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Romans 3

August 21st, 2011 by Vic

August 21, 2011

Romans 3

“All have sinned”

 

This is not an easy chapter to understand.  Paul is excited about the great grace and mercy of God and his thoughts race as he tries to describe the majesty that He has experienced.  His vocabulary and logic used in this chapter is a reminder of Paul’s scholarly education.  One commentary I read had a dialogue that I thought was helpful to paraphrase Paul’s thoughts.  Paul is presenting his argument to an imaginary critic.

 

JEW ‑  Paul.  You say my good works can’t save me.  You say my respectable family name does not impress God.  You say there is no difference between me and all the sinners.  You mean as a Jew I am not special to God?  I was raised in a godly home.  I was trained in the synagogue.  Aren’t Jews the children of God?

 

PAUL ‑ Yes and no.  There is an advantage of being a Jew, but not what you think.  You received the oracles of God first but you didn’t understand the love relationship that God was trying to tell you.

 

JEW ‑ What do you mean?  We read the commands of God daily.  We memorize the commands of God.  We teach them to our children.

 

PAUL ‑ Yes but most of us Jews did not understand that salvation was by a law of faith in God and not a law of works for God.  We put our faith in our faithfulness to the law or our works of faith and not in God’s faithfulness.

JEW – God must not be a very just judge.  If we didn’t please God, why didn’t He just annihilate us and start all over with someone else?  God has blessed our nation so we must be pleasing Him.  God would not bless the unfaithful would He?  God can’t love a sinner and still be a just judge, can He?

 

PAUL – God blessed you so you would know He loved you and so you would have a desire to obey Him.  By His remaining faithful to the unfaithful, God shows His faithfulness even when we do not deserve it.  The righteousness of God is being revealed by His faithfulness.  Your sin has not changed God or His plan for your life.

 

JEW – If God is faithful whether I’m good or bad, why be good?

 

PAUL – God created a moral universe.  Moral laws give meaning to life.  If there was no instruction manual, your life would have no meaning.

 

JEW – It sounds like my sin has given God the opportunity to demonstrate His grace and mercy.  Why call me a sinner for helping God?  My sin is an excellent thing!  It has given God a chance to show how good He is by showing me mercy.  I may have done evil, but good has come of it.  Isn’t God being unjust for punishing me for helping Him?

 

PAUL – That is satan’s kind of destructive logic.  God forbid such a distortion.  God will be true even though all else is false.  God’s righteousness is neither dependent on nor destroyed by your unfaithfulness.

 

JEW – So we Jews are a special people?  We were entrusted with the laws of God.  And also God does not punish us as we deserve.  Doesn’t that tell you we are special to God and better than everyone else?

 

PAUL ‑ Not at all.  God has been faithful to you and everyone else too.  You have no special blessing or exemption.  All human beings have inherited Adam’s sin.  Every sinner is ruled by the power of sin.  And Jesus died for us all so we can be forgiven of our sin and have fellowship with God.

 

3:1-10  In verse 2 Paul says the major advantage the Jews have over other nations is they were entrusted with the oracles (‘words’ in NIV) of God.  The word ‘oracles’ is unusual.  (Acts 7:38; Heb 5:12; 1 Pet 4:11)  An oracle logion to the Jew would be Scriptures, words of the prophets, law of Moses, or promises.  An oracle for the Greek and Harry Potter was a writing or saying from the past, often mysterious and puzzling in character, awaiting some key to unlock its meaning.  The Jews were given the responsibility to safeguard and preserve the oracles of God until the coming of the Key, that is, the gospel of Jesus the Messiah.

 

Note how much is inferred of God.  Verse 2 mentioned the oracles of God, verse 3 the faithfulness of God, verse 5 the righteousness of God, and verse 7 the truth of God.  What does that tell you about God?

 

Paul quotes some Scriptures that emphasize that there is no special group of people with special privileges.  No church is the only church.  No group is the only group.  All have sinned and all must come to God by faith in Jesus only.

 

3:10 There is no special group that is more righteous than any other group.  If we are all sinners, what can we humans offer as a defense for our sin?  The answer in verse 19 says ‘nothing’.  Being part of a religious group does not make us righteous or give us a special place with God.

 

3:11 Natural man cannot grasp or comprehend God.  No one can understand God unless God reveals Himself.

 

3:12 They have all turned off the way and become worthless.  They deviated after leaning away and became like sour milk that has become useless.  They are morally gone bad and can no longer function as they were designed to function.

