Updated: Jul 2, 2021
Romans 3:9-31 a short commentary
Last time in Chapter 2 and the first 8 verses of Chapter 3 we saw firstly that the wrath of God was also coming upon the unrighteous Jews. These Jews thought that simply because of their race and the fact that they were the chosen people and were taught the Mosaic Law then because of these things then they were in right standing with God. They completely missed the point that they also had to obey God laws not just read them or listen to them. They were certainly in no position to look down on the pagan Gentiles. Paul then described two very large groups of mankind, one group who were faithful people and enjoy the approval of God. The other group was the disobedient people who prefer the praise of men. Paul reminded everyone that God will repay every human being according to the deeds done which reminds us as believers we are accountable to God. It is not the external things that make one a true Jew but rather it is those who have had an ‘internal’ circumcision of the heart that makes it sensitive to God. Paul continued that it was still a privilege to be born a Jew naturally speaking and even if some were unfaithful to God (both then and now). However God Himself always remains faithful to His covenant promises to Israel. Finally someone asked if our sin shows the glory of God more clearly then should not we sin all the more?.. Perish the thought.
The doom and gloom of Chapter 3 continues until verse 20 when the glorious light comes flooding in.
No One Is Righteous
3:9 What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin.
Whether we are from a privileged Jewish background or a Gentile background there is nothing to choose between our natures since we are all under the power of sin i.e. we are sinners. Surely not you say, well here is the evidence that all men are unrighteous and deserving the wrath of God;
Welcome to human nature class 101
Man’s nature;. This is what human beings are really like naturally speaking. Paul quotes from numerous psalms, the prophets and even the writings
10 As it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”[b]
Here is another cascade of evil (like those 21 evils in Chapter 1. This is what God thinks about the nature of man. Sin amongst men is universal and ubiquitous and there are no exceptions. No man is even really trying to search for God and His ways but we prefer to turn away in a different direction. No one understands , no one is even capable of doing good as God defines it. Paul continues and shows what he means by mankind being under the power of sin; 13 “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.”[c] “The poison of vipers is on their lips.”[d] 14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”[e]
Man’s organs of speech; the human throat is like a grave swallowing people alive in anger and spitefulness. The tongue is often used to lie and deceive or even to flatter for gain. The lips emit smooth speech but the deadly poison is behind them in the tongue. Our mouths are used to curse and abuse our fellow men and even commit perjury against them. 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 ruin and misery mark their ways, 17 and the way of peace they do not know.”[f] 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”[g]
Man’s actions; men are prone to commit life threatening violence. They usually choose to live ruined and miserable lives. The concept of living in peace they neither know nor indeed want to know. They neither recognise nor acknowledge their Creator. If the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord then the large major since they have no fear of God lack any wisdom for living. (examples of what human nature is really like from Lord of the flies by W Golding and a story about the ordinariness of Adolf Eichman).
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
The law of God (probably meaning the whole OT in this case) will expose all that is wrong in the fallen human nature, the hard hearts and sinfulness and when the charges are read out against fallen mankind no one will be able to answer even one word in their defence. All men will keep silent before the Judge of all the earth. At this stage it is clear that mankind is absolutely doomed unless there is divine intervention there is no hope!
Righteousness Through Faith (Here is the Good News)
21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.
Suddenly a brilliant white light is turned on dispelling the darkness, doom and gloom. It is the light of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. This glorious gospel message is the very one and the same as that the all the prophets of old foretold and that all the scriptures point towards. The fullness of time has indeed arrived in which God promised to bring a ‘new’ way of salvation through His messiah Jesus Christ. This ‘new’ way of salvation is a wonderful way to be in right standing with God through belief in Jesus Christ and is not based on keeping the laws (which nobody ever managed). Truly the light has shone in the darkness and the darkness could not comprehend it.
22 This righteousness is given through faith in [h] Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Paul returns to his major theme of the letter, we are brought into right standing with God through faith in Jesus Christ and it is the same for all of fallen mankind whatever the ethnic background. We all miss the target.
24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, [i] through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
All who believe in Jesus Christ receive the free gift of being made righteous before God through the sacrifice of Jesus’ life blood. This blood when we receive it turns away the wrath of God (propitiation) from us. The life is in the blood and Jesus’ life was poured out with His blood for you and for me. When we believe then God imputes our guilt to Jesus Christ and declares us to be righteous and all our sins are washed away in the holy, sinless blood of the Lamb of God. God has always shown tremendous long suffering with sinful man and held back His righteous judgement as long as possible to give fallen man time to repent and believe in Jesus Christ.
27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the “law” that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from observing the law. 29 Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
There are no bragging rights here for any man or woman. This is the passage where Martin Luther inserted faith ‘alone’ in his translation. Although the word ‘alone’ is not in the text we can see where he was coming from. So if salvation is all about faith does that mean that the OT testament laws have been made redundant? Whatever our background there is but One Lord and access to Him by one faith which brings tremendous unity to the churches. Paul stresses that believers should uphold the law (OT scriptures) to make it clear that although our justification is by faith this does not mean we have a license to sin and break God’s commandments.
b Romans 3:12 Psalms 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Eccles. 7:20
c Romans 3:13 Psalm 5:9
d Romans 3:13 Psalm 140:3
e Romans 3:14 Psalm 10:7 (see Septuagint)
f Romans 3:17 Isaiah 59:7,8
g Romans 3:18 Psalm 36:1
h Romans 3:22 Or through the faithfulness of
i Romans 3:25 The Greek for sacrifice of atonement refers to the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant (see Lev. 16:15- 16).