The Defense Caves In
If you review Romans 2, you’ll recall that God establishes the principle in that chapter that a real relationship with God is only established by having the right beliefs in our heart. So, as Paul points out, when any person (Jew or Gentile) depends on outward acts for redemption, he fails. Any person who has a “stubborn and unrepentant heart” (2:5) fails before God’s judgment, even the Jew who “possesses” circumcision and the Law (2:25).
Picture the prosecution and defense in a court room, laying out a case to the jury regarding the accusations being charged against the prisoner. Humanity’s defense of its actions has nothing more to say, every effort to grasp at righteousness has failed. Romans 3 provides the Prosecutor’s summation of undeniable guilt which mankind faces.
Study: Read through 3:1-20. Try to pick up the key words or phrases. What would you say is the key verse for this passage?
3:1-2/ In this situation, no accused person (all guilty mankind) has any pretense of ‘advantage’ – no one can stand before the Judge with a smug grin. This is emphasized by the fact that the Jews possessed the very inspired utterances of God in the Holy Scriptures, yet they still stood condemned.
Study: Although Paul was writing people in Gentile Rome, he still had to address Jews who would also be in the audience. Why would the Jew consider circumcision an advantage? Consider what Paul says in 2:25 and 9:4.
3:2-7/ The fact that God applies wrath in the situation has no effect on the purity of His holiness and righteousness. A key doctrinal truth is the unchangeableness of God – His purity, holiness, righteousness, justice is always constant. A rebellious act by man doesn’t change that, including the rebellion of the Jews who have the legacy of the Law. The sinner remains condemned.
3:8-9/ Paul confirms that the message he has been preaching throughout his missionary journeys agrees with this principle, and he does not encourage continued sin in order to give God more opportunity to demonstrate His mercy. This is a recurring sub-theme in Paul’s letters where he sees need to defend some aspect of his ministry and message. Everywhere he went, there were detractors who would try to undermine him.
3:10-20/ Paul’s “concluding statement” begins with an extended quote from the OT scriptures (check Psalm 14:1-3 and 53:1-3) Mankind is full of poisonous sin, determined to be rebellious against God’s holy standards, with no fear of God and His declared judgment of sin.
3:20-31/ Paul introduced the subject of “justification” in chapter 2 where in 2:13 he states the OT Jew’s approach of being a “doer of the Law” in order to be justified by God. Of course Paul’s point there was that no one is capable of successfully “doing” the whole law – we all sin at one point or other. After closing chapter 2 with the key point of “circumcision of the heart”, justification requires true faith from our heart. In chapter 3, justification is mentioned in four verses – 3:4, 20, 24, and 28. Take the time to think through Paul’s progress in these verses and note that he is working towards a major statement that occurs in 5:1 – “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God.”
The bottom line: not one person on earth at any time in history can claim to be good – “good” that is according to God’s measure of holiness. The goal of any thinking person is to be righteous in the eyes of the holy God Who created them. And yet Paul closes this segment of Romans emphasizing that it is impossible for any person to accomplish that righteous condition. All he can do is be miserably aware of just how sinful he is, and stare in fear because of his condemned status before the Judge.
1. In 3:1-8, what are four objections that men raise against the Gospel (vv. 1, 3, 5-7, 8a)?
2. What is Paul’s response for each objection in vv. 2, 4, 6, 8b.
3. What are the three phrases that build a reverse parallel in vv. 10-11? How do these actually illustrates how a person comes into relationship with God?
* Reminder: Use a journal, either paper or electronic. Write down your observations as your think through these study questions.