The Book of Romans is a treatise of Christian truth and practice. It has been called the 'Magna Carta of the Christian faith'. Martin Luther (the former catholic monk and leader of the protestant reformation) described Romans 3:19-25 as “the chief point and the very central place of the book of Romans and of the whole Bible”. Over the centuries, numerous other theologians and Bible scholars have come to the conclusion that this particular section of Romans is the greatest and most important passage in the Bible. In these verses, the Apostle Paul deals specifically and comprehensively with the great issue of personal salvation. He explains, in the clearest possible terms, how a person can receive forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and a permanent righteous standing in God's sight. In spite of the significance of this passage and the magnitude of the truths that it contains, most people (including most Christians) have only a surface understanding of its meaning at best.
"In these verses, the Apostle Paul deals specifically and comprehensively with the great issue of personal salvation."
Three Critical Questions
A Personal Inventory
Before we begin to explore the meaning of Romans 3:19-25, let's briefly consider three introductory questions that are intended to focus our thoughts on the personal and essential nature of what these verses are all about. I believe that these questions are among the most important that any of us could ever face.
1. Do you know for sure that your sins are fully forgiven?
2. Do you know for sure that you will spend eternity with God in heaven?
3. Do you know for sure that you have been made right with God and are perfectly righteous in his sight?
If your answer to any of these questions is “no”, or “I’m not sure”, or “I don’t know”, then I urge you to continue reading, because I believe that Romans 3:19-25 will have life-changing and eternal implications for you. Even if you answered “yes” to all three questions, I encourage you to read further, so that you can test your answers based on what the Bible actually says about these vital issues.
Note: The Bible references in this article are taken directly from the New International Version (NIV) and the New Living Translation (NLT).
A. The Purpose of God’s Law
What Most People Don't Realize About The 10 Commandments
"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. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin." Romans 3:19&20 (NIV)
"The charge that is being brought against us is that we have violated God's Law and broken His Commandments."
The apostle Paul, the author of the book of Romans, begins this section by explaining in verse 19 God's purpose for giving the Law of Moses and the 10 Commandments. He says that the Law and the Commandments were given "so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God". In other words, God's Commandments were intended "to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God." Verse 19 (NLT) Let me illustrate what Paul is saying by using the analogy of a courtroom trial. In this scenario the case is being tried, not in an earthly courtroom, but in the Supreme Court of the Universe where God is the judge and you and I are the defendants. The charge that is being brought against us is that we have violated God's Law and broken His Commandments. Below is a summation of the trial and the final verdict.
The judge has concluded that based on the Law and the 10 Commandments, the evidence against us is conclusive and irrefutable. All arguments in our defense are overruled and thrown out as irrelevant. It is clear that we have willfully, deliberately and frequently broken God's Law. The verdict is in, and we are pronounced "guilty" on all counts, without appeal.
"God uses his Law to reveal our helpless condition and our desperate need for a Savior."
In verse 20, Paul continues his argument by saying that "no one will be declared righteous in God's sight by observing [obeying] the law". Most people who read this verse for the first time are surprised at what it says. The reason for this is that many of us believe that we are made right with God by keeping his Law and the Commandments. Yet what Paul asserts is the very opposite, "No one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands, the law simply reveals how sinful we are." (verse 20 NLT). In a parallel passage on this topic, Paul says, "[We] know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified." (Galatians 2:15&16 NIV). The purpose of God's law is to make us "conscious of" (vividly aware of) our sin, and to show us our indefensible position before God. In other words, the Law and the 10 Commandments can never make us righteous, they only show us how unrighteous we really are. God uses his Law to reveal our helpless condition and our desperate need for a Savior.
B. God’s Solution to Our Sin Problem (Romans 3:21&22)
Righteousness by Faith Alone
"21 But now apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe." (NIV)
Verses 21 and 22 demonstrate that although the coming of God's righteousness (through the Messiah) was foretold and promised by the law and the prophets in the Old Testament, it comes to us completely "apart from" the Law and the 10 Commandments. This righteousness, that has now been revealed in Christ, is of God and from God and is only "given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe". The word "faith", as it is used here, means to trust in or rely on someone other than yourself. It is the complete opposite of doing anything or earning anything yourself. In this context it means to trust in and rely on Jesus Christ alone for your salvation, totally separate from anything that you do on your own (i.e., without your devotion, religion, baptism, or good works). In the Book of Ephesians Paul puts it this way, "For it is by grace [God's undeserved kindness] you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast." Ephesians 2:8&9 (NIV). God saves us based exclusively on his free-flowing generosity and grace, not as the result of our personal obedience, good deeds or baptism, etc. "Salvation is a gift from God...not a reward for the good things we have done." (Ephesians 2:8&9 NLT). As Dr. William Pettingill says, "Paul's teaching shows that the way of salvation for a sinner is by GRACE, through FAITH [in Jesus Christ alone], plus NOTHING." Our part is to receive the gift of His perfect righteousness with simple child-like trust in Jesus (nothing more, nothing less). "[On the cross] God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ." (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT). "Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through Him everyone who believes [in Him] is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses." (Acts 13:38-39 NIV).
"Paul's teaching shows that the way of salvation for a sinner is by GRACE, through FAITH [in Jesus Christ alone], plus NOTHING."
God's righteousness is not something that you could ever earn, deserve, or attain. It is completely and infinitely out of your reach, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23 (NIV). But the good news of Romans chapter three is that God offers you His righteousness freely and without cost. The moment you turn away from your religious and moral efforts and put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ alone, God declares (pronounces) that you are 'perfectly righteous forever' in His sight! "This is true for everyone who believes, no matter who you are." (Romans 3:22 NLT). The Bible tells us that “what the law could not do” because of our moral and spiritual inability, “God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering [for us], in order that the righteous requirements [demands] of the law might be fully met in us...” (Romans 8:3 NIV). What God's Law could never do (because of our powerlessness to keep it), Christ did on our behalf. He not only obeyed God's Law perfectly, but He also bore the penalty for our sins on the cross. Although He was perfect and sinless, he was judged and condemned in our place (as our substitute) so that every demand of God’s justice was completely satisfied once and for all. Because justice was fully served on the cross, there is nothing left for us to do but to accept His free gift by simple faith alone. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified [declared righteous in God’s sight] freely by his grace through the redemption [the price paid] that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood.” (Romans 3:23-25 NIV).
"Because justice was fully served on the cross, there is nothing left for us to do but to accept His free gift by simple faith alone."
Based on the fact that Christ died for your sins and rose again the third day, you can, at this very moment, believe in (trust in) Jesus Christ alone as your perfect righteousness. The Bible promises that anyone who believes in Him will receive forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. Regardless of your nationality, religious background or the extent of your sins, Christ's death is the all-sufficient payment endorsed and accepted by God for you. Consider His free invitation to "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved." (Acts 16:31 NIV). "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16 (NIV).
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