A Study of the Book of Romans CHAPTER 3 Sin and Salvation

Dr. Jerry A. Collins


In the first two chapters, Paul established the fact that both Gentile and Jew are sinners. But more than that, everyone has had general revelation from God through nature (chapter 1) and our conscience (chapter 2). Therefore, everyone is without excuse before God. Chapter 3 begins with a condemnation of the Jews because they sinned having the oracles of God (3:1-8). Then Paul concludes that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin and there is none who does good, there is not even one (3:9-20).


God remains faithful and righteous (3:1-8). 

Verse 1: Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? The section begins with the question of the value of the circumcision (an expression of sign for being a faithful Jew, faithful to the faith of Abraham).

Verse 2: Great in every respect. Right away that in spite of Israel's failure (meaning the vast majority of Israelites) the covenant program was not a mistake. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. This expression refers to utterances or divine communications in written form. “But,” some will object, “Israel failed.”  They were disobedient. 

Verse 3: What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? No, disobedience cannot do that. Of the generation that received the Law, for instance, only 2 adults proved faithful. Caleb and Joshua. Still God brought the whole nation into Canaan as He promised though unbelieving died in the wilderness. Disobedience does not cancel the promises, though it postpones them. There is still a future for Israel (Romans 9-11). 

Verse 4: May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar. If everyone, not just some, did not believe, God's word would still be true. The promises rest on the divine character of God. This point is then backed up by a citation from David's great confession of sin (Psalm 51:4) as it is written, "That You may be justified in Your words, and prevail when You are judged." In that context David was throwing himself on God's mercy, and having confessed his sin he was ready to accept whatever verdict came. If God sentenced him to death that would be righteous; if God granted him mercy, that would harmonize with His nature. David in his confession was submitting to the will of God, and acknowledging the righteousness of God. But this might suggest to some that God was unrighteous in condemning people if by their sins His righteousness is displayed. 

Verse 5-8: But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? The point is: our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God. The fact that we are unrighteous means there is righteous standard we don’t keep. If I say: “It’s dark,” that means I know about the existence of light or I wouldn’t know to say it’s dark. The existence of light presents a standard by which we can measure how dark it is. Darkness is not the opposite of light, but the absence of it. Our unrighteousness (like darkness) demonstrates the (light of the) righteousness of God. So the real question is: if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner? In other words: Why not do evil that good may come from it? Paul says there is just one problem with that. God will receive glory either way. But while good is coming from it, in that God’s righteousness is being demonstrated, you are being condemned. So, their condemnation is just.

PT: The very fact that you operate by a moral standard shows there is one and it confirms your guilt.


Our guilt and Human depravity reaches every aspect of human life (3:9-20)

Verse 9: What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin. Well then, if we as Jews have such advantages due to God's choice of us, do we then excel? No, we are still sinners. Scripture says so.

Verse 10: as it is written, Paul has charged the Gentiles with guilt in chapter one, charged the Jews with guilt in chapter two, but now summarily proves all are guilty in chapter 3 when he quotes Scripture. What does the Bible say? If people did not agree, then their argument was with God, and not with him. "There is none righteous, not even one from Psalm 14:1-3.

Verses 11-13: There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, there is not even one." Here a statement of the universality of sin opens and closes the passage. Sin has affected human intellect, emotions, and volition: all aspects of human personality. Note the repetition of “none” as well as “all” and “not even one,” all universal terms. "Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving," "The poison of asps is under their lips" from Psalm 5:9; 140:3.

                            PT: We can do good deeds. But there are two qualifications here:

                            1. Our good is mixed with evil, so it’s all evil from God’s perspective.

                            2. Our good deeds do not make us holy (separated from evil). We can do good deeds and evil deeds as well as think good thoughts and evil thoughts at the same time. We are not holy.

                            Verse 14: "Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness" from Psalm 10:7. They are deceitful, destructive, and hurtful.  If ever there was a question about the extent of depravity, one need only examine the things people say. Total depravity does not mean that every person is as bad as he or she could be. It means that sin has affected every part of his or her being and consequently there is nothing anyone can do to commend himself or herself to a holy God.

Verse 15-16: "Their feet are swift to shed blood. Verse 15-17 from Isaiah 59:7-8 list their conduct as murderous and treacherous. Human beings are murderers from the beginning. This description captures the ease and the eagerness with which they design the death of other people. Because of human nature, ruin and misery characterize our lot in life. Destruction and misery are in their paths,

Verse 17: Verses 17 and 18 look at the thoughts. And the path of peace they have not known." These two ideas form a climax to the list.  The way of peace is foreign to human nature.  It is, as Jesus explained, not as the world gives. Psalm 36:1 essentially means "there is no dread thing from God before their eyes." 

Verse 18: "There is no fear of God before their eyes." From Psalm 36:1 In other words, God has not slapped them down or punished them yet, and so they live as the fools they are, concluding that he must approve of them and their conduct.

PT: This is a clear, biblical description of human nature apart from faith in the LORD. The race is unrighteous; and left to themselves they become vile and destructive, leaving a trail of misery and ruin. This is one of the most devastating lists of sins in verses 11-18 (and condemnations because of those sins) in the Bible. No one escapes this list. 

