How God treats a sinner
Doesn’t our sin make God look good?1 So what’s the bonus of being a Jew? Why bother with that painful ritual of circumcision?
2 Let me tell you, there’s a lot to say for the Jewish people. For one, they’re the group of people God trusted with his message. 3 But what if some Jews reject God? Will that stop God, and turn him into a liar who can’t keep his promises?
4 No way. God tells the truth. It doesn’t matter if everyone else is a liar. The Bible says God isn’t: “You’ll win your case for justice in court. You’ll win because the words you speak are true.” 5 Some might argue this: When we do something wrong, we’re showing by comparison how righteous God is. That’s a good thing. So they’d say it wouldn’t be fair of God to punish us for that.
6 No way. If that were true, how could God judge the world? 7 Some folks might keep on arguing that if their lie shows how truthful God is, why should they get condemned for lying? 8 Some slander me by saying I teach that junk. They claim I say, “The more we sin, the better, because good comes from it.” They’ll get what they deserve.
Sin's the boss9 So what about Jews? Are we better off than other people? Not a chance. Jews are controlled by sin, just like everyone else is.
10 The Bible puts it this way: “No one is good. No one. 11 No one understands. No one looks for God.
12 Everyone has gone off in some other direction. No one is doing anything good. No one. They’re good for nothing. 13 Their throat is a toxic pit. Their tongues fling lies. Their lips are pockets of snake venom. 14 Their mouth is an arsenal of profanity and bitterness. 15 Their feet rush them to victims they can kill. 16 Wherever they go, they ruin lives and leave people suffering in misery.
17 They know nothing about peace. 18 They have no respect for God.”
19 We know this much. The Jewish law is a law for Jews. This law was intended to show them that everyone is accountable to God. No excuses. 20 But we know this, too. No one can have a good relationship with God simply by obeying the law. All the law does is show us what we’re doing wrong.
We’re all sinners, but not hopeless21 Now we know how to become a good-hearted person who pleases God. It’s not by following the laws that Moses gave us. In fact, those laws and the prophets confirm this, and point to a better way. 22 God’s goodness is available to everyone who puts their faith in Jesus the Messiah. It doesn’t matter who those people are. 23 Everyone has sinned. Everyone falls short of the honorable standards God sets.
God gives us better than we deserve24 Yet our relationship with God can be good. That’s because of God’s kindness. Through Christ Jesus, we’ve been spared the punishment we deserve for our sins. 25 Our sins are a capital offense, but God sent Jesus to take our punishment. Jesus bled and died for the sins we committed. This shows God's forgiveness. He forgives everyone who puts their faith in Jesus.
26 God sent Jesus here to remind us he’s a generous judge. He forgives everyone who trusts Jesus. 27 So, what do we have to brag about? God’s approval isn’t about keeping the law. It’s about keeping the faith.
28 Listen, God accepts us because of our faith. It’s not because we obey the laws Moses gave us. 29 Is God the God of just the Jews? Isn’t he the God of everyone? He sure is.
30 There’s just one God for everyone. He accepts circumcised Jews because of their faith. He accepts uncircumcised non-Jews because of their faith. 31 Do we retire the law by promoting faith? No way. Faith confirms what the law teaches and finishes what it started.
The writer of Genesis says God planned to draw people to himself by selecting one man, Abraham, whose descendants became the nation of Israel. Through the nation of Israel, God wanted the world to become acquainted with him and with his expectations for citizens of his spiritual kingdom. God gave the Jews laws to introduce himself to them. And he invited them to live under the blessings of those laws and in devotion to him. God told Abraham, “All the families on the planet will be better off because of you and your family. You are going to make this world a better place” (Genesis 12:3). God promised to do this through the Jewish people. New Testament writers claim that the Jews failed to obey God. So, God fulfilled this promise by sending the Messiah, his Son Jesus, born into a Jewish family.
Paraphrase of Psalm 51:4.
From Psalm 14:1-3.
This phrase is from Psalm 5:9. It’s more literally, “Their throat is an open grave.” It’s unclear what Paul meant by that. But Jews became ritually unclean when they came into contact with the dead or with a grave. They weren’t allowed to worship at the Jerusalem Temple until they had gone through cleansing rituals. This included waiting seven days and taking ritual baths on days three and seven (Numbers 19:11-13).
From Psalm 140:3.
From Psalm 10:7.
