Chapter Three: The Deeds of the Law vs. the Righteousness of God.
PART ONE – Doomed By Deeds
~~ By James Fire
In this third chapter of Romans, Paul completes his thoughts on the Jewish person whose trust is in the keeping of the Law (humanly speaking, an impossibility), and the conclusion of the matter regarding the whole of humanity and our abject poverty of spiritual virtue.
He then proceeds from this examination of human beings and our sinful condition and nature to the blessed hope of our justification (from vs. 21 to the end of the chapter).
From there he goes on in chapters Four and Five, establishing the basis for our justification, and then, in chapters Six, Seven and Eight he brings up the next phase of our salvation, that being sanctification.
The aspect of salvation which every Christian initially experiences (that is, one born of God’s Spirit) is justification: the saint is saved from the penalty of sin – death and hell.
Then the believer of Jesus Christ goes onto the second aspect of salvation which is sanctification: the saint is saved from the power of sin – living victoriously in Christ Jesus and overcoming the sinful nature.
Mid-way through the 8th chapter, Paul touches on the third and final aspect of salvation, glorification: the saint will be saved from the presence of sin – one day being delivered from the corruptible and corrupt body of sin and receiving from the LORD an incorruptible body that has no such sin nature ruining it as these that we presently have are.
~~ We have been saved from the penalty of sin: justification.
We are being saved from the power of sin: sanctification.
We will be saved from the presence of sin: glorification.
We see a parallel in the Old Testament to these three aspects of salvation for the disciple of Jesus Christ:
The Abrahamic Covenant – this was an unconditional covenant that only required the faith of Abraham and for which God was solely responsible to perform. By faith Abraham was justified.
The Mosaic Covenant – this was a conditional covenant in which the participants were likewise to express faith in God, and follow the Law and when they disobeyed were to offer up sacrifices to atone (that covered over, but could not take away sins); the Law and the sacrifices were those means by which Israel, particularly the Levitical priests, were sanctified.
The Everlasting Covenant – this also was unconditional which required only faith in the Messiah Who would inaugurate the covenant upon His arrival and saving Israel and bringing her to a position of great glory and honor.
For now, let’s proceed in Chapter Three of Romans:
What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?
Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.
Again, circumcision was an emblem, a sign, a means of identifying believing Israel that would be the recipient of “the oracles of God”. The Greek word used is the same in all references for “oracles” which is logion, meaning: a word, narrative, statement; denotes a divine response or utterance. The contents of the Mosaic Law (Acts 7:38); all the written utterances of God through the OT writers (Rom. 3:2, our present text); the subject of Christian doctrine (Heb. 5:12) and the utterances of God though the Christian teachers (1 Peter 4:11).
One who is given the Word of God has every advantage for being given so rare (and only) a find of truth, one finds insurmountable benefit and blessing – if such is handled correctly and properly used. Where the Jew went astray was in attempting to justify themselves by the keeping of the Law, whereas the proper use of such was to reveal our sins and need of repentance and grace and mercy from God.
Paul goes on to explain that the very thing that the Jewish people leaned upon for their salvation only worked to prove their guilt (as he will demonstrate later).
For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?
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.
Here is a mixed multitude such as those that left Egypt in the Exodus, but I’m not making a distinction between Egyptians and Hebrews here; rather the distinction here lies between believing Jews and non-believing Jews. In the days of Moses, he delivered the Hebrews from Egypt, but he couldn’t deliver Egypt out of the hearts of some of the Hebrews!
As Paul stated previously, “He is a Jew who is one inwardly” and as John the Baptist said, regarding those that trusted in their familial lineage to Abraham, rather than faith in God as Abraham had, for their righteousness:
Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
Even as the LORD Jesus Christ Himself commented when a scribe asked Him what the greatest commandment was:
Mark 12:29, 32-34
And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:
And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he:
And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbor as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.
And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.
Yet those who hold to religious externals, rather than a vibrant relationship with the LORD, with a living faith, not dead works – these will not make “the faith of God without effect” but will rather incur the judgment of God as He declares to them: “I never knew you” (Luke 13:27).
