-17 reveal that man’s ways are destructive and violent. In Romans 3:15 Paul states that “Their feet are swift to shed blood.” While we may not be guilty of actual physical murder, we should keep in mind that Jesus traced murder to an angry thought (see Matthew 5:21-22). Paul then moves from murder to misery in Romans 3:16-17. Men have a way of leaving a devastating trail of destruction and misery wherever they go. Paul finally reveals the reason for man’s depraved character and destructive conduct in Romans 3:18: “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Men who have no reverence for God and who make it a practice to ignore God are not afraid of wrongdoing and have nothing to restrain them from evil conduct.
The Culpability of Man: Romans 3:19-20
Paul concludes his case against the heathen, the hypocrite, the Hebrew, and humanity by declaring their culpability. Paul concludes his case with three points about the Law which reveal why men need to receive the righteousness of God. First, the Law leaves men without excuse. Any man who measures himself against the Law will be silenced by the weight of evidence against him. Second, the Law holds all men accountable. Third, the Law reveals sin and the sinfulness of man. The law is like a thermometer. A thermometer can show man how ill he is but it cannot make him well. The law is like a straightedge. It can show man how crooked he is but it cannot straighten him out. Paul said that “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Romans 3:20). If man is to be made right with God it will have to happen through something other than the Law. That something is a Someone, namely the Lord Jesus Christ. That is Paul’s next theme in his letter to the Romans.
The ground is level at the foot of the cross.
Paul’s case against the heathen, the hypocrite, the Hebrew, and humanity indicates that all men are under sin. No man has an advantage before God or will be exempted from God’s judgment. All men stand in need of the righteousness of God. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. The religious man stands in need of the saving grace of God just as much as the wicked man. “There is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10).
Man’s attitude toward sin indicates his attitude toward God.
Paul stated, “There is none who understands” (Romans 3:11a). A man’s attitude toward sin indicates what his attitude toward God is and how much he really understands about God. A man who exhibits a flippant attitude toward sin usually has a flippant attitude toward God and does not understand how loathsome sin is to God.
God has taken the initiative in salvation.
According to the Bible, God has taken the initiative in salvation. God has given man the Scriptures, which point to His Son. God has given His Son that man might be saved. The Bible truly is a record of God’s search for man rather than man’s search for God.
Man betrays his sinful condition through his words and ways.
Man’s wickedness and inhumanity to man is exhibited through his deceitful and venomous speech and his destructive and violent ways. Man’s behavior reveals the hopeless and helpless condition of man apart from God. Man’s behavior serves to inculpate him before God and demonstrate his need for the righteousness that only God can supply.
God’s case against man is indisputable.
God’s case against man is so strong and airtight that no man will be able to argue against it before Him. God’s strong case is designed to silence men and to show them their need for the righteousness that only God can provide in His Son. All men have indeed sinned and fallen short of God’s expectations. All men are indeed shown to be crooked when measured against God’s standard and ill when diagnosed by God’s thermometer. The only hope that men have is to look to God alone for salvation.
BUT NOW…THE GOOD NEWS!
Paul began his letter to the Romans by setting forth his credentials, expressing his concern for the saints in Rome, and declaring his unbounded confidence in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ (see Romans 1:1-17). Paul identified the theme of his letter in Romans 1:17 – “the righteousness of God.” It was Paul’s desire to tell all men that God is righteous, that man is unrighteous, and that the gospel shows how the righteousness of God can be bestowed on sinful man. In Romans 1:18-3:20, Paul set about to explain why all men need to hear and embrace the message of the gospel. Like a skillful prosecuting attorney, Paul built a damning and damaging case against the heathen (Romans 1:18-32), the hypocrite (Romans 2:1-16), the Hebrew (Romans 2:17-3:8), and all humanity (Romans 3:9-20). Romans 1:18-3:20 serves to illustrate the fact that all men are sinners and stand in desperate need of the righteousness of God. But Paul’s convicting arguments in these verses should also be seen as a prelude to the marvelous proclamation that God has an answer to man’s hopeless and helpless condition. And so, after the bad news, Paul introduces some very good news!
