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Romans 1-4 Listen
About the Book of Romans
Romans was written to Believers in Rome around 58 A.D. Paul was likely residing in Corinth at the time of the writing - stated in the epilogue. With regard to the people of Rome, the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia writes: "As to Rome itself, we may picture it at the date of the Epistle as containing, with its suburbs, a closely massed population of perhaps 800,000 people; a motley host of many races, with a strong oriental element, among which the Jews were present as a marked influence, despised and sometimes dreaded, but always attracting curiosity."
1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,
2 (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,)
3 Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh;
4 And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:
5 By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:
6 Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ:
7 To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
These first 7 verses contain Paul's greeting to the Believers in Rome along with his statement of purpose. You will notice that Paul clearly states that his preaching and ministry is God ordained. He mentions his own apostleship twice (verses 1 and 5). If, as was suggested in this introduction to Romans, Paul was residing in Corinth at the time of this writing, we might imagine that the issue of Paul's apostleship was a sensitive topic in light of his discourse to the Corinthian in I Corinthians 9 (see notes). As a matter of fact, the issue of Paul's apostleship was complicated by the selection of Matthias as Judas' replacement in Acts 1:12-26 (see notes). So here's the question: Who's apostle number twelve, Paul or Matthias? Now...you might say...BOTH! There's a problem with that answer though; in Matthew 19:28 (see notes) Jesus said, "Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." But wait! There's more. We see the New Jerusalem which is established in Revelation 21. Look at Revelation 21:14 (see notes), "And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb." For more study on this issue, see the notes on Acts 1:12-26. So, Paul clearly establishes his authority as an apostle here along with his calling from God to preach the Messiahship of Jesus Christ to "all nations" (verse 5).
Romans 1:1-7 word study
|servant||δοῦλος||servant or slave|
|holiness||ἁγιωσύνη||noun - same root as adjective "holy" (ἅγιος)|
|nations||ἔθνος||Gentile, heathen, nation, people
(depending on context)
|called||κλητός||noun - called, invited|
|beloved||ἀγαπητός||same root as word for "love" (ἀγάπη)|
These first seven verses are packed full of fundamental Christian principles:
Romans 1:8-15 word study
|Gentiles||ἔθνος||Gentile, heathen, nation, people
(depending on context)
|Barbarian||βάρβαρος||any non Greek|
I'd like to come, but this letter will have to do for now. (Romans 1:8-15)
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.
9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;
10 Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.
11 For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established;
12 That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.
13 Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.
14 I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.
15 So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.
Paul commends the Roman Believers in verse 8 for their stand in the faith. In verse 9, the KJV adds the phrase "in my prayers." The Greek text implies that by simply stating the fact that Paul "makes remembrance without ceasing."
Beginning in verse 10, Paul expresses a desire to visit them in Rome, but pressing commitments have prevented it. The KJV translates the Greek verb "koluo" as "let" in verse 13, a word which means "to hinder." While "let" was used commonly in the 17th century to indicate a "hindrance," today its usage as such is generally confined to sports such as racquet sports i.e. tennis, squash, racquetball. He further makes the point here that his Roman audience is comprised of largely "Gentile" Believers (verse 13). Notice particularly in verse 14 that Paul expresses his gospel commitment to "Greeks" and "Barbarians." Because the cultural norm during this period was dominated by Hellenist (Greek) influence since Alexander the Great (aka Alexander III, king of Macedon, 336323 BC), Paul divides the Gentiles into two categories: Greek speaking and non-Greek speaking (Barbarians). Paul's reference to "wise" and "unwise" is to be understood as "educated" and "uneducated."
Romans was not written with a Jewish audience in view, as we'll see in Romans 9-11 (see notes) where Paul deals with the issue of the Jews' relationship with God.