But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man)
God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?
For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?
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.
The terribly flawed reasoning of some, according to Paul is that if God’s grace is magnified when it is extended to those unrighteous ones who commit lies and evil, why shouldn’t we excel at such things so that God would be all the more magnified in His offerings of grace? And if such grace is extended, why then should God judge and thereby take vengeance upon such lies and evil?
We tend to think of unbelief as a weakness, and can even in our leniency excuse such things for people “who just don’t know any better” and yet the Scriptures paint an entirely different picture, and even in our text we see that unbelief leads to unrighteousness, lies and evil. Another passage is found in Hebrews:
Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways.
So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.)
Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.
But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
Admittedly the people of Israel in Moses day had a great revelation of God’s authority and power and oracles; believers in the days of Paul likewise had incredible revelation in the newly inspired Word that was even then recorded, being scribed on parchment and vellum (animal skins); yet each of us have received some form of revelation by means of the creation, conscience and, or canon and we are responsible to respond to such accordingly in believing God and not neglecting Him by unbelief (refer back to Romans 3:3; also Matt. 13:58; Mark 16:14; Rom. 11:20; Heb. 4:11).
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;
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
As people “under sin” that is, under the jurisdiction of sin, and slaves in the kingdom of darkness, we have fallen into a most deplorable condition, so that we are incapable of even seeking God as Adam and Eve did when the LORD came to them in the cool of the evening. We do not understand God, we do not seek Him just as Adam and Eve did not - once they fell into sin, acquired a sin nature and hid from God once He came.
Sin is a blinding, binding, ruinous, destructive force that turned a cherub into a devil; that turned the noble Adam into a wretched sinner; that takes any and all of man’s seemingly higher and nobler ideals and aspirations and twists and corrupts them until they fall into utter ruin.
No degree of revelation given to the Jew or the Gentile will avail anything in regards to remedying our sinful nature; such revelation from God will only emphasize the decrepit nature of sin that dwells in us, and make us all the more culpable of our wrong doing.
In the vast swells and waves in the oceans of humanity, every single drop is tainted with the miasmatic power of sin – all but one: the LORD Jesus Christ, the Son of Man Who is also the LORD of glory.
He alone is righteous. He, the Son of Man is alone in His understanding of God (the Father). He alone seeks God His Father. He alone is the Doer of good. While we as sinners are useless (“unprofitable” or "a bruised reed" Matt. 12:20) to a Holy God, the LORD Jesus is One Who was constantly used of God His Father to bring glory and honor to His Name (See John 7:7; Gal. 5: 19 – 21; James 3:16).
Paul then elaborates further, just in case we haven’t quite grasped the idea of our woeful condition:
Their throat is an open sepulcher; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:
Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:
Rather than our voices and words being sources of goodness, and life and encouragement they are full of deceit and death, poison and cursing. We understand that our words reflect the heart that issues them (Luke 6: 45), the veritable “fruit of the lips” is borne from the seed of the sinful nature that’s been sown in our hearts.
Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.
And contrast this with good, profitable speech:
Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.
For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.
Proverbs 15:23, 26
A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it!
The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD: but the words of the pure are pleasant words.
Peter rightly stated concerning our LORD:
Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
Paul continues with his diagnosis of the human condition:
Their feet are swift to shed blood:
Destruction and misery are in their ways:
And the way of peace have they not known:
There is no fear of God before their eyes.
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.
This is why humanity has become more and more brazen in their commitment of sin: because they have no fear of God; they use His Name as a curse word. There is no reverence for the LORD – one is hard pressed even to find such reverence in the church these days! God is a buddy, a Santa Claus, a Get – Out – of – Hell – Free card, a boring ‘Old Man’ that we go and visit every Sunday; or at best a "master" or "teacher" but never LORD, SAVIOR, CREATOR and JUDGE:
Who trembles at the Word of God today? Whose heart thunders and lips stammer when addressing the Holy Throne of God Almighty? Who lays prostrate before God, weak and shaking, seeking only His will in a life surrendered to Him and Him alone?
