Study On The Book Of Romans If you would like to comment on one of the lessons simply click on the title of the lesson and you will be take to the lesson page where you will find a comment section at the bottom.
*The material for these studies is from Jon Courson’s Commentary by Thomas Nelson Inc., R. Kent Hughes Preaching the Word series by Crossway, and Warren W. Wiersbe’s Commentary by Chariot Victor Publishing, and from James Montgomery Boice’s Expositional Commentary published by Baker Books, and from The Message of Romans, John R. W. Stott published by Inter Varsity Press, unless otherwise noted.
It’s time to talk about faith. Wonderful as the salvation that has been accomplished by Jesus Christ may be, it is of no use to us unless it becomes ours personally – and the way the work of Christ becomes ours personally is through faith. That is why the Bible says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God…” (Heb. 11:6) and why the apostle Paul speaks of faith so often in the section of Romans we are now studying – eight times in verses 21 through 31.
What exactly is faith? Of the writers on faith, John Calvin perhaps had the strongest point of view, for he found it necessary to oppose a very serious error about faith that had developed in the teaching of the medieval church. In the years before the Reformation the church had been derelict in teaching the Scriptures to the people. Consequently, most people were ignorant of the true gospel of salvation, and most clergy were ignorant of it also. Calvin argued that “the object of faith is Christ” and that “faith rests upon knowledge, not upon pious ignorance.” Calvin wrote, “We do not obtain salvation either because we are prepared to embrace as true whatever the church has prescribed, or because we turn over to it the task of inquiring and knowing. But we do so when we know that God is our merciful Father, because of reconciliation effected through Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-19), and that Christ has been given to us as righteousness, sanctification and life. By this knowledge, I say, not by submission of our feeling, do we obtain entry into the Kingdom of Heaven.” This ancient debate has bearing upon the “faith” of many persons today, for although many probably do not exercise “implicit” faith in the church or in any other authority, they seem to have implicit faith in themselves or merely “faith in faith,” which turns out to be almost the same thing.
In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin is so concerned about stressing the importance of knowledge as the first element in faith that he rightly presents it in another way, showing the necessary link between faith and the Word of God, or the Bible. Reduced to its basics, Calvin shows that: (1) faith is defined by God’s Word; (2) faith is born of God’s Word; and (3) faith is sustained by God’s Word.
The first of these points is particularly clear in Romans 3. For Paul speaks of faith after having spoken of the righteousness of God (that is the gospel) in verse 21. It is after this that he says, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (v. 22). In other words, the faith in Christ about which he is speaking is faith in that work of Christ previously revealed in and explained by the Old Testament. There cannot be any true faith without the Word of God, for it is in the Word alone that we learn what we are to believe.
The second way in which faith is linked to the Word of God is that faith is created, born, or awakened in us by that Word. Apart from the Word, we are like Lazarus – as dead in our transgressions as he was dead in his cold Judean tomb. What will awaken us from that sleep of death? Only the call of the life-giving God can produce such new life. The only place where we can hear the voice of God is in the pages of the Bible, where alone God speaks.
The third link between faith and the Bible is that it is through the Bible that faith is strengthened or sustained. Why? Because the Bible directs us to God and His promises, and only God is strong enough to support us in this matter of salvation. The conclusion is that if you wish to be strong in faith and grow in it, you must spend time studying the Bible and appropriating the promises of God that are found there.
As important as biblical content of faith is and which Calvin stressed so strongly, it is nevertheless possible to know this content and yet be lost – if it has not touched the individual personally at the heart level. Here is how Calvin put it – after a long section (forty out of fifty pages on “faith”) dealing with the element of knowledge or content: “It now remains to pour into the heart itself what the mind has absorbed. For the Word of God is not received by faith if it flits about in the top of the brain, but when it takes root in the depth of the heart that it may be an invincible defense to withstand and drive off all the stratagems of temptation.”
The third element of faith is a real yielding of oneself to Christ, which goes beyond having knowledge, however full or accurate, or even being personally moved by the gospel. (Many are moved, even to tears, but are not saved.) It is the point at which we pass over the line from belonging to ourselves (as we think) and become the Lord’s disciples. It is what was seen in Thomas when he not only believed in Jesus and his resurrection but fell at His feet in worship, exclaiming, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). It is at this point that faith joins hands with love, which it closely resembles, and hope is born from that union.
Jesus pledges Himself to us; He has already done it. We pledge ourselves to Him through the third element of faith: commitment. He died for us, demonstrating the nature of His true love and sterling character. He wooed us getting us to love Him who first loved us. Now He takes the wedding vow, saying, “I Jesus, take thee [put your name in the space], to be my wedded wife; and I do promise and covenant, before God the Father and these witnesses, to be thy loving an faithful Savior and Bridegroom; in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, in this life and for all eternity,”
We then look up into His face and repeat the words: “I [your name], take thee, Jesus to be my loving Savior and Lord; and I do promise and covenant, before God the Father and these witnesses, to be thy loving and faithful wife: in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, and in sickness and in health, for this life and for all eternity.” God the Father (not an earthly minister) then pronounces the marriage, and you become the Lord Jesus Christ’s forever.
Have you done that? Have you believed on Jesus Christ? Do you love Him? Do you know yourself to have been made His forever? You may say, “Well, I don’t know if I have or not.” If you don’t know, settle the matter right now! Perhaps you say, “But I’m unworthy.” Of course you are. How could anybody possibly be worthy of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ? All are unworthy, but it is precisely your awareness of your unworthiness that makes it possible for you to know you need a Savior. Paul reminds us that God has shown “His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
You might say, “But my faith is so weak.” Yes, and your love and hope and everything else are weak, too. But it does not take strong faith to be saved, just faith. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “The weakness of your faith will not destroy you. A trembling hand may receive a golden gift.”* Reach out your hand. Place it in that pierced hand that is stretched out to you. Clasp it to your heart, and love Jesus forever.
