Romans Chapter 3 Summary – The Righteousness of God

Let’s unravel the layers of Romans chapter 3. This chapter has so much to teach us about the weakness of the law and why works-based righteousness cannot and will not save us. While we are not obligated to keep the law to earn God’s favor, the law has a powerful purpose in leading us to Christ and showing us God’s faithfulness.

What is the Main Point of Romans 3?

The main point of what Paul is writing in Romans chapter 3 is to show us how the Jews and the Greeks (Gentiles) are all under sin. No one is justified by the law. We are justified through faith in Christ.

Romans Chapter 3 Commentary

I love Paul’s banter in this chapter. He predicts some of the questions that the Romans may have based on all the truth bombs he just dropped on them in the previous two chapters. So, instead of waiting for them to respond with their questions, he just goes ahead and answers them.

Romans 3:1-8 God’s Righteousness Upheld

In chapter 2 the apostle Paul began discussing how all (Jews and Gentiles) will be rightly judged by God. Then, he began speaking directly to the Jews describing how their laws, traditions, knowledge, and even their circumcision will not save them. This section shows us that God’s righteousness stands firm.

Romanas 3:1-2

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? 2 Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. 

So Paul is predicting that the Jewish people would ask if everything he just said is true, then what is the advantage to being a Jew or having the covenant of circumcision?

Paul answers this question by telling them they have much advantage. Most of all, they were entrusted with the Word of God. God gave them His Word in the Old Testament to write and preserve.

Verses 3-4

3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written,

“That you may be justified in your words,
    and prevail when you are judged.”

Ok, but some of the Jews were not faithful to God’s Word. Does this mean that God will go back on His promises?

To this question, Paul replies, certainly not! Or “by no means!”. If there is ever a question as to whether man or God is being honest or truthful, God is always right and man is always the liar! God cannot lie and He never goes back on His promises. 

So that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. – Hebrews 6:18

The faithfulness of God is never in question.

Verses 5-6

But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) 6 By no means! For then how could God judge the world? 

The argument here is questioning God’s righteousness to inflict wrath on us if our unrighteousness causes His righteousness to shine more brightly.

Paul replies by saying this isn’t even worthy of consideration. If God is unrighteous is any way He would not be fit to judge the world. Paul already has proven that God’s judgement is righteous and just.

Verses 7-8

7 But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? 8 And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.

This verse suggests that since we are forgiven, why not just keep living in sin? Paul will address this concept in more detail in Chapter 6 when he discusses how we have died to sin and are made alive in Christ. He also shows that some have said that Paul is preaching this message. He denies it by saying their condemnation is just.

Basically, what I saw in these passages was Paul predicting that the believers would be making a lot of excuses trying to object and dismiss much of what Paul had told them. I think that is so often how we respond when we are struggling to digest ideas that we may not particularly like or want to believe.

Romans 3:9-20 – No One Is Righteous

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This section continues with the same kind of questioning, but the main point of these passages is to teach us that no one is righteous before God based on the law. 

Romans 3:9

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin…

This verse sums up what Paul wants the Jews in Rome to understand. You are not any better than the Gentiles because you have the law. All are guilty before God.

There was so much pride and arrogance connected to their traditions and rules that they had a hard time letting them go.

Verses 10-18

as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;11  no one understands;  no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.”“The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18  “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Paul is quoting here from Psalm 14. He is giving a witness from the Old Testament that none are righteous. He uses the mouth and feet as a metaphor to show that all have sinned with their words and actions. 

Verse 18, I believe shows us what is at the root of so much of our sin. It’s a lack of fear. The word “fear” in this passage means reverence or respect.

When we lack a reverent fear for the Lord and His righteous judgment, we fall prey to sin. 

Here are some other verses in the New Testament about the importance of reverent fear for the Lord. I would encourage you to go and read these passages in their context.

And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. – Matthew 10:28

So the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria enjoyed peace, as it was being built up; and as it continued in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it kept increasing. – Acts 9:31

Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade people, but we are well known to God; and I hope that we are also well known in your consciences. – 2 Corinthians 5:11

I see this as still being a major issue in the church today. Too often I see churches and leaders go with the flow of society, misinterpreting or re-interpreting the word of God to fit societal norms. I believe at the root of this slow drift away from the truth, and away from the values that God wants us to hold on to is a growing lack of fear. Our culture, even our Christian culture lacks respect for the righteousness and holiness of God. It’s a righteousness and holiness that we can never attain on our own. It’s a righteousness that is given to us through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s a righteousness that should touch the way we live; the way we think; the way we love. We will talk more about this transformation in the coming chapters.

