Our outline of the book of Romans:
Rom 1:1-7, Greeting and benediction;
Rom 1:8-15, Desire to visit Rome;
Rom 1:16-17, Theme of the letter: the Gospel reveals the righteousness of God;
Rom 1:18-5:11, Justification and the righteousness of God;
Rom 5:12-8:39, Sanctification and the righteousness of God;
Rom 9:1-11:36, God’s righteousness and Israel;
Rom 12:1-15:13, Practical application of God’s righteousness;
Rom 15:14-16:27, Conclusion.
Paul’s topic has been justification and the righteousness of God, compared with condemnation and the unrighteousness of man. He has spent the first two chapters consigning all Gentiles (idolaters) as unrighteous, then all Jews as unrighteous.
Rom 3:1-8, The unrighteousness of man demonstrates the righteousness of God (God is just to inflict wrath on unrighteousness);
Rom 3:9-18, All men are unrighteous and are under sin;
Rom 3:19, The righteous Law witnesses that all are guilty before God;
Rom 3:20, No man can be justified by obeying the Law;
Rom 3:21-26, The righteousness of God (justification) is given freely through faith in Jesus Christ;
Rom 3:27-30, Men are justified by faith apart from deeds of the Law so that they cannot boast;
Rom 3:31, However we do not void the Law because we have faith, but we establish the Law.
There is a chiastic structure in this chapter:
1a) Rom 3:19, The Law witnesses that all are guilty before God;
1b) Rom 3:20, No man can be justified by obeying the Law;
central axis) Rom 3:21-26, The righteousness of God (justification) is given freely through faith in Jesus Christ;
2b) Rom 3:27-30, Men are justified by faith apart from deeds of the Law;
2a) Rom 3:31, The Law is not void because we have faith, but we establish it.
Paul has been demonstrating that since all men are bound up in unrighteousness, all men are destined for and deserving of God’s wrath. God will one day unleash wrath against unrighteousness, not just because He wants to throw a temper tantrum, but to destroy it so that the hurting will stop.
On the day that wrath is unleashed, what will happen to unrighteous man? He will perish. However, we saw yesterday that this creates a dilemma: God’s love does not desire that any perish or even that any are condemned, and yet God’s righteousness requires that unrighteousness receives justice.
Justice is important. Justice is the process whereby wrongs are made right. Wrongs must be made right, otherwise righteousness would not exist. Righteousness has a bad rep for some reason, but we desperately need it, and justice. The universe would not be a pleasant place in which to live if there was no such thing as either righteousness or justice.
So Jews received the Law, the oracles of God (Rom 3:2, “Thus saith the Lord”). The Law is the explanation of God’s righteousness set down in words, put forth as commandments. Now, Jews, who had the Law, immediately saw an answer to their problem of intrinsic unrighteousness. If we obey the Law, we can change our unrighteousness into righteousness, because the Law is righteous.
That was man’s solution to his problem. It has always been man’s solution to his problem, and never God’s. Within the Law itself, the Law teaches that man cannot earn by doing, what God has promised by faith (Deu 9). But because man has made obedience the solution to the problem of unrighteousness, Paul had to dispel that myth, and that is what most of today’s chapter is about.
Justification and righteousness are almost synonymous, and Paul sometimes uses the terms interchangeably. “Justification” is that intrinsic status before God that establishes the man as “free of charges against him” and therefore able to enter in to God’s household as a child, as a partaker in relationship with Him, as a covenant- member.
Now the man may have actually done things wrong. Paul in fact says that no man is clean, or free of sins. But the justified man is free of charges of sin against him. There is more to it than that, but we will start there.
Righteousness and unrighteousness refers to right and wrong deeds. Since all men have done wrong at one time in their life, all men have the problem of unrighteousness attached to them, for which they must endure wrath.
So how to solve the problem of unrighteousness and escape wrath? Centuries of trying have taught the Jews that justification cannot be had by obeying the Law. Man cannot remain free of unrighteousness for a lifetime. In fact, the Law was not given in order to justify men by their obedience to it. The Law was given to serve as a witness of what God’s righteousness was like, so that all men could look into it and know that they were guilty of unrighteousness (Rom 3:19). And the Law was given to teach, to instruct men, in justice and right living (Torah teaches us this).
The only way to be made justified, and this is something the Law itself preached, was to receive justification as a gift of God. We cannot earn it. We receive it by faith, or belief, and it comes through Christ Jesus. He is the One who made justification possible, as we will see as we go through the book.
So, because we cannot free ourselves of charges of sin (justification) by obeying the Law, do we make the Law void then? Something to be ignored as useless? No. Paul says we establish the Law as the standard of right behavior in a crooked world (Rom 3:31).
For further reading:
romans 3, the righteousness of God vs. the righteous works of the law (2011)
The righteousness that is of faith (follow the links at the bottom of each post)