Yet there will be reverence, there will be quivering and dismay on the Day of Judgment, when those that ridiculed God and His Word, whose favorite past time was to mock and jeer at the Scriptures, and the guilt of such blood shedding, and of wanton destruction, perpetrators of misery upon their fellow men who were weaker than they and vulnerable, will be apparent with no room whatsoever for a defense.
Every mouth will indeed be stopped and every unredeemed soul will find themselves aware of their guilt before God!
And now we come to a definitive statement by Paul, something he has been working towards and leading us to now for nearly three whole chapters; a summary conclusion for the entire fallen human race from its least member to its greatest:
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.
Later on Paul elaborates on the relationship between sin and the Law of God:
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.
But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.
We understand that by the Law, whether written in the Book or in our conscience, any transgression of it is a sin of various sorts: a transgression, a trespass, some form of iniquity, etc. The Law in the Garden of Eden was singular and simple: You shall not eat the fruit thereof (forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge); Gen. 2: 17.
For such innocent beings as Adam and Eve, newly created and given life by the Spirit of God, a state of sin was entirely unknown to them. They had no such knowledge of evil, and so knowledge of good was something indistinguishable from their every day experience.
Yet like taking a fish out of water, or a flower from its soil bed, removing these from their environment would eventually bring death; sin likewise separated Adam from his Life-source (Isaiah 59:2), and his spiritual life died, followed eventually some hundreds of years later by the death of his aged body.
The Law for us likewise is that holy standard in all of its holiness and righteousness, purity and sanctity by which our spiritual legitimacy is measured; by this measure we discover that “no one is justified by the law” and we have no such legitimacy before God.
If the story ended here, we would be the most miserable, forlorn beings in the universe, abjectly abhorrent and desperate in our despair. However, the story does not end here! As the gathering darkness of doom surmounted through these chapters, until all is black darkness and bereft of any signs of hope, but rather condemnation – a single beam of Holy Light pierces through, and shines on a lonely cross erected two thousand years ago on the hill known as Calvary (or Golgotha)!
PART TWO – Justified in JESUS
In this section, from 3: 21 all the way through to 5: 21 Paul teaches on “justification by faith” and in these few verses below, defines it for us:
But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;
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:
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
The same kind of revelation of the glorious intervention by God for a sinful, rebellious race (“the children of disobedience”) can be seen in Ephesians:
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
“The Law and the Prophets” is the New Testament way of referring to the canon of Scripture we know today (basically) as the Old Testament, and as Paul says, the righteousness of God is revealed by these but apart from (or “without”) the Law. The Law is holy and just and good, but I am a sinner and so that which is holy, just and good cannot help but point the finger of condemnation over my entire life.
God’s righteousness must then come to us by a different venue, and that is, not by keeping the Law (or any law or moral code of conduct for that matter), but by simply placing our faith in Jesus Christ and believing on Him. Since all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, we have no recourse whatsoever other than this one Way (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).
This faith in Christ Jesus, whose sacrifice for our sins is the ultimate and all-inclusive expression of God’s grace to fallen humanity. It’s been said before: “Justice is getting EXACTLY what you deserve; mercy is NOT getting what you deserve, and grace is getting what you DON’T deserve”!
We deserve eternal punishment – death and hell, for our sins – that would be justice! Yet God loves us and wants us delivered from that terrible, eternal fate.
By His Gospel, He delivers to us the promise of salvation and in mercy offers us deliverance from death and hell – and that is mercy!
Yet He also grants this marvelous gift to us: eternal life through Jesus Christ our LORD (Rom. 6:23), and we can partake of this heavenly relationship where we are privileged beyond imagining by calling God our Father (“Abba” in the Hebrew, meaning “Daddy”) – and that is grace!
Three words in this passage of Scripture bear examination, and I refer now to Strong’s Concordance: “righteousness”, “justified” and “redemption”.
