Tag Archives: justification

Romans 3:9-20 – None Righteous

Romans 3:9–20 (ESV) — 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.

 

In our text today, Paul brings to a close the arguments he began in 1:16.

  • It might do us good to outline Paul’s points up until now.
  • Reference Outline.

 

Outline:

1:16-17 – Saving Righteousness of God

  • Divine Activity – Covenant Faithfulness

 

1:18-32 – Judging Righteousness of God on Gentiles

  • 18-23 – Reason
    • Failing to Glorify God
  • 24-32 – Results
    • Spiritual Corruption
    • Physical Corruption
    • Fellowship Corruption

 

2:1-5 – Judging Others Incurs God’s Judging Righteousness

  • Why?
    • Hypocrisy – “Practice” What is Judged
    • Tread on God’s Patience

 

2:6-11 – “Apodidimi” (Reward) of God is Impartial

  • Judging Righteousness Given to Unrighteous
  • Saving Righteousness Given to Glory Seekers

 

2:12-13 – Future Justification (?)

 

2:12-3:8 – Judging Righteousness of God on Jews & Undercutting of Jewish Privilege

  • 12-16 – Gentiles Have Law – “By Nature” Law
    • “doers of the law” vs. “hearers of the law”
  • 2:17-23 – “Boast in” Law but Lawbreakers
    • Dishonors God
  • 2:24-29 – “Circumcision” Law
    • Circumcision of Flesh (man-centered)
    • Circumcision of Heart (God-centered)
  • 3:1-8 – Jews as Unfaithful “Entrustees”
    • Given Much & Entrusted But Failed
    • But…God is Faithful

 

 

Armed with this summary…

  • We can now better understand Paul’s closing arguments.

 

 

Verse 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,

 

“Already Charged”:

Paul has clearly been teaching that…

  • Gentiles fall under God’s judging righteousness.
  • Jews fall under God’s judging righteousness.
  • So to say that he has “already charged” is an understatement.
  • He has pounded home this point over and over.

 

“Better Off”:

What is less clear is what Paul means with the first part of this verse.

  • What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all.

 

The reason this should cause us pause and demand our attention is this…

  • In verses 1-2, Paul says this, “…what advantage has the Jew…Much in every way”.

 

This seems to be a contradiction.

  • Are Jews Better Off/Advantaged?
  • No, not at all” vs. “Much in every way”.

 

What is the solution to this apparent problem?

 

We need only look at our outline to make the necessary distinction.

  • Paul is talking about two different things.
  • Jews were privileged as God’s elect – in that they were given much.
  • However, this made them no “better off” – i.e. righteous and justified.
    • God’s judgment is impartial toward Jew and Gentile.

 

Douglas Moo sums it up well:

“Whatever historical privileges the Jews may have, these do not place Jews in a superior position in God’s judgment” – Doug Moo.

 

BTW – Robert Jewett provides another option here.

  • He says given Greek grammar options vs. 9 can rightly be translated with a negative connotation.
  • In other words, instead of Jews “better off” – its Jews “not better off”.
  • Supporting his case is the literal meaning of the Greek word translated “better off”.
  • It literally means “to be outdone”, “bettered” or “excelled” by something or someone (BDAG & Jewett).
  • In our context, the something else would be the Gentiles.

 

This option plays out as follows:

  • Paul is revealing that his diatribe “opponent” (the judge from 2:1) has begun to come around.
  • He has understood that the Jew is not better off than the Gentile.
  • And this, coupled with the fact that they have blasphemed the name of God and so failed as “entrustees”, leads the opponent to ask – are Jews “outdone” or “excelled” by Gentiles.
  • Paul’s answer, No!
  • Jews and Gentiles are in the same boat – all are “under sin” (vs. 9), “none is righteous” (vs. 10).

 

“Under Sin”:

In the NT, “under sin” is uniquely Pauline.

  • He uses it twice in Romans and once in Galatians.
  • Remember, Paul has to redefine Judaism in light of Jesus Christ.
  • This Greek phrase could be evidence of this endeavor.

 

So what does Paul mean that Jews and Greeks are “under sin”?

  • Most are in agreement that it means at least two things.
  • (1) Paul is speaking of the sin as an act – disobedience.
  • (2) Paul is speaking of sin ontologically as a thing with power!

 

It is the second meaning that is unique to Paul.

“Paul’s understanding that all people, Jews as well as Gentiles, were not just sinners but helpless pawns under sin’s power, distinguished him sharply from his Jewish contemporaries” – Douglas Moo.

 

The implication of this truth – that all are under the power of sin – is profound.

  • Anyone who has “not experienced the righteousness of God by faith is ‘under sin’” – Douglas Moo.
  • There is nothing a person can do to remove him or herself from its power.
  • There is no escape from sins power without “intervention” – Robert Jewett.