Romans 1:16-17 word study
|gospel||εὐαγγέλιον||Used by Paul to indicate a specific message defined in
I Corinthians 15:1-4
|verb - same root as noun "faith"|
|All three words have the same Greek root. When one is justified, he is made righteous. Therefore, our righteousness is a result of saving faith through Jesus Christ|
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
Paul suffered much in the process of preaching the "gospel of Christ." Considered by the Roman government to be a sect of Judaism, Christians suffered considerable persecution at the hands of Jewish leaders, and later by the Roman government itself. Paul indicates that this message of Christ went first to the Jews and then to the Greeks, a message for which he was not ashamed.
When Paul uses the term "gospel of Christ," he's using it to specifically reference the message of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ and its significance. His formal definition of the term is found in his letter to the Corinthians (I Corinthians 15:1-4, see notes).
Here's a recurring theme. The just (Greek: "dikaios" aka "righteous" aka "Believers") are just (righteous) through faith (Greek noun: "pistis" - trusting God completely for salvation). The same root in its verb form is found in verse 16 for "believeth" (Greek verb: "pisteuo"). It's always been that way - all the way back to a direct reference to this fact in Genesis 15:6 (see notes) regarding Abraham, "And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness." Paul makes reference in verse 17 to Habakkuk 2:4 (see notes), "Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith."
Notice the two other New Testament references to "the just shall live by faith" found in Paul's writings:
Galatians 3:11 (see notes) But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.
Hebrews 10:38 (see notes) Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.
"The just" is a term meaning being righteous in God's eyes. All Believers are righteous in God's eyes; that's the effect of Christ's death on the cross. So, how are you made righteous before God? When you trust Jesus Christ for salvation (ask Christ to save you in prayer), declaring that you are trusting no one nor anything else except Christ to get you to Heaven, you are made righteous (just) before God. In other words, all Believers are just before God. Paul makes it clear in verse 16 that this is the unadulterated, clear message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Nothing else will do. One more thing: Paul's emphasis in verse 17 of "from faith to faith" indicates that it is only by faith that we are justified from start (from faith) to finish (to faith).
Romans 1:18-32 word study
|revealed||ἀποκαλύπτω||Present passive indicative verb indicates action that is currently taking place.|
|31||without natural affection||ἄστοργος||no love for others|
|31||implacable||ἄσπονδος||unwilling to be at peace with others|
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
ALTERNATIVE METHODS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS BEFORE GOD DON'T EXIST! Let's get our bearings here from verse 18. The verb translated "is revealed" (apokalupto) is present passive indicative in the Greek text, indicating that God's wrath is being revealed against ungodly men at the time of Paul's writing. Verses 19-32 describe the process over time and generations whereby mankind had become so depraved.
Notice verse 19, "Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them." To be very specific with Paul's phrasing here, here's how he says it, "Because the known of God is manifest in them." The verb "is" indicates present tense - a continuing action or state. In other words, contemporaries are in view here. The Greek preposition "en" is used with a dative form of the pronoun "them," and thus can be translated "in them" or "to them." How is God made manifest to these wicked men? God's incredible creation testifies to God (verse 20), leaving them without excuse.
While man naturally resists trust in the supernatural God, each person still remains accountable for his wickedness and rejection of God (also verse 20). Man, for the most part in all generations, has chosen to worship things rather than God - even making replica gods that resemble mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Look closely at verse 21; this is important. There's a line that people cross where their hearts are hardened to the Gospel ("their foolish heart was darkened") like Pharaoh back in Exodus (see notes on Exodus 10) - a point where God "gave them up [over]." Look at this phrase in verses 24, 26 and 28. More evidence that Paul is talking about contemporaries here is the present active indicative tense of "professing" in verse 22. As seen in verse 23, these cannot be satisfied with the Biblical view of God. They insist on chipping away at the very attributes that make God who he is - his omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence. Of course, that's the very essence of idolatry. Interestingly enough, Paul equates "covetousness" with "idolatry" in Colossians 3:5 (see notes). Wow! That certainly brings idolatry home in our society, doesn't it!