Verses 19-20

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

If we refer back to Galatians 3:22-24 we see that the purpose of the law was to give knowledge of sin. It was designed to point people to their need for a better salvation. The law itself is God’s holy standard. It is righteous and good. The problem is sin. We cannot keep the law because we are cursed with sin. 

But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. 23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. – Galatians 3:22-24

These Jews wanted to hold onto their Jewish roots. They had lived many years believing that they had to uphold the law. Here is Paul telling them that they got it wrong. The law was meant to point you toward the free gift in Christ! Christ has come! You don’t have to keep the law anymore. You need to believe in Jesus for salvation. This is the truth of God that the law points toward.

Romans 3:21-31 – The Righteousness of God Through Faith

Now we get to the heart of what Paul has been saying up to this point. Paul has already stated in Romans 1:17 that the gospel reveals the righteousness of God. 

But how, exactly does it do that? Let’s take a look!

Romans 3:21-22

Romans chapter 3:22

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 but it is the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction…

What this passage is saying is that God’s righteous plan to redeem sinners has been revealed. For centuries God’s people watched and waited to see how a Holy God would save wretched sinners. This plan is revealed in the gospel.

The goodness of God requires His justice. His justice requires His judgment. God would not be a good God if He did not judge sinners. 

Verses 23-24

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.

All human beings – Jews and Gentiles are all subject to the judgment of God. As we will see as we continue reading in Romans, is that the wages of sin is death. We are all guilty before God and have received a death sentence. No amount of good works will save us.

However, in an act of His justice and holiness, but also because of His love and kindness; He sent Jesus. Jesus fulfills the justice and mercy of God. This is the good news that we cling to and proclaim as His children.

Verses 25-26

whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness because in God’s merciful restraint, He let the sins previously committed go unpunished; 26 for the demonstration, that is, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Before we go any further we have to take a look at the greek word for “propitiation”. In some translations, you’ll find the phrase “sacrifice of atonement”.  It’s so good.

Propitiation – atoning sacrifice; atonement cover, the place where sins are forgiven; traditionally propitiation or mercy seat:– atonement cover (1), sacrifice of atonement

Take a look at Exodus 25:17-22 for more details about the purpose and function of the mercy seat. 

The ark of the covenant was placed within the temple in the Holy of Holies. This section of the tabernacle was designed to represent the throne room of heaven; it was where the High Priest would meet with the Lord each year to atone for the people’s sins. 

Within the ark was placed the “word of the testimony”. It was God’s Word to His people. The mercy seat was then placed on top of the ark and sprinkled with blood. This mercy seat acted as a mediator between the Word and the presence of God to His people.

Now when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with Him, he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim, so He spoke to him. (Numbers 7:89)

So what does this passage in Romans teach us? The mercy seat is a picture of Jesus! In fact, we read in different places in the New Testament that He sits at the right hand of God.

So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. – Mark 16:19

Jesus is our atonement; He is the mercy seat in the true heavenly tabernacle and He lives to make continual intercession for us!

Therefore He is also able to save forever those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. – Hebrews 7:25

Verses 27-30

Where then is boasting? It has been excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a person 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.

Paul ends this chapter with one more predictive question – so what do we, as the Jews, have to boast in? 

Paul throws down a major truth bomb.

He tells them they boasting has come to an end. Salvation is not based upon works of the law. It’s a gift of free grace from God through faith in Christ. The law of faith trumps the law of works.

According to this law, all are welcome to partake of salvation. It’s not just for the Jews, but for the Gentiles as well.

Verse 31

Do we then nullify the Law through faith? Far from it! On the contrary, we establish the Law.

Just because the law of faith makes the law of works obsolete, it doesn’t overthrow the law itself. The law is God’s holy righteous standard. We have already seen that the law was to show mankind their sinfulness. The problem is not the law it’s our sin. Through faith, our sin is removed. Therefore, the law shows us all that we have been freed from in Christ. In this way, the law gives glory to the New Covenant of God’s grace in Jesus and the eternal life He offers us.

This chapter reminds us not to rely on our own power, prestige, or possessions to attain righteousness. In Christ, we have already received the fullness of God’s favor. We are His beloved children by His grace through faith in His son and the blood He shed for us on the cross.

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