You may have noticed that when you are reading the Bible, sometimes a chapter division seems arbitrary or out of place. Perhaps you have felt that it interrupts the flow of the discussion. Well, you may be right. It is good to remember that the chapter and verse divisions were not part of the original inspired text of scripture. They were added in the 13th-16th centuries by editors for the convenience of Bible readers.
Most of the time chapter and verse divisions are helpful to us in locating and remembering Bible passages. We rely upon them to help us find our way around in the Bible. Sometimes, however, we wonder why an editor put the chapter division where he put it. It feels awkward in relation to the context.
Romans chapters two and three are such a context. In chapter two, Paul has been arguing forcefully that the religious person, no matter how pious, is no better off than the untaught pagan. In chapter three the discussion continues: in the eyes of God all people are morally guilty and in need of God’s gift of righteousness. The chapter division might lead someone to think that Paul is changing the subject. He is not. The argument flows from chapter two right on into chapter three.
In Romans 3:1-8, Paul imagines a verbal opponent who wants to claim that his teaching on universal human guilt undermines God’s justice. “If we are all guilty and our sin magnifies God’s righteousness, wouldn’t he be unjust to punish us?” His imaginary debate partner might go on to say something like, “We might as well go on sinning because God looks good when he forgives us!” “No way!” Paul answers. Human sin never brings glory to God.
Paul rejects these distortions of his teaching. He calls them slanderous. He wants his readers to understand that God is both just (in judging sin) and merciful (in providing a remedy). His doctrine of universal human guilt is reasonable and consistent with scripture (Romans 3:9-20). Paul here quotes seven Old Testament scriptures to support this point. We are all sinners and guilty before a holy God.
To be sure, the apostle is not teaching that every person is a bad as he or she could possibly be. What he is saying is that sin affects us all, in every part of our being. There are no exceptions. God’s law pronounces us guilty. The law cannot deliver us. It cannot forgive us. It cannot redeem us. That is not the law’s purpose. The law upholds God’s standard of righteousness and shows us how far short if it we have fallen. “Through the law we become conscious of our sin” (Romans 3:20).
What Paul says next is the best news the world has ever heard. It has been suggested that Romans 3:21-26 may be the single most important paragraph ever written! It states the central theme of the book of Romans: that although we are all sinners and deserving of God’s judgment, it is possible to be declared righteous though faith in Jesus Christ.
I invite you to read these verses, to believe their truth, and to receive the free gift they offer. The gift is justification. What is that? It means to be declared righteous by the grace of God. It is more than forgiveness. It is positive acceptance, freedom from guilt, a new status credited to you freely, at no cost to you (Romans 3:24).
How is that possible? It is because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood”(Romans 3:25). Paul refers to this as “redemption,” a term taken from the Roman slave market. It is obtaining a release by the payment of a ransom. By his death, Jesus paid the ransom to set us free from sin’s ultimate penalty. His death satisfied the demands of God’s justice on our behalf.
The only way to receive the gift of justification is through faith in what Christ has done. Paul repeats this several times (verses 22, 25, 26 and 28). “For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Romans 3:28). Someone has said that faith is simply the hand of a beggar reaching out to accept a gift from a king.
The awkward chapter division between Romans two and three was not in Paul’s original letter. It is important to understand the entire scope and range of his argument taken together. In Romans one the Gentile pagan world is guilty before God. In chapters two and three the religious Jews are also said to be guilty before God. The only solution to this universal human predicament is the good news found in Romans 3:21-31.
Pastor Randy Faulkner