Setting

Paul has argued that a true Jew is not outward and true circumcision is not physical. A Jew who is physically circumcised but breaks God’s law is not any different from a Gentile, and an uncircumcised Gentile who keeps God’s law is considered true Jew. This teaching seems to have rendered being a Jew and circumcision completely valueless. Furthermore, it seems to have called God’s faithfulness into question. The present passage begins by answering these likely objections.

Key Verse

(3:23-24)

Did You Know...?

  1. The words, “entrusted,” “unfaithful,” “faithlessness,” and “faithfulness” in 4:2–3 all share the same root word “believe” or “trust.”
  2. Justify (3:4, 20, 24, 26, 28): The Greek word “justify” is the verb form of the word for “righteousness.” It means literally “make righteous” or “establish as right.” [ref]
  3. 3:10-18 is a string of quotations from the Old Testament (cf. Ps 14:1-3; 53:1-3; 5:9; 140:3; 10:7; Prov 1:16; 3:15-17; Isa 59:7-8; Ps 36:1). 
  4. Propitiation (3:25): This Greek word, which denotes the means of expiation, is used in the Old Testament for the mercy seat (cf. Heb 9:5; Ex 25:17–22, etc.)

Outline

  • God’s Righteousness Upheld
    (3:1–8)
  • All Are Under Sin and None Is Justified by Works
    (3:9–20)
  • Righteousness through Faith in Christ
    (3:21–31)

General Analysis

  • 1.

    Observe the various meanings of the word “law” in this passage.

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    1. All of God’s requirements for His people as recorded in Scripture (3:19, 20, 21a, 28, 31)
    2. The body of writings known as the Pentateuch or the Five Books of Moses (3:21b; cf. Lk 24:44).
    3. A guiding principle; a norm (3:27; cf. Rom 7:21)

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Segment Analysis

  • 3:1–8

    1.

    What literary device does Paul use in this segment to convey his point? How is it effective?

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    In this segment Paul answers a series of hypothetical or real questions. It is as if he is engaged in a dialogue with an imaginary interlocutor, who repeatedly challenges the message of the gospel. His comment at the end of verse 5, “I speak in a human way,” reveals that Paul put forth these questions as a rhetorical device. By anticipating questions readers may raise, this Q&A style of writing enables Paul to put those objections or doubts to rest. It also helps Paul advance his argument that man’s faithlessness does not nullify God’s faithfulness.

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  • 2.

    Why is being entrusted with the oracles of God an advantage to being a Jew (v. 2)?

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    The word “entrusted” is important in this context because it is closely related to the words “unfaithful,” “faithlessness,” and “faithfulness” in the following verse (v. 3). It is the passive form of “believe” or “trust.” In other words, God trusted the Jews with His oracles, although they responded to God with unfaithfulness (“unfaithfulness” is also translated “disbelief” or “distrust”) and disobedience. To be entrusted with the laws and promises of God was a unique privilege given to the Israelites (Rom 9:4–5). No other nation on earth could have such a close relationship with God and such righteous laws (Deut 4:7–8; Ps 147:19–20). By giving the Israelites His laws, God gifted them with the opportunity to be His treasured possession (Ex 19:5–6).

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  • 3.

    What is the point of the question in verse 3?

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    Even though the Jews had been privileged to possess the oracles of God, they had been unfaithful to God and His covenant. Their failure seems to call into question God’s election of the Israelites and God’s faithfulness to His promises. The intent of the rhetorical question is to object to the point that Jews are also sinners like the Gentiles (i.e. “If the Jews are sinners, does that not make God unfaithful?”). To this question Paul answers very strongly in the negative (v. 4).

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  • 4.

    Summarize Paul’s teaching in this segment about God’s faithfulness and righteousness.

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    God is absolutely trustworthy. Man’s unfaithfulness does not undermine God’s faithfulness (vv. 3–4). Neither does man’s unfaithfulness make God more truthful (vv. 7). God’s integrity does not depend in any way on man, so He is perfectly just in His judgments, including inflicting wrath on sinners (vv. 4–6).

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  • 5.

    In what ways do we sometimes, similar to the objections in verses 7 and 8, also find excuses for our wrongdoings?

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    Since our first progenitors, Adam and Eve, human beings have been prone to blame others for our faults. Sometimes, we may even blame God, even though implicitly, for our own sins. Examples of such excuses include, “That’s just the way I am” and “If God does not approve my actions, why does He not intervene to stop it?”

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  • 3:9-20

    6.

    How has Paul demonstrated in the previous chapters that all, including Jews and Greeks, are under sin?

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    The Gentiles, although they knew God, did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him. Their thinking had become futile and their hearts darkened. They engage in idolatry, homosexuality, and all kinds of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, and malice. (Rom 1:18–32).

