"1 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. 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.” 5 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? 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. 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, 10 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.” 19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one 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 God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law."
"1 What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” 9 Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well,12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. 13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. 16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. 20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification."
In the previous 2 chapters, Paul discusses the sins of the Gentiles and the Jews. Here, in chapter 3, he makes the conclusion that it doesn't matter who you are or where you come from, we are all the same and we are all sinners (vs. 23). The law, referred to here, are God's laws that He gave to Moses. The Jews obeyed these laws rigidly and had a difficult time understanding that the law is not salvific; rather, that salvation is a free gift of grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8).
In Chapter 4 Paul brings Abraham into the message to the Romans to drive home the point of justification through faith, rather than by works. The Jews held Abraham in high esteem and placed him on a pedestal, referring to him as "our father Abraham." In fact, the Jewish people did not even allow a converted, circumcised Gentile to say the phrase; rather, they had to say "your father Abraham." (1) As Paul begins to discuss the faith of Abraham, he ties in Scripture. (The best way to see the truth and infallibility of Scripture is to use Scripture to prove Scripture because you will find there are no contradictions within it). Paul quotes Genesis 15:6, in which God declares that Abraham's faith was counted to him as righteousness. The word counted is the Greek word logizomai, meaning "to impute, to credit, to reckon." "The word deals with reality. If I reckon (logizomai) that my bank account has $25 in it, it has $25 in it. Otherwise, I am deceiving myself. This word refers more to fact than supposition or opinion." (2) The prevalent Jewish belief at that time was that Abraham was counted righteous because of his works by keeping the law. The truth is if our righteousness and subsequent salvation is based on the law, then we are all condemned because none of us can keep it. Moreover, if our righteousness and subsequent salvation is based on our own merits, then it becomes a debt system with God "owing" us because we did x/y/z. Not only is this not Biblical, as God does not owe any of us anything, but it is the exact opposite of grace.
Grace is the unmerited favor of God. Unmerited. Undeserving. If we feel our own merits lead to our salvation, how does God even factor into the picture? People who practice this display the belief that they don't even need God - a dangerous place to be. God has bestowed upon us (as Christians) the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. This means that we are not righteous by anything we have done or can do, but that God has taken the righteousness of Jesus Christ and placed it in our spiritual bank account so that we are now counted as righteous before Him. I want to include what I came across in my commentary regarding grace. "Faith is related to grace in the same way works is related to law. Grace and law are principles, and faith and works are the means by which we pursue those principles for our relationship with God. To speak technically, we are not saved by faith. We are saved by God's grace, and grace is appropriated by faith." (3) So, works and faith are opposite one another.
Now, this does not mean that we should place our faith in God and then never lift a finger to do anything again. Quite the opposite. Faith is an action. If we believe something, then we will act upon it, exercising our faith in that belief. In verses 19-22, Paul discusses Abraham's faith that God would do as He promised and give him and Sarah a baby, even though everything he could see in front of him contradicted and attempted to destroy this hope. Abraham "grew strong in his faith" and was "fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised" (vs. 20) This faith was demonstrated by him, as he and Sarah continued to try to have a baby. They did not sit on the sidelines, saying they believed in God's promise without actually putting their faith into action. Instead, they stepped out in faith and continued to have marital relations, knowing that God would be true to His Word.
Paul ends this chapter by saying the imputed righteousness of God doesn't end with Abraham, but extends to us, too. Why? Because, again, God is true to His Word and if we believe in Him, then we are saved by grace through our faith in God. Abraham is not only "our father Abraham" to the Jewish people, but to all who believe in God by faith. He is our earliest example of salvation by grace through faith, which is seen throughout the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New Testament through the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I want to focus on that wonderful word in verse 25 - propitiation. It comes from the Greek word hilasterion, meaning "atoning victim, mercy seat." It is used in reference to the blood that was sprinkled on the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies. Every year on the Day of Atonement, the high priest would sacrifice an 'atoning victim' (a.k.a. spotless lamb) and sprinkle the blood as a covering over the ark of the covenant. The blood and sacrifice of the perfect lamb would atone for the peoples' sins and, therefore, would appease God. Jesus' blood and sacrifice covers over us, securing the covenant God made with Abraham that salvation would come to all people through his lineage (Genesis 22:18, Genesis 17:4-6). What beautiful imagery that Christ's blood covers over and protects our covenant with God! Because of the sacrifice of Jesus, who was without sin (spotless Lamb), the sacrifice under the law is no longer necessary. The law is not the end-all-be-all, rather, Christ is. The law points us to Christ in that it reveals our sins because there is no humanly possible way for any of us (Jew or Gentile) to abide by these laws. Rather than getting consumed by the do's and dont's of religion, we should be driven to the throne of grace and the feet of Jesus because "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (vs. 23).
Another truth to which I would like to bring attention is found in verses 3-4 of chapter 3. God's faithfulness is not dependent upon our faithfulness. He is self-sufficient, self-dependent and self-powered. Thank the Lord this is true because my faithfulness waivers. We can fully and truly trust in and depend upon God for everything and in everything because He does not change, waver or grow weaker. We should strive for faithfulness to God, but thankfully our faithlessness does not nullify God's faithfulness (vs. 3).
Let us not just say we believe in the promises of God, but let us step out in faith, being fully convinced that God is able to fulfill each and every promise in His Word. Because of our hurts and wounds in life, so many of us tend to feel we must earn love. Maybe you don't even realize you hold to this belief, but just take a moment and look at your motivations. Why do you go to church? Why do you bring people meals after they've had surgery? Why do you give others gifts? Is it because you want to show the love of Christ and be His hands and feet? Or is it because you are aching inside and doing everything you can think of to earn the love of others? If you've every thought, "Oh I need to do this so they'll like me," then you hold to this belief that love is something to be earned. And, chances are if you do this with others, you do this in your relationship with God, too. So, let me just tell you right now that God loves you (John 3:16). You didn't do anything to make Him love you and you didn't do anything to make him un-love you. He loves you because He is your Father in heaven who made you in His very image (Genesis 1:27). Step out if faith today and embrace the love of your Father.
1) If righteousness could be gained through the Law, then Christ died for nothing. Why can't the works of the Law save us?
2) The Jews worked for and served God, but it was self-righteousness as opposed righteousness (right-standing with God). Talk about some ways that Christians fall prey to the same self-righteousness exhibited by the religious Jews.
3) Justification is the Greek word dikaioo, meaning "to be declared, pronounced and rendered righteous." How are you brought to justification by God? (Romans 3:28).
4) Discuss works-based salvation versus faith-based salvation. In what ways do you fall back into a works-based salvation, striving in your own strength to attain or maintain your salvation?
Father God, thank you for your salvation through Jesus Christ. All of us need you, whether or not we realize it right now. I pray, Father, that you would reveal peoples' need for you before Judgment Day, so that they would not have to spend eternity paying for the penalties of their sins. Use me to shine your light, love and mercy into their lives. Thank you for your faithfulness that doesn't rely on anyone or anything. Strengthen me to faithfulness to you and your Word, and show me grace and mercy when I fall short. Thank you for the covering of Jesus in my life and for the freedom found only in your salvation. Thank you for your Word that shows me strongholds of sin still present in my heart. Lord, loose me from those chains and set me on the path of righteousness for your name's sake (Psalms 23:3). In Jesus' name I pray, Amen!