Before we analyze verse 25, let's look at the definition of "humanism" in the English dictionary: "an outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters." Verse 25 describes these people as those who "changed the truth of God into a lie." They reject the God of the Bible. Instead, they "worshipped and served the creature [creation] more than the Creator." Verse 25 captures the very essence of exactly what humanists in today's society are doing. There's nothing new here; Paul, himself, warned of humanism. Unfortunately, many Believers allow a certain degree of humanism to creep into their Biblical view of God. Whether they have allowed it through ignorance, a desire to embrace the world or outright rebellion against the One True God, it is still very wrong.
Once you reject the God of the Bible, moral depravity becomes the natural byproduct (verse 26). And by the way, if you wonder what God thinks about homosexuality, look carefully at verses 26 and 27. Let's face it, rejection of God leads to a depraved society. You meet them everyday - people who have no interest whatsoever in becoming righteous before God. They even scoff at the notion that we (as Believers) trust God - some even feeling it is their mission in life to destroy our faith. Well, you've met the reprobate mind of verse 28. Two words are quite significant here: "reprobate" (Greek: adokimos - means worthless) and "[not] convenient" (Greek: katheko - means [not] fitting or right). Here's the deal: The reprobate mind rejects the absolutes of God's Word. Having done so, their value system has no foundation - no guiding principles. At that point, anything goes; nothing is immoral of itself. Thus, we see the direct results of humanism, a society that has no absolutes with regard to God or the Bible. What follows? That is seen in verses 29-32. Without a moral compass, there is unapologetic lawlessness and a rejection of God's principles.
As you read verses 18-32, you may wonder which period of time Paul is referencing. The Old Testament is full of polytheistic cultures, including Israel during much of their history. The tendency to offer substitutes in place of serving our one true God is a tendency of man that is reflected in every generation in history. Paul's picture of this rejection of God is not intended to be reflective of just one race of people during a specific era. Look around; things haven't really changed much since the pagan cultures of the Old Testament offered their babies in sacrifice to Molech. Let's face it, when God is pushed to the background, wicked things take place in a society. We see an interesting example to this discussion in Leviticus 18:19-30 (see notes). We are told that the nations which had previously occupied Canaan were "spued out" of the land because of these wicked practices...including homosexuality. That's significant inasmuch as we see that God strongly condemned that practice even among the godless heathen.
God's judgment is righteous (Romans 2)
With all the talk of "judgment" in chapter 2, you may want to review the article entitled, "Six Judgments Found in the New Testament" located to the right of the screen. In this chapter Paul talks about the law and its relationship to Jews as well as Gentiles. Don't let this chapter throw you. it cannot be understood properly without chapter 3, where Paul pulls these verses into proper context; both chapters are required to complete the thought.
So, just to give us proper perspective before we read chapter 2, keep the following verses from Romans 3 (see below) in mind:
So, keep these verses from chapter 3 in mind. Whenever you read the verses in chapter 2 and begin to think that Paul is somehow suggesting that eternal life can be obtained by keeping the law, refer to his clarifications of chapter 2 in chapter 3 - NO, IT CAN'T! "Well then," you ask, "what is meant by some of these law-oriented comments in chapter 2?" Do this for me: each time you read a statement in chapter 2 that would seem to indicate that keeping the law can make someone worthy of eternal life, read these 4 verses from chapter 3 which are part of the same discussion by Paul. That should put it into perspective for you.
Let's add one more clarification to this discussion. Paul, in chapter 2, is tactfully saying the same thing to these Romans that James did in James 2:10 (see notes), "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." For those who pride themselves in keeping the law for righteousness, James is clear about this: Breaking the law just once destroys the whole proposition. Again, read those 4 verses from Romans 3 listed above.
There's another interesting parallel between Romans 2 and James 2 - the role of one's religious persuasion in salvation. The Jews, about whom Paul is speaking here, are no more saved because of their Jewish religious persuasion than the devils of James 2:19 where James says, "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble." Salvation is strictly about a faith relationship with Jesus Christ.
God's judgment is just (Romans 2:1-11)
1 Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.
