CHAPTER 3 OF THE ROMAN LETTER
INTRODUCTION TO CHAPTER 3.
In the first eighteen verses of chapter 3 Paul constructed a dialogue between himself and the Jews who did not understand (or who did not want to understand) what he was teaching. In chapter 2 Paul had pointed out that the Jews had sinned just like the Gentiles. But many Jews still thought they were more favored of God over the Gentiles simply because they had been born as Jews, members of God's chosen nation, with faithful Abraham as their ancestral father. Somehow they thought that they could sin with impunity and God would not hold them to account for their sin.
John the Baptist once said to the Jews, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with your repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, 'we have Abraham for our father,' for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham." (Matthew 3:7-9.)
At the end of chapter 2 Paul said that a real Jew was one who was circumcised inwardly, by the Spirit, and not one merely set apart in the flesh by fleshly circumcision. This implied that Gentiles also could be set apart for God without being physically circumcised. Then in chapter 3 Paul posed some questions that some Jews might ask in rebuttal to Paul's teaching.
A main point that Paul made in these first eighteen verses of chapter 3 was that the Jews did have advantages over the Gentiles, but their failure to respond to them left them in the position of being unrepentant sinners. Another matter that these verses established is that God will surely punish unrepentant sinners, and that He will be fully justified in so doing.
"(1) Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision?" Romans 3:1. NASV.
Paul anticipated the thinking of his readers many times in the Roman letter. His Jewish readers were not going to be easily convinced that they were "in the same boat" with the Gentiles. After Paul had pointed out in chapter 2 that the Jews had broken the Law of Moses and that there was tribulation, distress, wrath, and indignation laid up for them (Romans 2:8-9), they still wanted to cling to their special status as Jews and believe that they were better off than the Gentiles.
Paul had said in preceding verses that the Jews were no better off in the sinful state than were the Gentiles. Apparently, many Jews could not believe that. In rebuttal to Paul's warning that unrepentant Jews would reap the wrath of God, they posed what they thought would be to Paul unanswerable questions. If we are no better off than the Gentiles, they asked, what advantage has God given us in making us Jews? What benefit is it for us to be set apart by circumcision? They reasoned that the Gentiles were ignorant of the Law; they were ceremonially unclean; and they had turned to idols. Of course they will reap the wrath of God. But we are Jews. We have the Law; we are clean; and we worship only the true God. We were born as Jews and if there is no advantage to that, why would God have made us Jews? Paul anticipated the questions in his writing of the Roman letter.
"(2) Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God." Romans 3:2. NASV.
Yes, the Jews were given advantages and benefits. First of all the advantages and benefits, they were entrusted with the possession and safek:eeping of the sacred scriptures, the books of the Law given through Moses and the books of the prophets of God. They had a guide from God to everything they needed to know pertaining to this life and the life to come. The Gentiles had access to these written "oracles of God" only through the Jews.
But with the Jews' entrustment with the oracles of God, they had been given great responsibility to serve God in ministry. Herein lay one of their greatest failures.
"(3) What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?" Romans 3:3. NASV.
Paul anticipated another argument from his Jewish readers. They asked, if some of us did not believe the oracles of God, so what? God still chose us. God is not unfaithful, is He? We still have favored position before God even though some of us did not believe. Paul knew that he must meet this argument if he was to convince Jews that they were sinners just like the Gentiles.
"(4) May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, 'That Thou mightest be justified in Thy words, and mightest prevai1 when Thou art judged.'" Romans 3:4. NASV.
Paul here said something that reminded him so much of something David said in the Psalms that he finished up the statement with a quotation directly from Psalms 51:4. In Psalms 51:4 David had written a confession of his sins and was asking for mercy from God. David said in effect, I have sinned; I have been found a liar against God. I acknowledge it so that Thou, 0 God, "might be justified when Thou speakest, and be clear when Thou judgest." In other words, my sins show the enormous contrast between God's faithfulness and my unfaithfulness.
Of course, God is faithful! And it stood out even more clearly against the background of the unfaithful Jews. Although all of man's opinions may be found untrue and have to be abandoned, God will still be found true. Paul said, in effect, whatever our beliefs (yours or mine), if they imply that God is untrue, then our beliefs have to be abandoned.