 

3:13 They have bad breath caused by sin between their teeth.  Their mouth is like a grave that remains open.  Their tongues continually deceive.  They have a poison sack under their tongue that can kill with words.

 

3:14  Their words never bring comfort or complement.  They leave a wake of destruction and misery.

 

3:15  They go out of their way to hurt others.

 

3:16 They are not a blessing or benefit to anyone.  People are relieved when they stop talking and leave.

 

3:17-18  They do not know what it is like to be a peacemaker.  They do not honor God or give Him thanks.

 

3:19 “We all know for sure” what is common knowledge.  So what does the law say to those “within (in the sphere of) the jurisdiction of law” (not ‘under’ as NIV)?  It says, “Guilty!”  None is righteous.  The law says we are all under judgment and liable to pay a penalty to God.  The law only makes us aware of our sin.  The law shows man within the law his inability to keep the law.  The law has left every man without excuse.  All men are accused by the law and cannot refute the charges.  We all break the law and owe the Lawgiver a fine or penalty for our sin.  Our debt is accountable to God.  Only God can justify our sin and write paid in full.  Jews are in the same courtroom and have the same Judge as Gentiles.

 

If the Jew cannot make a plea for special consideration, who can?  We are slaves to sin with no hope or resources for redemption.  We have no means of paying our debt and buying our freedom.  No self diagnosis or self medication will free us from the penalty of sin.

 

3:20  Having the law will not justify you.  So what’s the advantage of going to church?  We hear the word of God explained.   We admonish one another.  We encourage one another.  We are made aware of our sin, but only repentance and faith in Jesus can free us from the power of sin.

 

3:21  “Do this and live, the law commands, but gives me neither feet nor hands.  A better word the gospel brings.  It bids me fly and gives me wings.”   We have nothing within ourselves that can free us from the power of sin.  We’ve tried self-help, self-discipline, self-medication and nothing changed.

 

But now the righteousness of God has been revealed (made visible) and remains revealed apart from the law.  We did not discover it.  There is a power outside ourselves that God has revealed to free us.  There’s power in the blood.  Paul said the gospel is the power of God to set us free.  In Jesus Christ the righteousness of God has been made clear.  The law and the prophets had pointed to this.

 

Listen closely.  Each word that Paul uses is important.  He is describing in a nutshell the gospel.  This will be expanded in later chapters, but here you are introduced to the major themes of this whole letter.

 

Manifested means made visible, made clear or revealed.  The perfect tense of the verb emphasizes the fact that a decisive act has already taken place and it remains manifested and is still seen now.  That decisive act was the death and resurrection of Jesus.  We did not find Jesus.  He was revealed to us.

 

The word for witnessed is a present passive participle, which means the witness is continuing to manifest God’s righteousness.  The Law and the prophets were not nullified or cancelled by the resurrection.  The law and the prophets are still witnessing to the fact of Jesus death and resurrection and God’s righteousness.  There is continuity between the Old and New Testaments.

 

3:22  Social functions of the law like church attendance should point us to the righteousness of God, but faith in Christ justifies us.  Faith is man’s proper response to the faithfulness of God.

 

3:23  For all have sinned in the past and as a result are missing out on the glory intended for them by God.  Adam sinned and was deprived of God’s glory.  There was a glory lost in Adam and there is a glory lost each time we sin today.

 

The phrase, ‘to fall short’ is a present tense which means all are currently lacking or are still falling short or are missing out on the glory of God that was intended for them.  There is a continuing consequence for past sins.  Every sin makes you less than God intended you to be.

 

3:24  The ‘all’ who believe in verse 22 find salvation.  The ‘all’ who sin in verse 23, keep falling short of God’s plan for their lives.  Now that same ‘all’ can be justified as a gift.  You receive forgiveness as a gift and God sees you as if you had never sinned.  Your debt has been stamped “justified” or “paid in full”.

 

Justified freely means we have been declared righteous.  The emptiness inside me has been filled with God’s righteousness.  The bent away from God is now bent back toward God.  I want to please Him.

 

God justified us by grace.  He was eager to act on my behalf.  He did not shout and say, work a little harder.  He came to me.  He sees my heart and forgives my sin.  He has an eager love for me.

 

How did God make the gift available?  Through the death and resurrection of Jesus for our sins.  Like ransoming a captive or prisoner of war from prison, Jesus paid for our release from sin.  The gift came through redemption.  The redeeming price was His blood on God’s mercy seat.