2 But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things.
3 And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?
4 Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
5 But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;
6 Who will render to every man according to his deeds:
7 To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:
8 But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,
9 Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;
10 But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:
11 For there is no respect of persons with God.
With the all-have-sinned clarifications stated above (the introduction to chapter 2) in mind, let's look at chapter 2 in context. We see throughout the chapter that being a Jew and having the Law of Moses makes one accountable to God, but does not provide a layer of protection against God's wrath when a Jew declines salvation through Jesus Christ. This chapter dismisses the possibility that a Jewish heritage somehow serves as a sufficient basis for entry into eternal life; it doesn't. Righteousness is all about a faith relationship with Jesus Christ without regard to one's religious heritage. That being the case, we see the equal footing with regard to salvation for both Jews and Gentiles - a point specifically driven home in verses 9 and 10. That dismisses the notion that somehow a less-depraved lifestyle gives one some sort of an advantage with regard to eternal life.
Paul kicks off this chapter by stating that those who pride themselves in judging people by the Law (of Moses) are guilty of breaking the Law themselves. Verses 2 and 5 show that a righteous judgment is ahead for all of us based upon absolute truth. Chapter 2 begins with a conjunction, "therefore." That ties the preceding indictment against godlessness in chapter 1 to the concept he is preparing to address. So, what is that concept? Here it is: While we're looking at Gentile depravity in the preceding verses, Jewish morality is still not sufficient to deliver one into eternal life. It's back to James 2:10 (see notes), "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." Whether you demonstrate a total disregard for God or simply fall slightly short of keeping the entirety of Jewish Law, from God's perspective, it's all the same - condemnation. The Jews won't have a leg up on Gentiles when judgment comes. Incidentally, the Jewish connection here is detailed quite specifically in verses 17-29 (see below).
Let's make certain that one point is very clear about these 11 verses: Paul is talking about the judgment of lost people here. Moreover, we're looking specifically at unregenerate Jews, indicated by the fact that they have taken upon themselves to be the judges of Gentiles, according to verse 1. Again, the key to the identity of those being discussed here is clearly seen in verses 17-29 (see below). THIS IS NOT THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST FOR CHRISTIANS! Those people without a salvation relationship with Jesus Christ appear at the White Throne Judgment of Revelation 20:11-15 (see notes).
While the "judgment of God" is seen in verse 3, verse 4 offers hope. Let's look at some words and their Greek equivalents in this verse:
So, let's put the words of verse 4 together: It is because God is kind that he is patient and suffers long with our rejection of God that allows us to be brought to a change of mind or attitude toward God. Paul expresses it concisely to the Elders at Ephesus in Acts 20:21 (see notes) when he says, "Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." Notice that salvation includes in the package "repentance" and "faith."
Verses 5-6 deal with the state of the unregenerate heart. Remember, we're talking about the judgment of unregenerate in these 11 verses. The suggestion in verse 5 seems to lend validity to the notion seen in Revelation 20:11-15 (see notes) that the works of the unregenerate at the White Throne Judgment will be significant, even though all who appear at that judgment will land in the Lake of Fire at its conclusion. Read Revelation 20:11-15 for more clarification on that issue. Verse 6 (perhaps referencing Psalm 62:13 - see notes) is meant to jolt them into reality based upon the first 5 verses - all have sinned and therefore have committed unlawful works, and God will be forced to invalidate anyone's righteousness based upon anything less than perfectly-kept works (see Romans 3:10,23).
Now, look very closely at context here, or verses 7-11 will confuse you. It's a Jewish context - an unrepentant Jewish context. The Jewish subjects here have religion, but not Jesus Christ. They are condemnatory toward Gentiles, but they, themselves, don't have a valid relationship with God. While their Judaistic faith should have led them into a salvation relationship through the Messiah, Jesus Christ, they declined to receive Christ. I think that's what Paul means in verse 7 with the phrase, "by patient continuance in well doing." Their observance of Jewish principles should have continued into an acknowledgment of Christ as Savior. However, they reject the "eternal life" of verse 7 because they "do not obey the truth" in verse 8. Without this Jewish context, one might think that salvation is obtained by works - NOT SO! As a matter of fact, Paul clarifies this point down in verse 16 (see below) when he concludes, "In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel." So, verses 9-10 speak of works, but secondarily to a covenant relationship of salvation through Jesus Christ. Good works don't save you; bad works don't condemn you. What you've done with the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ is the determining factor. People who have received Jesus Christ as Savior have eternal life; those who haven't - eternal damnation. Verse 11 makes it clear that there is no favoritism when Paul declares, "For there is no respect of persons with God."