Romans 3:25-26 Reflection Questions:
What is your faith in; the church, some other authority, yourself, in faith, or in Christ?
How much time do you spend daily or weekly studying the Bible? Now compare that with the time you spend on your phone, the internet, or the T.V.
Has the Word of God touched your heart? How do you know?
*Spurgeon, All of Grace, p. 43.
For two and a half chapters of Romans, we have been looking at the sad story of the ruin of the race because of sin. Now we reach a new and glorious point in Paul’s letter. Instead of reviewing the grim story of sin and God’s wrath, we turn with relief to the wonderful news of God’s great grace to sinners through the Lord Jesus Christ.
In Romans 3:21-31 we are dealing with themes that are the very heart, not only of Paul’s letter, but of the entire Bible and therefore of reality itself. In all life and history there is nothing more important than these teachings. But who today thinks this way? Who is willing to acknowledge this in an age when abstract thought – even thinking itself – is suspect? Who even among the masses of Christian people really appreciates what Paul is saying here? Ours is an age in which people are self-absorbed and focus on immediate gratification. We tend to evaluate any religious teaching according to its apparent relevance to our present “needs” and short-term goals. No one can have success teaching basic truths about man and the universe unless our closed ways of thinking are changed. But, then, this has always been the case. It was no easier for the apostle Paul to preach the message of salvation to a generation that was busy entertaining itself by sex and circuses than for today’s Christians to minister that same word to an age that has anesthetized itself through all the media devices available to them. But we must try! We must try as Paul did! We must teach the Word of God, because it is by the Word alone that God speaks to us about what really matters.
At the beginning of Romans 3:21 we come to two tremendous words: “But now”! If we had not studied the first two and a half chapters of Romans carefully, we would not be in a position to appreciate these words, because the change they speak of would not seem to be a change at all. With no understanding of the past, we can never appreciate the present. But now we can! We have studied the past. Therefore these two words become for a cry of great joy and thanksgiving. The words “But now” indicate that something of great importance has taken place, and that this is the substance of the good news being proclaimed by Paul and other messengers of the gospel.
Here is a simple outline of this teaching: (1) God has provided a righteousness of His own for men and women, a righteousness we do not possess ourselves. This is the very heart or theme of the Word of God. Although it is new in its fulfillment, it had nevertheless been fully prophesied in the Old Testament. (2) This righteousness is by grace. We don’t deserve it. In fact, we are incapable ever of deserving it. (3) Its the work of the Lord Jesus Christ in dying for His people, redeeming them from their sins, that made this grace on God’s part possible. This is the reason for the “now” in “but now.” It is because of Jesus’ death that there is a Christian gospel. (4) This righteousness that God has graciously provided becomes ours through simple faith. Believing and trusting God in regard to the work of Jesus is the only way anyone, whether Jew or Gentile, can be saved.
We can see the importance of these teachings by noticing that they are nearly exact repetition of what Paul has already stated as the thesis of the letter. They were stated in his opening address in Romans 1:1-5. It is also what we have found in the initial statement of Paul’s thesis in Romans 1:16-17. So I repeat what I said at the beginning of this study: There is nothing in all life and history that is more important than these teachings. The issues of eternity hang on these truths, and we must be faithful to them regardless of the resistance or scorn of our contemporaries.
When a person is first presented with this pure core of Christianity, the reaction is usually revulsion. We want to save ourselves, and anything that suggests that we cannot do so is abhorrent to us. We do not want a religion that demands that we throw ourselves entirely upon the grace and mercy of God. But Christianity is not only the religion we need so desperately. It is also the only religion worth having in the long run. Let’s review why.
- If salvation is by the gift of God, apart from human doing, then we can be saved now. We don’t have to wait until we reach some high level of attainment or pass some undetermined future test. Many people think in these terms, because they know (if they are honest with themselves) that their lives and actions are far from what they should be now and they keep striving. But this means that salvation can never be a present experience but is something always in the future. It is something such persons hope to attain, though they are afraid they may not. It is only in Christianity that this future element moves into the present. And the reason it can is that salvation in not based on our ability to accumulate acceptable merits with God, but rather on what God has already done for us. When Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished,” He meant what He said. His finished work is the sole grounds for our being declared righteous by God. And since it is a past accomplishment, salvation can be ours now, solely by the application of Christ’s righteousness to us as God’s gift.
- If salvation is by the gift of God, apart from human doing, then salvation is certain. If salvation is by human works, then human works (or a lack of them) can undo it. If I can save myself, I can unsave myself. I can ruin everything. But if salvation is of God from the beginning to end, it is sure and unwavering simply because God is Himself is sure and unwavering. Since God knows the end from the beginning, nothing ever surprises Him, and He never needs to alter His plans or change His mind. What He has begun He will continue, and we can be confident of that. Paul expressed this confidence in regard to the church at Philippi in Philippians 1:6.
- If salvation is by the gift of God, apart from human doing, then human boasting is excluded, and all the glory in salvation goes to God. The boasting of human beings is bad enough in this world, where all they have to boast of is their own good looks (for which they are not responsible), their money, their friends, or whatever. Imagine how offensive it would be if they were able to brag about having earned heaven. But it’s not going to be like that! Salvation is a gift. It is receiving God’s righteousness – apart from law, apart from human doing. It is, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:9). No one in heaven will be praising man. In heaven the glory will go to God only. Thank God it is that way.
Romans 3:21-24 Reflection Questions:
When have you received grace from someone when you’ve fallen short?
What does God’s fulfillment of His covenant promises to Israel reveal about Himself?
We see that the “righteousness” or “justice” referred to in Romans 3:21-24 means showing God’s faithfulness to the covenant. How does Paul say God did this inn verses 21-24?