 

Remember, Paul is heaping this truth upon all that he has taught thus far.

  • The law doesn’t put right.
  • Circumcision doesn’t put right.
  • Obedience doesn’t put right.
  • Why – because all are under sin!
  • We are all in “Union with Sin” and its power and dominion – including death.

 

 

Verses 10-18:

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.”

 

Paul then goes on to quote from six OT passages to show the evidence that all our “under sin”.

  • Importantly he begins this litany of despair with a concept he has mentioned before.
  • The righteousness of mankind.

 

Paul has had much to say about God’s righteousness – both the saving and judging varieties.

  • But what is the righteousness of man?

 

One might be tempted to say that the righteousness of man is the opposite of verses 11-18.

  • So perhaps the righteousness of man is:
    • Understanding and Seeking God.
    • Turning to God.
    • Good Works.
    • Speaking Holy Things.
    • Doing Holy Things.
    • Fearing God.

 

There are a couple of obvious problems with this, however.

  • This would imply that the righteousness of man comes from things man can do.
  • And Paul has already said that, “None is righteous, no, not one” (vs. 10).
  • We simply don’t do righteous things.

 

The other problem with this approach is that Paul has just declared that all are “under sin”.

  • In Romans 6 he will expand on this.
  • He will say that we are slaves to sin’s power and dominion.
  • So, the righteousness of man is not something that those “under sin” can have!

 

It’s almost as if Paul is talking about something that doesn’t actually exist.

  • And yet, it is something we need to avoid God’s judging righteousness.

 

At this point, we should be feeling very troubled and almost without hope.

  • How do we “get righteousness” or get “in the right” with God? (N.T. Wright)
  • Clearly, to get the righteousness that we don’t have, we need someone else’s.

 

And how does that happen?

  • We need the “intervention” that we mentioned earlier.
  • We need to be justified!
  • We need to be removed from the power of sin and imputed with God’s alien righteousness
  • Praise God for Romans 3:21 and following!

 

 

Verses 19-20:

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.

 

Paul changes it up a bit in these last two verses.

  • He has something very important to say about the law.
  • And he couches his comments in law court language.

 

The courtroom scene plays at as follows:

  • Those “under the law” – the Gentiles and their “by nature” law and the Jews and their “boast in” law – are in the dock (N.T. Wright).
  • The dock is where the accused sits in a trial.

 

Shockingly, the law stands in as a witness against those who are under it.

  • The law actually “speaks” (vs. 19) or testifies against them – Gentile and Jew.
  • And “whatever the law says” (vs. 19) it demonstrates irrefutably the guilt of those in the dock.

 

So if anyone is going to rely on the law to be declared right before God, there is a serious problem.

  • “If ‘the Jew’ [for example] appeals to the covenant status which is marked out by possession of the law, the law itself replies, ‘You have broken me’” – N.T. Wright.

 

Paul goes on to say that because of the law’s testimony…

  • every mouth may be stopped” (vs. 19).

 

“Every Mouth May Be Stopped”:

It is important here to fully appreciate “every mouth may be stopped” (vs. 19).

“In Paul’s world, if you were on trial and had nothing more to say in your defence, you put a hand over your mouth as a sign. Sometimes court officials would strike the prisoner on the mouth to indicate that their mouths ‘should be stopped’, in other words, that they were obviously guilty and should not be attempting to defend themselves (this happened to Jesus in John 18:22, and to Paul in Acts 23:2). So when Paul says ‘that every mouth may be stopped’ he is imagining not only that the Jews have joined the Gentiles in the dock but that all of them together are left without any defence.” – N.T. Wright.

 

We actually see this elsewhere in the N.T.

  • John 18:22 (ESV) — 22 When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?”
  • Acts 23:1–2 (ESV) — 1 And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” 2 And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth.

 

The point here is that when the law speaks our guilt becomes plainly evident and there is no recourse!

  • As a result, we are all “held accountable to God” (vs. 19).
  • The righteousness of man is shown to be a manmade illusion!
  • Galatians 3:21b (ESV) — 21b For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.

 

Having lost our case in the law court – undone by the very thing we thought would save us…

  • Paul declares our final fate.
  • Because of the testimony of the law, none “will be justified in his sight” (vs. 20).
  • We have no righteousness; we sin and we are under sin’s dominion.
  • Obedience, “works of the law” (vs. 20), as a basis for justification is non-existent.
  • Our only fate is God’s judging righteousness, wrath and condemnation.

 

BTW – How do we reconcile the following statements?

  • …by works of the law no human being will be justified” (vs. 20) / “…but the doers of the law who will be justified” (2:13).

 

There seem to be only two viable answers.