Righteousness appears 303 times in the Bible, and here in Romans, 39 times. It’s basically the same word but with slight variation as it appears here in Romans:
“Dikaiosune – is the character of quality of being right or just. It denotes an attribute of God. It is found in the sayings of the Lord Jesus; of whatever is right or just in itself that conforms to the revealed will of God (Matt. 5:6, 10, 20; Jhn. 16: 8, 10; and whatever has been appointed by God to be acknowledged and obeyed by man (Matt. 3:15; 21:32).”
Also among other religious functions such as almsgiving, prayer, fasting, that is considered right, etc.
“Dikaiosune is also used of that gracious gift of God to men whereby all who believe on the LORD Jesus Christ are brought into right relationship with God. This righteousness is unattainable by obedience to any law or by any merit of man’s own or any other condition than that of faith in Christ. The one who trusts in Christ becomes “the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21), i.e. becomes in Christ all that God requires a man to be, all that he could never be in himself.”
Justified – This word is used throughout the entirety of the New Testament and is closely related to the previous word above for “righteousness”.
”Justified” is dikaioo in the Greek and means: “to render (show or regard as) just or innocent – be freed, justify, justifier, to be righteous. In its verb form (which is the case here in Romans Chapter three) it means ‘to be deemed as right’; in a passive voice of Greek syntax, it’s ‘to be justified’ [which means the object being justified does nothing active to obtain it, but merely receives it as it’s given by another].”
“By Christ’s propitiation (an exclusively satisfactory sacrifice), His blood (Rom. 3:25) brings justification, being the legal and formal acquittal from guilt by God as Judge, the pronouncement of the sinner as righteous, who believes on the LORD Jesus Christ.
In verse 24, ‘being justified’ is in the present continuous tense, indicating the constant process of ‘justification’ in the succession of those who believe and are ‘justified’. In Romans 5:1 this word is in the aorist tense indicating the definite time at which each person, upon the exercise of faith, was justified.
”Justification is gratuitously by faith, subsequently and evidentially by works.”
And finally, we have the word “redemption” –
The Greek word for redemption here is the primary one used in all of the New Testament. It’s the word apolutrosis, and means: “ransom in full, salvation, deliverance, redemption. Lutrosis is a more passive form of this word; using the prefix places a stronger emphasis on the One performing the deliverance, that being God, and God alone Who redeems.
To be purchased from the slave market of sin, totally set free, never to be sold again! It is used of forgiveness and justification, redemption as a result of propitiation and expiation; deliverance from the guilt of sins; expresses the liberation both from the guilt of sin and doom of sin, and the introduction into a life of liberty “newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).
It is used in deliverance from the presence and power of sin, and the reclamation of the body at the coming of the LORD. See also Rom. 8: 23; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14; Heb. 9:15.
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;
To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
As mentioned previously, propitiation is a satisfactory sacrifice, and in the case of the propitiation of the blood of Jesus Christ, it is the exclusive sacrifice which alone satisfies a Holy God, for the LAMB that was sacrificed is Himself holy!
No other sacrifice was ever accepted to put away sin because no other sacrifice met the criteria of God’s own holiness. By the shedding of blood there is the remission of sins (Heb. 9:22; Lev. 17:11), but whereas in the Old Testament the sacrifices were only propitiatory in type, that is by representation, the true sacrifice that was to come (Isaiah 53), the Messiah of Israel, the LAMB of GOD Who would bring the acceptable propitiation or “better sacrifices than these”.
For a comprehensive understanding of the propitiation of Christ Jesus read Hebrews Chapter 9
Note in Hebrews particularly how that Christ is presented as the High Priest of the New Testament as opposed to the high priest of the Old Testament: both the Priest and the Sacrifice of the New are superior to those of the Old (vs. 8 – 15).
For more on this, see the following: Dr. Scofield’s notes on propitiation.
God demonstrates His justice in judging the sins of the world as prescribed, even demanded by His Holiness. God also demonstrates His forbearance by the provision of this Supreme sacrifice, exacting the full judgment on His own Son rather than humanity, and by so doing, justifies those who believe in Jesus Christ.
