It is Thursday in our readings thru the New Testament in a year. Today, we read Romans 3:1 - 31. Make note of the questions Paul keeps asking, and the answers he keeps giving. Come back after you’ve read it and we’ll look at it again.
Is Romans 3 the most important chapter in the book of Romans? Is it the most important in the Bible? I don’t go that far in rendering what is one of the greatest chapters in all of Scripture. We’ve been in a courtroom listening to Paul make the case for the Sinfulness of humankind. The word “Depravity” is a harsh word, but Paul has made the case for it in clear ways. The Gentiles that made up the Roman world demonstrate it clearly. The Jews are not any different. Depravity doesn’t mean we’re the worst that a human can be. On a horizontal plain, we all measure up as pretty good people. Yet, the standard of measurement is not human to human, but human to God. That’s where we cannot stand in the courtroom of heaven and be anything but guilty.
Paul asks questions to close the case.
Vs 1, “What is the advantage of being a Jew?” Answer: Many advantages that include being entrusted with God’s revelation in his word (vs 2).
Vs 3, “What if some were unfaithful? Does that nullify God’s faithfulness?” In other words, if the Jews failed to deliver the necessary right ways of being godly doesn’t that show that God’s ways don’t work? Answer: Not at all. God is not the one on trial. He didn’t fail because we did (Vs 4).
Vs 5, “If our failures (unrighteousness) demonstrate more clearly God’s righteousness and he knew we were going to fail, doesn’t that make his judgment (wrath) unfair?” Answer: What the world does in response to God’s revelation and righteousness does not diminish God’s judgment as pure and true (Vs. 6).
Vs 7, Some say of Paul, “are you teaching that we might as well keep right on being sinful since it only adds to God’s truth and glory? Answer: That is foolish and untrue. It fails to understand the destructive nature of Sin upon us all (vs8).
“What then shall we conclude?” (Vs 9). Jews do not have an advantage when it comes to their Sinful nature...it is the same nature that is also in the Gentiles. It is the same Sinful nature that is in ALL human beings. Vss 10-18 are five quotes from the Scriptures to close the case. “No one is righteous...no, not one” (vs 10). There are no real seekers after God apart from the movements of God’s Spirit in Grace (vs 11). “All” means all of humanity - we too. It is the opposite of the good news, it is the Bad news of humanity’s sinful nature. It’s true of every human being. It applies to those who have the law of God (vs 19), and to those who do not have any “fear of God” (vs 18). Having the law is a privilege, but it is also a false belief that says “by obeying the law I can be right(eous) before a Holy God” (Vs 20).
Martin Luther got it right. “The principal point, therefore, of the Law in true Christian divinity is to make men not better but worse; that is to say, it shows them their sin, that, by the knowledge thereof, they may be humbled, terrified, bruised and broken, and by this means may be driven to seek comfort, and so come to that blessed Seed [that is, Christ].”
God’s purpose in giving the law is to be understood as his way of pointing out our great need. In so doing, he also points us to the remedy. Now that we know there’s no way within ourselves to get rid of our sinful nature, then what is the way?
The answer shifts decidedly in vs 21, “But now”. What is true about our human nature does not end in the land of no Hope. The very righteousness we need comes - not from obeying the law - but through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe, who put their total faith and trust in him alone (vs 22) and therefore it doesn’t make any difference whether they are Jew or Gentile - whether they are a little bit sinful or a lot sinful - for ALL fall short of God’s holy character (vs 23).
I often gave the illustration that if we took all of humanity and lined them up on the Atlantic Ocean east coast, from Maine to Florida, and then gave them all a bow and arrows, telling them that the only way to achieve God’s righteous life was to shoot that arrow to Europe. There are some whose arrow wouldn’t make it out of the bow - they would fail miserably before even shooting the arrow. There is also some good marksman with a bow, and they might get it out there beyond our sight - but it makes no difference, for ALL of them would fall short. Sin comes from the Greek word “harmatias” and means to “miss the mark”. That’s the problem - no matter how good we are, we ALL miss the mark. The only one who can take care of our Sinful nature is Jesus Christ.
What Jesus has done for us is now brought forward. It’s as if the Judge stepped out of his seat, took off his robe, and walked to the accused. He then says, “You are guilty, but I’ll pay it for you”. Vss 24-25 are two of the greatest good news verses of all Scripture. What we could not do, no matter how much we try, God has done in his Son. He began when he said,
“God’s righteousness is given...
Through Faith in Jesus Christ...
To all who believe (put their complete trust) in him.” (vs22).
Then completes it in an amazing way:
“All are justified freely by grace... (God’s gift that is unmerited, unearned)
“Through (by means of) the redemption that came by Jesus Christ” (vs 24)
How can God do that? Jesus is the perfect sacrifice that stands in our place (vs 25)! Paul says that Jesus Christ is “our sacrifice of atonement through the shedding of his blood”. In the technical theological language of the Bible, Jesus is our “propitiation”. It goes back into the Old Testament to the Day of Atonement - Yom Kippur. The High Priest took two goats. He killed one of them, taking the blood and sprinkling it on the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies. The blood “covered” the mercy seat and made satisfaction for the Sin of the people - only it was temporary, it had to be repeated each year. The High Priest laid his hands on the other goat, confessing his own Sinfulness, and the Sins of his people and the goat was then taken into the wilderness. It signified the removal of Sin - from the East to the West, he regards our sins no more. Jesus’ atoning sacrifice both covers our sin and removes our sin from us.
In this God then becomes both Just (his hatred of Sin) and Justifier (his redemption of us in our slavery) (vs 26). From beginning to end, Salvation is completely a work of God - we do not participate in the gift of grace through faith, it is all done for us. That’s why Paul says, “where is the boasting?” (Vs 27). There is none...it is “excluded”. Paul concludes with a quick response to any who would say, “well then, Israel, the law, all of that is useless”. His response, “absolutely not”. God is God of both Jew and Gentiles, and all of this is his gift to justify both through his Son. He will go on to prove that next in chapter 4.
The great thing about Romans 3 is that we’re free from trying to earn our salvation, of thinking that somehow we have to be good enough to make sure our good works outweigh our bad ones. Yet more than that, we are creatures who worship and praise our God who has done it all. It is his gift of Righteousness from Jesus that redeems us (vs 21-23). It is his gift of grace that comes from his goodness in Christ (vs 24). It is his gift of Love - a love that meant he sent his son into the world to die for our sins (vs 25). Do you see why our response is to praise Him, to give all Glory to him?
> The source of our Justification before God is His Grace shown in sending Jesus Christ, his Son.
> The ground of our Justification - being made right before God - is the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross.
> The Means of our Justification - is given to us in Faith in Jesus Christ.
Martin Luther was right - “Salvation is by Grace Alone, through Faith Alone, In Christ Alone!”