NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XX)
Charles Ellicott gives us his scholarly summary on man’s desperate need for getting right with God: “God appeared as a twofold character, simultaneously righteous Himself, and producing a state of righteousness in the believer. Under the Old Testament God had been revealed as righteous; but the righteousness of God was not met with any corresponding righteousness on the part of man. Therefore, [God] could only issue condemnation. Under the New Testament the righteousness of God remained the same, but it was met by a corresponding state of righteousness in the believer. However, [it was] not inherent, but superinduced by God Himself through the process of justification by faith. In this way, the great Messianic precondition of righteousness was fulfilled.”1
F. F. Bruce adds: “In the self-offering of Christ, God’s righteousness is vindicated and the believing sinner justified. For Christ occupies a unique position as God’s representative with man and man’s representative with God. As the representative of man He absorbs the judgment incurred by human sin; as the representative of God He bestows God’s pardoning grace on men and women. The words recall Isaiah’s (‘a righteous God and a Savior’)2 and Zechariah’s (‘righteous and delivering’).3”4
Verses 27-28: So do we have any reason to boast about ourselves? No reason at all. And why not? Because we are depending on the way of faith, not on what we have done in following the law. What I mean to say is, we are made right with God through faith, not through what we have done to follow the law. This is what we believe.
The Apostle Paul cannot make it any clearer. The old Jewish way of crediting one’s salvation to all their good works is over. Now one points to the good work of Christ on the cross as the only sacrifice that God the Father will accept. As we know from the Gospels, many Pharisees bragged about all their self-righteous deeds, and then thanked God that they were not one with the lower class.5 But they should have paid attention to what God said through the prophet Zephaniah: “I will remove all the bad people from Jerusalem. I will take away all the proud people. There will not be any of them on my holy mountain. I will let only meek and humble people stay in my city, and they will trust the Lord’s name.”6
Paul drew on this same thought when he wrote the Corinthians: “God chose what the world thinks is not important — what the world hates and thinks is nothing. He chose these to destroy what the world thinks is important. God did this so that no one can stand before Him and boast about anything. It is God who has made you part of Christ Jesus. And Christ has become for us wisdom from God. He is the reason we are right with God and pure enough to be in His presence.”7 Paul did this to counter what the people were thinking. In fact, Paul ask them: “Who do you think you are? Everything you have was given to you. So, if everything you have was given to you, why do you act as if you got everything by your own power?”8 And Paul makes a similar point to the Ephesians: “You did not save yourselves; it was a gift from God. You are not saved by the things you have done, so there is nothing to boast about. God has made us what we are. In Christ Jesus, God made us new people so that we would spend our lives doing the good things he had already planned for us to do.”9
So Paul is making the same argument here with the Messianic Jews in Rome that he used with the believers in Galatia: “We know that no one is made right with God by following the law. It is trusting in Jesus Christ that makes a person right with God. So we have put our faith in Christ Jesus, because we wanted to be made right with God. And we are right with Him because we trusted in Christ – not because we followed the law.”10 What Paul said back then about the role of the Law in salvation is true today when speaking of Church Laws that are not part of Christ’s Laws. Trust in Christ alone is the basis for our faith and belief in salvation. In this teaching Paul says that the Law of Moses had been replaced by the Law of Grace. That’s why he went on to tell the Galatians: “The Scriptures put the whole world in prison under the control of sin, so that the only way for people to get what God promised would be through faith in Jesus Christ. It is given [only] to those who believe in Him.”11
Early church Bishop Theodoret has this to say: “By ‘boasting’ Paul means the proud spirits of the Jews and their excessive arrogance. For they thought they were the only ones who enjoyed God’s providence. But after the divine grace appeared and spread to all nations, the boasting of the Jews ceased… Paul calls faith a law, recalling the words of the prophet Jeremiah: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers.12”13
Reformist John Calvin has this to say: “The Apostle, after having with reasons abundantly strong, cast down men from their confidence in works, now triumphs over their folly: and this exulting conclusion was necessary; for on this subject, to teach us would not have been enough; it was necessary that the Holy Spirit should loudly thunder, in order to lay prostrate our loftiness. But he says that glorying is beyond all doubt excluded, for we cannot adduce anything on our own which is worthy of being approved or commended by God.”14
John Bengel makes this statement: “Although a man, according to the law, might have [i.e., supposing he might have] righteousness and a reward, yet he could not boast before God.15 Now as it is, seeing that there is no righteousness to be had by the law, there remains even less room for boasting; and boasting is much more excluded by the law of faith, than by the law of works. This [justification by faith] is also a law, inasmuch as being of Divine appointment, to which subjection [submission] is due, Romans 10:3. [They have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God].”16 Bengel goes on to say that here we have a dispute involving two elements, Faith and Works. Faith alone results in God’s justification. Works alone inhibits God’s justification. You can’t have both. If you want God’s justification, remove your good works. If you do not want justification, remove your faith. Good works come after faith in the work of Christ. But they are not for justification. Rather, they are the result of justification.