So, to sum up these first 11 verses, good "deeds" can't earn eternal life...not by Jews...not by Gentiles. The judgment of God will be conducted "according to truth" (verse 2). We're now prepared to see the principle upon which one may have eternal life in the next verses.
12 For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;
13 (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
14 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:
15 Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)
16 In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.
Verses 12-15 can be very easily misunderstood if taken out of context. Paul is taking away the differentiation between those who have been living by the Law of Moses (Jews) and those who have not (Gentiles). In no way is Paul suggesting that the ignorant can be saved by an alternate means! What he is saying in these verses is that Gentiles, without the law, have an equal condemnation from their consciences as the Jews do from the law. The reason? It's because their consciences are initially seeded with the basic principles of nature - those of good and evil. That foundation was laid in this discussion back up in 1:20 (see above), "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse." Consciences become seared later in life as a result of continued evildoing. That principle is seen in I Timothy 4:2 (see notes). The key to verses 12-15 is verse 16, "In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel." God's judgment is going to be conducted, not according to man's ability to keep up good works, but "by Jesus Christ according to my gospel." That message of grace through faith becomes the dominant theme in the chapters that follow chapter 2. But first, the futility of an attempt at salvation by any other means other than faith is emphasized in this chapter.
Now, don't be thrown by verse 13. Keeping the Law of Moses throughout one's lifetime has never been done by anyone except Jesus. That fact is made abudantly clear in Romans 3 (see below). You will miss the point here completely if you are of the notion that there are those who can keep the Law; no they can't.
Now, some might not quite see the significance of Paul's usage of the word "gospel" (Greek: euaggelion - good news). Let me just say, Paul uses the word, "Gospel," as a technical term - never lightly or in a generic fashion. We see clearly in I Corinthians 15:1-4 (see notes) that Paul regarded the Gospel message to mean that one must believe in the efficacy of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ and receive this message by faith as the only means whereby one may go to Heaven.
Again, let me say, if you read verses 12-16 and somehow think that you are seeing an alternate means of getting to Heaven, read the passage and my notes above again more carefully. Quite the opposite is being emphasized there. And, read the introduction to chapter 2 again (above) where you will see that it is impossible for one to keep the Law of Moses to attain righteousness.
Terminology clarification: "Circumcision" in this passage is a reference to Jewish people and "uncircumcision" is a reference to Gentiles. The rite of circumcision was an exclusively Jewish practice ordained by God for his people, Israel. It was a token of God's national covenant with them (see "The Abrahamic Covenant").
17 Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God,
18 And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law;
19 And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness,
20 An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.
21 Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?
22 Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?
23 Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?
24 For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.
25 For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.
26 Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?
27 And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?
28 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:
29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
In verses 17-24 Paul is driving home the James 2:10 (see notes) concept: if any of you Jews have ever broken the Law of Moses, you're a lawbreaker and not worthy of salvation. Paul really drives his point home when he says in verse 24, "For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you." By the way, he's quoting from Isaiah 52:5 (see notes), "Now therefore, what have I here, saith the LORD, that my people is taken away for nought? they that rule over them make them to howl, saith the LORD; and my name continually every day is blasphemed." He reinforces that in verse 25. As a matter of fact, the "law" is mentioned 9 times in these verses with additional mentions of it with the phrase, "the letter."