From Romans 1:18, where the argument began, and up to this point, Paul has been proving that the entire race lies under the just condemnation of God for its wickedness. His argument is an all-embracing negative, which precedes the even greater positive statements of Romans 3:21 and what’s to follow. How is this great argument summarized? Quite simply; Paul says that no one will be saved by good works: “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by observing the law; rather through the law we become conscious of sin.” Why is it that no one will be saved by good works? If not the utterly immoral person, why not at least the virtuous pagan or the righteous Jew? Why not you? Why not me? Paul’s answer takes us back over the chief points of the preceding chapters.
The first reason in Paul’s argument is one we have already looked at several times in various forms. It is that, far from pursuing God and trying to please Him (which is what most of us mistakenly think we are doing), the entire race is actually trying to get away from God and is resisting Him as intensely and thoroughly as possible. You remember from our previous studies how Paul says that we “suppress” the truth about God, much of which is revealed even in nature, not to mention the written revelation of God, which is the Bible. But because we don’t want to serve a deity who is like the One we know is there – the God who is sovereign over His creation, altogether holy, omniscient and immutable – we suppress the truth about this true God and try to construct substitute gods to take His place. And, says Paul, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all [this] godlessness and wickedness” of mankind (Rom. 1:18).
The second reason why no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the law is that no one actually does observe it. This is the explanation of the apparent contradiction between Romans 2:13, which says that “it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous,” and Romans 3:20, which says that “no one will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by observing the law.” Both are true because, although anyone who perfectly obeys the law would be declared righteous – the righteousness of God requires it – in point of fact no one actually does this; rather, all disobey God’s law. At this point Paul speaks in almost identical terms to both the Jew, who actually possessed the revealed law of God, and to the Gentile, who did not possess it. So the second reason why no one will be declared righteous by observing the law is that no one actually does observe it. We fail to observe even the tiniest part, and we certainly do not observe the whole!
The third reason why no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the law is that, far from observing the law (or even trying to observe the law), we are all actually violating the law in every conceivable way and on every possible occasion and are therefore actively, consistently, thoroughly, and intentionally wicked. This is the meaning of the two long lists of descriptive vices found in Romans 1:29-31 and Romans 3:10-18. These verses don’t mean that every human being has done every bad thing possible, but they do mean that the human race is like this. We are members of that human race, and, if the truth be told, the potential for every possible human vice is in everyone. It is because of this inward potential that Scripture says, “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time” (Gen. 6”5).
The fourth reason why no one will be declared righteous before God by observing the law is that God is concerned with true or actual observance – that is, with the attitudes and actions of the heart – and not with any outward acts that appear pious but actually mean nothing. The chief example of this wrongheaded attempt at justification is the faith that certain people have placed in circumcision. Circumcision is neither extra-biblical nor unimportant. It was an important rite, just as baptism, the observance of the Lord’s Supper, church membership, and similar religious practices are important today. But the error of the Jew (and the error of many contemporary Christians) is in thinking that a person can be declared righteous before God by these things. That is not possible. Sacraments do have value once one is justified; that is, they are valuable signs of something that has occurred internally (if it has occurred internally), and they are meant to remind us of that experience and strengthen it. But no one can be saved by circumcision or by any other external religious act. God is not taken in by mere externals. There are no substitutes for faith.
We have been looking at the first part of our text which is a definite negative statement, declaring that no one will be declared righteous by observing God’s law. It tells us what the law cannot do. By contrast, the second half of the sentence contains a great positive statement, telling us that, although the law is unable to justify anybody, all of us being sinners, it is nevertheless able to show where we fall short of God’s standards and thus point us to the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom alone God provides salvation.
Apart from God’s law we may consider ourselves to be quite upright, model citizens who are fit candidates for heaven. But when we look into the law closely we soon see that we are not fit candidates at all. We are not upright. We are morally crooked. And we discover that if we are to become acceptable to the only upright, holy God, we must be changed by Him. If you are placing your hope in your supposed ability to keep God’s law or even just in your ability to do certain good things, your case is hopeless. Your heart needs cleansing, and no effort of your own can ever cleanse it.
Where will you find cleansing? You will find it only in Christ, to whom the law drives you. I trust you have found cleansing where so many others have found it. The apostle Peter declared “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Romans 3:20 Reflection Questions:
What is your faith in; good works, church membership, the Lord’s Supper, baptism, or in Jesus Christ?
Have you found your cleansing? Do you see how the law points you to Christ?
How often you find yourself running from God? What are you substituting God with?
When was the last time you read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7?
Now the apostle Paul comes to the end of the first main section of his letter, concluding that every human being is (1) accountable to God for what he or she has done; (2) guilty of having done countless wrong things; and (3) will never be justified by God on the basis of any supposed good works. His exact words in Romans 3:19-20 are: “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. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” These two verses are very important, because to understand them is to understand the great foundational truths of Christianity. We will study these verses separately, mainly because verse 19 has played such an important part in the conversion of many, many people.
Follow me here; let’s say that you and I had lunch together and when we leave and start walking down the sidewalk together a swerving automobile comes up on the sidewalk and kills the two of us. In the next moment we would be what men call “dead.” We brush aside that absurd folly that we are going to meet St. Peter at the gate of heaven. (That exists only in jokes about two Irishmen.) We are going to meet God. Now suppose that in that moment of ultimate reckoning God should say to you, “What right do you have to come into My heaven?” What would be your answer? There are only three possible answers to be given. That is, all the many varieties of answers ultimately boil down to just three. One of which involves the text I am considering, which is why I tell this story.
The first answer people give to the question is a common one. It is that they have done certain things and therefore want to be accepted by God on the basis of these achievements. Some people have a very high opinion of themselves, of course. They think they have been models of righteous conduct – that they have never done anything bad, only what is good. In fact, they believe they have done a great deal good! Others know that they have not been consistently good, but they still want God to take note of what good works they have done and accept them into heaven on that basis.