    On the other hand, the Jews, who had the law of God, broke the law of God. They condemn others, but do the very things they condemn, such as stealing and adultery. God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of them (Rom 2:1–3, 17–24).

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  • 7a.

    The Scriptures that Paul cites is a long list of man’s wicked ways. By condemning all men as sinners, is the Bible denying the fact that there are many good people in this world?

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    While there are certainly many kind-hearted and loving people in this world, the point that the Bible makes here is that no one is justified by the works of the law (v. 20). Human beings measure each other’s goodness using human standards, but we all fail to live up to God’s perfect standards. The deeds that we deem as righteous are in fact unclean before God (Isa 64:6). Even if a person keeps the whole law but fails in one point, he is considered a lawbreaker (Jas 2:10). Therefore, no one, not even the most religious and charitable person in this world, is able to stand as perfectly righteous before God.

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  • 7b.

    How would you share the gospel with someone who believes that being a good person is good enough for God?

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  • 3:21-31

    8.

    If no one may be justified by the works of the law, how then can a person be justified (vv. 21-26, 28)?

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    A person is justified through faith in Jesus Christ.

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  • 9.

    Why is the justification discussed in this segment called a gift (v. 24)?

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    Our justification is a gift because it is made possible by the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood (3:24–25). If we were able to earn a righteous standing before God with our good works, then our justification would be called a wage. But since we are justified by faith in the Lord Jesus, who justifies us freely, our justification is a gift, also known as “grace” (cf. Rom 4:4–5).

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  • 10.

    In practical terms, what does it mean to believe/trust in Jesus Christ?

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    This question will be answered progressively in the book of Romans. Faith in Jesus Christ begins with hearing the gospel, confessing with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believing in our heart that God raised Him from the dead (Rom 10:8–17). A believer in Jesus is also baptized into the death of Christ by being baptized into Jesus Christ (Rom 6:3). From that moment, he is no longer enslaved to sin. He must consider himself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom 6:6–23). Faith in Jesus is not a momentary acknowledgment that Jesus is our Savior, but it is a lifelong commitment to obey all of Jesus’ commands (cf. Mt 7:21–27; Lk 9:23–24; Mt 28:19–20). A true Christian is “in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). That means he has been set free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. He does not live according to his own desires but walk by the Spirit (Rom 8:2–17; Gal 2:20; 5:16–24). By the Holy Spirit whom God gives to believers freely, we are equipped to put to death the deeds of the body and be victors through Christ even in our weaknesses and sufferings (Rom 8:12–39).

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  • 11.

    How does justification by faith in Jesus reveal and uphold God’s righteousness?

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    With His blood and by His death Jesus offered Himself to God as a sacrifice of atonement and for our redemption (Rom 5:6–9; 2 Cor 5:21; Eph 2:13; Col 1:21–22; 1 Pet 1:18–19; 1 Jn 2:2; Rev 1:5). Being justified by Jesus’ blood, we can be saved from God’s wrath (Rom 5:9). According to God’s justice, we sinners must be punished for our sins. But in God’s forbearance God had not dealt with us as our sins deserved (Rom 5:25). To satisfy God’s perfect justice as well as to demonstrate His love for us, God sent His Son Jesus Christ to bear our sins on our behalf and suffered the punishment that should have been ours. Consequently, we who believe in Jesus Christ may be justified freely. Justification by faith in Jesus Christ, therefore, reveals and upholds God’s righteousness.

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  • 12a.

    In verses 27 to 30, we learn that God has made justification available to all. What does this truth say about God?

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    God, being the God of both the Jews and the Gentiles, applies the same standard to all men. That is, He justifies both the Jews and the Gentiles through faith. This truth once again attests to God’s justice. It also affirms that God is the God of all mankind.

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  • 12b.

    In verses 27 to 30, we learn that God has made justification available to all. How does it motivate us to share the gospel?

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    God desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. Jesus Christ gave Himself as a ransom for all (1 Tim 2:1–7). Regardless of one’s race or background, salvation by faith in Christ is freely available to all. For this very reason Paul was commissioned to reach out to people of all races with the gospel, and it should likewise motivate us to do the same.

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  • 3:21-31

    13.

    How is it that justification by faith not only does not overthrow the law but actually upholds it (v. 31)?

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    As will become clear later on in the book of Romans, the righteous requirements of the law are fulfilled in believers of Christ who are in Jesus Christ (Rom 8:1–4). As our Lord Jesus has said, He has not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Mt 5:17). He accomplishes this by washing away the sins of the believers and giving His Holy Spirit to them so that they may live out God’s law from their hearts (cf. Heb 10:16–17; Ezek 36:25–27).

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