Romans 3

romans_title

Thoughts from Passage

We are entrusted with a message just like the Jews. It is the message of justification by faith. The Israelites were a people entrusted with a message that God wanted to reconcile the world to himself. God’s desire was to make right all that sin had brought into the world and he desired to do that through a unique people, His people, the Israelites. The problem was they bought into a narrative that said everyone had to come to them and be like them. This may have been okay if they had stayed in right relationship with God, but they were like all others and followed their own desires that were counter to God’s desires. The Israelites were entrusted with a message and hoarded it for themselves.

God sent Jesus into the world to redeem it and through Him, God is making all things right. This is the message that was entrusted to the apostles and through them all the church. The Church is entrusted with sharing the message that God’s grace is for all. The Church is responsible for sharing the message that we are found not-guilty of our sin through faith in Jesus. The Church is responsible for sharing that Jesus has done the work through his death and resurrection and that work has led to the opportunity for all men, women, boys, and girls to be in right relationship with God.

If you or I call ourselves followers of Jesus, if we have been made right with God through Jesus, then we are entrusted with sharing the message that all can be justified through faith. Are we sharing with others that it is not our works, but our faith that sets us free from sin? Are we sharing that through our justification we desire to live lives of obedience through love? Are we sharing that a right relationship with God, a relationship that redeems our whole selves, a relationship that is life-giving can be found through Jesus?

Commentary

What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God.

What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar. As it is written:

“So that you may be proved right when you speak
and prevail when you judge.”

But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” Why not say—as some slanderously claim that we say—“Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is just!

Paul does here what Paul has been doing throughout this letter he continues his diatribe argument. Barrett gives a good reason why he may do this when he writes, “This may be mere literary form, but it is more probable that behind the written matter there lie real debates, though it is possible that to some extent it was Paul’s own mind that formulated objections which he proceeds to brush aside.”[1] Paul has been arguing this way pointing out how so the Jew is equally guilty with the Gentile. Now, he is sharing the reality that there is some advantage for the Jew, but it is not an advantage of being free from unrighteousness, it is an advantage of knowing God’s call for righteousness.

This first verse brings imagery to me of growing up in church and the various families that are seen in my mind’s eye. There are families who attend church out of sheer obligation or a moral responsibility or maybe even because we are “Smiths” and that is what the “Smiths” do. There are other families who participate in the life of a local church because they see a need to share in life with people and try to follow Jesus together and they believe that through the local church life is better lived.. The first type of family is usually the ones that can’t understand why their children go live life apart from faith and the church, when in reality they are not living much different than their parents. The second type of family often sees a genuine faith pass on from generation to generation.

The Jews in the first century were no different. Of course, there is advantage to being raised or being born into a family that seeks a relationship with God. Paul is making it clear that the faith of their fathers is not enough, but that it must be more than that. It is as William Barclay points out that God is fair and in his fairness he judges the sinfulness of all people equally.[2]

NT Wright lays out a great analogy as he writes on this text and he focuses on the fact that the Jews were ‘entrusted’ with a message.[3] To be entrusted with something is not to have ownership of it, but to pass it along to others. The Jews decided the message was for them and their nation, not for the whole world. But, that was not God’s intention for them and in Jesus he is making a new way. Even though Israel had been faithless God is still faithful.

Not only is Israel unfaithful, but all of mankind. The universal sinfulness of man is apparent to all, especially since the Jews have been sinful.[4] If the people entrusted with the message to be a blessing to the world then of course all are sinful.

When looking at the last three verses in this section there are all kinds of things to wonder. Paul is creating an argument that he is answering, but not all in this passage. Wright’s words here offer some value: “…it is important to think things through. We may not always be able to understand God and his ways with the world. But we must not shirk the intellectual challenge that meets us at every point. If we are to love God with our minds as well as with our heart, mind, soul and strength (Mark 12:30), it is important to follow the arguments through as far as we can – while always having the humility to recognize that we may not be able to see round the corner into the innermost secrets.[5]

In other words, it is okay to wrestle with our faith. It is okay to wrestle with what God wants to say through the Scriptures, and it is okay to have wrestled and found that we still don’t know! But in our wrestling with answers we must not forget to wrestle in light of what we do know about Jesus and from that point what we do know about Scripture and the character of God as we see His character manifested in Jesus.

