God is Always Just
At the beginning of chapter three, therefore, Paul anticipates a series of objections to what he had just said, which we will sum up in this way, “Paul, if that’s true, then what was the point of all the circumcisions and adherence to the oracles of God? Doesn’t this mean that since God’s people (the Jews) have failed and completely missed the point that God has failed to make His own point? How can He judge them therefore? Does their faithlessness nullify God’s promise to them?”
Paul’s answer is of course, “Not at all!”. Paul picks up on this key point in Romans 9, but for now, he wants to make sure he finishes his indictment of the entire world, Jew or Gentile, of sinfulness and condemnation before God. Paul quotes Psalm 51:4 in order to say very quickly that they had failed, God had not. It was the Jews who failed to comprehend what God intended, especially when the Incarnation came riding into Jerusalem on a colt.
Before he continues his preaching condemnation of the world, I want to make sure I don’t leave out one last objection (which is the same as the summary of the objections, but I want to hint on it anyway). In verse 7, the objection is, “But Paul, if the Jews had not sinned, and the Gentiles had not sinned, would not the gospel have come to be? Wasn’t it good then that Pilate and the Gentiles and the Jews killed Jesus?” This again, is something Paul will pick up on later in Romans 9, but let’s make sure we don’t forget it.
No One is Righteous
The major point we want to understand here is firstly that Paul is including all humanity in everything he is about to say. Secondly, he cites Scripture to make his case. Thirdly, the point here is two-fold: It’s to deliver the bad news so that he can now introduce the wonderful news. Finally, one of Paul’s great concerns was a unified church. The Judiazers were attempting to force Gentiles into certain rules and codes before they could be Christians; they wanted the Gentiles to abandon Gentile customs that truly did no harm to anyone, only the self-righteousness of the Jews.
His fear was a split church, and the solution was in the gospel. He understood what the gospel message was, and it was not a set of rules and codes to follow, but rather the Man, Christ Jesus. All mankind is subject to him, and therefore, the Jew is in no place to tell the Gentile what and what not to do; we all stand in equal need of a Savior.
Now Paul brings his point home after having set it up and defended it against a barrage of objections. The whole world is guilty of sin; there are none with an excuse before God. All stand equally in depraved states of corruption, dead souls that infect God’s creation with their “death-breathing” mouths and bodies, and will all equally face the judgment of God. But does this mean that we are all going to perish? Does this mean we are doomed? That’s when the good news is finally made known.
Salvation by Faith in Christ
Unless you hear the bad news, you will never understand the good news. So many “Christian” churches today simple never tell people what Jesus saves them from. It’s not to say that Christians cannot and do not go their lives without fully understanding the extent of salvation, but because of the shallow-level motivational fluff we call “evangelism” today, so few people actually know what the gospel is. If you were offended by what I just said above, take it up with Paul. He is the one who quoted “their throats are an open grave” about you, as well as about me. He just said you speak death all the days of your life! And that was from God-breathed Scripture, so really, it was God who said that to you!
But as we have said, you must know how godless and depraved you are before you will begin gasping and pleading for life, as a man searches desperately in a barren desert for even a few drops of water. You never value water until you cannot have it as a luxury, such as I have it sitting next to me as I write this; freely able to refill it at a source of clean water, and not having to worry about running out for quite some time. The beauty and treasure of life and salvation are never truly beautiful to us until we know how desperate we really are. The reason this tragic reality is, is because we are wretched, vile sinners by birth–and our hearts are factories of idols.
So how can we be saved if there is literally nothing we can do? No works of mine get me into heaven. The law does not help me, it only condemns me (we will see this later). Beginning in verse 21, Paul says that salvation is found only in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “The righteousness of God is manifested”, meaning that the righteousness that we need to stand before a holy God justified is found in a person, not in my actions. “The Law and the Prophets bear witness to it”, meaning that while this is a new revelation, this was not a complete surprise; the entire Scripture bore witness for centuries that this day would come, when God would vindicate His name, and save His people, and once again, it is found in a person–Jesus Christ. How is it attained? By faith in him.
Because all are equally under the judgment of God–Jew or not, and that circumcision doesn’t save you, this means that we are also justified equally in the same way, by faith in the work of Christ on our behalf. “Propitiation” means that Christ has been put forth as the sacrifice for sins. The picture is that of the blood of the slain animal for the sins of the people sprinkled on the ark. The blood of the eternal Christ eternally propitiates for sins, and this propitiation is something we receive only by faith. My sins are forgiven when I trust in Christ, not before (verse 25).
As a result, what then do we have to boast about? Nothing, of course. I didn’t save myself. I offered on behalf of myself and my family (as the law prescribed) no lamb. The offering was of the High Priest, Christ, to God on behalf of those that receive the offering by faith. Two things happen in this transaction:
- My sins have been entirely atoned for by the work of Christ. Past, present and future.
- The righteousness of Christ becomes mine to stand before God with, not my own.
The final point of chapter three is Paul again making sure his hearers do not misunderstand what he is saying. In verse 28, Paul declares that one is justified not by works, but by faith in Christ. The question comes, then why the law? If I’m not accountable to the law since I’m in Christ, that means the law has been completely nullified. Paul says, not so. Instead, he claims that his gospel upholds the law, and he is right. It’s the fact that Paul interprets the law consistently that he can say what he has said here, that no one keeps the law. If anyone thinks he is able to work his way back to God, he has not truly respected God’s holy law.
This is the same thing Martin Luther found himself in in the sixteenth century. Luther was a student of law, and it was the fact that he held the law in such high regard that he saw God’s law as absolute and supreme, and realized he could not satisfy God’s wrath on his behalf. Luther later said, “If anyone was going to be saved by monkery it was me”. He didn’t mean to boast that he was an excellent monk, but rather just as with Paul when Paul said in Phillippians that he was a Jew of Jews, none of it made a difference; so too Luther knew that all his self-induced punishment did nothing for his soul. It was only when he realized that God had given to him the righteousness he needed, to last a lifetime and more, that Luther’s soul was put at peace with God’s wrath.