[COMMENTARY] Romans 3:1–18

This post is part of a series of essays based on my study of Paul’s epistle to the Romans. They are simply drafts and not intended to be well-polished essays. I would appreciate any constructive feedback.


Romans 3:1–18

 

Click here to read the passage.

In the first two chapters of Romans, Paul condemns both Jews and Gentiles for their sinful practices. Although they knew that how they lived was wrong, the Gentiles suppressed the truth (Rom. 1:18). The Jews—who were once God’s special people—were hypocrites because they passed judgment on those who practiced sin, but yet they also broke God’s law. They believed that simply having knowledge of the law was sufficient; however, God requires that people carry out his law (Rom. 2:13; Jas. 1:22,25), not just know it. The Jews thought they were justified on the basis of circumcision; however, their sin brought them under the judgment of God, thus making circumcision null and avoid. Considering Paul’s stance, they could raise some objections (Rom. 3:1–7): 1) what advantage does a Jew have, or what is the value of circumcision?, 2) if some did not believe, does their unbelief nullify the faithfulness of God?, 3) if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, is God unjust for inflicting wrath?, and 4) if the truth of God has increased through our lie for God’s glory, why are we still judged as sinners?

The Jews did indeed have an advantage in that they were God’s people and had received his law (Deut. 4:5–8). They were the seed of Abraham to whom the promise was made that all nations would be blessed (Gen. 21:16–18). However, because God would punish part of the seed for not believing, they thought that God would be proved to be unfaithful to his promise—they were mistaken. Paul writes, “Let God be true but every man a liar.” That is, God is always faithful, and it is man who breaks his promise. The Jews did not keep the covenant, and therefore, they would suffer the consequences because the promise had conditions. Israel also believed that—because God was shown to be still righteous through their unrighteousness, and his truth increased through their lie—God would be unjust in judging them as sinners and punishing them. Paul explains that God is fair in his judgment because they were the ones who sinned. Their status did not allow them special treatment in spite of their sins, even though God was able to show his glory through their trespasses. Doing evil for the sake of good is not acceptable to God.

The conclusion of the matter, therefore, is that Jews were no better than the Gentiles. They were all under sin. Paul cites passages from the Scriptures to support this charge: 1) no one is righteous and without sin (Psa. 14:1–3,53:1–3; Eccl. 7:20); 2) all men are deceitful—they have nothing good to say (Psa. 5:9,140:3; Psa. 10:7); 3) men run to evil and make their path crooked (Prov. 1:16; Isa. 59:7–8); and 4) there is no fear of God (Psa. 36:1). Although several theologians use these verses to propagate the doctrine of total depravity, this passage does not support such teaching.

Paul says in verse 9, “we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.” Leading up to this statement, he showed that no one was righteous according to the law. He accused the Gentiles for breaking the law that was written on their hearts, and the Jews, for breaking the written code received from God. Paul makes his statement in verse 9 because they all transgressed the law; that is, they practiced sin (1 John 3:4). He then expounds on his statement in the following verses by using Scriptures. He does not make the claim that man is totally corrupt or incapable of doing good from birth, but rather, that he is guilty of transgressing the law. Mankind has become corrupt by continually practicing sin. Notice that the characteristics presented in verses 10–18 are those of people who are of an age of accountability. Infants and children are not born with a mouth full of deceit and cursing, nor are they born with their path crooked. The Scriptures say that men make their path crooked (Isa. 59:7–8); that is, there is a process in which they stray away, not that they are born already astray.

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A Review of “Misread Text: Isaiah 41:10”

The five-point Calvinist doctrine has permeated several denominations. According to Jonathan Merritt’s article “The troubling trends in America’s ‘Calvinist revival’”, there appears to be a resurgence of Calvinism in America, and the adherents to this doctrine have been called “neo-Calvinists.” The five points of Calvinism are represented with the mnemonic device TULIP: T –Total Hereditary Depravity, U – Unconditional Election, L – Limited Atonement, I – Irresistible Grace, and P – Perseverance of the Saints. I have been working on a series of posts in which I refute the Calvinist approach to the concepts of predestination and election, showing that the doctrine conflicts with basic truths found in the Bible concerning God’s righteousness and man’s free will. Reformed Baptist James Smetanin, an author at The Reformed Alliance, recently published an article titled “Misread Text: Isaiah 41:10.” It is part of a series in which the author explains the true interpretation of particular texts that are often pulled out of context in order to accommodate a personal experience or theological belief. I believe it’s a great idea because, as the author rightly points out, all too often Christians are not aware of the implications of a verse when the surrounding context is considered. However, the problem is that the conclusion of the essay is meaningless within the framework of Calvinism.

The text discussed is Isaiah 41:10 (ESV): “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Smetanin argues that, although one may find comfort in this passage in times of fear, the context reveals that the intent of the verse is not to console, but rather to warn all people of the judgment of God. A fear concerning one’s soul is what is of concern, not the fears of this world. The author gives an interpretation of the passage beginning at verse one and ending at verse nine. My intention is not to comment on his exegesis of the text. What I take issue with is the exhortation that follows. He points out that the verses deal with sin, redemption, and judgment, and that there is urgency for people to repent and to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior. A person that believes in the five points of Calvinism have the understanding that God has predestined certain individuals to be saved and others to be lost. There is nothing that one can do to change their condition, as it has been determined before the foundation of the world. The author affirms his belief in this doctrine in warning those who oppose God and his people: “They will have no chance of redemption, as God has already determined their fate.”

Smetanin (and any Calvinist for that matter) has no room to make an exhortation of repentance to any man, since they believe that their fate has been determined and sealed even before God created the earth. What is the sense, then, of calling people to repent if they have no chance of salvation? Aren’t they depraved to the point that God himself has to call them personally to turn from their wickedness? If an alien sinner studied the Bible from a Calvinist perspective and believed it, they would come to the conclusion that they have two options: repent or remain a sinner. However, the problem is that the decision really isn’t theirs, it’s God’s. If they realized this, then what exactly would they have to do? Nothing! They would just need to wait until God does the calling, and he may never call because it just probably wasn’t meant to be. Sorry.

That is not the plan of salvation that is taught in God’s word. Christ came to this earth as the Incarnate Word of God (John 1:14) to die for the sins of all mankind (John 3:16). His gift of eternal salvation is not limited to a select group of people; it is for all those who obey him (Heb. 5:8-10). You must hear the gospel of Christ (Rom. 10:17); that he was crucified, buried, and raised by God on the third day (Matt. 27:37 – 28:6). After you hear the gospel, you must believe it (Acts 16:30-31) and repent of your sins (Acts 2:38). Then you have to confess before men that Christ is the Son of the living God (Matt. 10:32; Matt. 16:16) and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38). We are not the ones who work in baptism (Titus 3:5), but rather it is God who works to make us new creatures in Christ (Gal. 6:15; Col. 2:12). He forgives us of our sins, gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit, and adds us to the church of Christ (Acts 2:38,47). Once you have come into a covenant relationship with God, you must continue to live faithfully, and at the end, you receive the crown of life (Rev. 2:10). There is no one aspect of this plan that is more important than the others. The sum of his words is truth (Ps. 119:160), not faith alone, not grace alone, not baptism alone. Every single part of God’s plan to save mankind is essential.

God bless you.