From Isaiah 59:7-8.
From Psalm 36:1.
A more famous translation says “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (King James Version). The “glory of God” could refer to the standard he sets for people who seek his approval and praise. But it could also refer to his presence, and the right to stand with him. The implication is that though he created humans, no one is fit to stand in his presence. Perhaps it’s much like John the Baptist once said of Jesus, “I’m not worthy to untie the straps on his sandals” (Luke 3:16).
A more literal translation, heavy on abstract theological terms: “Justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Mounce Reverse-Interlinear New Testament).
“Grace” sounds like a vague word that’s hard to define. In fact, it’s a specific word that can be hard to define: charis. When Bible writers use it to describe God’s expression of grace to people, the word comes in different shades: mercy, kindness, love. We have to look for context clues if we want to understand how the writer used the word. One interpretation of God’s grace is this: “Grace is God accepting us the way we are and exactly where we are in our life, yet it’s also his unwillingness to leave us there.” That may cover all the shades of “grace.” We should probably add that Paul says we can’t earn the right to any of it (Romans 9:16). In the Casual English Bible, we typically substitute “kindness” for “grace,” because the word “kindness” is more easily grasped and is a key feature of grace. But in Paul’s letter to Romans, we go back to “grace” because this is Paul’s greatest surviving work and the world’s first book of theology. If you can handle Romans, you can wrap your welcoming arms around God’s grace.
Jewish law taught that sin was a capital offense that required blood to atone for the sin. In Old Testament times, animals were permitted as substitutes to atone for the sins of humans. Jewish law quotes God putting it this way, “Life is in the blood, and I have given you the blood of animals to sacrifice in place of your own” (Leviticus 17:11 Contemporary English Version). New Testament writers present Jesus as the final sacrifice, ending the sacrificial system “once and for all time” (Hebrews 10:10 New Century Version).
Some Bible experts say that Paul wasn’t teaching that Jews should stop observing the laws and traditions Moses gave them. Instead, he was saying that God, all along, had the rest of the world in mind, too. For Jews and everyone else, what matters most isn’t the law of the Jews. It’s the law of faith, which is what the Jewish laws were about as well—helping Jews learn to trust in God. Paul explores that further in Romans 4, when he reminds his readers that God approved of Abraham, the father of the Jews, not because Abraham obeyed the laws of Moses. Abraham lived several centuries before Moses. God accepted Abraham because of his faith.
Paul starts Romans 3 by asking, “So what’s the bonus of being a Jew?” He assumed Jews saw themselves as one step above everyone else when it comes to God. In other words, God gave them bonus points. Why do you think Paul would say something like that?
Paul set up a hypothetical argument that may have been based on what some critics were saying about the new Christian religion. Maybe even some supposed Christians were making the case, too. It goes something like this: “When we sin, it shows how much better God is than we are? So why would he punish us for making him look good?” Beyond rolling our eyes, how should we respond to that?
My goodness, Paul has strong words to describe what sin does to us. Harsh, even. Take a look at his descriptions in Romans 3:10-18. If you had to describe the power of sin that you’ve seen at work, which of these descriptions nails it for you?
Why do you think Paul uses such vivid word pictures to describe sin as he does in Romans 3:10-18? What’s the point of getting so worked up about it?
Moses gave the Jews hundreds of laws that guided them in everything from personal hygiene to legal matters to religion. Paul says that obeying the law doesn’t make us acceptable to God. “All the law does is show us what we’re doing wrong” (3:20). That might seem like an exaggeration. For example, don’t we feel better about ourselves when we live within the law?
Take a look at the footnote to Romans 3:23. It suggests two ways of reading “glory of God.” Which version makes most sense to you?
LIFE APPLICATION. Here’s one main teaching of Christianity that doesn’t seem to make much sense to people outside the faith: “Our sins are a capital offense, but God sent Jesus to take our punishment. Jesus bled and died for the sins we committed” (3:25). How would you explain why Jesus had to die and how on earth his sacrifice saves us from getting punished for our sins?
LIFE APPLICATION. This is one of the powerhouse chapters in the Bible. Paul makes some bold statements. Bold enough to rattle the Jewish establishment but delightful enough to everyone else that there might have been some “Hallelujahs” shouted when the church leader in Rome read Paul’s letter to the congregation. What statement in this chapter resonates best with you or encourages you most?