You must clearly understand that no one is going to be justified before the bar of God’s justice on the basis of his or her good works, however great they may be. Your record will not save you. It is your record that has gotten you into trouble in the first place. Your record will condemn you. The only way anyone will ever be saved is by faith in Jesus Christ, who paid the penalty of our misdeeds for us and, in place of our misdeeds, offers us the gift of His great righteousness.
What would you say to the question, “What right do you have to come into My heaven?” The answer is that you wouldn’t say a thing. This brings us to the second answer which is our verse in Romans 3:19 where God had said, “Every mouth [will] be silenced.” At God’s judgment no one will be able to offer any good works as grounds for his or her justification or offer any valid excuses for bad conduct. All mouths will be made mute, and everyone will know that he or she is guilty and deserves God’s just condemnation. The reason of course, is that this is God’s judgment. The person we must appear before is God. We do not have the same experiences when we appear before mere men or answer before a mere earthly tribunal. If there were to be any spoken words spoken before the bar of God by those who have rejected the grace of God in this life and are being sent to outer darkness forever, it will be – not excuses – but a resentful acknowledgement of the truth of God and the justice of their own condemnation.
It’s clear that what we have been seeing is that the only saving answer to the question being posed – “What right do you have to come into God’s heaven?” – focuses not on the works of the sinner, but on the achievements of Jesus Christ. If we are to be saved, it will not be on the basis of anything we have ever done or can do, but solely on the basis of what He has done for us. Christ died for us. He suffered in our place. He bore the punishment of our sins. All who come to God on that basis and with that answer will be saved. No others will be. Only those who come to God trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ.
I end this study by asking that same question to you. Someday you will die. You will face God, and He will say to you, “What right do you have to come into My heaven?” What will your response be? Perhaps you will say, “Well, here is my record. I know that I have done some bad things, but I have done a lot of good things, too. I want you to look at these and see if they are enough for me to have deserved heaven. All I want from you is justice.” If you say that, justice is exactly what you will get. You will be judged for your sin and be condemned. Your good works, however fine they may seem in your sight or even in the sight of other people, will not save you. No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the law of good works, for it is by the law that “we become conscious of sin” (Rom. 3:20).
Perhaps you will not plead your good works, but instead will stand before God silenced. This is better. At least you will have recognized that your goodness is not adequate before God. You will know you are a sinner. But it’s still a most pitiful position to be in: silent before the one great Judge of the universe, with no possibility of making a defense, no possibility of urging extenuating circumstances, no hope of escaping condemnation.
So what will you say? I trust you will be able to answer – I hope this study had helped you to the point of being able to answer, if you have not come to it already – “My right to heaven is the Lord Jesus Christ, He died for me. He took the punishment for my sin. He is my right to heaven, because He has become my righteousness.”
Romans 3:19 Reflection Questions:
So what is your answer to the question above?
Who do you know needs to know the points of this study?
We have already had one very grim description of the human race in the verses that end Romans 1. There humanity was described as being “filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity (see Rom 1:29-31). After a list such as this, we might think unnecessary to catalogue more. Yet, as Paul gets to the end of this first main section of Romans, in which the need of people for the gospel of grace is so clearly and comprehensively pointed out, he seems to sense a need to do it all over again. The difference between this and the passage in Romans 1 is that each of these sentences is a quotation from the Old Testament, whereas the earlier passage was made up merely of the apostle’s own descriptive terminology. In other words, the verses in Romans 1 are a description of the world as Paul saw it, though he is also writing as an apostle and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The verses in Romans 3 are more specifically and obviously God’s own description of the race’s depravity.
Verses 13 and 14 are made up of three quotations from the Old Testament: Psalm 5:9, Psalm 140:3, and Psalm 10:7, though there are other passages that are similar. What is striking about them is that they all refer to organs of speech: throat, tongue, lips, and mouth. And they describe how the words spoken by these organs are used to harm others. In the previous verses we have shown how people harm themselves by turning away from God. Here we learn how they also harm others by the organs of speech that God gave them. What do you think of first when you read these verses? If you are like me, you notice the words cursing and bitterness and think, first of all, of harsh speech, which is meant to wound another person. Yet, what Paul is saying here goes deeper, because the words that describe the outcome of the harmful words of the ungodly all have to do, not with psychological injury, but with death.
We are not to think that this grim description is limited to mere words; in verse 14 the deceitful and poisonous speech of verse 13 boils over into “cursing and bitterness” on those who refuse to be deceived. And in verses 15-17 those who teach falsehood move from words to violent actions. These verses, quoted from Isaiah 59:7-8, describe three acts of violent men, beginning with the end result of these acts. To see the progression, we need to take them in reverse order. (1) “The way of peace they do not know” (v. 17). This relates to people as they are in themselves apart from God. They know no personal peace-“… the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud” (Isa. 57:20). This also describes the effects such persons have upon others. Having no peace themselves, they disrupt the peace of other people. (2) “Ruin and misery mark their ways” (v. 16). Again, this is something wicked persons experience themselves; their way is misery and ruin. It’s also something they bring on others. Without a changed nature, human beings naturally labor to destroy and ruin one another. (3) “Their feet are swift to shed blood” (v. 15). Working backward, we come to the last of these deceitful actions. Their end is death – and not just physical death, though that would be bad enough in itself – but spiritual death, which is death of the soul and spirit in hell. Death means separation. Physical death is the separation of the soul and spirit from the body. Spiritual death is the separation of the soul and spirit from God. It’s forever!
The last phrase of this great summary of the human race in ruin is from Psalm 36:1. It tells why all these other violent and wicked acts have happened: “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” In the Bible the word fear, when used of God, denotes a right and reverential frame of mind before Him. It has to do with worshiping Him, obeying Him, and departing from evil. When Romans 3:18 declares that the human race has not done this, it’s saying what Paul has been stating all along. Because men and women will not know God, choosing rather to suppress the truth about Him, their minds are darkened and they become fools. They claim to be wise but, “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (Rom. 1:22).