Paul "bent" the rebuttal argument of the Jews against them. The Jews had said, according to Paul's reconstruction here: just because some of us did not believe, that did not make God unfaithful . Then they concluded: therefore, God will save us because we are Jews. Paul agreed with them that God is always faithful. But He disagreed with their conclusion that the faithfulness of God implied that Jews could sin with impunity.
"(5) But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.)" Romans 3:5. NASV.
Paul agreed that all unrighteousness of men demonstrated, or showed up in great contrast to, the righteousness of God. But what could be said after that? That fact did not support the conclusion of the Jews, Paul said. God inflicts wrath "against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (Romans 1:18). The argument of the Jews tried to make God appear to be unrighteous should He inflict wrath on the Jews. But, "the God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He?" asked Paul rhetorically. He implied that the conclusion of the Jews concerning their invulnerability before God was incorrect.
The argument and belief of the Jews in Paul's time was very much similar to some modern day arguments and beliefs. Many people of today believe that God will not inflict wrath on anyone. They argue that God is good, and that He loves all mankind. Therefore, it is not consistent that he should inflict wrath upon anyone no matter what he has done. Of course, the Jews of Paul's day did not apply their argument to all people. Many of them believed that there was to be a judgment of condemnation by God upon the evil Gentiles, but that the Jews would escape that wrath.
"(6) May it never be! For otherwise how will God judge the world?" Romans 3:6. NASV.
Paul answered, may it never be thought that God is unrighteous! Throughout the Roman letter Paul
expressed the theme that the righteousness of God is revealed. One way His righteousness is revealed is in
His judgment of the evil world. The Jews knew that God would judge the world and that He would inflict
wrath. In Romans 2:5 Paul said to the Jews, "Because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are
storing up wrath for your self in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God."
"(7) But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner?" Romans 3:7. NASV.
There was still another question that Paul attributed to the Jews. It is hard to imagine that the Jews would make the argument implied by this question. However, the other questions Paul dealt with in the first six verses of chapter 3 imply erroneous reasoning similar to the argument implied here. The argument was that the sinful Jew should not be judged finally as a sinner because his lie so contrasted with the truth of God that it made God "look good" and "abounded to God's glory!"
"(8) And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say), 'Let us do evil that good may come?' Their condemnation is just." Romans 3:8. NASV.
Paul continued the question of the former verse by asking why the Jews did not blatantly say, "Let us do evil that good may come." In an aside, Paul said that he had been slanderously accused of saying that himself. His point was that the Jews were actually espousing that same erroneous principle in holding to their supposed position of invulnerability from God's wrath. But he concluded with the simple truth that God's condemnation is just against all who espouse the principle of "doing evi1 that good may come."
"(9) What then? Are we better than they? Not at all, for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks
are all under sin: (10) as it is written,
So what then? What follows? Are we Jews (Paul here included himself with the Jews to whom he was writing) in a better position before God than are the Gentiles? Paul had already charged that both Jews and Gentiles were all under sin. And he had at this point in the Roman letter examined all their arguments which they used to rationalize their feeling of superiority over the Gentiles. The final answer, to the question of whether we are better than they, was, "Not at all."
Finally, in verses 10 through 18, Paul quotes from the scriptures given by God to the Jews themselves, scriptures which support all that Paul had been teaching concerning the wrath of God which is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, both Jews and Gentiles. Portions of Psalms 5, 10, 14, 36, 53, 59, and 140 were quoted by Paul.
I, the writer of this commentary, have always had a tendency to want to "water down" this passage of scripture. "There is none righteous, not even one! ... There is none who seeks for God! ... They have become useless!" I've said to myself that perhaps, some time in the past, this may have been true. But surely, today there are some who seek for God, some who have not become useless. I have wondered how God's word could make such all encompassing statements as these. I rationalized that perhaps they were true just at certain times and at certain places.
But, in studying the Roman letter, I have come to the conclusion that these scriptures of old were, and are, all inclusive. They refer to all human beings, no exceptions. They show what human nature is! These show what characteristics were, and are, in people in all times and everywhere. Paul will make it even more clear later in the Roman letter, but these verses quoted from the Psalms set the stage for our learning the truth, that it is not in mankind's human nature to "do good."