Being so justified before God, and accounted sinless by Christ’s ministerial victory in the resurrection from the dead, we are now suitable as a habitation of the Holy Spirit.
It was in my own life, prior to coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ that I struggled and strove to obtain some justification and acceptance with God, but to no avail. I was desperate to understand how any one could possibly be considered justified before a Holy God. We will get into this in the following chapter and the very portion of scripture that led me to salvation!
Ephesians 2:13, 22
But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
See also: Matt. 26: 28; 1 Cor. 6:11; 1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 5:20-21.
Note also that this propitiation is invalid in the individual’s life unless that individual expresses faith in receiving this salvation (All are given a “measure of faith” by God; Romans 12: 3.
It’s up to each individual to employ it; if they don’t use it, they eventually lose it). “. . . not all men have faith” (2 Thess. 3:2) and therefore not all men will be saved (the doctrine of Universalism is not biblical), even though it’s God’s express will that such would be (2 Peter 3:9). For more on Universalism and all of its implications see the TTUF article on CHRIST’s COURT: Soon in Session
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.
Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
Compare vs. 28 with vs. 20 and note the contrary positions:
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.
The conclusion, according to Paul is this: that the Law serves its purpose in exposing sin in the heart of the sinner, and having done so, it can do nothing more at all. The Spirit of God convicts of sin, but can effect no changes whatsoever in the heart of the unrepentant.
Our justification can only be appropriated, not by the law of works, but by the law of faith in the Word of God (1 Tim. 1: 5 – 11, 19) and the resulting work of the Holy Spirit in drawing us to Christ Jesus for salvation, which once received, allows the Holy Spirit the efficacy of His ministry within the heart of the regenerated believer.
Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also:
Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.
Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.
Both the circumcised and the uncircumcised now have “equal footing” in the obtaining of salvation by faith, just as Peter so eloquently and cleverly expressed:
Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.
The whole question at the Jerusalem Council as referred to in Acts chapter 15 was whether or not Gentiles required circumcision for salvation, and the unequivocal answer that they concluded was, No! Peter then goes on to say and affirms that the Jews can be saved by the grace of the LORD Jesus Christ even as the Gentiles are – by faith alone, apart from the works of the Law!
Dr. Scofield states: “The sinner establishes the law in its right use and honour by confessing his guilt, and acknowledging that by it he is justly condemned. Christ, on the sinner's behalf, establishes the law by enduring its penalty, death. Cf. Matt. 5: 17-18.”
We are also, being the recipients of the Holy Spirit, for the first time, able to walk (live) in the Spirit who is Holy, and by our new nature walk in the righteousness that the Law demands, but without having to keep the ordinances of the Law. This is the “law of Christ” as explained in Gal. 6:2 in accord with the “new commandment” that we received from our LORD:
A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
As well as Paul’s admonition:
Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.
And again, our LORD’s own admonition that fulfilling the Law of God could be summarized in loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12: 28 – 34). Such ability in loving God and others with explicit wholeheartedness is something only possible by the Spirit of God.
Likewise for disciples to love one another “as [JESUS] loves [us]” is entirely the work of the Spirit of God who dwells within us as our “Comforter”.
Such was the promise that the LORD gave to Israel (and now in this age, to the church as well):
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.
And the doers, not the hearers of the Law/the Word of the LORD are justified before God (Romans 2:13; James 1: 21-23; Matt. 7:24). The difference being that the Jew would attempt to “do” as the means of justification, whereas the one who places faith in Christ Jesus for salvation is able to “do” as a result of justification.
We are saved by faith, and this salvation produces fruit, and that fruit is the outward manifestation of that spiritual reality that’s taken place in our lives, via the spiritual rebirth in Jesus Christ.
Thank the LORD that by the salvation that He has brought to us, we are sealed by that Holy Spirit of promise, indwelt by the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit of grace and able to walk with the LORD!
Your ‘homework assignment’ is to read 1 John Ch. 2
This concludes this study. Next time, Romans chapter Four which furthers the doctrine of justification by faith in this Epistle: Illustrations of Justification by faith in the lives of Abraham and David.