A Devotional Commentary on Romans 3

To read the last commentary on Chapter 2 – click here.

I highly recommend you download and view the PDF version of this study as it includes additional notations: Devotional Commentary on Romans 3

ROMANS 3:1-4 – ESV

1Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written,

“That you may be justified in your words,
    and prevail when you are judged.”

ROMANS 3:1-4 – Commentary

Verses 1-4: Paul asks, so if this circumcision is not something physical, then what’s the use? The Jews were only the recipients of the law—the messengers, or rather the keepers or possessors of the ‘oracles of God’. The unfaithfulness (Literally the ἀπιστία (apistia) also translated “unbelief.”) of the messenger does not discredit the message itself or the One from Whom they originate. Paul then quotes from Psalm 51:4 which says, “Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You may be justified in Your words and blameless in Your judgement.” It shows God’s just judgment against the Jews for not keeping the law He entrusted them with and that they are the trespassers against Him since it is His law that they have broken.

ROMANS 3:5-9 – ESV

But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.

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,

ROMANS 3:5-9 – Commentary

Verse 5-6: Paul raises a hypothetical objection. However, if it did show that God is unrighteous to inflict wrath, that would mean that God would not be the just Judge and God would cease to be God—which is impossible.

Verse 7-8: Paul poses a second hypothetical question: if through our lie—the ἀπιστία (or unbelief from v.3)—makes God’s truth abound to His glory, then why not keep on sinning that grace may abound? (this is exactly where Paul takes this argument later in Romans 6:1) But Paul calls this a “slanderous charge” which he obviously disagrees with. Though God is ultimately glorified because He sovereignly works all things for His glory, we are still responsible for our sin, and as such it is not a free pass to sin for us. Paul will pick this up again in v.30-31.

Verse 9: Paul is making his point which he has been explaining abundantly clear—that all are under sin and there is no excuse. It is a summary statement which he then substantiates with the quotes from scripture he adds next.

ROMANS 3:10-18 – ESV

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.”

ROMANS 3:10-18 – Commentary

Verses 10-12: He uses Psalm 14:1-3 and 53:1-3 to show that the totality of depravity encompasses the whole human race. Note the repetition of all-encompassing language such as “no one” and “all” for the extent of depravity to everyone. No one understands (because the things of God are foolishness to the natural man – 1 Cor 2:14), no one seeks for God—Psalm 53:1-2, The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good. God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.”—the depravity of man is not just that he cannot understand or find God, but that he does not even want to seek Him on his own! He wants nothing to do with God! This is why they have become “worthless” (ἠχρεώθησαν—ēchreōthēsan—without profit/utility, like when something turns sour)—apart from God, no one does good either—all their righteousness is as filthy rags (Isa. 64:6).

Verses 13-18: Paul strings together numerous OT references (Ps. 5:9, Ps. 140:3, Ps. 10:7, Prov. 1:16, 3:15-17; Isa. 59:7-8 and Ps. 36:1) to make his point expressly clear from scripture. Paul highlights various body parts. The terms “throat”, “tongues”, “mouth”, “feet” and “eyes” showing again that this depravity is total—encompassing the whole of a person. V.13-14 talk about the totality of the mouth and speech, v.15-17 about the direction, disposition and destiny of a person, v.18 about the blindness of a sinner.

ROMANS 3:19-26 – ESV

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.

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 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, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

ROMANS 3:19-26 – Commentary

Verses 19-20: The purpose of the law is to remove all excuses and showed God’s righteousness in a way which only condemned us. The whole world is held accountable. No one is able to be justified by works. It leaves us feeling this heavy weight of the law and our hopelessness.

Verses 21-22: But now God’s righteousness is shown in a way that saves us! Not only that—like our depravity—it is also all encompassing! There is no distinction, it’s available to all.

Verses 23-24: What the law couldn’t do, faith and grace have done—that is, justify us. It is a gift—freely given and not earned.

Verse 25: God’s justice was upheld at the Cross. He didn’t just simply dismiss sin as if it didn’t matter. God doesn’t sacrifice His justice to show mercy—He is perfectly just and merciful. God set forth in advance to achieve a particular purpose—Jesus—as our ἱλαστήριον (hilastērion) “propitiation.” This word is the word which describes the covering lid of the ark of the Covenant called the mercy-seat where the blood of the lamb was sprinkled on the Day of Atonement to appease or placate God’s wrath against sin. This is what Jesus became for us—He is the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world (Jn 1:29).

Verse 26: So God is the sole owner and distributor of righteousness and justice. It is all from Him and by Him to His glory alone.

ROMANS 3:27-31 – ESV

27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

ROMANS 3:27-31 – Commentary

Verses 27-28: We are left with no reason at all for boasting. If we are to boast in a law—it is the law of faith—which is in Christ Jesus. So our boast is in the Cross (Gal. 6:14)! We are justified “apart from works of the law”—how freeing!