Then (verses 26-28) Paul engages in a little Jew-infuriating reasoning: What about the non-Jewish person who keeps the law? Does that act make him righteous? Observant Jews during that period of time would take exception to that notion. Paul is showing how ridiculous the righteousness-through-law-keeping mentality really is. Then we see the transition toward his point in verse 29, the last verse of this chapter. In this verse Paul explains that it's a heart thing! You are righteous based upon the Holy Spirit's impact on your heart. While man praises outward conduct, God looks at the heart (verse 29). Interestingly enough, it was always a heart thing. People then (and now) mistakenly thought salvation was acquired through "doing something" rather than establishing a faith relationship with God. Again, remember Genesis 15:6 (see notes) regarding Abraham, "And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness." Favor with God has always been about faith and has never been about works or one's religious persuasion.
And keep in mind, chapter 3 solves the dilemma Paul intentionally creates in chapter 2.
1 What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?
2 Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.
3 For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?
4 God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.
5 But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man)
6 God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?
7 For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?
8 And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.
9 What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;
Paul is continuing his discourse from chapter 2. What do the Jews have over the Gentiles? That's Paul's question here. The answer is simply this in verse 2: they were first to get the Gospel ("oracles of God"); that's it - nothing more. An interesting proposition is seen in verse 3 with regard to the Gospel-rejecting Jew. Does his rejection of the Gospel message create an alternate means whereby a Jew may get to Heaven? NO, IT DOES NOT! Interestingly, in verse 4, Paul draws from Psalms 51:4 (see notes), "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest." Here, David refers to God's righteous judgment in the light of his own sin. So, if, as is suggested by David's own words, God's righteousness thrives in the face of our own unrighteous acts, then aren't we doing God a favor when we sin? Or...as he puts it in verse 5, "But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God..." He puts it another way down in verse 8, "And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come?" In other words, some were accusing Paul of preaching a message that God's righteousness thrives when we sin.
Verse 5 completes the thought of chapter 2. Since we are unable to keep the whole law without a single violation, the law accentuates the righteousness of God and condemns man. This verse even addresses the that's-not-fair issue; if one is unable to keep the whole law because of human frailty, does that mean that God went overboard in establishing such strict guidelines? NOT AT ALL! The strong rejection of the notion that God, somehow, didn't see this whole thing coming is disputed with the Greek phrase, "me genoito" translated, "God forbid" in the KJV. The Greek word for "God" doesn't actually appear in the text here, but in 1611, the English expressed their strongest rejection of an idea with this phrase, "God forbid." Righteousness has never been dependent upon perfect compliance, but on a heart surrendered to God. Undoubtedly that's why Paul quotes from the chapter (Psalms 51:4, see notes) where David is repenting for his sin against God in the Bathsheba episode of II Samuel 11 (see notes).
Paul addresses a little bit of slander toward him in verses 8-9. People who don't understand the relationship between Law and Grace still make the same accusations today. They assert: Since keeping the Law of Moses doesn't add to one's righteous standing before God, why bother to do right? The more you sin, the more God forgives. Paul did not teach that; though it does appear that his doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ was skewed by his enemies to imply that. Oh well...you can't make people tell the truth about you.
In these first 9 verses Paul attempts to put the law into perspective for those Jewish and Gentile readers who may be confused regarding its purpose. The law condemns the Jew; it doesn't justify.
10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
13 Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:
14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:
15 Their feet are swift to shed blood:
16 Destruction and misery are in their ways:
17 And the way of peace have they not known:
18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.
19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
Paul then talks about the depravity of man in verses 10-18. If the language seems particularly flowery for Paul, it's because he is quoting portions from the Psalms and other Old Testament passages to make his point:
2 But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.
3 For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness.
4 None calleth for justice, nor any pleadeth for truth: they trust in vanity, and speak lies; they conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity.
5 They hatch cockatrice’ eggs, and weave the spider’s web: he that eateth of their eggs dieth, and that which is crushed breaketh out into a viper.
6 Their webs shall not become garments, neither shall they cover themselves with their works: their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands.
7 Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths.