 

Paul gives 3 ways of looking at our salvation.  In verse 24 we are redeemed (bought) through Jesus.  Now in verse 25 we are atoned (had a substitute) through Jesus.  Then in verse 26 we have faith (chose to believe) in Jesus.  These are different ways of looking at the same salvation event.

 

3:25  “Whom God set forth as an expiation (cleansing substitution) or atonement through faith in his blood.”  The word for expiation or propitiation is used 21 times in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers for the golden lid of the Ark, the mercy seat, the place of expiation.  It is that which provides mercy between the Law written on 2 stone tablets and God.  Jesus is now God’s mercy expressed on our behalf.

 

In the OT, the Ark contained the commandments of God.  Between the 2 stone tablets and the ceiling of the temple was the lid or mercy seat.  God said He would live in the Temple.  Once every year atonement was made for the sin of a nation by sprinkling blood on the lid or the mercy seat and sending a scape goat into the wilderness symbolically with the sins of the people.  When the sacrificial blood was sprinkled, the ark ceased to be a place of judgment and became a place of mercy.  The blood came between the law and the people.  Sin was atoned.  It was God who gave Moses the pattern.  It is God’s plan.  But the Day of Atonement was not God’s final answer.

 

Jesus is both the mercy seat and the blood on the mercy seat.  Christ also fulfilled the meaning of the scapegoat for all who will believe.  Christ’s death was effective in dealing with human sins because He represented the sinners and by His death He destroyed their sins and the power of sin.  In Christ, all who believe share in His death and hope because of His resurrection.  The law only binds us while we are alive.  By dying to our selfishness we become free in Christ.  Christ was God’s final answer.

 

Verse 25 means that sin was paid for.  God withheld His wrath on the law-beakers in the OT because He saw the cross.  2:16 said that God judges all men through Jesus Christ.  It makes no difference with God whether He saves sinners before or after the historical event of the cross.  The cross is an eternal fact in the reckoning of God.

 

We are saved by faith in His sacrifice not by faith in our works or faithfulness to the rituals of the law.

 

3:26  The cross has come and proved that God was just and righteous in His forbearance.  He passed over the sins previously committed to demonstrate His righteousness at this present time, that He might be just and the justifier of all who have faith in Jesus.  Faith in Jesus is your part of salvation.  Jesus also died for all in the Old Testament who had faith in God’s plan.

 

You do not have to be a slave of your desires.  You do not have to be a slave of man’s expectations.  If you obey the Truth, the Truth will set you free to be what you were created to be.

 

3:27  Faith is central to all.  Faith is the basis of doing the law properly.  We do not make the law invalid through faith.  The law was always intended to be the law of faith for both Jew and Gentile.  We establish the law through faith.  Paul’s antithesis is not between faith and the law, but the law of faith vs. the law of works (works of the law).

 

Where then is boasting?  It has been made impossible by God.  When the law is seen in terms of faith and not works, then boasting is eliminated.  The law properly understood is fulfilled by faith.

 

3:29 If God is the Creator of all and He is One, then He must be the God of all.  If He is the God of all then the possession of the Law must not be a requirement to please Him because only the Jews received the Law.  But all have received grace in Jesus.

 

3:31 Then is the law destroyed?  (nullified is the same word as in 6:6)  It was never intended to be used as an identity marker for the Jew.  The work of the law was intended to help mankind believe in God’s plan.  The work of God in the NT is to believe that Jesus is His Son, the fulfillment of God’s plan (John 6).

 

Faith is our responsive dependence on God.  Does this mean we should not go to church, read our Bible, or pray?  No, but it may require you to change your perspective, your way of thinking and the thoughts you choose to think about.

 

The law said there is no one who is righteous.  All have sinned and come short of God’s glory.  God provided an atonement to restore our relationship with Him.  Christ died and shed His blood on the mercy seat for our sins so we could again enjoy God’s glory (holiness of heart).  What are you going to do about it?

 

In the past you did not know that God loved you.  You were helpless and hopeless.  You did not have the resources within you to free yourself from the power of sin.  You were trying to appease God and win His approval.  Some people have trouble understanding God because they have never had anyone love them unconditionally like God does.  They have always tried to win their parents approval and they assumed God was like their parents.  God loves you just as you are.  And just as you are you can come to Him.  He will forgive your sins and restore the glory to your life that Adam lost.

 

There is a freedom in Christ that we have only begun to understand.  There is a freedom that restores the childlike spirit inside you.  Jesus came to make all things new.  Enjoy every day as a child of God.

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