It’s interesting, that Paul here also refers to “eyes.” This is the sixth of the specific body references Paul makes in these verses in order to make his accusations vivid. Since eyes are our organs of vision, and to have the fear of God before our eyes means that we have God constantly in our thoughts and in a central position in everything that concerns us. It means that we are ever looking toward Him. Again, in discussing man’s downward path, that it is our destiny as those who are made in God’s image to look up to the heavenly beings and beyond them to God and thus become increasingly like God. To have the “fear of God before [our] eyes” is to do just that. It’s the way of all blessing, growth, and knowledge. But if we will not do that, we will inevitably look down and become like the beasts that are below us.
How could our salvation be due to anything but mercy if we are as ruined as Paul describes us? Ruined? Yes! But we may be saved from ruin by the glorious work of our Savior, Jesus Christ!
Romans 3:13-18 Reflection Questions:
Why do you think Paul felt the need to quote from the Old Testament in these verses?
What other New Testament passages come to you mind regarding harmful speech?
Are your eyes ever looking toward God throughout your days?
In this third chapter of Romans, beginning with verse 9, the apostle summarizes the condition of every Human Being apart from the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and it’s not a pretty picture. All (Jews and Gentiles) are alike under sin, and all are thus subject to the wrath and final judgment of Almighty God. Quoting from Psalm 14:1-3, Psalm 53:1-3, and Ecclesiastes 7:20, Paul declares: “As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.’” This is a serious charge and a devastating picture of the race, because it portrays human beings as unable to do even a single thing either to please, understand, or seek after God. It’s an expression of what theologians rightly call man’s “total depravity.”
It’s vitally important that we come to terms with the bad tendency to run from the truth about ourselves. Without an accurate knowledge of our sin, we will never come to know the meaning of God’s grace. Without an awareness of our pride, we will never appreciate God’s greatness, nor will we come to God for the healing we so desperately need. The situation is a bit like being sick and needing a doctor. As long as we are convinced we are well (or at least almost well), we will not seek medical care. But if we know we are spiritually sick, we will turn to the Great Physician, Jesus Christ, who alone is able to heal us.
So the first thing Paul says about the human race in his summary of its lost condition is that it has no righteousness. Verse 12 adds, “All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” The second pronouncement Paul makes about human beings in their sinful condition is that no one understands spiritual things. We need to view this as a lack of spiritual perception and not merely a lack of human knowledge. If we think on the human level, comparing the “understanding” of one person with that of another, we will observe rightly that some people obviously understand a great deal about our world. And since we are impressed by that, we will be misled. We need to see that in spiritual matters the important thing is that no one truly understands God or seeks to know Him.
To summarize this study: According to the Bible no one unaided by the Spirit of God (1) has any righteousness by which to lay a claim upon God; (2) has any true understanding of God; or (3) seeks God. But what we don’t have and cannot do and have not done, God has done for those who are being saved.
So, what exactly has God done? First, God has sought us. We had run from Him, but like “The Hound of Heaven” God pursued us relentlessly. Some of us ran from God for a long time and can recall the days of our waywardness well. If God had not pursued us, we would have been lost eternally. We would never have come to God by ourselves. Now we know that no one is ever saved who has first been pursued by God and been found by Him. Second, God has given us understanding. He has done this by making us alive in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, as a result of which our eyes have been opened to see things spiritually. This does not mean that we perfectly comprehend all things about God and His ways, but we now truly “understand” in the sense that we believe these things and respond accordingly. Last of all, God has given us a righteousness that we did not have in ourselves and, in fact, could never have had – His righteousness, which is the righteousness of Jesus Christ and is the ground of our salvation.
If we are truly dead in sin, as Paul says we are, and if that involves our will as well as all other parts of our psychological and spiritual makeup, we will find ourselves in near despair. We will see our state is hopeless apart from the supernatural and totally unmerited workings of the grace of God. And that is what God wants! He will not have us boasting of even the smallest human contribution to salvation. It is only as we renounce all such vain possibilities that He will show us the way of salvation through Jesus Christ and lead us to Him.
Romans 3:9-11 Reflection Questions:
Are you still trying to earn your salvation?
Do you believe you are seeking God or are you praising and worshiping Him for pursuing you?
Did you know that if you are a “church hopper” you are running from God?
It’s not often that you or I get to witness an exceptional mind at work, particularly in a debate or other confrontational situation. The apostle Paul was a keen-thinking individual, perhaps one of the sharpest men who ever lived. But we don’t have many places at which to observe his mind in action. In the book of Acts, which records the progress of his missionary journeys, we are told repeatedly that Paul went into the Jewish synagogues and “reasoned” with the Jews. But there is almost no record of the form these debates took or of how Paul dealt with the questions his opponents would have been asking. But here in the third chapter of Romans we at least get a glimpse into the kind of back-and-forth reasoning that must have taken place again and again in the setting of Paul’s missionary expositions.
The first two chapters of Romans contain the bedrock teaching of the apostle as to the nature and universality of human sin. All that he has said in those chapters is to be summarized in chapter 3. But Paul seems to have been hearing in his mind the questions that sharp Jewish opponents had thrown up at him over the years, and he is therefore reluctant to move on to his summary without dealing with at least the most important of them. We have already looked at one of these questions: “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision?” (Rom. 3:1). In verses 3 through 8 of this chapter Paul deals with two more questions. In the text there are actually seven question marks as the apostle phrases these questions, no doubt reflecting ways in which they had been voiced to him. But there are really only two basic questions, and it is these that Paul answers before moving on to the great summary of verses 9 through 20.
When Paul asks the question, “Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?” and when he answers, “Not at all!” it’s clear that he is embracing at least two of the points he makes later: (1) That God is sovereign and that all He does is just; and (2) that God will not break His promises and that, as a result, His pledges to Israel will certainly be fulfilled in the end. Again, when Paul says, “What if some did not have faith?” he indicates: (1) that in spite of great national unbelief, “some” Jews, now as then, have believed in the Messiah, and that (2) then as now the way of salvation is through the channel of faith in God’s promises.
