Jewish Objections (vs. 1-8)
In chapter 3, Paul answers the objections he knew that the Jews would have after reading the truths in the first two chapters of this letter. Paul himself was a Jew and therefore wanted to answer these objections in a direct and straightforward manner. In chapters 1 and 2, the Jews have been declared just as guilty as the Gentiles and Paul knew that this would naturally upset them.
Objection: What advantage does a Jew have? (vs. 1-2)
The first objection: What advantage does a Jew have, if Jews are just as guilty as the Gentiles? Paul answers: You have one very important advantage – you have the oracles of God, which is the Word of God. The Jews had the Mosaic Law, which gave them an incredible advantage over the Gentiles.
This advantage wasn't the only one, just the chief and most important one. Paul also covers other advantages in chapter 9:4-5. However, the advantage of knowing God’s Word opened the door to every other advantage and blessing God had for His people. The Word of God gave them a clear understanding of the character and nature of God. The Word of God also produced faith in their hearts. Remember, faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). The Word also gave them an understanding of His promises, which offered them His grace and forgiveness. Therefore, the Jews had a great advantage, but with that advantage came a great responsibility. This is true for all of us.
Everyone who knows Christ and His Word has been given a tremendous advantage over the rest of the people in the world. You have the truths of God concerning all things that pertain to life and godliness. This is an incredible advantage. But, there is a corresponding responsibility that goes with knowing the truth. To whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48). What is required? Obedience to what we know.
This was the topic of the previous chapter. Paul declared that the Jew is on a complete par with the Gentile, yet he still has an advantage -- yet not an unfair advantage. Remember, God is impartial in His judgment, judging the Jew according to what he knew, and what he did with what he knew. God also would judge the Gentile on the same basis. What did he do with what he knew?
Objection: Is God to blame if some don’t believe? (vs. 3-4)
But what if some of the Jews do not believe; will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God of no effect? In other words, if the Jews don’t believe, does that mean that God is not faithful; that His faithfulness has not been effective; that God has failed? Or let me say it another way. What if a Jew thinks to himself, God has given me His Word, which should produce faith in my heart, so God is to blame if I am not a believer. This is the natural tendency of the sinful nature of man, to blame someone else, especially to shift the blame to God. If man takes personal responsibility for his own sin then he will have guilt.
Paul answers this assertion with an emphatic. "No!" If anyone is to blame it is the Jew that has chosen not to believe the Word of God. All men, Jews and Gentiles alike, make their own choice to believe or not to believe. God speaks His Word and asks every man to believe and obey.
Paul then quotes King David’s assertion that God is the only one who is true and just in His dealings with man and will always come out justified when He is judged by man or when He judges (Ps. 51:4).
This is often the line of reasoning that men come up with when they have failed miserably. They want to blame God for their failures. Many say, "I wouldn't have fallen into sin if God had not allowed this to happen." Therefore, Paul uses this example from Psalm 51 because there David is admitting his own failure instead of blaming God for his sin with Bathsheba. David says, "Lord, I am the one at fault. If anyone seeks to judge You, You will overcome them. You are the Truth, and man is the liar." He acknowledged that he had lied to himself and to God; he was the one who didn't respond to the truth, which would have enabled him to keep himself from this sin. Remember, God can forgive an honest confession. He can’t forgive an excuse.
Objection: Is God unjust who inflicts wrath (vs. 5-8)
If God reveals His righteousness by judging David for his sin, then, our unrighteousness helps God to demonstrate divine righteousness. Some would reason then, isn't God unjust if He punishes me for the thing that reveals how just He is?
In verse 7 Paul continues with this same reasoning, only from another angle. Some would say, "Why am I still judged as a sinner if my actions establish God’s truth and increase His glory?" In other words, if my failing ultimately brings glory to God and reveals His righteousness, how can God turn around and judge me for my unrighteousness, if it really brought glory to Him anyway?
This is an old form of reasoning that we have all heard many times. If the end (God’s glory) is realized, then that justifies the means (my sin). But, Paul declares again, No! He makes clear that the end does not justify the means. That is what Paul is teaching here. Even though a person’s sin and unrighteousness may bring glory to God, the means will still be judged.
What if someone says, I want to bring a person to Christ so badly that I will lie to do it. I’ll tell them anything they want to hear just to get them saved. Does the end justify the means? No! But what if someone really does gets saved? How can God judge a person for lying to get that soul into the kingdom? Very easily, because God always judges sin. No matter what the result is, it is still unrighteousness.