We have already read in Romans 2:7 that God will give eternal life to those who by perseverance in "doing good" seek for glory and honor and immortality. And we have read in Romans 2:10 that God will give glory and honor and peace to every man who "does good." So, in one place Paul urges us to "do good." But in other places Paul seeks to convince us that it is not in mankind "to do good." Are there contradictions in the Roman letter?
No! There are no contradictions here. But there is a paradox. Should we be confounded by this? Yes,
perhaps we should! As fleshly humans descended from Adam, we should be confounded. We should
recognize and admit that we are confounded just as Paul was when he said, "Wretched man that I am.
Who will deliver me from the body of this death?" (Romans 7:24.) We must learn, as Paul is teaching us,
that we are sinful and we are not going to get ourselves out of "the body of this death." God tells us to "do
good" in order to have eternal life. But we can't "do good" in the flesh so we are not going to have eternal
life through any effort of our own. Who is going to deliver us? We cannot deliver ourselves. The wrath
of God is reserved for us! What can we do?
Even today we argue about the heathen aboriginal people of the dark jungles of the earth? They have never heard about Jesus Christ. We rationalize, surely God will not punish them for their sins. That wouldn't be fair! And what about all the people of olden times who lived before the time of Jesus? They were ignorant of God's salvation. God would not punish them. That would not be fair? And somehow, we extrapolate our feelings about the ignorant heathens to ourselves. We really try to rationalize that a good and loving God will not punish us either!
The Jews used the same erroneous reasoning that we do. They didn't want to believe they were lost
sinners. So they conveniently remembered that they had faithful Abraham as their father. God wouldn't
punish Abraham's descendants, they rationalized. God promised that the Jews would always be His
chosen people. He gave only the Jews the seal of circumcision. Surely God would not punish them!
Paul told the Jews that they knew clearly that they had a Law and that they had broken it. They thought God would save them just because they were Jews. They might as well have thought that they could get "good by doing "evil," said Paul. They knew that wouldn't work. They had sinned and were in danger of the righteous wrath of God.
How were the recipients of the Roman letter supposed to react to these teachings of Paul? If they were not yet Christians, surely Paul sought to have them react as did the people of Jerusalem as described in Acts 2. Hopefully, they would cry out, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" If they were already Christians, surely Paul sought to have them react even as Paul himself reacted as he became frustrated in trying to bear fruit for God. "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?" (Romans 7: 24.)
When we get to a state of helplessness, then God, through His Son and His Holy Spirit, can help us. It's paradoxical. We have got to realize that we are dead before we can be made alive! We have got to lose our souls before our souls can be saved. (Matthew 10:39.) We have got to descend into the depths before we can be lifted up on high to sit with Christ in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 2:6.)
Law was given that both Gentiles and Jews might come to have knowledge of their sin. Romans 3:19-20.
"(19) Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; (20) because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin." Romans 3:19-20. NASV.
Up to Romans 3:19 Paul made a convincing argument that all people since the creation of the world,
including both Jews and Gentiles in his time, had been given "law" by God which they were instructed by
God to try to keep. He also made a convincing argument that all people had broken their "law" making
them susceptible to the wrath of God. The question naturally arose, why, then, did God place mankind
In most translations of these verses the word "law" is capitalized. The common practice in translations is to capitalize the word "law" when the translator believes it pertains to the special Mosaic Law given to the Jews. The practice is to omit the capitalization if the translator believes the word pertains generally to all "law", or to other "laws" such as the law written in the hearts of Gentiles. In these two verses the capitalization of the word "law" appears to be in error. Paul had been addressing both Jews and Gentiles and had been discussing together both the law written in the hearts of Gentiles, and the special Law of Moses given only to the Jews. Then in Romans 3:19-20 Paul drew conclusions applicable to both laws. Pau1's use of the phrase "all the world", including both Jews and Gentiles, makes this clear. Also, his use of the phrase "no flesh will be justified" makes it clear that he did not draw conclusions pertaining only to the flesh of Jews. Thus, we must conclude that the purposes given here were for God's application of law to all mankind and not just for His application of the special Mosaic Law to the Jews.
