1 - 8 God True, Every Man False
1 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? 2 Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? 4 May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man [be found] a liar, as it is written, “That You may be justified in Your words, And prevail when You are judged.” 5 But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) 6 May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world? 7 But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner? 8 And why not [say] (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come”? Their condemnation is just.
V1. After considering the previous section, you might have started to think being a Jew wasn’t much of an advantage even though God had called them His elect people. Likewise, the advantage of circumcision might come into question even though it had been given by God as a sign of His covenant with His earthly people. Paul now deals with this thought. It is advantageous in many ways to belong to the people of God.
V2. Among these many advantages, they were entrusted with the oracles (the words) of God. For us who live in so-called Christian countries, it also is an advantage to have the Bible, but this advantage made the Jews and us more responsible.
V3-4. The way we deal with the Bible does not affect its contents. God remains faithful to His Word even if there are those who claim to belong to His people, but who do not respect His Word. This only confirms that God is true and every man is false.
Maybe you have heard someone say (or perhaps you said it yourself): ‘God doesn’t exist.’ This is not a new thought. Someone who speaks like this is just expressing what God wrote down a long time ago. Psalm 14 says: “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God”” (Psa 14:1). God’s Word provides proof that God is true and every man false.
If man acts according to his evil heart, he only proves what God has said in His Word long ago. In this way God justifies Himself by His own words. If man is presumptuous enough to judge God and make Him responsible, it will be clear that God is the winner and man is the loser.
V5-6. God’s righteous acts are confirmed by our unrighteous acts. Nothing can refute this. A way of life that doesn’t respect God must bring God’s wrath upon that life. God cannot act in any other way. He is obligated to do so because He is holy and righteous. He cannot overlook His holy and righteous character as we sometimes do.
When God observes everything in this world, He cannot act as if nothing is wrong. He must execute judgment over this world. He hasn’t executed this judgment yet because He is patient. He is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2Pet 3:9). Yet a time will come when He will have to judge. His patience has an end. Then righteousness will take its course and wrath will be executed: the punishment must come. Denying this only indicates that one doesn’t take God seriously.
V7-8. Another way that some do not take God seriously is when they misuse God’s righteous dealings. They say, ‘If I lie, it increases the truth of God. With my evil walk, I only contribute to His glory because this makes the sacrifice of Christ worth even more. Isn’t this pleasing to God? In fact I deserve a reward, so why should I be judged as a sinner?’ They reason: “Let us do evil things that good may come.”
At the time the apostle Paul wrote this letter, people were spreading the false rumor that Paul was teaching this false doctrine. In this way they tried to vindicate their own ungodly walk while slandering the apostle. Paul doesn’t refute them. There’s no arguing with people like that. His answer is simple: “Their condemnation is just.”
Now read Romans 3:1-8 again.
Reflection: Mention some privileges you have as a Christian.
9 - 20 Nobody Is Righteous
9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; 11 There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; 12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving,” “The poison of asps is under their lips”; 14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”; 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood, 16 Destruction and misery are in their paths, 17 And the path of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” 19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; 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.
V9. After having disproved the evil objections of unbelief in verses 3-8, in verse 9 Paul referred to verse 1 where he asked about the advantages of being Jewish. He then showed that everything in which the Jews boasted actually witnessed against them. Had God’s Word been entrusted to them? Well, God’s Word was quite clear about man’s nature and practice. At this point the Jew was not far superior to the Greek.
V10-11. The accusation that all are under sin is emphatically stressed by some Old Testament quotations. The description is held before them (and before you and me) as a mirror in which they must recognize themselves (as we also must). There is no one righteous. No one understands and none seeks after God. This account used to describe you. Maybe you previously thought you conducted yourself righteously and had understanding, but when God met you it became clear you were living for yourself.
V12. You had disregarded God’s goal for your life and you had become useless and unprofitable. Maybe you thought you were useful to those around you, but when God met you, it turned out you weren’t living for Him. Consequently you realized you had never done anything good by yourself, even if perhaps you had boasted in your many good deeds. True good deeds are only those which are done out of love for God.
V13-17. What is on the inside will find its expression through your body – through words and deeds. We read some examples of this in verses 13-18. The throat, tongue, lips and mouth are all connected with death and corruption. The words we spoke, when we were ignoring God, lacked life. These can still be heard in what people say around us. This should no longer be the case with us.
Regarding our feet and ways, we misused them before our conversion and therefore the same must be said. The way of peace was “not known” to us. We were willing to teach someone a lesson if they hurt us. Maybe we have not committed murder, but we sought revenge on someone with or without literally shedding blood. To shed blood means to make life impossible for someone. Behind us we left a trail of destruction and misery.