In verse 8, Paul warns his readers that some have said that his teaching on grace was promoting sinful activity. Paul reasons, do you think that I am teaching, "Let us do evil so that good may come?" Paul again says no. Some were slanderously reporting that this was what he was teaching. They were implying that Paul was saying, sin all you like; it doesn't make any difference. Let’s do evil that good may come. Ultimately, Paul explains that those who teach this philosophy of the end justifies the means, or sin that good may come, their condemnation is just. Later on in chapter 6, Paul answers this objection even more thoroughly.
Is anyone better than anyone else? (vs. 9-20)
In verses 9-20, Paul answers another objection: A Jew might think to himself, First you declare that we are just as guilty as the Gentiles. Then you turn around and say we have an advantage because we possess the Word of God, so aren't you saying, we really are better than the Gentiles?
Paul answers this is again an emphatic no! Both Jews and Greeks are all under sin (v 9). Then Paul proceeds to quote a list of Scriptures from the Old Testament that proves the universal sinfulness and depravity of all men. By doing this Paul shows the universal need of all men. He reminds the Jews, "As it is written, there is none righteous, no not one. There is none who understands. There is none who seeks after God. They have all gone out of the way. They have together become unprofitable. There is none who does (present tense) good, not one." In the first three verses Paul quotes passages that use the word none four times and the word all once, underscoring the fact that no one is excluded from these statements.
We are all sinners. It doesn't matter if you are at the top of the pile or the bottom of the pile; you’re still in the pile! We’re all sinners, some of us are good sinners, some of us are evil sinners, but we’re all still sinners.
If anybody is still not convinced of this, you should commit to memory verses 10-12. When someone says, "I’m a good guy, I’m ok, I’m not too bad," God’s answer is: There is none righteous, no not one! Not one of us could claim that we are righteous or we have some inherent goodness.
He teaches in verse 11,"There is none who understands." This is God’s answer to every philosophy of man that has tried to understand Him. There are a multitude of philosophies but God says none of them understand Me. For us to know Him, He had to reveal Himself to us (Eph. 1:9).
In Paul’s next quote he proves that no one has even sought God. "There is none that seeks after God" (v 12). Now this verse might bother some of you a bit because you might think to yourself, I was seeking the Lord and finally I found him. Not so! No one seeks after God. You may think, What was I seeking then? You were seeking relief from your misery, from the hell you were experiencing in your life. But, what about all those who have sought the truth in the other religions of the world? They appeared to be seeking God. Again, no! They are seeking to justify themselves from guilt through good works. Every religious system other than Christianity is just man trying to be good enough for God. If you study them closely, that is the end result of each one of them. That is far different from seeking a holy God. No sinner in his right mind seeks a holy God. Do you know why? Because man is a sinner, and wants to hide from a holy God as Adam and Eve did in the garden (Gen. 3:8). God is the only One who is seeking sinful men (Gen. 3:9). He sent His Son to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). He is the One who seeks men to worship Him (John 4:23)!
If this idea gets you angry and you think to yourself, I believe I was seeking God, then you don’t see your total depravity before God. You must understand that there is nothing in you that sought God, nothing in you that is good, and no reason other than His grace that has saved you.
Paul continues, "They have all gone out of the way, they have together become unprofitable" (vs. 12). This word unprofitable means "spoiled or rotten fruit." What good is rotten fruit? What do you do with rotten fruit? You get rid of it, because it’s worthless. This is the state of the natural man.
From verses 13-16 Paul continues to use Scripture as his proof that men practice deceit, their hearts of full of bitterness, they bring misery to others because they have not known the way of peace nor is there any fear of God. If men did fear God they would change and turn from their sinful ways (Ps. 55:19) (Prov. 8:13).
Why Did God Give the Law?
In verses 19-20 Paul concludes: "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth will be stopped, and all the world will become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law, no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin." Why did God give the Law? Was the Law given to make a person feel self-righteous? Was it given so he could say, "I have not put up idols up in my house, I've never killed anybody, and never committed adultery, never stole anything? I am a good guy." Here are four simple reasons God gave the Law:
1.To reveal the knowledge of sin (v 20). The Law was not given to make a man feel self-righteous; it was given to make him see his failure to keep it.
