In Chapters 1 and 2, Paul sets out why everybody—the entire human race—is under God’s condemnation, non-Jews because they suppress the truth by their wickedness (1: 17) and the Jews because they possess God’s law but don’t obey it (2: 27).
In Chapter 3, Paul concludes the case for the prosecution, so to speak, and begins the case for the defence.
Then what’s the advantage of being a Jew? Is there any value in the ceremony of circumcision? 2 Yes, there are great benefits! First of all, the Jews were entrusted with the whole revelation of God.So, if the Jews with their Law and their direct line to God and the gentiles, with their natural conscience, both get the same deal with God, then what’s the point of having the Law? This is where Paul begins Chapter 3: Then what’s the advantage of being a Jew? (v.1)
3 True, some of them were unfaithful; but just because they were unfaithful, does that mean God will be unfaithful? 4 Of course not! Even if everyone else is a liar, God is true. As the Scriptures say about him,
“You will be proved right in what you say,
and you will win your case in court.”
- How does Paul answer this?
The Jews have the ‘whole revelation of God’, which is a seriously big deal. Verses 3 and 4 need unpacking a bit.
Paul is still answering the question. He says this:
- Just because some of the Jews were unfaithful, God is still true, and his word is also true. In a chaotic world where most people are powerless, that is an important thing to know. There is something solid to stand on.
- Then he quotes Psalm 51—that is, David’s confession—which says:
Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight.
You will be proved right in what you say,
and your judgment against me is just.
(or, in the version Paul quotes, ‘You will win your day in court’.)
Even if you’re the one being proved guilty, at least you know what the truth is. You’re not being judged against some made-up standard.
Notice that Paul is only interested in proving God to be true—even at his own expense. He isn’t interested in people looking for a way to justify their behaviour. As far as he’s concerned, Chapters 1 and 2 cover that—people suppress the truth in wickedness and end up under condemnation.
Verses 5-8 pose an important question about the righteousness of God.
“But,” some might say, “our sinfulness serves a good purpose, for it helps people see how righteous God is. Isn’t it unfair, then, for him to punish us?” (This is merely a human point of view.) 6 Of course not! If God were not entirely fair, how would he be qualified to judge the world? 7 “But,” someone might still argue, “how can God condemn me as a sinner if my dishonesty highlights his truthfulness and brings him more glory?” 8 And some people even slander us by claiming that we say, “The more we sin, the better it is!” Those who say such things deserve to be condemned.Probably some of us have struggled with questions like this, and some teachings about God’s grace can sound a bit like this. The more I sin, the more righteous God appears. Paul will develop the point in later chapters.
Paul dismisses the argument (v.8), and he’s right for two reasons:
- God’s righteousness isn’t defined against our sin. He is righteous anyway because he’s God. Even our very best deeds are tainted.
- Since I am unrighteous, I cannot presume to judge God, anyway.
- What do you think about this?
In this section, Paul uses quotations from the Psalms and Isaiah to underline the fact that all people, Jews and non-Jews, are under the power of sin. The Jews are not ‘better’ than the others in this, but they ought to have better information.
Well then, should we conclude that we Jews are better than others? No, not at all, for we have already shown that all people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are under the power of sin. 10 As the Scriptures say,
“No one is righteous—
not even one.
11 No one is truly wise;
no one is seeking God.
12 All have turned away;
all have become useless.
No one does good,
not a single one.”
13 “Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave.
Their tongues are filled with lies.”
“Snake venom drips from their lips.”
14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “They rush to commit murder.
16 Destruction and misery always follow them.
17 They don’t know where to find peace.”
18 “They have no fear of God at all.”
19 Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. 20 For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.
Paul has previously made the point that the Jews have the Law of Moses and everyone has the ‘natural law’ that God has written into the creation.
One way of looking at this ‘natural law’ is that everyone has certain moral standards that they live by.
- What are these moral standards?
- Do we succeed?
Of course, only the Jews have the Law, but it spells out for them what should be clear to everyone, that people don’t know where to find peace and they have no fear of God at all.
In fact, Paul concludes, that The law simply shows us how sinful we are.
For people serious about being godly, this is a great advantage.
Everyone is a sinner, not that they have merely messed up once or twice, but their whole orientation is away from God.
- The Jews are no better than the Gentiles, but they have the great advantage of having God’s law ‘spelled out’ for them in the scriptures.
- No-one has any excuse before God, but especially not the Jews.
This is the Bad News—now he goes on to present the case for the Defence—the Good News.
But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. 22 We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.In the final section of the chapter (21-31), Paul comes to the point he’s been building up to. God has made a way for us to be righteous without having to keep the law.
23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, 26 for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.
27 Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. 28 So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.
29 After all, is God the God of the Jews only? Isn’t he also the God of the Gentiles? Of course he is. 30 There is only one God, and he makes people right with himself only by faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. 31 Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfil the law.
v.22 We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.This is the solution to everyone’s basic problem.
It isn’t sufficient to say that God is righteous, so he condemns the whole human race to destruction. God can do that: but it doesn’t benefit him. He made us to glorify him in life, not in death.
Also, at some level, everyone wants to be right with God (or the Universe, or whatever). We are always trying to find ways to excuse ourselves—to justify our bad behaviour, even when we really know this is pointless.
Who are we kidding?
The more we try to make ourselves feel better, the more we condemn ourselves.
But it’s okay. We don’t have to live under condemnation. And we don’t have to go around comparing ourselves with other people.
v.23, 24 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.
- Do you agree with Paul that ‘everyone has sinned’?
- How do we sin?
(Sin isn’t really about doing bad stuff – that’s a symptom of sin – it’s really about making our own stuff more important than God.)
A lot of people don’t understand why Jesus needed to die. They don’t get the sacrifice thing – it is quite foreign to our way of thinking.
But sin—disobedience to God—requires death. Something has to die. In the Law of Moses, an animal died as a representative, a substitute.
And Jesus is the perfect substitute, the perfect sacrifice … as John the Baptist cried out
Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
(John 1: 29)Some people struggle to believe that Jesus died as the punishment for our sins—but it is a central part of the Good News message.
God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sinsDespite our sin, God makes us right—he justifies us—through Jesus’ death.
Jesus is the only person who never deserved to die—the only person who wasn’t a sinner, yet:
God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
(2 Corinthians 5: 21)
They chose to do it – and so death came into the world – also lies, shame and deceptions.
In choosing to ‘eat the fruit’, they chose to become judges in their own right, always choosing between good and evil, rather than simply enjoying God.
The result of this is death. Physical death: most obviously, the murder of Abel (Genesis 4: 8, and that everybody dies), also spiritual death: the whole human race became separated from God.
Outside of God, we are judged by our ‘knowledge of good and evil’. We know right from wrong. Of course, we are found guilty and we die, separated from God.
Think about this.
- Do you believe that you are guilty before God?
- Do you believe that everyone, even ‘good’ people, are guilty before God?
We know right from wrong – yet we choose wrong, sometimes, at least.
Nevertheless, God loves us. He loves every person born into the world with the same intensity with which he loves his own Son, Jesus. He is not prepared to see us all die in unbelief.
So, Jesus came. v.25:
For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood.When we accept by faith that Jesus died in our place, we are ‘saved’. As the old King James Bible puts it (1 Peter 3:18):
For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.In Romans 3, Paul gives us two key ideas:
- Grace: the idea that God acts to save us purely out of his generosity and love, and not because of anything we could do to deserve it, and
- Faith, which is how we get access to God’s grace.
And that’s huge!