The first purpose mentioned by Paul for God's giving of law to mankind was "that every mouth may be closed." Paul wrote later in Romans 4: 15 that "where there is no law, neither is there violation." Without law from God there was no standard of right and wrong in the conduct of people. Without law, "every mouth" might proclaim his own standard of right and wrong conduct, and "every mouth" might change that standard whenever he chose. Concerning standards of right and wrong the world, without law, would have been in chaos, a state to which God's enemy Satan would like to bring the world. But God was, and is, the author of a definite standard of right and wrong, and His creation must be subject to God's standard. Loving mankind and desiring to keep him close to Himself, God had to give law to mankind to guide him towards faith in his Creator. Then mankind had the opportunity of trying to follow God's law and to draw near to his Creator. Thus, Paul said that law speaks to those under the law, "that every mouth may be closed", that is, that "every mouth" may not have opportunity to contribute to the chaotic condition that Satan recommends. That term "every mouth" may have included special reference to "one mouth" in particular, which tried to influence "every human mouth." That special reference would have been to the "mouth" of Satan.
In addition to the closing of "every mouth", Paul stated another related reason for God's giving of law to mankind. It was that "all the world may become accountable to God." Although many people might have thought that they were accountable only to themselves, they actually could be accountable to one only of two invisible personalities, the Creator who was the almighty God of heaven, or Satan whom the almighty God allowed to be the god of this world. The idea that they might be accountable only to themselves was a lie propagated by Satan in order to promote chaos in the world and entice people to become accountable to him rather than to the almighty God. But in His love for mankind, God gave mankind His own law that all the world might became accountable only to God Himself. People could turn to God's standard of law, learn from it, and partake of God's salvation. Those people who rejected God's law and the salvation to which it led, became subject to God's wrath which could then be applied by God in all righteousness. Concerning mankind's sense of fairness, it was only fair that God give law to mankind for it is God to whom mankind is accountable.
Paul explained that the "law" had not performed the function of justifying anyone in the lives they had lived under law, "because by the works of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight." Law could define clearly one's status of law-keeping or law-breaking. But law could not save anyone from the consequences of law-breaking. Law was given to mankind, both Jews and Gentiles, for another purpose altogether. That purpose was a necessary purpose to bring people to a state of repentance in which God could justify them. That purpose was to bring people to the knowledge of their law-breaking, that is "to the knowledge of sin."
The law cannot save any person from sin. It can only help the person to know that inevitably he sins. If a person insists on trying to merit salvation through his keeping of God's law, then law has done him no good at all, and he will not be saved. The law must be allowed to perform its function in people; that is, bring people to the knowledge of their sin. That is the first advantage of law to mankind. When a person knows that he has sinned and, therefore, cannot merit salvation through the keeping of law, he will be encouraged to look elsewhere for salvation. It is at this point that God meets people with the gospel which, unlike law, does have the power to save people. Paul said, in Galatians 3:24-25, "The law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith." First however, the law must lead us to the knowledge of sin. Then it may continue its work to lead us to the Christ to whom it points.
All who believe are justified apart from the law through the redeeming blood of JESUS CHRIST. Romans 3:21-5:11.
The righteousness of God, although witnessed by the law and the Prophets, is revealed to mankind apart from the law through faith in JESUS CHRIST. Romans 3:21-24.
"(21) But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, (22) even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe: for there is no distinction; (23) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (24) being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus." Romans 3:21-24. NASV.
From chapter 1 verse 18 through chapter 3 verse 21 Paul stressed that the righteousness of God will be expressed as wrath against all whose sins are unforgiven. The Gentiles all sinned in the breaking of their law. The Jews all sinned in the breaking of their Law. In Romans 3:23 Paul summed up the situation discussed so far, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." In addition, all people had been given the opportunity of coming to the knowledge of their sin and realizing their need for salvation from sin's consequences.
The stage was then set for Paul's revealing of the next step in the righteousness of God expressed toward mankind. The law of God had its part in bringing mankind to recognize his need for salvation, but the next step, the actual gift of salvation, was revealed "apart from the law".