  • (1) 2:13 is referring to future justification and 3:20 is referring to present justification (N.T. Wright).
  • (2) 2:13 is a theoretical; Paul doesn’t mean it.
    • We need to insert an unstated assumption of Paul between the two, “no one can do the law” – Douglas Moo.

 

 

Conclusion:

Where do we go from here?

  • What is the remedy for this hopeless situation?
  • We will end with Paul’s own words.
  • Romans 1:16–17 (ESV) — 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

 

 

Romans 2:12-13 – Doers Are Justified

Romans 2:12–13 (ESV) — 12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

 

Look at that again!

  • “the doers of the law who will be justified” (vs. 13).
  • This is Paul’s first use in Romans of justify.
  • And he uses it in context of works.

 

 

Paul and Justification:

We know Paul teaches justification comes by faith and not by works.

  • Ephesians 2:8–9 (ESV) — 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
  • In Romans, justification is huge theme for Paul.

 

What is justification by faith?

  • If you remember, justification by faith is how God’s righteousness (another of Paul’s major themes) is made ours.
  • By faith in Christ we are imputed with a righteousness alien to us.
    • The righteousness of Christ.
  • A righteousness by which we are given a new status in God’s law court.
  • N.T. Wright says simply justification is how we are “declared to be in the right”.

 

Yet, in spite of teaching justification by faith, Paul keeps busting out this apparent justification by works language.

  • He seems determined to appeal to the legalist and moralist in us all.

 

Last week Paul said God will reward eternal life to those who do good works.

  • He will render to each one according to his works” – Romans 2:6.

 

Today he says that the “doers of the law” are justified and righteous.

  • But that is not all!

 

Later in Romans he will say:

  • Romans 14:10–12 (ESV) — 10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

 

And look at what he says in other letters:

  • 2 Corinthians 5:10 (ESV) — 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
  • Ephesians 6:8 (ESV) — 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.
  • 2 Timothy 4:1 (ESV) — 1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:

 

Then how about this text:

  • Revelation 20:12–13 (ESV) — 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.

 

So what’s the deal?

  • Is Paul contradicting himself?
  • Are we missing something?
  • Are there different kinds of justification?

 

We are going to look at two views on what Paul means with his justification by works language.

 

View 1:

Many suggest that what Paul must being doing is stating a theoretical/theological possibility.

  • Paul is stating in the abstract that perfect “doers of the law” will be justified.

 

But, he knows full well that this type of obedience is impossible.

“Paul would not have thought for a moment that such people could actually live the kind of sinless, holy life which a total keeping of the law would produce” – N.T. Wright.

  • In other words, he believes it to be true, but knows that it is not possible.

 

The inability to perfectly obey is not new to Paul.

  • Psalm 143:2 (ESV) — 2 Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.

 

So why would he say something he knows can’t happen anyway?

  • The reason Paul puts forward this theoretical possibility of being justified by works is…
  • To setup the need for his Gospel of Jesus Christ for both Jew and Gentile.
  • We need to obey the law, but we can’t, so we need someone who can in our stead.

 

After all, the logic goes, Paul will say in Romans 3:

  • Romans 3:23–24 (ESV) — 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,

 

And in Romans 4:

  • Romans 4:2–5 (ESV) — 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,

 

Both of these texts point to Jesus.

  • Justification only comes through being united to Christ by faith.

 

N.T. Wright sums up this view:

Some “have suggested that maybe he is setting it up as a theoretical possibility which he will then show to be, in fact, impossible. They envisage him saying, in effect, ‘In theory, God would like to be able to judge people according to how they behave, but since in fact nobody would pass that test he has introduced a different scheme’” – N.T. Wright.

  • The different scheme is of course, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

This approach makes sense.

  • The idea that Paul is using justification through works language to point to our need for Christ seems to work.

 

 

View 2:

However, there are those that say this approach flattens out Paul’s teaching.

  • How so?

 

Some think Paul’s view of justification is larger than just justification by faith.

  • In fact, attempts to frame his justification by works language as view 1 does is to miss out on some important distinctions Paul is making in justification.
  • There is more than one kind of justification.

 

N.T. Wright will help us here.

“The contrast between judgment according to works and justification by faith is not between a system God might have liked to operate and a system he has chosen to operate instead. It is the contrast between the future judgment, which will indeed be in accordance with works, and the present anticipation of that verdict, which is simply…on the basis of faith” – N.T. Wright.

 

Did you catch that?

  • The idea behind this view is that Paul is teaching two kinds of justification.
  • Present justification – justification by faith.
  • Future justification – the future judgment according to works.

 

Present justification is justification by faith.

  • “Those who believe in Jesus as the risen Lord of the world are declared already, on the basis of that faith, to belong to God’s people. They are already marked out as the people whose sins are forgiven” – N.T. Wright.
  • Just as Paul teaches in many places, we have been imputed with Jesus’ alien righteousness and have a new status – right now.