8 The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace.
Then he makes, what I consider, a monumental statement about the law's relationship to righteousness in verses 19-20. The Law exposes guilt! Look closely at verse 20, "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight:" Living a good, moral life doesn't save! Living a good, moral life doesn't save! Living a good, moral life doesn't save! Living a good, moral life doesn't save! Living a good, moral life doesn't save! I'm certain you get the point.
Incidentally, the "them who are under the law" is a direct reference to the Jews. Gentiles were not under the Law of Moses - just Jews. You will recall that chapter 2 (see above) dealt with the issue of the Jews being under the Law of Moses and not the Gentiles.
So...what does save? (Romans 3:21-31)
21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;
22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:
23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.
28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
29 Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also:
30 Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.
31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.
Beginning with verse 21, Paul drives a point that takes us all the way through Romans 5:21, and here it is: God's righteousness is imputed through justification. Notice Paul's transition into this discussion when he says in Romans 3:21, "But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets." Paul uses the next two chapters to validate this point. He then defines it specifically in verse 22, "Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference." It's "by faith...upon all them that believe." Notice at the end, "for there is no difference" i.e. between salvation for Jews or Gentiles. Both get saved the exact same way.
I ask, can it be made any clearer?
A dose of theology is included in verse 25 with the phrase "propitiation through faith in his blood." The Greek for "propitiation" is "ilasmos" and means "the means by which sins are forgiven." So, how are sins forgiven? It is only because Jesus sacrificed his own blood on our behalf. In other words, the sinless life of Jesus is only the first part of the story. Our salvation requires that a sinless man pay the sin debt of sinful people. That's what propitiation is all about, the means whereby we are saved.
There's an interesting distinction in verse 30 between Jewish and Gentile justification i.e. salvation. The Jews ("circumcision") are saved "by" (Greek: "ek" - by the means of) faith and Gentiles ("uncircumcision") are saved "through" (Greek: "dia" - indicates a number of related points of time) faith. There's no question that Paul is making some sort of a distinction that has to do with the fact that the Jews had embraced the Law of Moses prior to salvation while the Gentiles had not.
So, after reading this, don't you wonder how so many people get so confused about what it takes to be righteous before God - to be saved? Could it be any clearer that it is not accomplished by keeping the law, but by trusting Christ's redemptive work on the cross? Paul's writing is quite adamant on this subject. He uses very strong words on the subject of true righteousness before God when he says, "God forbid" (KJV) in verses 4, 6 and 31. The actual Greek phrase used is "me genoito" which is a very strong, "NO WAY!" In talking about the issue of righteousness in Paul's epistles, he uses this strong disclaiming phrase 14 times (Romans 3:4 ,6, 31; 6:2, 15; 7:7, 13; 9:14; 11:1, 11; I Corinthians 6:15; Galatians 2:17; 3:21; 6:14). In the epistles, this phrase is unique to Paul; he was passionate about the Gospel message of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ only.
In verse 31, Paul begins to introduce his explanation of another dominant misconception - that somehow Old Testament saints were made righteous by a different standard. In chapter 4 we'll see that people in the Old Testament were made righteous just like we are, BY FAITH!
1 What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?
2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,
7 Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.
9 Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.
10 How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.
11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:
12 And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.
13 For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
14 For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect:
15 Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.
In these verses, Paul uses two heroes of the faith to make his point - Abraham and David. Beginning with Abraham, he makes clear that Abraham was NOT justified before God by his works (verses 1-2). In verse 3, Paul quotes Genesis 15:6 (see notes), "And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness." With this he shows that even before the law was given, righteousness before God was achieved through FAITH and NOT WORKS - all the way back to Abraham.
Verses 4 and 5 are key here:
"Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness."
"Grace" (Greek: "charis") means "free gift." Understand this: Salvation cannot be a free gift if you must do something to deserve it. Conversely, if salvation is a free gift obtained by simply trusting Christ by faith, no amount of work you do has any relevance whatsoever. I emphasize this because Paul is clear about salvation here: No work to receive; no work to maintain. Many pastors teach a misguided doctrine that salvation is a free gift, but keeping it must be earned through a constant level of obedience. They teach that if you stop obeying, you lose the salvation. If that's true (it's waaaay not), scratch verses 4 and 5 out of your Bible.