Verse 19: Now we know that whatever the Law says, making the Psalms quoted here as well as Isaiah the Law of God as much as the Commandments of Moses. It speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; The Jew was representative of the human race in God's dealings with people. God tested one element of the race, the one with the most light given to them, and discovered it was sour; thus, he pronounces judgment on the whole race and no one can protest. No one will be able to open his mouth in his own defense.

Verse 20: because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. No one can be declared righteous by keeping the Law, because there is no one who can keep the Law. The race is corrupt. The proof is in the pudding.

PT: The Law had many purposes; but salvation by keeping it was not one of them. Paul affirms that the Law pointed out sin--it showed our need. In this sense the old saying is true that the Jews' death warrant has been written in their birth certificate. This entire section is the most unpleasant section of the book, dealing with condemnation; but it is most necessary. If there is no sin, if the race is not lost, then what in the world is the Gospel all about?


There is a universal provision of Righteousness for Sinners 21-26

Up to this point the message of the book has been bleak and discouraging. The whole world is by nature corrupt and degenerate. “But now” in verse 21 forms a great divide, introducing something totally new. The glorious news is that God has intervened

Verse 21: But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, In the gospel of salvation through his Son he has provided a faith-righteousness that avails in his sight. Paul adds that the Law and the Prophets attest to this provision of righteousness. Being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets. The simple fact is that a righteousness is available, and this righteousness comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.

Verse 22-23: even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned meaning “all have committed acts of sin” referring to personal sins. What makes us sinful? Imputed sin—transmitted from Adam to each member of the human race (Roman 5:12). Natural sin—that natural bent, capacity, and obsession to do things contrary to God’s nature transmitted from our parents just like our physical bodies are (Ephesians 4:18). Personal sin—we each commit as individuals (1 John 1:8-10). And fall short of the glory of God, the falling short need not be equally short for all people; that is not important. The point is that all have missed it, whether by a little or a lot. It is fatal. So God pardons sinners and imparts new life to them with a brand new state of being, born again.

Verse 24: being justified as a gift by His grace our justification originates in the loving heart of God.

This justification is through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus which means a “ransoming away” with the idea of never again coming into the same bondage.  

Verse 25: The way this redemption worked is that God set Jesus forth displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. It seems to include both ideas of expiation (the removal of sin) and propitiation (the averting of wrath). The holiness of God is preserved by the need for propitiation; the love of God is revealed by the provision.

According to the following verses God had several reasons for setting forth Jesus to be such a propitiation. (1) This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed. In the Old Testament age, that is before Christ died, sin was not finally or ultimately punished once and for all—it was only passed over. What they did not know was who was eventually going to pay for these sins, because the sacrifices of animals were repeated. Yet for the payment for these sins God passed over them until they could all be nailed to the cross in the death of the Messiah, the Son of God, once and for all.  In Christ the justice of God is completely satisfied.

Verse 26: (2) God also wished to make known his justice for us at the present time for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, and (3) God wished to harmonize his attribute (righteous) and his action (justifying) so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

PT: The only way that God could remain righteous and at the same time declare sinners righteous was for God to come in the flesh and die for the sins of the whole human race. Thus, the demands have been met; the sins have been paid for; the way is open for grace to be bestowed on all who believe.


Justification and the purpose of the law 27-31

Verse 27: Where then is boasting? It is excluded. Conduct and achievements and one’s goodness cannot procure righteousness, for people are justified without the deeds of the Law. This is a blow to human pride. Nothing that a mere mortal can do will win for him or for her the righteousness needed to cover sin. By what kind of law? Of works? The only way of appropriating it is through faith in the shed blood of Jesus. No, but by a law of faith. 

Verse 28: For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Faith in Jesus’ blood is what counts, the blood shed for the remission of sin. And this is true for everyone.

Verse 29: Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 

Verse 30-31: since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. No matter your ethnicity, you must be persuaded of faith in Jesus Christ. Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law. If the Law is properly understood, believed, and obeyed, then the appeal for faith in Christ’s Passover payment for sins exposed by the Law would be seen as the heart of the Law. What is new is that the Son of God himself becomes the propitiation. Therefore, anyone who lived under the Law and had faith in the LORD would transfer that faith to Jesus and his blood. 



                                    •  In 3:4, Paul says: let God be found true, though every man be found a liar. In other words, the truth of God is independent of the faith of men. Paul’s example is the unfaithful Jews. But we see this when the secular world points to cults and weirdoes as reasons why Christianity is not true. Paul says the truth revealed by God stands independent of whether or not anyone believes it, perverts it, or distorts it. The claim of the Bible and biblical Christianity is that the Word of God is true, perfect, and consistent. We make no such claim for those who say they believe it or follow it.

                      •  Our global socialists would think they agree with the description of the bad guys in 3:15-17 (their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known). But the bloodshed and destruction of peace here are personal actions of an individual, not a collective view of the masses. Paul is not looking at or recommending social action, political policies, or government control. He’s not talking about curing the ills of a global society. He’s talking about the condition of the heart and personal repentance.


So What?

(1) You cannot expect God to overlook your sin. It is what has condemned you.

(2) You cannot make deals with God about your sin. It will be basis of your judgment.

(3) Your sin will show up in every dimension of your life. Though not as sinful as could be you are completely sinful.

(4) God condemned everyone to have mercy on everyone.

(5) Admit your sinfulness and believe!