2.The Law was given to reveal that a man was guilty, because he had violated it (v 19). When the Law revealed man’s sin and his failure it brought an immediate sense of guilt (Gal. 3:10-12).
3.The Law was given to show man that he couldn't be justified by it. Obviously, if you can’t keep the Law and all you sense is your guilt, then you should never think that you could ever be justified by trying to keep it. Paul acknowledges in Galatians 6:13, "not even those who are circumcised keep the Law."
4.The Law was given so that all men might see their need of a Savior. Therefore, if no man can keep the Law and all you experience is failure and guilt, then a person would have to see his need for someone to save him. This is the purpose of the first three chapters of this epistle right up to the end of verse 20. Paul was attempting to explain to the Jew and the Gentile their need a Savior and their total inability to save themselves by good works or obedience to the Law (Gal.3:22) (Gal. 3:24).
Each of us should come to the same conclusion, "Lord I’m guilty. I've broken your Law. I can’t keep your Law. I need a Savior!" Paul now proceeds to tell the Romans how they can be saved.
How can a man be saved?
In verse 21, the whole epistle changes direction. In the first three chapters Paul has revealed the reasons for God’s wrath (remember chapter 1:18). Now he begins to reveal how the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith (see chapter 1:17).
Salvation is revealed through the gospel message of Christ. This gospel is a revelation of the righteousness of God. This revelation relates to several things. First, the gospel is a revelation of God’s righteous character. Second, the gospel reveals the righteous work God has done through His Son, righteously punishing sin that He might be just and the Justifier of those who believe in Christ. Third, the gospel reveals the righteousness that God gives to all who will believe. This is the righteous standing every believer possesses in Christ. This righteousness comes apart from the Law and any attempt to keep the Law. However, this righteousness that comes by faith was witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.
Witnessed by the Law and the Prophets
This righteousness that God gives to the man who believes, has been witnessed by the Law and the prophets. Paul makes this point so that no one will think that the ideas he is about to teach are anything but what is revealed throughout Scripture.
God’s plan to save men by faith was witnessed by the Old Testament sacrificial system given in the Law. Many times people say, "What was the purpose of all those animals being sacrificed and that blood being sprinkled on the altar?" These revealed that someone had to be punished for sin, and that God would accept a substitute for a person’s sin. A life had to be sacrificed to pay the penalty of death, because the wages of sin is death (Gen. 2:16-17) (Rom. 6:23). But, most importantly, a person had to believe what God commanded concerning offering a sacrifice and have faith that his sin was covered by the sacrifice. Jesus was that substitute, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
This righteousness that comes by faith was also witnessed by the prophets. All through the Old Testament the prophets witnessed concerning the Messiah who was to come, to die, and to rise again (Dan. 9:25-26) (Ps. 16:9-10). These prophets taught that if anyone would believe on the coming one they would never have to act hastily (Is. 28:16). Habakkuk exhorted that if a man wanted to be just before God, then he had to live by faith (Hab. 2:5). Jeremiah similarly taught that a blessing would be on the man who trusted in the Lord (Jer. 17:7). Nahum encouraged that the Lord was a stronghold in the day of trouble and that God knows those who put their trust in Him (Nahum 1:7). God has witnessed all through His Word that men must trust in Him to experience His blessings, power, and salvation.
How does this Plan Work?
How does this plan work? First, through the sacrifice of Christ. Notice that verse 24 declares that we are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ. The plan of salvation is in Him, faith in Him, in what He has done. God set forth Jesus to be the propitiation for our sin. What does this word propitiation mean? It means a sacrifice that satisfies or atones. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross satisfied the justice of God, and it atoned for your sin and mine.
He is Our Mercy Seat
The word propitiation also means "mercy seat." What and where was the mercy seat? The mercy seat was the lid over the Ark of the Covenant, a 2x3 foot box that was overlaid with gold and sat in the Holy of Holies within the temple. This lid or mercy seat covered what was inside the box, the Law of God. Above this ark were two angels facing each other with wings covering their face. Hovering over the mercy seat was the Shekinah glory of God or the visible presence of God. The high priest came into the Holy of Holies once a year with the blood of a sacrificial goat, and he sprinkled this blood on the mercy seat, which separated a holy God from a broken law. This mercy seat is right where the blood was applied.
