Well then, should we conclude that we Jews are better than others? No, not at all, for we have already shown that all people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are under the power of sin. As the Scriptures say: “There is no righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands. There is no one who seeks God; all have turned away. They’ve together become worthless; there is not one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves, their tongues practice deceit, the poison of vipers is on their lips; their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood. Ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace, they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Hasn’t changed much today, either). We know that whatever the Law says, it says to those under the Law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world (may be) held accountable to God. Therefore, no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by obeying the Law; rather, through the Law, we become conscious of our sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law. –Romans 3:9-31
While in seminary, I took a religious pluralism class. During our time of going through Islam, I remember the two instructors saying that when Islamic scholars went through the book of Romans, they deemed Paul as crazy, not making any sense. This would make sense, first of all, since they refuse to believe or accept anything in our Bible, Old or New Testament (for doing so would nullify Islam). But also, after reading this chapter alone, at first glance, it does almost beg the response, “Huh?” Because all throughout chapter 3, Paul’s talking about how the Jews are bound by the Law because they have the Law, Gentiles never had the Law so they’re not bound by it, all are equal in God’s sight, all are justified by faith, and then ends it by saying that we (Gentile Christians?) uphold the Law, hence my original response, “huh?”
To understand, we need to look at the context:
- What are the original questions that Paul’s answering in this chapter?
- What’s the advantage of being a Jew (or circumcised)?
- Will Jews’ unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness?
- If our unrighteousness causes God’s righteousness to show better, then why are we punished for our unrighteousness?
- Do Gentiles have any advantage over the Jews because their righteousness is based on faith, versus keeping the Law?
So what’s the advantage of being a Jew (or circumcised)? Understand, first of all, that Jews, like Gentiles, need Jesus in order to obtain salvation, and we’ll go into that later. But the great advantage the Jews, God’s original people, so to say, have, is that they were entrusted with God’s Holy Scriptures. The first on the list…the first in line.
Second, as I’m understanding Paul here, the Jews, being God’s original People, are under the Promises of God. God made His promises to Abram (Abraham), Isaac, Jacob and David, the Patriarchs and king of the People of God. Do we then nullify the Law by this faith? Not at all, rather, we uphold the Law.
Will Jews’ unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? But now, here’s a point of confusion: If they don’t have faith, then does that nullify God’s faithfulness to His side of the deal? Paul says no, for regardless of how they believe, God is God and He is faithful in fulfilling His side of the promises that He’d made. But now, remember again, we’re not talking about eternal salvation. When you enter into a covenant with God, you get God. God made these covenants with the aforementioned (Abram, Isaac, Jacob, David). I guess it’s like the modern-day Christian saying, “If you feel distant from God, then who stepped away?” The answer is you, because God promised never to leave nor forsake us/His People. If you step away from God, or if you break your covenant with Him, then guess who’s at fault? (Hint: It’s not God’s).
If our unrighteousness causes God’s righteousness to show better, then why are we punished for our unrighteousness?
Here’s an easy question: “If acting out of line causes God to be glorified by how others see Him treating us, then why are we punished for acting out of line? Isn’t the point for God to be glorified?” I stand by my answer to the question, “what’s the point of living”, with the answer, “to glorify God.” The meaning and point of life is to glorify God, but if you’re acting out of line, God’s not being glorified. Jesus once said that by your good works (behavior in response to your faith), people will glorify God for what you did. For example, if you push somebody out of the way of a speeding car, what’s the first thing that many people say? “Thank God…!”
- Thank God that you didn’t get hit!
- Thank God that you’re safe!
- Thank God that you were there!
A weak example, maybe, but I think it communicates the point.
Now, one of the biggest, most common things that non-believers say about Christians is that so many of us don’t do a good job of representing Jesus. This is a common complaint, as well as a turn-off for non-believers. So tell me, how is God being glorified in this example? He’s not, is He? And that’s the point Paul was trying to make. You don’t glorify God with disobedience and rebellion, you glorify God through obedience. And if you don’t believe this is true, then look at Israel’s history and how God responded to their (continuous) disobedience. (Key word: “Babylon”).
Do Gentiles have any advantage over the Jews because their righteousness is based on faith, versus keeping the Law? No, I believe this is what Paul was getting at. The Jews have the Law, which is (or was) meant to keep them in line of God’s requirements until the coming of God’s Messiah. But the Law was never meant as a means of justification, but of revealing their sin to them (once revealed, they would then repent and reconcile with God).
As Paul explained, nobody’s considered righteous in God’s eyes, Law or no Law, without faith. And to explain this, Paul used the example of Abraham. Abraham wasn’t under God’s Law when he chose to respond in faith to God, for the Law wouldn’t even be given for about another 1,000 years. So just like with the Gentiles:
- Abraham wasn’t under the Law when he accepted the Lord as his God
- Abraham responded by faith
- God deemed him righteous out of faith and obedience to Him. Obedience was his response to his faith.
This also explains Paul’s take: Jews and Gentiles are the same in this, for neither are righteous without faith.
So the Jews have the advantage of being trusted with the Scriptures, the Gentiles have the advantage of not having the Law, but neither is righteous. Both can only be made righteous through faith in Christ Jesus.