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Paul's letter to the Romans

chapter  3

The integrity and faithfulness of God

We now arrive at a passage best interpreted as an imagined dialogue between Paul and a sympathetic Jew.   This is not confrontational.   In the answers the Jew gives,  Paul brings out his own understanding.
So what is the advantage of being a Jew?   What is the value of circumcision?

      Much,  in every way.   To begin with,  they were entrusted
      with the oracles of God.

Yes.   But what if some were unfaithful?   Surely their lack of fidelity will not nullify God's integrity?

      Of course not!   God will be proven true even if everyone turns out false.
      Scripture says:  '...  that you may be proven right when you speak,
      and gain the verdict when you are in judgment
.   (Ps. 51:4)'

But then,  if it is an act of justice when God shows forbearance,  does that mean that God would be unjust on another occasion to respond with anger?   (I am speaking in human terms.)

      Never!   How then could he judge the world?

And yet,  if my falsehood is the occasion for greater honour to God  (as the psalm seems to suggest)  why am I still branded a sinner?   And why not  'do evil that good may come'  as some slanderers accuse us Jews of teaching?

      We should certainly condemn them!

Well then:  is there anything at all that we Jews hold up as a shield or excuse against God's judgment?

      Not at all.   We have already accepted that all people,  Jews and
      Greeks alike,  are under sin's dominion.

And scripture agrees:

   There is no just person,  none,
   not one who understands,  not one who seeks God.
   All have strayed,  all are corrupted.
   There is none to practise kindness,  not one.

   Their throats are open graves,
   their tongues are full of deceit,
   there is poison on their lips,
   curses fill their mouths.

   They hasten to shed blood,
   affliction and ruin lie along their paths,
   they are ignorant of the way of peace,
   they know nothing of the fear of God.      (various citations)

What is said in the law to those under the law is said,  as we know,  to prevent anyone from making excuses,  and to expose the whole world to the judgment of God.   Nobody can be justified before God purely by keeping the law.   What the law does is to make us aware of sin.      [1-20]

A major purpose of the above section is to make it clear that everyone is accountable before God.   Some people may say that the Jews regard their possession of the law as a shield against God's judgment.   The dialogue rejects that idea.   Paul intends his Gentile audience to get the point that if the Jews have no privileged defence against judgment,  then nobody has.
But in this present time God's justice has been brought to light,  not tied to the law,  though witnessed to by the law and the prophets.   It embraces everyone who has faith in Jesus Christ,  without distinction.   They have all sinned,  all fallen short of the glory of God.   Yet they are made right before God,  freely,  by his grace,  through the salvation in Christ Jesus  -  his sacrificial death  -  received by faith.   God's purpose in this is to prove his integrity.   If in his forbearance he overlooked past sins,  now,  in this present time,  he has demonstrated his justice.   He has shown that he is just himself,  and,  moreover,  that he brings to righteousness those who have faith in Jesus.

So what basis can there be for self-congratulation?   There is no room for it.   Keeping the law wouldn't rule it out,  but faith does.   For we are saying that people are made right before God through faith,  not on account of success in keeping the law.   The one God is God of Gentiles and of Jews.   He will justify both the circumcised through their faith and the uncircumcised through their faith.   Is this using faith to undermine the law?   Not at all.   It reinforces the significance of the law.      [21-31]

Paul did not invent the idea of salvation through faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus.   He says in 1 Cor 15:3 that this is part of what he received.   It was a very early development,  and the Roman Christians did not need to be instructed about it.   What Paul is emphasizing here is the integrity and faithfulness of God.

There are,  indeed,  signs in Romans that Paul was uneasy about the way the salvation teaching was presented in some Christian circles.   It does very easily slide into a belief in  'cheap grace'  -  that the sacrifice of Jesus relieves us of the need to fulfil the law's requirements.   Notice Paul's insistence that faith actually gives added importance to the law.

  paraphrase and notes by Evan Lewis


Making connections with Paul the apostle
What Paul did NOT write

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