 

But, in our text today, the context is future judgment.

  • God’s eschatological wrath to come.
  • on that day…God judges” (vs. 16).

 

Therefore Paul is speaking of a different kind of justification – future justification.

  • And “the future judgment will take place on the basis of the entire life a person has led” – N.T. Wright.
  • It is a judgment based on our works.

 

Even Douglas Moo says:

“Paul might then be thinking here not of the entry into salvation [present] but of the ultimate vindication at the last judgment [future]” – Douglas Moo.

 

Wright describes Paul’s future justification in terms of a final courtroom scene:

“Within the lawcourt setting, ‘justify’ is what the judge does at the end of the trial [final judgment]: he declares that one party in the lawsuit is ‘in the right’. The case [their life lived] has gone their way. The judge has found in their favour” – N.T. Wright.

 

Wright says that Paul’s future justification has three parts:

  • (1) Judicial – Though Paul clearly speaks of a now justification in Christ, he and the Bible also speak of a final courtroom scene of judgment on the last day of not guilty for those in Christ.
    • The scene we just described.
  • (2) Covenantal – This courtroom scene “is also the declaration that they are part of the [covenant] family promised to Abraham” – N.T. Wright.
  • (3) Event – “God’s people will be resurrected and will share the promised inheritance, the renewed creation” through their bodily resurrection.

 

View 2 seems to make sense of the verses we mentioned earlier.

  • They all link our works with final judgment.

 

Let’s look at them again.

  • 2 Corinthians 5:10 (ESV) — 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
  • Ephesians 6:8 (ESV) — 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.
  • 2 Timothy 4:1 (ESV) — 1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:
  • Revelation 20:12–13 (ESV) — 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.

 

And it also seems to make sense of even Jesus’ own words to the Pharisees:

  • Matthew 12:35–37 (ESV) — 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

 

And view 2 seems to make sense of the fact that there even is a future judgment described in the Bible.

  • Since we are justified and declared righteous right now by our faith in Christ…
  • Why do these verses even exist if there is also not a future justification?
  • In other words, if present justification by faith is all there is, then what are these verses all about?
  • For what are we being judged?

 

 

View 1 or View 2:

So which one?

  • My question is this.
  • And it goes back to the idea from View 1 that Paul actually believed works could justify.

 

First off, it doesn’t seem he actually really believed that works could justify.

  • Romans 3:20 (ESV) — 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

 

Moreover, Paul teaches in Romans 5:12 that we are dead in Adam.

  • This is why a historical Adam is so important – Paul’s theology rests on it.
  • This is why our default state is under God’s wrath, condemned.
  • It is what we are.
  • This fact obtains whether we obey the law perfectly or not.

 

We can also use the language from our Genesis lesson on Romans 5:12 of Garden Exile.

  • All of us are in Garden Exile.
  • Because of Adam, all are born outside of the Garden and the life it contained.
  • So excluded from the tree of life, all of us will die – and death is part of the problem.
  • Even if we were to obey the law perfectly, we would still be in this exile and thus still die.

 

Paul obviously knew this truth – he taught it.

  • So…why would he think that perfect obedience could save – something needed for view 1 – knowing the Romans 5:12/Genesis connection he himself taught?

 

Obedience to the law does not overcome death and Garden Exile.

  • To say that Paul would think so seems to raise some problems.
  • However, if his works justification/future justification is a separate thing from present justification, then the Romans 5:12 problem goes away.

 

 

My Take:

As I understand it, View 2 plays out as follows:

  • At our future judgment, God can look at our good works and rightly declare that our Union with Christ was real and efficacious – it bore fruit.
    • Our striving, out of profound gratitude, to do what God wants of us.
  • In other words, those justified by faith in Christ lived as those justified by faith in Christ.

 

Wright says it helps to think about it like we think of marriage.

  • In effect, at our future judgment, God declares that those pronounced “married” lived as “married”.
  • To live a life faithful to one’s spouse, one has to be married.
    • A pronouncement and change in status – justification by faith.
  • And to faithfully live a married life one has to “do/not do” things.
    • The things that flow out of the change in status – justification by works.

 

This makes sense.

  • We are born again, in Union with Christ, and participate in the fellowship of the Trinity.
  • Our life lived will inevitably flow out of this thick foundation of the Gospel.

 

In a way, this view glorifies Christ all the more.

  • We could never be “doers of the law” if not for the reality of our Union with Christ…
  • In other words, if we weren’t justified by faith – present justification – we would be incapable of good works.
  • So if future justification is legit, it doesn’t seem to locate the basis for justified status in us at all.
  • It seems to assume our present justification.

 

There is much more to be said on this.

  • Certainly there are critics and supporters of both views.
  • I will keep an open mind to both.