In our sin all of us naturally presume on God, trying to manipulate Him in the sense that we try to oblige Him to save us regardless of what we either believe or do. The Jew did it by claiming that God must save him because of God’s promises to the nation. We Christians do it by believing that God will save us because our parents were saved and because we have been baptized or confirmed or such thing. But we cannot do that. God is faithful. He will save those He has promised to save. But not apart from faith! And not mechanically! If you are to be saved, it must be by faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, whom God has appointed Savior.
The second question, or should we say quibble, toys with theological matters and, as a result, deserves the scorn Paul gives it. Paul must have heard it a lot, just as we do. We gather this from the fact that he seems compelled to present it in three forms: (1) The first form of the question has to do with God’s role as judge of all the earth and could be rephrased as asking, “If our unrighteousness (or sin) is the necessary background against which God displays His wisdom, love, and mercy in salvation, how can God judge us for what therefore obviously has a good end?” Paul’s response is by a categorical statement regarding the certainty of God’s judgment in verse 6.
The second form of the objection is like the first, but centers more on one’s own contemplated judgment than on God’s role as judge. It says, “If my sin enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases His glory, how can He condemn me?” Paul doesn’t even answer this, but instead passes on to the third form of the question, after which he concludes: “Their condemnation is deserved” (v. 8b).
The third form of the question is the most extreme, but it seems to have been the way which Paul most heard it – both because of the way Paul refers to it here and the fact that he deals with it in other places (see Rom. 6:1-23). Here Paul admits that this charge had been widely disseminated against him: “Why not say – as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say – ‘Let us do evil that good may result’?” (v. 8a). That is, the more one sins, the more God is glorified. This is the most extreme form of the question because, in addition merely to dismissing the judgment of God or excusing sin, this argument actually encourages the indulgence of the sinful nature and appetite by allegedly Christian people.
The first two chapters of Romans have told us of the nature and extent of human sin. They have demonstrated that men and women, left to themselves, are on a path leading away from God, the only source of true good, and that the progression along that path is always and inevitably downhill. No original or ultimate good comes from any mere man or woman, only evil. Therefore, if good is to be seen anywhere, it must be from God Himself and be seen in those in whom He has planted His very nature. What a calling if you are a Christian! What a destiny!
“Do evil that good may result”? If you find yourself thinking that way, you are no true Christian. You are no Christian if evil in yourself and in others does not distress you. You are no Christian if you take the transgressions of God’s Law lightly. If you are a Christian, you will hate sin, repudiate it, fight against it, and strive for righteousness.
Romans 3:3-8 Reflection Questions:
What should you do if you find people in the church taking God’s Law lightly?
How often do you study the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7)? How does it make you feel about yourself when you do?
Does sin in yourself distress you?
Paul senses questions being raised as he comes to the end of Romans 2 and begins chapter 3.Questions like; if God treats Jews and Gentiles alike, not showing favoritism, and if the only thing that makes one truly Jewish is an inward transformation by the Holy Spirit, then what advantage is there in being a Jew? Or to put it in other terms, what is the Old Testament all about? And why did God institute circumcision? If Paul is right, these things are pointless. Or since we know that what God does is not pointless and must have a proper purpose to it, isn’t it the case that Paul must be wrong in his conclusions – whether or not we can detect the weak point of his arguments?
This is a very important matter – for the Jews as well as for non-Jews. We have been talking about Jewish people’s spiritual advantages or lack of them. But, although the Jew’s apparent advantages are different from the Gentile’s, his situation and the Gentile’s are parallel. For we who call ourselves Christians must ask, “What advantage, then, is there is being a godly churchgoing person? What value is there in baptism, church membership, communion, or any other religious exercise if we are all under condemnation anyway?” “Do any religious people have an edge?” If we don’t, then why should we bother with religion at all? Let’s enjoy ourselves and sin right along with the heathen. If we do have an edge, then isn’t it the case that it is possible to please God by our religious practices and be saved by them after all?
Paul’s answer is that circumcision and being Jewish are true advantages, although they are not the kind of advantages we are thinking of if we wrongly suppose that one can be saved by them. Paul is answering the specific question “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew?” in Romans 3, it is not the whole list (which is found in Romans 9) but rather the matter of possessing the very words of God alone that he stresses. In fact, although he has also asked, “What value is there in circumcision?” he does not speak of the sacraments or any other external sign as an advantage in this context. Just Scripture! That is the chief item and in Romans 3, the only one. This is of immense importance to us, because it is the only blessing in this long list of Jewish advantages in which Gentiles share. We can say, “Ours are the Scriptures” – if we have been fortunate enough, as virtually all of us have been, to have been given the very words of God in our language.
Paul is answering an argument about the thoroughly religious person of his day, the Jew. However we need to apply it to the thoroughly religious person of our time also. The issue the apostle is dealing with here is of vital importance to everyone. No one is saved by such things as baptism, sacraments, or church attendance. No one is even saved by such an important thing as having – and yes, even studying – the Bible. But that does not mean that religious practices are of no use to us or that one is acting wisely if he or she abuses, neglects, or disregards them.
So…what advantage then, is there in being a godly, churchgoing “Christian” person? Let’s review three advantages: (1) Even if God never saves you by drawing you from the darkness of your sin to saving faith in Jesus Christ, you will at least sin less because of these advantages and therefore be punished less severely. We must understand that on the one hand there are genuine spiritual advantages (for those who will have them) and, on the other hand, that these in themselves do not save anyone. We must remember that our situation is desperate. We can do nothing for ourselves. Even knowing the truth does not save us, because in our unregenerate state we are unresponsive and even hostile to it. No one can be saved who is not born again, and the work of spiritual regeneration is God’s doing.