"But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been manifested, ... even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; ..." The next step was the revealing of the righteousness which God expressed through Jesus Christ, a righteousness which benefitted mankind through the faith of those who believe.
Although faith in Jesus Christ came to people "apart from the law," God's plan of salvation through mankind's faith in Him as a Savior was "witnessed by the Law and the Prophets." The laws of God were given to Gentiles and Jews down through the ages as part of a specific plan by God to redeem all people whom He had created with free wills in His own image. The Law and the Prophets given to the Jews were well known through the Old Testament scriptures. The law and the Prophets given to the Gentiles seem not to have been so well known, but they were also revealed in the scriptures. The messages of the laws and the Prophets were in no way limited to the revealing of God's wrath against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppressed the truth. Their messages also revealed God's plan of salvation, as Paul quoted Habakkuk, "But the righteous man shall live by faith." (Romans 1: 17.)
Paul told the Romans that they could not be saved by their own power in obedience to law, or by means of their own works of merit, but they could be "justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus." God, through His own grace, will save you, Paul said. God made salvation possible through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. Salvation can be appropriated to you by your faith and acceptance of God's gift of this provision.
Paul used the phrase "being justified" to describe the action of "being saved ." The phrase "being justified" describes how God brought about the action of "being saved". From the viewpoint of mankind, people wanted to be "saved" from the consequences of their sins. God wanted to "save" people but, from His viewpoint, they first had to be "'justified."
God is the Judge and all His judgment decisions are "just" for God has revealed that His nature requires Him always to be "just". He will not be "unjust." But God would have been "unjust" to ignore the sins of the unrighteous and withhold His wrath against those sins. "'The wrath of God is revealed ... against the unrighteous." This is a principle which God will not deny. So God did what no human being could ever dream of being possible. He "justified" the unrighteous people by attributing their sins to someone who was righteous. "Justice" was satisfied by the exercise of God's wrath against the righteous One who took upon Himself all the sins of the unrighteous. The righteous One had to be God Himself, for no one else was righteous. So God took the action through which mankind was "justified." He took all sins upon Himself in the person of His righteous Son and His wrath was expended "justly" upon Him. Thus, people speak meaningfully of God's principle of "justification" which allows believers to be counted by God as being righteous.
We are reminded of Paul's objective expressed in Romans 1: 9 and Romans 1:16: "I serve (God) in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His son. ... For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes to the Jew first and also to the Greek." Paul unfolded in a very organized and detailed way in the Roman letter an explanation of all God's provisions for bringing people to salvation.
The righteousness of God was demonstrated in that He was the "justifier" of those who had faith, while at the same time being" just" in the punishment of sin.
The blood of JESUS CHRIST served as a propitiation for the sins of all the faithful who lived both before and after CHRIST died. Romans 3:25-26.
"(25) Whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness. because in the "forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed: (26) for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has "faith in Jesus." Romans 3:25-26. NASV.
The only righteous One, God Himself in the person of "the Son" of the Godhead, took on the punishment for all the sins of mankind, and offered His blood in sacrifice as a "propitiation" for those sins. God "displayed" the sacrifice publicly. The death and shedding of blood of Jesus was on public display. That is, the crucifixion of Christ was carried out in a public place after a mock trial before Jewish and Roman officials, and at the demand of a large portion of the people of Jerusalem. The death of Christ was so publicly displayed that virtually no one visiting Jerusalem at the time was unaware of it. (Luke 14:18.)
In addition, the crucifixion of Jesus was reported by the Holy Spirit through four writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) who recorded it so that almost the whole world, generation after generation for almost 2,000 years have seen it through their records. In this way the death of Jesus has had more public display than any other death in all history.
Notice, also, Paul said that "God displayed" the death of Jesus, not man. At the crucifixion of Jesus, God was in charge, not man. Peter said, "You Jews nailed Jesus to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death." Men willed the death of Jesus and men carried it out. Men thought that they were in charge and that they were crucifying Jesus solely by their own will. But Peter had prefaced his statement with the qualifier that the Jews' actions were "by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God." (Acts 2: 23.) The truth of the matter was that God used the sinful action of the Jews to bring about the accomplishment of His predetermined plan, and it was actually God who "displayed" the death of Jesus. Later in the Roman letter Paul summed up all things God had done for mankind with the statement, "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28.) The invisible things which happen in the spiritual realm of God are often more important than, and cast an entirely different light on, the things that appear to be happening in our visible world!