V18. How many have been hurt by our godless behavior? It was all because the “fear of God” was not before our eyes until God met us and held this mirror up to us. Then we recognized ourselves in it. Not that we were all guilty of these things to the same degree, but all of this was in our hearts. And since we still have an old nature, it is still in our hearts.
The above was directed especially at the Jews to convince them of their sins from their Scriptures in which they boasted. Yet every person who checks himself honestly using this description will recognize it applies to him as well.
V19. Then in this verse a conclusion is drawn. This conclusion applies to the whole portion of Romans beginning with chapter 1:18 until here. The conclusion is “that every mouth” – both of the heathen and the Jew – “may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God”.
V20. It is impossible to obtain God’s approval for our acts carried out under our own strength. The law makes it clear we have sinned because we have transgressed it.
Only one Man exists to whom the preceding doesn’t apply. This is the Man Christ Jesus. All through His life He lived completely God-centered and did everything for Him. And so, He is God’s answer to all guilt and sin which man has heaped on himself and from which he could never free himself. This is what the next portion covers.
Now read Romans 3:9-20 again.
Reflection: In what way can you now be useful to God?
21 - 31 Justification by Faith
21 But now apart from the Law [the] righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even [the] righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. [This was] to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, [I say,] of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. 29 Or is God [the God] of Jews only? Is He not [the God] of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. 31 Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.
V21-24. After the somber description of man living for himself, like you and I once did, the light breaks through in these verses. In this portion God tells what He has done to change man, fallen in sin, into someone who can be with Him without fear. Man turned out to be completely hopeless and useless for God. God looked for His own solution to this problem and He found it. In His solution He can declare a sinner justified [declared righteous] if that sinner believes in Jesus Christ. This is true for everyone without discrimination. Isn’t it true that “all have sinned”? Therefore all have fallen “short of the glory of God”, but God has this strong desire to have people with Him in His glory. What everybody needs then is the remission [release, forgiveness] of their sins, the evil deeds they have committed. God cannot permit any sin in His presence.
V25-26. Christ Jesus brought about and accomplished this redemption and made it available for everyone: “Christ Jesus, whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation” (or “mercy-seat”). A seat or throne reminds us of governmental authority and judgment. Justice is administered from a throne. God had to judge our sins, but the wonderful thing is that He judged our sins in His Son when He was hanging on the cross. Now the judgment-seat has become a mercy-seat to everyone who in faith accepts this salvation from God’s hands. The blood of Christ is the only way for God to forgive sins.
Hebrews 9 reads: “Without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb 9:22). God does not accept the sinner by overlooking his sins. It is only because His holy and righteous demands were satisfied that He was able to justify you. This gives you the assurance of the remission of your sins. It is not what you think of it, but it is how God sees it.
God could pass over the sins of the Old Testament saints (who had believed God) because He foresaw the work of Christ. He did not overlook their sins, but He acted righteously when He forgave them because He knew Christ would shed His blood for them. Today, the same principle holds. To us who live after the death of Christ, the work of Christ is behind us. God cannot help but justify everyone who believes because He Himself is righteous. Hasn’t the blood of Christ been shed? God knows its value and that it blots out sin.
So, God will no longer see sin within someone who has confessed that Christ shed his blood for his sins. His sins no longer exist. They are gone forever. To God, a believer is no longer a sinner, but someone who belongs to Him and with whom He desires to have a relationship. God has made you righteous. A righteous person is someone who is seen by God no longer in his former life of sin, but completely apart from his sinful life and who looks like Himself. What a change this is!
V27-28. All of our boasting is excluded; this should be clear now. Everything came from God and was brought about by Him. The only thing for you to do was to believe. It is by faith and not works that you now have redemption, the forgiveness of sins and justification.
V29-31. God is not the God of the Jews only, but He is also the God of the nations. God sees all unsaved people as sinners because everyone has sinned. It is then true that everyone can only be justified by faith. But what about the law? Is the law completely useless now? No, the law is still present and in its full power.
If we look at the law, it becomes clear we are sinners because we cannot keep the law. The law made it clear that we were sinners and powerless to redeem ourselves from the curse of the law. When we recognize this, we confirm the authority of the law. This means we were under the curse of the law, but Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by bearing the curse on the cross (Gal 3:13). In this way He has fully confirmed the authority of the law.
Now read Romans 3:21-31 again.
Reflection: What does ‘the glory of God’ mean to you?