What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. 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]
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]
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]

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. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

Paul is repeating over and over again to his Jewish readers that being Jewish doesn’t make one better or more righteous. It just makes them more aware of what it takes to be righteous. He is telling his Gentile readers that being non-Jewish is not a strike against them, that in God’s Kingdom your heritage can help you, but it does not define you. All the while making sure the Gentiles know they do not measure up in terms of the way they live, even though they were not under the law.[6]

Verse 18 is a verse that all who desire to be a part of God’s people would do well to be reminded of. That being if we do not fear God then we will sin. A healthy fear of God leads to a desire to not be one who is irreverent or that lacks respect for God. Each of us must turn our eyes to God, as the Psalmist writes (Ps 25:15), and seek to live a life of “prayerful dependence on God.”[7]

Paul is referencing several passages here (Psalms 14, 5, 140, 10, and 36, as well as Isaiah 59. and in each passage they represent a larger narrative in which God will still fulfill His covenant. God will rescue those who are bound in sin and evil. God will justify those whose hearts are made right and that happens through Jesus.[8]

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 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, 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 righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

“But now” is a shift in Paul’s writing. He has been writing in such a way that it seems to lack hope that what can be done to be made right with God. Paul then lets his readers know that regardless of your background that all can be made righteous and the way of righteousness comes only through Jesus!

Right relationship with God only comes through faith. This right relationship is then seen in the way that people live. Paul wants his readers to know that it takes both. Both Jew and Gentile are sinners in need of repentance and redemption and that only comes through the atoning blood of Jesus. In Jesus we see what true righteousness looks like.

Justification as Paul talks about it, matters. It is this idea that is pervasive in Paul’s writings. The idea that each of us is not justified before God, we are found guilty. Paul writes this as if it were a law case and he talks of being justified in such a way that it is as if there was never even a need for a trial. That through Jesus we are made right (righteous) in such a way that we are then justified before God. This justification can only come through the atoning work of Jesus.

This idea of justification by faith is the epitome of grace. Grace that is given not because the recipient is worthy or innocent, but for those that are guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt.

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 the works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 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.

The gist of this passage is summed up well by William Greathouse and George Lyons, “It was to show how God’s righteousness became the source of human righteousness through faith in Christ.” They go on to say that Paul is working from three assumptions as he writes here, “Righteousness is by faith alone. There is just one God. And, law and faith are not antithetical but complementary.”[9]

Jews would often boast of their following of the law or their status as God’s people. Paul is erasing the, “well I am not as bad as them. I grew up in the church.” What Paul is saying to them is heritage matters, but it is not something that saves them. In other words, for all of us there is no room for boasting about anything except that we know we can be, or are justified through faith in Jesus.

Paul is pointing out that it is not the outward appearance that matters the most (although he would say the fruit that one’s life bears matters), but it is the heart. Faith doesn’t erase the law, but it moves us to respond to God’s moral law out of obedience in love. This is the movement of understanding God as a god of rules, to a God of love. The law of rule is being replaced by the law of love.[10] There is room for response out of love to God, as there should be, but that response is obedience out of love.

It becomes important to see here that Paul writes that a person is justified apart from the law because if one could only be justified within the law it would require all to become Jews, but that isn’t what Jesus came for. The justification comes only through faith. The Law gives us God’s moral code, but it is faith in Jesus that gives entrance into God’s Kingdom and into his redeemed world.

[1] Barrett, 59.

[2] Barclay, 47.

[3] Wright, 43.

[4] Greathouse, 108.

[5] Wright, 46.

[6] Greathouse, 109.

[7] Greathouse, 114.

[8] Wright, 50.

[9] Greathouse, 130.

[10] Barclay, 58.

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