Read Romans 3:1-31
1What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? 2Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.
3What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God's faithfulness? 4Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written:
"So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge."
5But if our unrighteousness brings out God's righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) 6Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? 7Someone might argue, "If my falsehood enhances God's truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?" 8Why not say — as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say — "Let us do evil that good may result"? Their condemnation is deserved.
9What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. 10As it is written:
"There is no one righteous, not even one; 11there is no one who understands,no one who seeks God. 12All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." 13"Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit." "The poison of vipers is on their lips." 14"Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness." 15"Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16ruin and misery mark their ways, 17and the way of peace they do not know." 18"There is no fear of God before their eyes."
19Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — 26he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
27Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. 29Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law. (NIV)
Paul starts this section of his letter with what William Barclay calls, an argument in the closet. He says, it is best understood if you think he is arguing with a “straw man.” We can infer the questions the “straw man” asks. “Is there no difference between a Jew and a Gentile?” “If there is a difference, what is it?” “If a Jew disobeys a law, does that not nullify God’s promise based on the special relationships with God the Jews have?” “If disobedience brings on God’s glory, how can my disobedience be seen as a sin?”
These questions or some form of them are probably questions that were surrounding Paul as people heard of him. For Paul, the only difference between Jew and Gentile is that the Jews had been given the law. And that the special relationship with God was not of privilege, but responsibility. Paul states that the law is only useful in pointing out our sin and our need of God. It is impossible to find righteousness in the obedience to the law because all fall short of obeying all the law. Paul states that everyone falls short of this obedience.
But Paul’s theology is seen here in that the failure of the Jews in being obedient 100% to God is the door by which God’s grace is extended to the Gentiles. For God to work out a plan to bring righteousness to the Jews apart from the law also bring righteousness to the Gentiles. For Paul, this was always God’s plan. Condemnation for being a sinner is never a final condemnation. There is righteousness now available apart from the law Paul says in verse 21. And that righteousness comes by faith, not by observance of the law.
But obedience is still at the heart of our faith. This is the point that Paul finally gets around to in verse 31. We don’t throw out the law now that we have faith, we obey it. Our obedience is now a response to God’s grace. This is an important distinction. We being our journey with God by faith, not by a set of rules. It is the same as a small child in a home. That child very quickly has faith in its parents. That child listens to its parents and as the child grows, that child learns what to be obedient to. But the child trusted its parents long before that child new about any rules. This is how God works with us.
How do you see faith and obedience going together? What does it mean to be righteous?
Blessings and Peace