NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XV)
Early church preacher Chrysostom gives us his thoughts on God’s righteousness: “Paul does not say that the righteousness of God has been ‘given’ but that it has been ‘manifested,’ thus destroying the assertion that it is something new. For what is manifested is old but previously concealed. He reinforces this point by going on to mention that the Law and the Prophets had foretold it.”1 And Augustine writes: “The righteousness of God is not that by which God is righteous but that with which He clothes man when He justifies the ungodly. To this the Law and the Prophets bear witness.… The righteousness of God is not manifested outside the law, since in that case it could not have been witnessed to by the law. [However], it is a righteousness of God apart from the law because God confers it on the believer through the Spirit of grace without the help of the law.”2
John Calvin discusses this prospect of how righteousness is attested to by its own testimony. He writes: “If then the law affords its testimony to righteousness by grace, it is evident that the law was not given for this reason: to teach men how to obtain righteousness by good works. There are some who pervert the idea, some who twist it to make it read that way. And further, if you desire proof of this truth, examine the chief things taught by Moses, and you will find that man, being cast from the kingdom of God, had no other restoration from the beginning than that contained in the evangelical promises through the blessed seed, by whom, as it had been foretold the serpent’s head was to be bruised, and through whom a blessing to the nations had been promised: you will find in the commandments a demonstration of your iniquity, and from the sacrifices and offerings you may learn that satisfaction and cleansing are to be obtained in Christ alone.”3
Adam Clarke adds this: “But now the righteousness of God – God‘s method of saving sinners is now shown, by the Gospel, to be through His mercy alone, by Christ Jesus; without the law – without any right or claim which might result from obedience to the law; and is evidently that which was intended by God from the beginning; for it is witnessed to by the law and the prophets – the rites and ceremonies of the one, and the preachings and predictions of the others, all bearing testimony to the great design of God, and to the absolute necessity there was for the sacrifice and salvation which God has provided.”4
H. A. Ironside says: “It is with a sense of the greatest relief that we turn from the sad story of man’s sin and shame to contemplate the wondrous grace of God as told out in the gospel, the divine remedy for the ruin that came in by the fall. And this presentation of the good news is in two parts: it presents the gospel first as having to do with the question of our sins: and then when that is settled, as having to do with our sin; the sin-principle, sin in the flesh, the carnal mind which dominates the unsaved, unregenerate man. It marks a decided change of subject. Now that man has been fully exposed, God will be revealed. Now upon the proven unrighteousness of all mankind, ‘the righteousness of God is manifested.’ Of old He had declared, ‘I will bring near My righteousness.’ This is in no sense a wrought-out, legal righteousness, such as man was unable to produce for God. It is a righteousness ‘without the law,’ that is, altogether apart from any principle of human obedience to a divinely-ordained code of morals. It is a righteousness of God for unrighteous men, and is in no wise dependent upon human merit or attainment.”5
And Spurgeon preached this: “The death of Christ gloriously set forth divine justice, because it taught manifestly this truth, that sin can never go without punishment. It is a law of God’s moral universe that sin must be punished. He has made that as necessary as the law of gravity. Christ, therefore, must Himself give a satisfaction for sin, that this rule may be declared, and written upon the forefront of the skies— God will not pardon sin by overlooking it; there must be redemption before there can be remission.”6
And Frederic Godet has an interesting comment here: “The law by unveiling sin opens up the void in the heart, which is filled with the righteousness of faith; prophecy completes the work of preparation by promising this righteousness. Thus there is no objection to be drawn from the old revelation against the new. As the new fulfills the old, the latter confirms the former.”7
And Charles Elliott gives his insight: “Such was the condition of the world up to the coming of Christ. But now, in contrast with the previous state of things, a new system has appeared upon the scene. In this system law is entirely put on one side, though the system itself was anticipated in and is attested by those very writings in which the Law was embodied. Law is now superseded, the great end of the Law, the introduction of righteousness, being accomplished in another way, viz., through faith in Christ, by which a state of righteousness is super induced upon all believers.”8
Jewish theologian David Stern shares this: “Throughout the Tanakh [Bible] God’s holiness and moral integrity are proclaimed, as also is the truth that human beings cannot attain God’s standard of righteousness by working for it. As Isaiah 64:5(6) puts it, ‘All our righteousness,’ those we achieve by mere human effort without genuine reliance on and trust in God, ‘are as filthy rags.’ Moreover, not only do the Scriptures attest to God’s way of making people righteous, but non-Messianic Judaism is aware of it too. The eleventh-century Midrash [commentary] on Psalm 44:1 says, ‘When the children of Israel went out from Egypt, they could not offer any works of their hands whereby they might be redeemed. And so, it was not because of the works of their fathers, nor was it because of their own works, that the sea was divided before them; rather, it was only so that God might make a name for Himself in the world’.”9 Stern goes on to say, that like Paul the Rabbis have recognized human inability to meet God’s standard for righteousness, even with the guidance of the good Torah [Law] that God gave.