(2) Going to church and listening to the preaching of the Word of God, if you are in a good, Bible-believing church, will at least cause you to know the way of salvation even if you do not respond to it. A person might argue that knowing how to be saved and yet not responding to that revelation, in fact rejecting it, is not an advantage but a disadvantage in that it undoubtedly increases one’s guilt. This is true, of course. Moreover, it is compounded if together with your knowledge you also acquire the habit of thinking of yourself as a rather fine Christian specimen. You are worse off if you think that God must somehow think better of you just because you know much. But it does not need to work that way. In fact, it is meant to work quite the other way. Instead of becoming proud because of your knowledge, you should be humbled by it. Who can read the first three chapters of Romans intelligently and remain proud?
(3) The third great advantage of regular church attendance and, above all, faithful adherence to the preaching and study of the Word of God is that, although you cannot claim this as a right from God, it is through the reading and preaching of the Bible that God is most likely to save you. How is one born again, after all? Peter writes that we are “born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God (1 Pet. 1:23). To hear the Word of God is the most assured path to salvation. In the same way James wrote, “He [God] chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created” (James 1:18).
If you are reading these words but are not born again, your condition is not good. You are lost and under God’s wrath. You are blind to God’s truth. You are spiritually bankrupt. But there is one thing; although you cannot save yourself, as long as you can hear this or any other gospel message, you are at least where Jesus is likely to go. He loves to bless the preaching and teaching of His Word. Therefore, though your condition may be desperate, it is no worse than any other lost sinner before he or she was saved. The mere hearing the Word is your advantage. Do not despise it and don’t say, “So, then, what advantage is there in religion?” There is a great advantage in it. “Much in every way!” (Rom. 3:2). Cling to it. Wring every possible “edge” from it. Who knows but that God will use the very Word you hear to save your soul?
Romans 3:1-2 Reflection Questions:
How often do you hear or read and study God’s Word?
Why is going to church important to you?
What does “being born again” mean to you? How do you know if you are or not, born again?
Are you proud or humbled by your knowledge of God’s Word?
1 Samuel 16:7 says: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” This is what Paul is getting at in these last verses of Romans 2, as he deals for the final time with the objections of those who consider themselves to be so thoroughly religious that they do not need the gospel. The issue is the Jewish sacrament of circumcision and the accompanying claim that all who have been circumcised will be saved.
The Jew, who was the chief example in Paul’s day of the thoroughly religious person, had begun his defense against Paul’s gospel by the argument that he (or she) possessed the law. As we have seen in the previous study, Paul argued that possession of the law, although undoubtedly a great privilege is of no value if the one possessing the commands of God fails to keep them. The Jew, along with everybody else, had broken those laws. So it was not sufficient to say, “I have the law, and therefore I do not need the gospel.” On the contrary, the law is given to reveal our need of God’s grace.
Still, the Jew had one last card to play, one final argument. He had been circumcised, and circumcision had brought him into visible outward fellowship with that body of covenant people to whom God had made salvation promises. It was like saying that circumcision (our counterpart is baptism) had made him a member of that body, and because of that membership his salvation was certain. The Jew really did believe this – just as many people today believe they are saved merely by being members of a church!
Most of us are not personally affected by contemporary debate over the definition of a true Jew (vv. 28-29). But the matter of godly conduct accomplished in us by the work of the Holy Spirit (v. 29) is our concern. And, as far as the sacraments go (our sacraments are baptism and the Lord’s Supper, rather than circumcision); the issue is whether these reflect the necessary inward change and reality.
So what is a sacrament? A sacrament is a “sign” of a spiritual reality rather than the reality itself. There are four elements of a sacrament from the Christian point of view: (1) A sacrament is a divine ordinance instituted by Christ Himself. (2) A sacrament uses material elements as visible signs of God’s blessing. In baptism the sign is water. In the Lord’s Supper the signs are bread, which signifies the Lord’s body, and wine (or grape juice) signifies His shed blood, The Old Testament sign was a cutting away of the flesh. (3) A sacrament is a means of grace: Baptism is a means of grace and conveys blessing, because it is the certificate to us of God’s grace and in the acceptance of that certification we rely upon God’s faithfulness, bear witness to His grace, and thereby strengthen faith. In the Lord’s Supper that significance is increased and cultivated, namely, communion with Christ and participation of the virtue accruing from His body and blood. We thus see that the accent falls on the faithfulness of God, and the efficacy resides in the response we yield to that faithfulness. (4) A sacrament is a seal, certification, or confirmation of the grace it signifies. Theologians refer to sacraments as “signs and seals”; signs because they point to the sacrament, seals because they authenticate the person submitting to the sacrament.
We have come to the end of Romans 2; let’s summarize Paul’s teaching in that chapter. The apostle has been dealing with persons who would agree with his condemnation of the heathen (as expressed in chapter 1), but who would excuse themselves on the grounds either (1) of being very moral, that is, people who know higher standards of conduct than those proposed by the heathen; or (2) of being thoroughly religious and therefore of being saved by the possession of the revealed law of God and by participation in the sacraments. Do you know of any people like that today? Of course, you do. You may even be one of them. Here is what the apostle Paul says to such people: (1) Knowledge alone, even knowledge of the highest spiritual and moral principles does not win God’s approval. On the contrary, superior knowledge actually leads to even greater condemnation – if it is not accomplished by adherence to the higher standard. (2) Membership in a religious society, whether the covenant nation of Israel or the visible church of Christendom, does not guarantee that we have obtained God’s favor. Salvation is not won by any external associations if (as we have seen) God looks not on outward appearances but on the heart. (3) The sacraments, either of the Old Testament or the New Testament periods, save no one. They point to what saves, but they are not the reality themselves. (4) God judges according to truth and performance, and by that standard every human being is condemned. (5) If we are to be saved, it must be by the labor of Jesus Christ applied to us by the Father through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 2:25-29 Reflection Questions:
Do you see now how important it is to build a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? (“there is no one who does good, not even one.” Romans 3:12)
What are you doing daily to build on that relationship with Jesus?