A Magnificent Manifestation: Romans 3:21-23
Paul introduces the good news of his letter by using a very common and ordinary conjunction, “But” (Romans 3:21). This is an important little word because it is like a hinge upon which a great door swings. It is the word which marks the transition from Paul’s discussion of God’s appraisal of man in Romans 1:18-3:20 to God’s answer to man’s sinful condition in Romans 3:21-31. In Romans 3:21 Paul writes, “But now God’s way of putting men right with Himself has been revealed” (Good News paraphrase). Notice four important things about this magnificent manifestation. First, God’s way of putting men right with Himself is “apart from the Law” (see verse 21). God’s way of putting men right with Himself is not dependent upon keeping the Law. Second, God’s way of putting men right with Himself has been “manifested” (see verse 21). God’s way of putting men right with Himself is not hidden away in secret but has been brought to light for all to see. It has been brought to light in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Third, God’s way of putting men right with Himself is not new. Paul declares in verse 21 that it has its roots deep in the Old Testament, “being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.” The Old Testament points to Jesus Christ. Fourth, God’s way of putting men right with Himself is “through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe” (see verse 22). Salvation is by faith and not by works (see also Ephesians 2:8-9). God offers salvation to “all those who believe” (verse 22), without distinction. All men need the righteousness that God offers because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (see verse 23).
A Meaningful Explanation: Romans 3:24-26
In Romans 3:24-26, Paul explains what God has done for sinful man through His Son by using three metaphors. The first metaphor, which Paul uses to describe what God has done for man, is the metaphor of the courtroom. Paul used the legal term “justified” in verse 24. This term depicts man as guilty in a court of law, awaiting the dreadful sentence he deserves. But because of the work of Jesus on the cross, man hears the verdict “Acquitted!” To be justified before God means that God’s justice has been satisfied through the substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus Christ. The second metaphor, which Paul uses to describe what God has done for man, is the metaphor of the slave market. Paul also used the word “redemption” in verse 24. This word means “to buy a slave out of bondage in order to set him free.” This is what God has done for sinful man. He has secured our freedom from the bondage of sin through the payment of a great price, the blood of His own Son. The third metaphor, which Paul uses to describe what God has done for man, is the metaphor of sacrifice. Paul used the word “propitiation” in verse 25. The word carries with it the idea of appeasing an angry deity by a sacrificial offering. God has been propitiated through the work of Christ on Calvary.
A Marvelous Declaration: Romans 3:27-31
Paul concludes this great section of his letter with three marvelous declarations about God’s way of putting men right with Himself. First, Paul declares that God’s way of putting men right with Himself eliminates all boasting (see verses 27-28). If men were put right with God by virtue of their good works or human merit, then they would have grounds for boasting. But that is not how men are put right with God. Men are put right with God when they acknowledge their helpless sinful condition and place their faith in Christ alone (see Ephesians 2:8-9). Second, Paul declares that God’s way of putting men right with Himself puts all men on the same footing before God (see verses 29-30). Paul declares that God is the God of both Jews and Gentiles alike. He does not have one way of salvation for the Jews and another for the Gentiles. All men must come to God on the same basis, namely through faith in Christ alone. Third, Paul declares that God’s way of putting men right with Himself establishes the true purpose of the Law (see verse 31). Some of Paul’s Jewish readers probably thought that justification by faith destroyed or nullified the Law. But Paul made it clear that this is not the case. The only thing that justification by faith destroys is the false hope of the man who is depending upon the Law for salvation (see verse 20). Paul’s message of justification by faith (God’s way of putting men right with Himself) actually establishes the true purpose of the Law in God’s divine plan, namely to reveal to men their sinfulness and point them to the Savior. Thus we have the very good news that God has an answer to man’s dreadful problem.
God has not left man without hope.
The cross of Christ bears testimony to the fact that God has not left man without hope. While every man stands convicted under the weight of evidence against him, every man has equal access to the cross of Christ where he can find redemption, the forgiveness of sins. The cross is the place where helpless men find help and where hopeless men find hope.
God has determined the way of salvation.
God has determined the way of salvation. He did not leave it up to man to decide. God has determined that the way of salvation is (1) apart from the Law, (2) through faith in Jesus Christ, and (3) for all those who believe. If the way of salvation had been left up to man, works and human merit would undoubtedly have been high on the agenda. But since God determined the way of salvation, He put it on the lower shelf where it is within the reach of all men.
We don’t deserve God’s gift of salvation, nor can we earn it.
Paul stated in Romans 3:24 that we are “justified as a gift by His grace.” Paul also stated in Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” Someone has defined “grace” as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Grace is the free and unmerited favor of God. It reminds us that the salvation that God extends to man is not deserved or merited.
Because salvation is a gift from God, no man can boast.
One of the wonderful things about God’s way of putting men right with Himself is that it eliminates all pride and boasting and puts all men on the same footing before God. Because salvation is a gift from God, man can only boast of what God has done, rather than what he has done. A moral man cannot look down upon an immoral man and claim to have any boasting rights. Both men must come to God in exactly the same manner. Both men must receive God’s gift of salvation in exactly the same manner. Neither man can point a belittling finger at the other or a boastful finger at himself.