Through the shedding of the blood of Jesus, the wrath of God against sinners was open to "propitiation." (Some synonyms of the word propitiation are conciliation, expiation, satisfaction, atonement, or appeasement.) However, the shedding of the blood of Christ was not effective as a "propitiation" for any individual sinner except through the faith of that individual. Two things worked together to secure salvation from the wrath of God for an individual. Paul said the "propitiation" was (1) "in His blood", and (2) "through faith." God supplied Jesus, "the perfect lamb," whose shed blood became the sacrifice. The individual sinner had to supply the "faith" which would result in his repentance and obedience to God thereafter.
Paul said that the propitiation was "in His blood." Why was "blood" involved? This writer does not know why blood had to be involved. But, ever since the days of Cain and Abel God had required that a "blood" sacrifice be offered by those faithful to Him. Many people of today reject the idea of a blood sacrifice for any reason. The idea of an atonement being necessary, especially a blood sacrifice, is rejected by many. Yet, this idea of the "blood sacrifice" of Christ is at the very heart of Christianity. The necessary sacrifice to provide the propitiation was the blood of our Savior. In this the Christianity of the New Testament carried out the fulfillment of types and prophecies of the Old Testament. Here in verse 25 Paul declared fully the righteous system for salvation which God had demonstrated only in type by the animal sacrifices He required of people before Christ. Whether we understand it or not, Christ's blood was the only acceptable sacrifice for the final solution to the sin problem. Salvation is by the "blood of Christ" and any so-called "gospel" that leaves that out is not the gospel Paul declared.
Paul said that "this was to demonstrate His righteousness, ... that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." The great mystery of all the prior ages had been how God was going to "justify" sinful people and still remain "just." "Justice" demanded that the wrath of God fall upon sinners. God allowed Jesus to take upon Himself the sins of all people and receive His wrath. The wrath was vented in God 's rejection of Jesus as He hung upon the Cross. Jesus cried out from the cross, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? " (Matthew 27:46.) This satisfied "justice." Then, in His death, His blood was shed as the sacrifice and the antitype of the innocent and perfect lamb which God required under the Old Covenant. God accepted this "perfect" sacrifice as a "propitiation" for the sins of those who had faith in Jesus. In this God became the "justifier." The righteousness of God was demonstrated in that He was the "justifier" of those who had faith, while at the same time being "just" in the punishment of sin.
Paul pointed out also in these two verses that the propitiation made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was effective for the sins of all the faithful, including those who lived before Christ died, and those who lived after Christ died. Those who lived in all the ages of the earth before Christ died were included in the phrase, "because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed." Those who lived after Christ died were included in the phrase, "for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time."
Paul's explanations pictured the God who sees all worldly history at a glance, from Adam to the time of
Jesus, to our time today, and even on to the end of time. God was pictured as One who dwells in a realm
which transcends time as we measure it. This was indicated also by Peter when he said, "With the Lord
one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." (2 Peter 3:8.) At a point in world history
which suited God, He sent His Son into the world and offered His blood as the propitiation for the sins of
mankind, past and future. He had already "passed over" sins previously committed knowing that the
propitiation would be made in due time. So, when the propitiation was finally made, it provided
atonement for all those who had ever lived before Christ. And, in like manner, it provided atonement for
all those who would ever live after Christ. Of course, the propitiation was efficacious only to those before
Christ who had lived in obedience of faith in God as their Savior. Similarly, it was efficacious only to
those after Christ who would live in obedience of faith in Christ as their Savior.
God is the perfect model of "forbearance." From outside the worldly time frame He "forbears" mankind, that is, He has patience and long suffering towards mankind before, during, and after the fact of each individual life. He was longsuffering to the people of today even before they lived and sinned. He provided a completed propitiation for the sins of the people of today even before they lived. For the people who lived in the time of Adam and Abraham and Moses and David, the propitiation provided by the sacrifice of Christ was "as though it had already occurred" in the mind of God. And many of the faithful characters of the Old Testament became confident that God, in due time, was going to redeem them. The list, in chapter 11 of the Hebrew letter, of the faithful "men of old" who "gained approval" of God, reminds people today that their faith saved them even before Christ's sacrifice took place.