Then in verses 6 through 8 Paul quotes David from Psalms 32 (see notes). He makes it clear that David didn't believe salvation came through works either. Isn't it interesting that Paul quotes from David again as he did in chapter 3, both Psalms (32 and 51) having been written by David after he was implicated for murder and adultery by Nathan the prophet. Nonetheless, David is highly commended before God for his heart for the Lord (see notes on Psalm 51).
Then in verses 9 through 15 he points out that righteousness (salvation) is not a product for only law-keeping Jews (those of the circumcision), but everyone who receives it by faith. Paul makes a cute point in verse 11 for the Jews' benefit about Abraham's righteousness here when he notes that the declaration of Abraham's righteousness by faith in Genesis 15:6 (see notes), took place BEFORE the rite of circumcision was instituted in Genesis 17 (see notes). That means that Abraham was righteous in the sight of God BEFORE he was circumcised.
Another subtle point is made with regard to Jew and Gentile righteousness is made in verses 12-14 when he declares that Abraham's legacy of faith was not restricted to his physical Jewish offspring, but to all through the ages who receive Jesus Christ by faith. Paul is very specific about that doctrinal point in Galatians 3:16 (see notes) when he says, "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ." That's some pretty heavy doctrine, but it's doctrine that MUST be understood in order to understand the full weight of faith in Jesus Christ. If that's not clear to you, spend some time studying the notes on Galatians 3.
These 15 verses provide us with a powerful and compelling basis for the fact that works have nothing to do with salvation - getting it or keeping it. That's why he uses Abraham and David to illustrate his point. Abraham was righteous before God before he took the token of Jewishness - circumcision. The most compelling argument for salvation by grace (apart from works) is Paul's usage of David as a model; though he was an adulterer and murderer, he was saved by grace and found righteous before God. Don't misunderstand; there was a heavy consequence for David's sin, but not the loss of his salvation. The term "circumcision" means Jews and "uncircumcision" means everyone else (Gentiles).
It is important to restate the theme of these verses: The law of Moses has nothing to do with righteousness before God. It's always been an issue of faith...all the way back to Abraham - before the law was even given.
16 Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,
17 (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.
18 Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be.
19 And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara’s womb:
20 He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;
21 And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.
22 And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.
23 Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him;
24 But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;
25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.
Paul's very clear on this issue. He's wearing it out - so to speak. God promised Abraham he would bless many nations through his seed - not just the physical line of Isaac and Jacob; he makes this point in verses 17 and 18. Study the notes on Galatians 3 (see notes) for more perspective on this issue. The remaining verses of this chapter make the point that Abraham never doubted God's promise - even when it appeared that Sarah could bear no children (see notes on Genesis 16-17). Abraham was a man of faith, and it was Abraham's faith, not works, that made him righteous before God. Likewise for us, it's all about faith for salvation - not works.
What is "imputed" righteousness? In the closing verses of this chapter, Paul talks about our righteousness, and that of Abraham, as being "imputed" (Greek: "logizomai" - to reckon) to us. It's a simple concept that reinforces the fact that salvation is acquired as a free gift from God and cannot be obtained through good works. When one trusts Jesus Christ as savior, righteousness is transferred to us; we're righteous because God reckons us to be righteous. Let's be clear: None of us are on our way to Heaven because of anything good we have done. We are on our way to Heaven because we trusted Jesus Christ as savior and have had righteousness transferred ("imputed") to us by God himself.
Paul ties it altogether in verses 24-25, "But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." Using the examples of imputed righteousness for Abraham and David, Paul shows that our righteousness (as Believers) is also imputed from God as we trust the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Romans 5:1 continues the discussion as Paul proclaims, "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:" Click here to see the notes on Romans 5.