Paul declares that Jesus is this propitiation or mercy seat. Jesus is the only One who separates a broken Law from a holy God. He is not only the mercy seat but the blood that was applied for atonement. Scripture declares that Jesus was also the high priest who entered once and for all to put away sin (Heb. 9:11-12; 26). Incredible! The mercy seat was the only place of meeting between man and God. The mercy seat was the only place where the blood could be applied for man to have any fellowship with God. Similarly, Jesus is the only place where man can have fellowship with God. Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no man comes to the Father but by Me" (John 14:6).
By grace alone (vs. 24)
The plan of salvation is by grace alone. There is no work, no effort, no goodness that you can bring to satisfy God’s justice. You are justified freely literally means "without cost, or for nothing." There is no price that you can pay for your salvation. You have nothing to bargain with.
Sometimes we try to bargain with God. We say, "Lord, I've done all these things, so why are you blessing that person more than you are blessing me?" We come with something in our hand to bargain with, to try to obligate God. You can’t come with anything, you don’t have anything to come with. You’re a guilty sinner. If there is anything good that is going on in your life, it is caused by His grace. Don’t try to bargain with God. Don’t try to bring something to Him to pressure Him to do what you want.
You have to come to Him and say, "Lord, I have nothing to bring to You. I need grace and more of it." And to that heart, God says, "Grace abundant will be given!" That person will go away from Him justified. Remember the parable of the publican and the sinner? One justified himself, the other said, "God be merciful to me a sinner," Jesus said that man went down justified (Luke 18:9-14). With which attitude do you approach God? The only way to receive the grace you need is to come confessing your need.
To all who believe (vs. 22)
This awesome salvation is for all who believe. Jesus once said to the woman He forgave, "Thy faith hath saved thee" (Luke 7:50). She had nothing to give or offer to Jesus, yet by faith she came and sought His forgiveness, and she received it. But, faith in what?
Faith in His blood (vs. 25)
We need to have faith in His blood as our propitiation. The word propitiation means that which satisfies His righteousness. I can’t come with faith in the fact that I have been baptized, faith that I have been a faithful member of my church, or that I’m not such a bad guy. These things promote self-righteousness. I must come with faith in one thing, His shed blood. Why must I do this?
Acknowledging that you have sinned (vs. 23)
Confession of sin is what a person does when they understand that Christ died for all men. We must believe that Christ has died for all of our past sins and all of the sins we will commit. When Paul teaches that we have all sinned, he is referring to our past sin. However, when he declares that we fall short of the glory of God, these words are in the present tense in the Greek, which mean that we are all continually falling short because of our sin. All have sinned in the past, and we are all presently continually falling short of the mark.
Understanding your incredible need before God, it should cause you to cry out, "Lord, I need grace applied to my life every single day, because I am continually falling short." No one who truly sees themselves in the light of God’s Word should ever become self-righteous. If we do, it only means that we have deceived ourselves.
This entire plan of salvation that Paul has just laid out here in these verses reveals so clearly that God is just and the justifier of all who will believe. God is just because He has judged and punished the sin of all men and kept His own Word. However, He is also our justifier because He chose to judge His Son and not condemn us. No one can ever rightly charge God with being unfair with men. What love!
Paul’s preliminary conclusions (vs. 27, 28)
Paul now stops to make three preliminary conclusions. Let’s consider them:
1. If men are justified by faith then all boasting is excluded (vs. 27-28). Faith is trusting what God has done, therefore, my boast should be in His work alone. Remember, there is nothing in the past, present, or future, which can ever justify me before God (Eph. 2:8,9) (Gal. 6:14).
2. The one God has one method of justifying both the Jew and the Gentile. This is simply logical. We have one God. All people are the same having the same need. We have all sinned. We will all sin in the future. Therefore, He sent one sacrifice to put away sin forever.
3. This plan of salvation does not make void the Law of God, it actually establishes it. Jesus established the Law by fulfilling the requirements of the Law. He lived a righteous life all of the days of His ministry and then He paid the penalty for all those who lived unrighteously (Matt. 5:17).
My prayer for you that have just read this study is that you will quit trying to be good enough to earn the grace of God. Quit trying to deserve what God has given freely. All you should do is surrender and declare, "I’ll receive it, Lord." Just receive His glorious grace for whatever your need is, and then thank Him for it!
This study was written by Pastor Steve Carr. If we can be of any further assistance please contact us at