NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XVII)
John Calvin believes that Paul is depending on the fact that everyone who is conscious of their sin, feels confounded and lost by a sense of their own shame when they stand before the throne of God. Calvin says: “There is then, according to what he [Paul] teaches, no righteousness but what is perfect and absolute. Were there indeed such a thing as half-righteousness, it would yet be necessary to deprive the sinner entirely of all glory: and hereby the figment of partial righteousness, as they call it, is sufficiently disproved; for if it were true that we are justified in part by works, and in part by grace, this argument of Paul would be of no force — that all are deprived of the glory of God because they are sinners. It is then certain, there is no righteousness where there is sin until Christ removes the curse.”1
John Bengel sees the term “have sinned” in the following light: “That is, [they] have contracted the guilt of sin. This refers to both the principal act of sin in Paradise, and to our sinful disposition, as well as to the acts of transgression flowing from it. The past tenses have frequently a rudimentary sense together with an idea of continued action.” Bengel also says that the phrase “come short” is the result of having sinned. He continues: “By this term the whole superiority of the Jews and all boasting of all flesh, are taken away. The former is a past act; the latter is an established course of conduct; each denotes deficiency, so they do not attain the glory of God… They have missed the chief purpose of man.”2 That’s why Paul was so excited to tell them the Good News that God sent His Son Jesus to make it possible to overcome these handicaps and be fully and eternally restored to God’s good pleasure.
H. A. Ironside says: “In order to show grace in righteousness to admitted guilty sinners God must have a just and satisfactory basis. Sin cannot be overlooked. It must be atoned for. This has been effectuated ‘through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.’ Redemption is a buying back. Man’s life is forfeited because of his iniquitous ways. He is sold under judgment. Christ the Holy One-God and Man in one glorious Person upon whom the violated law had no claim – took the guilty rebel’s place, paid the utmost penalty, thus redeeming the believing sinner from the wrath and curse to which he had sold himself.”3
Bible scholar Charles Hodge provides information of the ongoing debate among theologians on what Paul meant by saying all are sinners. Some suggest that it is inherent from Adam. We could say this by way of an illustration. For instance, if your parents were born and raised in a particular culture, then you are by inheritance considered a part of that culture. E.g., my father was born in Germany. Therefore I would by birth also be of German stock. However, my father moved to America where I was born. So by culture, I was born an American. However, that did not remove my heritage as being German. The only way to cancel that would be for me to be born of another woman from a different culture, so as to begin my life over again. This is what Paul was trying to impress on the Roman believers, that simply by the fact that even though they were of Jewish heritage, it would be necessary for them to be born again through Jesus Christ as children of God. There is no other way to get there.
Jewish scholar David Stern sees these same truths wrapped up in these Old Testament scriptures:
“There is no one who does not sin.” (1 Kings 8: 46)
“For there is not a righteous person on the earth, who does good and does not sin.” (Ecclesiastes 7: 20)
“Behold, Adonai’s hand is not shortened, so that it cannot save; nor is his ear heavy, so that it cannot hear. Rather, your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God and your sins have hidden his face from you, from hearing.” (Isaiah 59: 1– 2)
“We are all like one who is unclean, and all our righteousness is like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64: 5( 6)).
So, says Stern, “The question of why it is true, and how it comes about, that everyone sins — in other words, the question of so-called ‘original sin’ — is discussed. The truth of this verse, which epitomizes the Bad News of 1:18–3:20, is basic to understanding both the inherent problematic condition of all mankind and the Good News that God offers the only solution to the problem through Yeshua the Messiah.”4
Verse 24: They are made right with God by His grace. This is a free gift. They are made right with God by being made free from sin through Jesus Christ.
Paul then begins hammering hard on the nail that kept Christ anchored to the cross, and that is the fact that Jesus did not die as the Lamb of God to empower the Law as the source of forgiveness, but that God’s grace would serve as a well of living water. This was how Paul explained it to the Corinthians: “In the past, some of you were like that. But you were washed clean, you were made holy, and you were made right with God in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”5 And in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul wrote: “God did this so that His kindness to us who belong to Christ Jesus would clearly show for all time to come the amazing richness of His grace.”6
But it was his letter to Bishop Titus that Paul laid out his justification for our salvation in Christ: “He saved us because of His mercy, not because of any good things we did. He saved us through the washing that made us new people. He saved us by making us new through the Holy Spirit. God poured out to us that Holy Spirit fully through Jesus Christ our Savior. We were made right with God by His grace. God saved us so that we could be His children and look forward to receiving life that never ends.”7 That’s why Paul could rejoice with the Ephesians: “This brings praise to God because of His wonderful grace. God gave that grace to us freely. He gave us that grace in Christ, the one He loves.”8
Yes, it was God’s grace, but such grace was not free. Someone had to pay the price for redemption before anyone in bondage could be set free. Paul reveals this in his letter to the Colossians: “God freed us from the power of darkness. And He brought us into the kingdom of His dear Son. The Son paid the price to make us free. In Him, we have forgiveness of our sins.”9 Paul repeats this message to his young protégé Timothy: “There is only one God, and there is only one way that people can reach God. That way is through Christ Jesus, who as a man gave Himself to pay for everyone to be free.”10 So in Paul’s mind, since Christ willingly died for us to free us from evil’s grip and provide His blood for cleansing so we can become pure, this means that those who have been set free now belong to God. And in gratefulness and thankfulness, the old tendency to do bad has been transformed into a new tendency to do only good.11
Two early church scholars have this to say about God’s grace so freely given. Writes Origen: “Redemption is the word used for what is given to enemies in order to ransom captives and restore them to their liberty. Therefore, human beings were held in captivity by their enemies until the coming of the Son of God, who became for us not only the wisdom of God, and righteousness and sanctification, but also redemption. He gave Himself as our redemption, that is, He surrendered Himself to our enemies and poured out His blood on those who were thirsting for it. In this way, redemption was obtained for believers.”12
Then in the writings of Ambrosiaster, we read: “They are justified freely because they have not done anything nor given anything in return, but by faith alone, they have been made holy by the gift of God. Paul testifies that the grace of God is in Christ because we have been redeemed by Christ according to the will of God so that once set free we may be justified, as he says to the Galatians: ‘Christ redeemed us by offering Himself for us.’13 For He achieved this despite the fierce attacks of the devil, who was outwitted. For the devil received Christ (in Hades) thinking that he could hold Him there, but because he could not withstand His power he lost not only Christ but all those whom he had imprisoned at the same time.”14
John Calvin has a very enlightening comment on this verse: “The participle [For] is put here for a verb according to the usage of the Greek language. The meaning is, — since there remains nothing for men, as to themselves, but to perish, being smitten by the just judgment of God, they are to be justified freely through His mercy; for Christ comes to the aid of this misery, and communicates Himself to believers, so that they find in Him alone all those things in which they are wanting. There is, perhaps, no passage in the whole Scripture which illustrates in a more striking manner the efficacy of His righteousness; for it shows that God’s mercy is the efficient cause, that Christ with His blood is the meritorious cause, that the formal or the instrumental cause is faith in the word, and that moreover, the final cause is the glory of the divine justice and goodness.”15
1 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 241-242
3 Harry A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 1 Corinthians 6:11
6 Ephesians 2:7
7 Titus 3:5-7
8 Ephesians 1:6
9 Colossians 1:13-14
101 Timothy 2:5-6a
11 Titus 2:14
12 Origen: On Romans, loc. cit.
13 Galatians 3:13
14 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, loc, cit.
15 John Calvin: On Romans, loc. cit.