Reading for Thursday, Feb. 2: Romans 3
In Romans 3, Paul answers some of the questions he laid out in the first few chapters. What makes someone righteous before God? It certainly isn’t the law. V20, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” Instead, Paul says, “a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known (v21).” Righteousness is not merited or accrued in relation to one’s obedience to the law. Rather, “this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (v22).”
Paul spells out the universal problem of sin in v23: For all have sinned and fallen short. Sin is “falling short” or “missing the mark”. We might ask, “What mark? Falling short of what?” The mark, I believe, is God’s intention for humanity to bear His image in the world. We fall short any time we fail to live as He intended for us to live. This problem — sin — plagues every man, woman, and child. As he says in v23, ALL have sinned and fallen short of His glory. We do this every time we choose our way over His way.
But Paul also holds up a universal solution to this problem: the justification that He graciously extends to us through Christ. “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus (vv23-24).” Paul argues that the cross is the greatest demonstration of the justice of God. He cannot let our sin go unpunished; to do so would violate God’s sense of justice. Yet He lovingly chooses to absorb the full penalty for sin, making our justification possible.
Paul closes the chapter with a practical warning to the Jewish Christians in Rome: since we ALL have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory and since the death of Jesus brings justification to ALL who believe, where then is there room for boasting or differentiating between Jew and Gentile? “Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles, too? Yes, of Gentiles, too…” (v30).
Romans 3 helps us remember that righteousness is intrinsic to God’s character, therefore it is His to dispense as He sees fit. The Jews historically associated their right standing before God with the lineage of Abraham and their reception of the Torah. But Paul is expanding this understanding. Although he will have much to say about both Abraham and the Law in the next few chapters, Paul maintains that the Gentiles have a full share in the Gospel because the one God is God of both Jews and Gentiles alike.
When we study James, we will bring his conversation alongside what Paul has to say here about the Law. As it pertains to salvation, faith alone is God’s means. And yet, as it pertains to discipleship — the “what comes next” after salvation — the commands of Scripture are binding to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance (Luke 3:8).”