People today may have trouble understanding how God dealt with the sins of those who lived before Christ. But God had no trouble with it. In His forbearance, until the propitiation occurred, He "passed over" the sins of those who were His faithful servants. He reckoned as righteous those who rendered "obedience of faith". The faithful were reckoned righteous and saved through the sacrifice of the "blood of Christ", even though the sacrifice was in the future beyond their lives.
The reader is referred back to the diagram in Figure 1 of the Introduction of this commentary. The time line drawn horizontally across the middle of this diagram represents all the time God has allotted to mankind on earth, from the left border representing the time of the creation of the world, to the right border representing the end of time, or the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. The cross of Christ is portrayed near the center of this diagram with one line emanating from the cross back to the creation, and another line emanating from the cross to the end of time in the future. These line illustrate how propitiation through Christ for the sins of mankind is extended to mankind throughout all time allotted to mankind on earth.
Horizontal lines at the top of the diagram illustrate the fact that the righteousness of God has been and always will be revealed to mankind, and salvation through obedience of faith has been and always will be available to mankind.
Horizontal lines at the bottom of the diagram illustrate the fact that God has always in the past, and will always in the future, impose law on mankind in order to lead them to take advantage of the gift of salvation offered once for all through the cross of Christ.
The diagram attempts to portray the fact that God is both "just"and the "justifier." The state of "justification" is indicated above the center line of the diagram where dwell all those who have availed themselves of the gift of salvation. The state of "justice" is indicated below the center of the diagram where dwell all those who have not yet availed themselves of the gift of salvation.
The fact that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law does not nullify God's law but, on the contrary, establishes it. Romans 3:27-31.
"(27) Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. (28) For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. (29) Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes of Gentiles also, (30) since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. (31) Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary we establish the Law." Romans 3:27-31. NASV.
Paul continued in these verses with his constructed dialogue with the Jews, wrapping up arguments he made in previous verses. Your boasting in being Jews and having a special written Law from God is excluded, Pau1 said. You cannot boast in having kept a Law of works because you have not kept that Law. Everyone of you have transgressed the special Law God gave to you just as everyone of the Gentiles has transgressed the law God gave to them. Salvation does not come through a Law of works but through a "law of faith." Paul then reiterated, "We maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law."
The boasting of the Jews concerning their supposed superiority over the Gentiles was tantamount to a claim that God was the God of the Jews only and had no regard for the Gentiles at all. But, that kind of boast from the Jews was excluded because there was but one God, of both the Gentiles and the Jews. The Law of Moses was designed by God to lead the Jews to Christ. But, because of their concept and boast in their works under the Law, it became a "stumbling block" to them. They believed that God would justify them through their works under the Law, and that they did not need Christ's sacrifice. Then, if there were no sacrifice, only the Jews could be justified for only the Jews had the Law by which they expected salvation. But Paul exclaimed that God is the God of the Gentiles also, and only by faith apart from works of Law can any man be justified.
Paul had made clear that there was but one God and He was no respecter of persons. He justifies everyone, Jews and Gentiles, only by their faith. The circumcision required of Jews had its purpose but circumcision alone did not save them. The circumcised Jews were saved through their faith. The fact that the Gentiles were not called to be circumcised did not indicate that they could not be saved. The uncircumcised Gentiles were saved through their faith also.
Paul asked finally, in behalf of the Jews, "Do we then nullify the Law through faith?" He gave final answer, "May it never be!" Then Paul's parting words to his constructed argument with the Jews was, "On the contrary, we establish the Law." He had made it clear that the Law was not imposed for the purpose of saving anyone, nor did it have within it the power of salvation. The purpose of Law was that every mouth might be closed, all the world might become accountable to God, and that everyone might come to the knowledge of sin. Having fulfilled its purpose, the Law was "established." It brought people to the faith through which they could be saved.
(This has been taken from the book, "God's Righteousness Revealed," a commentary on the Roman Letter by F. M. Perry.)
© 2002, F. M. Perry