Condemnation and Salvation – Romans 3:1–4:12
Read the Passage: Romans 3:1–4:12
Condemnation of All (3:1–20)
In Rom. 3:1 Paul posited a logical question that his Jewish readers would have been asking, “What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision?” In response, Paul teaches the advantage in being a Jew is possession of the Word of God. So, while being ethnically Jewish did not entail automatic salvation—as some may have errantly assumed—it did provide access to the Scriptures, which contain the gospel message, in elementary form, even in the Old Testament (cf. Hab. 2:4; John 8:56; Gal. 3:8; Heb. 4:2). It is true that access to special revelation meant that the Jews would experience the condemnation of the written law, yet it also exposed them to God’s plan of salvation, which led many Jews to faith in the promised Messiah (cf. Heb. 11:1–40). By way of contrast, the Gentiles only had access to general revelation, which could only lead to their condemnation.
In Rom. 3:3–4, Paul explains that God’s justice is not impugned by the fact that some who have the Word of God are not saved. Indeed, God never promised to redeem persons by possession of the law, but only by faith in Christ. Next, in Rom. 3:5–8, Paul addresses the following argument: If mankind’s attempts at law-keeping only lead to sin, which highlights man’s need of salvation by God, then it would seem that: (1) God is unjust in judging mankind, as by doing so God is condemning man for that which increases His own glory (cf. Rom. 3:5–6); and (2) mankind ought to focus on sinning more, for sin emphasizes God’s holiness (cf. Rom. 3:7–8). Paul’s response to such foolish thinking (cf. Rom. 1:21–22) is, “Certainly not!” (Rom. 3:6) and, “Their condemnation is just” (Rom. 3:8). Paul then reinforces this teaching by quoting from several different psalms, as well as the book of Isaiah.
Salvation by Faith (3:21–31)
Paul begins his teaching on salvation by faith with the phrase “But now” (Rom. 3:21). This conjunction is meant to contrast all that Paul had previously said in Rom. 1:18–3:20 about condemnation with what he will say in Rom. 3:21–5:21 about justification. Note, however, that Paul does not completely discard the law, as he teaches that the gospel is “witnessed to by the Law and the Prophets” (Rom. 3:21). Rom. 3:22 is an important verse, for this is the first time in this epistle that Paul teaches that righteousness is “through faith in Jesus Christ.” Here Paul explains that Jesus made “propitiation by His blood” (Rom. 3:25). Propitiation is a theological term that refers to bearing the wrath of God. The idea here is that Jesus’ death on the cross not only atoned for man’s sin, but also it satisfied divine wrath and restored man’s relationship to God (cf. Rom. 1:18; 2:5, 8; 3:5).
In Rom. 3:21–26 Paul teaches that salvation, which comes by faith alone, is available to “all who believe” (Rom. 3:22) and that salvation is a divine work, as God is both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). In Rom. 3:27–31 Paul teaches one natural conclusion of this doctrine is that “boasting . . . is excluded” (Rom. 3:27). In other words, since it is impossible to earn salvation through law-keeping, neither Jews nor Gentiles can boast, for God “will justify the circumcised [i.e., Jews] by faith and the uncircumcised [i.e., Gentiles] through faith” (Rom. 3:30). Indeed, the doctrine of justification is the great equalizer of mankind, regardless of any other factors. Paul would later explain to the Galatian churches, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
Illustrations of Belief (4:1–12)
In Rom. 4:1–12 Paul anticipates that some of his Jewish readers would object to his teaching of justification by faith alone. By way of response, Paul appeals to two respected Old Testament figures to confirm his doctrine of salvation: Abraham (cf. Rom. 4:1–4; 9–12) and David (cf. Rom. 4:5–8). Note that Paul would mention Abraham nine times in this letter and cite David’s name three times. In appealing to Abraham in Rom. 4:1–4 Paul readily admits that “if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about” (Rom. 4:2). Yet, in quoting Gen. 15:6, Paul observes that Scripture teaches, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). In other words, Abraham did not save himself by law-keeping, nor did he boast. Rather, Abraham was justified by solely by believing in God regarding His promises about a coming Messiah.
- While Paul makes it clear that mankind’s good works do not earn merit from God, do good works have any place in the outworking of salvation (cf. Jas. 2:17)?
- Since they couldn’t be saved by the law, in what ways was possession of the Word of God an advantage for the Jewish people?
- How ought we to deal with those who claim to be Christians, yet also assert their right to sin under the guise that sin glorifies God by showing His righteousness?
- How would you respond to someone who objected to the teaching of salvation by faith alone on the basis that faith is a work (cf. Rom. 12:3; Eph. 2:8–9; Jas. 1:18)?
- Have you ever been part of a church that placed more weight upon family heritage and religious tradition than upon Scripture?