Adam Clarke then adds his understanding: “The law of works grants no pardon, it requires obedience, and threatens the disobedient with death. But all glorying in the expectation of salvation, through your own obedience, is excluded by the law. The doctrine of faith: faith alone, in the mercy of God, through the propitiation made by the blood of Jesus, is that by which you can be justified, pardoned, and received by Divine favor.”17
Robert Haldane echoes the thoughts of his fellow reform theologians when it comes to boasting about how one’s good works may bring justification: “According to the doctrine which the Apostle, by the Spirit of God, is teaching, there is no ground for it, or for ascribing salvation in any part or degree to the works of men. This shows that salvation was appointed to come to the redeemed through faith, for the very purpose of excluding all pretenses to allege that human merit has any share in it. This applies to all works, moral as well as ceremonial. If only ceremonial works were meant here, as many contend, and if moral works have some influence in procuring salvation, or in justification, then the Apostle could not have asked this question. Boasting would not have been excluded. Paul had declared the only way in which a man can be ‘just with God.’ He had proved that it is not by his own righteousness, which is of the law, but by that righteousness which is received by faith. This is clear from what had been advanced in the preceding verse, from which this is an inference. If, then — as if he had said — God had purposed that men should have any grounds for boasting, He would not have set forth Christ to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, that thereby a way might be opened for justifying sinners, so that His justice might suffer no prejudice. But now He has taken this course; and, therefore, the only way of justification precludes all boasting.”18
And British scholar Charles Hodges offers his insight: “A plan of salvation which strips every man of merit, and places all sinners on the same level before God, of course cuts off all assumption of superiority of one class over another. Paul means to say that the result of the gospel plan of salvation is to prevent all self-commendation, self-satisfaction, and exaltation on the part of the sinner. He is presented as robbed of all merit, and as deserving the displeasure of God. He can attribute, in no degree, his deliverance from this displeasure to himself, and he cannot exalt himself either in the presence of God, or in comparison with his fellow-sinners. As sin is odious in the sight of God, it is essential, in any scheme of mercy, that the sinner should be made to feel this, and that nothing done by or for him should in any measure diminish his sense of personal deserved punishment on account of his transgressions. This result obviously could not follow from any plan of justification that placed the ground of the sinner’s acceptance in himself, or his peculiar advantages by birth or church membership; but it is effectually secured by that plan of justification which not only places the ground of his acceptance entirely outside himself, but which also requires, as the very condition of that acceptance, an act involving a penitent acknowledgment of personal deserved punishment, and exclusive dependence on the merit of another.”19
Frederic Godet has an interesting point to make here: “That glory which man derives from his self-righteousness, and which the law had already foreclosed, has been finally excluded. And by what means? By a rule of works? Certainly not, for such a means would rather have promoted it, but by that of faith (Rom 3:26.) The Apostle thus reaches the striking result that the rule of works would contradict the law, and that the rule of faith is that which harmonizes with it.”20
1 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Isaiah 45:21, New American Standard Bible
3 Zechariah 9:9, Septuagint Version
4 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. 6, p. 114
5 See Luke 18:9-14
6 Zephaniah 3:11-12
7 1 Corinthians 1:28-30
8 Ibid. 4:7
9 Ephesians 2:8-10
10 Galatians 2:16
11 Ibid. 3:22
12 Jeremiah 31:31-32
13 Theodoret of Cyr: Interpretation of Romans, op. cit. loc. cit
14 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
15 Cf. Luke 17:10
16 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 245
17 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
18 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 154
19 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
20 Frederic Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.