Verse 22: God makes people right through their faith in Jesus Christ. He does this for all who believe in Christ. Everyone is the same.
Remember, Paul is not offering options here or pointing out alternate ways to get right with God. It is either God’s way or no way. Paul made this clear to the Philippians: “It was because of Him that I gave up everything and regard it all as trash, in order to gain the Messiah and be found in union with Him, not having any righteousness of my own based on legalism, but having that righteousness which comes through the Messiah’s faithfulness, the righteousness from God based on trust.”10 Paul then goes on to say so eloquently: “Yes, I gave it all up in order to know Him, that is, the power that raised Him from death. I want to share in His sufferings and be like Him even in His death so that somehow I myself will one day be raised from death.”11 Were every believer today make this same commitment it would once more turn the world upside down for God’s glory.
But what made Paul so happy is that this trust, faith, and promise is the same to everyone who believes. If it could happen to Abraham before the law, then certainly it can happen to those who’ve come to Him after the law. Here’s how Isaiah expressed it: “The Lord makes me very happy. I am completely happy with my God. He dressed me in the clothes of salvation. He put the victory coat on me. I look like a man dressed for his wedding, like a bride covered with jewels.”12 And what made Isaiah feel this way? He tells us that it came when he realized this: “The Spirit of the Lord God is on me. The Lord has chosen me to tell the good news to the poor and to comfort those who are sad. He sent me to tell the captives and prisoners that they have been set free.”13 As we know, this is the same promise Christ claimed for Himself, and then passed it on to His disciples.
The thing that excited Paul was that this blessing was not meant only for the Jews. He told the believers in Galatia: “The Scriptures say the same thing about Abraham. ‘Abraham believed God, and because of this faith he was accepted as one who is right with God.’ So you should know that the true children of Abraham are those who have faith. The Scriptures told what would happen in the future. These writings said that God would make the non-Jewish people right through their faith. God told this Good News to Abraham before it happened. God said to Abraham, ‘I will use you to bless all the people on earth.’ Abraham believed this, and because he believed, he was blessed. All people who believe are blessed the same as Abraham was.”14
The Messianic Jewish leaders in Rome needed to hear this. They were still contending that Jews had front row seats in the Kingdom of God. This was in Paul’s report to the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem: “God knows everyone, even their thoughts, and He accepted these non-Jewish people. He showed this to us by giving them the Holy Spirit the same as He did to us. To God, those people are not different from us. When they believed, God made their hearts pure.”15 That’s why Paul could write to the believers throughout Galatia and tell them: “You were all baptized into Christ, and so you were all clothed with Christ. This shows that you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. Now, in Christ, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or free, male or female. You are all the same in Christ Jesus.”16 And to the Colossians Paul wrote: “In this new life it doesn’t matter if you are a Greek or a Jew, circumcised or not. It doesn’t matter if you speak a different language or even if you are uncivilized. It doesn’t matter if you are a slave or free. Christ is all that matters, and He is in all of you.”17
1 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 7
2 Augustine: The Spirit and the Letter 15.9
3 John Calvin: On Romans, loc. cit.
4 Adam Clarke: On Romans, loc. cit.
5 Harry A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, loc. cit.
7 Frederic Godet: On Romans, loc. cit.
8 Charles Elliott: On Romans, loc. cit.
9 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 Philippians 3:8b-9
11 Ibid. 3:10-11
12 Isaiah 61:10
13 Ibid. 61:1
14 Galatians 3:6-9
15 Acts of the Apostles 15:8-9
16 Galatians 3:26-27
17 Colossians 3:11