Verses 29-31: God is the God of all people and all are likewise justified in the same manner. This justification by grace through faith leads not to lawlessness but rather faithfulness which is given by God. We don’t overthrow the law by this faith, but rather uphold it since both the law and faith come from the same source—God. This answers the question Paul raised in verses 7 & 8.


            After Paul has shown in chapter 2 that true circumcision was not physical but rather something spiritual which God works in a person, he poses the question of what advantage then does the Jew have? It seems as if all the promises and circumcision of the Jews was for nothing. However, this is not the case. Throughout the letter to the Romans, Paul anticipates the objections of his readers and raises hypothetical questions playing the part of the opposition. Here, Paul starts off with the fact that the Jews were entrusted with the “oracles of God.” Which were to show them their need for His grace. However, many were unfaithful or unbelieving. Does this then nullify God’s faithfulness? No. It instead served to show God’s righteousness in judging—for with the coming of the law came the righteous standard to which men would be held accountable. It actually served to validate even more strongly God’s pronouncement of judgment.

            Paul then pre-empts the objection that if by our unrighteousness, it shows God’s righteousness, is God wrong to inflict wrath since He is being glorified? Again, this is not so. For if it were so, then God could not be the just Judge of the earth—and hence He would not be God. Paul calls this a “slanderous charge” which shows the just condemnation of those trying to claim such. Paul will expand these themes specifically again later in chapters 6 and 9.

            Paul’s point moving forward here is that there is no advantage for the Jew over the Gentile because all are under sin. Again, similar to the previous chapters, this time through use of several Psalms and OT references, Paul shows the total depravity of humanity. No one seeks God, no one is righteous, no one does good, the totality of their mouths/speech is evil, the direction of their lives is toward ruin and misery and there is no fear of God in them. Paul uses God’s law to show the inexcusability of all humanity—every mouth is stopped since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

            At this point it is good to highlight that this is the method which Paul uses to present the Gospel. The law is our “schoolmaster” bringing us to Christ (Gal. 3:24). By use of the law to show the sinfulness of sin and our inexcusability—it has put us in a state of weighty realization of our helplessness, and now ready to cry out for mercy we don’t deserve. Every person comes as a beggar to the Cross. “Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread” (D.T. Niles, NT Times, May 11, 1986). We would be wise to remember such a strategy in our own gospel presentation, for the temptation is all too real to skip law and jump straight to grace or hold our heads high in prideful self-righteousness. But the purpose of the law was to increase the trespass so that when grace is presented, it humbles us and is truly glorious!

            Here enters grace, and as she briefly takes the stage—it is elegantly magnificent. Paul has prepped the hearts of his readers—using the law to break stony and self-righteous hearts and humble every boast in one’s own works. The righteousness of God—a phrase which is forefront in this letter—is “manifested apart from the law”, the same law which condemned us, we are now freed from! After Paul has made sin’s weight unbearable, now as the chains fall off, the freedom is truly liberating! Righteousness is through faith in Jesus for all the believing ones (again harkening us back to the phrase in John 3:16), without any distinction! All fall short of the law, but also all are justified by the grace of God through Christ’s sacrifice. This also shows God’s righteousness in not simply wiping out every sinner immediately, but rather patiently enduring and passing over their sins—knowing that Christ would soon come to pay the wages of sin and thereby uphold His justice. God then is just, and also justifies without the sacrifice of His justice.

            Now, because all of this was by God alone—we played no part in this Divine plan of redemption other than to add the sin which made our very salvation necessary—all boasting is excluded! Because we are justified by faith apart from works of the law, salvation comes not just to the Jews who had the law, but to everyone to whom faith is given. God is the same God of the Jews and of the Gentiles, because both are justified by the same faith. This justification apart from the law doesn’t lead to lawlessness—as the giving of the law did through sin ceasing the opportunity (which will be expanded in chapter 7)—but rather leads to upholding the law perfectly through Christ’s life and sacrifice. Christ is the fulfillment of the law.


            Oh Lord, thank You that You are both just and the justifier of those whose faith is in You! If it were left up to our own effort, we would all be lost. Thank You that by Your Divine wisdom and plan, You made a way through Jesus to fulfill Your righteousness and bring salvation to Your people. Help us to understand more profoundly the weight of sin against a Holy God and how much we are in need of Your mercy and grace. Help us to also not shrink back in using Your law to tell others, which exposes sin and convicts us of unrighteousness, so that they too may call out to You for salvation.

            May we realize that the Gospel in Christ excludes us from all boasting and pride. May it humble us to know that while we were still rebellious sinners, You came and rescued us. May we never boast in anything but the Cross, and may You be glorified through our salvation and life lived to the honour of Your Name. Help us to live worthy of this Gospel. May we treasure it, share it and never grow tired of it.


Click here to read the next commentary: Chapter 4


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