It should be evident from our study of the earlier portions of Romans that everything that has been said thus far applies to all men and women. That is, it applies to ourselves – apart from the supernatural work of God in us through the Holy Spirit. Regardless of our achievements, our vaunted moral standards or our outward position in life, we are all in exactly the same situation as the hedonistic pagan described in Romans 1. We have suppressed the knowledge of God disclosed to us in nature and have therefore launched ourselves along the path of moral and spiritual decline that the chapter describes. The propensity to condemn others for what we ourselves do which is unfolded in Romans 2, also describes us. We are great at making distinctions, particularly when these are to our advantage, and it is to another of these self-serving “excuses” that we come now. The new distinction here is made by individuals who consider themselves to be religious.
In Paul’s day such a person was a Jew, which is how Paul begins the section: “Now you, if you call yourself a Jew…” Today the person who fits this category could be an ardent Fundamentalist, any churchgoing Protestant (regardless of denomination), a devout Catholic, or some other variety of “religious” individual. The religious person night be thinking: “I am a very religious person, and my religious commitments exempt me from your blanket condemnations. I have been a churchgoing person all my life. I have been baptized and confirmed. I go to communion. I give to the church’s support.” Paul replies that these are genuinely good things and not to be ignored. “But you still need the gospel,” he says.” Why?” “Because God is not interested in outward things alone – things like church membership, the sacraments, stewardship – but rather in what is within.” God says, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7b).
The Eighth Commandment: So we see the knowledge of God and of the way of this true God was not enough. This is because, as we have already seen, God judges according to truth and not according to appearances, according to what men and women actually do and not according to their mere professions. At this point Paul brings forth three examples of that “superior” way of the Jew, which came as a result of his possessing the revealed law of God: the eighth Commandment, the seventh Commandment, and a statement embracing the first two Commandments.
As stated earlier, that these verses speak to all kinds of “religious” people. So let me ask, “We who preach against stealing, do we steal?” The idea of stealing is a generally accepted standard of human behavior, but it’s just as generally broken. We steal from God when we fail to worship Him as we ought or when we set our own concerns ahead of His. We steal from an employer when we don’t give the best work of which we are capable or when we overextend our coffee breaks or leave work early. We steal if we waste company products or use company time for personal matters. We steal if we sell something for more than it’s worth. We steal from our employees if the work environment for which we are responsible harms their health, or if we don’t pay them enough to guarantee a healthy, adequate standard of living. We steal when we borrow something and do not return it. We steal from ourselves when we waste our talents, time, and money.
The seventh Commandment: After citing the eighth Commandment, Paul moves backward to the seventh and asks: “You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?” What are we to answer to this question, particularly if we live in the United States where adultery, fornication, and a variety of forms of sexual experimentation are not only excused, but even encouraged and applauded? What are we to answer in view of the revelation of sexual sins in the lives of prominent national figures, both secular and religious? What are we to say in view of Jesus’ teaching that the seventh Commandment has to do with thoughts of our minds and the intents of our hearts and not only with external actions? According to Jesus’ teaching, lust is the equivalent of adultery, just as hate is the equivalent of murder (Matt. 5: 27-28, vv. 21-22). The biblical standard is purity before marriage and fidelity afterward. At one time people would defend high sexual standards, even though they often did something quite different on the side. But today we do not even hold to the morality. “If it feels good, do it!” That’s the cry of our age and the practice of the great majority.
The First and Second Commandments: The third of Paul’s examples of preaching one thing but doing another is a reference to the first and second Commandments: “You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?” It’s not as easy to understand this question as it is to understand the first two. Regardless of the particular way the ancient Jew may have broken the first and second of the Ten Commandments (which we may or may not understand), we certainly understand how we have broken them – even the most religious among us. The first Commandment is a demand for our exclusive and zealous worship of the true God. To worship any god but the biblical God is to break this Commandment. But we need not worship a clearly defined “god” to break this Commandment – Zeus, Minerva, Buddha, Allah, or one of the countless modern idols. We break it whenever we give some person or some object or some worldly aspiration the first place in our lives, a place that belongs to God alone. Often today the substitute god is ourselves or our image of ourselves. It can be such things as success, fame, material affluence, or power over others. To keep this Commandment we need to see all things from God’s point of view and do nothing without reference to Him; to make His will our guide and His glory our goal; to put Him first in thought, word and deed; in business and leisure; in friendships and career; in the use of our money, time and talents; at work and at home.
If the first Commandment deals with the object of our worship, forbidding the worship of any false God, the second Commandment deals with the manner of our worship, forbidding us to worship even the true God unworthily. This means that we should take the utmost care to discover what God is truly like and thus increasingly worship Him as the only great, transcendent, spiritual, and inscrutable God He is. But we don’t do this. Instead, as Paul argued at the beginning of his discussion, we suppress the knowledge of God and find that our foolish hearts are darkened (Rom. 1:18, 21).
When Paul comes to the end of this paragraph, which describes the true state of the orthodox, or “religious,” person, he quotes the Old Testament to show that “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (v. 24; cf. Isa. 5:25; Ezek. 36:22). This is always the case when ostensibly devout persons violate the very standards they proclaim. If you have been trusting in anything other than Jesus Christ and His death upon the cross in your place, throw whatever it is completely out of your mind. Abandon it. Stamp upon it. Grind it down. Dust off the place where it lay. Then turn to Jesus Christ alone, and trust Him only!
Romans 2:17-24 Reflection Questions:
Why is it important to be into God’s Word on a daily basis?
How are you doing with the eighth commandment?
How are you doing with the seventh Commandment?
How are you doing with the first and second Commandments?