Do You Need the Gospel?

Explore the Bible Series

September 25, 2005


Background Passage: Romans 3:1-20


Lesson Passage: Romans 3:1-12; 18-20


Introduction: Paul’s indictment against the human race reached a crescendo in Romans 3:1-20.  Chapter One, verses eighteen through thirty-two, centers on the sins of the entire human race; then, Chapter Two narrows the focus to the particular sins of the Jewish people. The apostle challenged the common Jewish claim that their pedigree and the practice of circumcision offset their rampant disobedience to God. The first eight verses of Chapter Three continue Paul’s concern with the Jews.  He anticipated three objections that the Jews might have raised to the points the apostle made in Chapter Two.  Then, having dealt thoroughly with these objections, Paul concluded this section of Romans with a final, powerful summation of the sinfulness of mankind.


Bible students may wonder if the objections raised in Romans 3: 1-8 arose from real-life conflicts or from Paul’s considerable wisdom in anticipating, in theory, how his opponents might argue.  We must avoid dogmatism on this matter, but the Acts of the Apostles records several conflicts between Paul and his Jewish antagonists.  Years of missionary experience, no doubt, had sharpened the apostle’s awareness of potential objections to the gospel.  One can imagine that Paul encountered many tense and heated exchanges with the Jewish religious leaders.  They probably peppered him with questions intended to ensnare him in his words.   These questions, of course, were not intended to acquire information; rather, Paul’s opponents hoped to get ammunition against the apostle.  Paul may have encountered these three objections, in one form or another, on a host of occasions during his missionary journeys. He answered these questions forcefully and biblically.


Verses nine through twenty provide a summary statement concerning the sins of the world.  Line upon line, the apostle quoted passages from the Old Testament that subsume the entire human race under the just condemnation of God.


Outline of the Passage:


I.                    Paul’s Answers to Jewish Objections to the Apostle’s Theology (3:1-8)

A.     Objection One: “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision?” (vv. 1-2)  Paul’s observations about the Jews, the law, and circumcision may have mistakenly led some to conclude that these things had no value.  Paul disputed that false conclusion. The Jews enjoyed certain privileges; namely, they possessed the “oracles of God.”  The word translated “oracle” means words or sayings. This statement clearly refers to the Old Testament.  “Entrusted” denotes not only great privilege but also great stewardship. 

B.     Objection Two: “What if some were unfaithful? Does their unfaithfulness nullify the faithfulness of God?” (vv. 3-4): In other words, did the unfaithfulness of Israel cancel out the promises of God?  Israel received marvelous promises from God, but they failed to obey the conditions of the covenant.  Did their waywardness nullify God’s promises?  Paul gave a three-fold answer to this objection.

1.      “By no means”:  Paul recoiled from such a blasphemous suggestion.

2.      “Let God be true though every one were a liar”: The apostle asserted the absolute faithfulness and veracity of God.  It was unthinkable to Paul that any circumstance could reveal God as an unfaithful liar.

3.      “As it is written, ‘That you may be justified in your words and prevail when you are judged’”: Paul quoted a portion of Psalm 51:4.  In this Psalm, King David expressed his profound repentance for his sin with Bathsheba.  David knew that his sins, though harmful to many people, had ultimately been against God.  Whatever sinfulness may have characterized David’s conduct, the Lord was justified and blameless in his judgments of the King’s sins.  

C.     Objection Three: “But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say?  That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak as a man.)” (vv. 5-8): The sinfulness of the Jews highlighted the glorious righteousness of God.  They sinned against God’s kindness to them, and the Lord manifested his righteousness by judging their disobedience; thus, their sin served as a means of revealing the righteousness of God.  If their sins highlighted the righteousness of God, how could God bring judgment upon them?  Paul answered this objection in four ways.

1.      “I speak as a man”: Paul acknowledged the unworthy, base nature of this objection.  This type of reasoning, he agued, would only seem persuasive to a sinful man.

2.      “By no means”: The whole proposition seemed distasteful and repugnant to Paul.

3.      “For then how could God judge the world?”:  If one follows the “logic” of the objector, God could not judge anyone in the world.

4.      “Their condemnation is just”:  Those who reason in such a manner will be condemned for their obstinacy.



II.                 Paul’s Final Indictments (3:9-18)

A.     All men are under sin (v. 9): Corley and Vaughan list several ways of interpreting “under sin.” Perhaps the term includes all of these elements.

1.      under the guilt of sin

2.      under the control of sin

3.      under the condemnation of sin

B.     Old Testament quotations concerning the universal sinfulness of man (vv. 10-18)

1.      “None is righteous, no, not one…” (See Psalm 14:1-3)

2.      “Their throat is an open grave…”  (See Psalm 5:9 and Psalm 140:3)

3.      “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness” (See Psalm 10:7)

4.      “Their feet are swift to shed blood and in their paths are ruin and misery” (See Isaiah 59:7-8)

5.      “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (See Psalm 36:1)


    Paul’s Concluding Remarks (vv. 19-20): Paul made three concluding assertions.

1.      All men are under the law; that is, all men are accountable to the righteous demands and authority of the law (v. 19).

2.      The law shuts the mouths of men.  Their rationalizations and excuses fall silent before the holy, just demands of the law (v. 19b).

3.      Works of the law ca never justify a man before God; indeed, justification is not the purpose of the law.  The law functions, in part, as a diagnostic force.  It detects the horrible maladies that plague the human race.  The law brings an end to all excuses, and reveals man’s utter helplessness against the disease of his own sinfulness.




Discussion Questions:

  1. Why did Paul devote such an extensive discussion to the subject of sin?  Why didn’t the apostle go directly to a positive presentation of the good news of the gospel?
  2. What does this passage reveal about the condition of man, apart from the saving mercies of Christ?  What are the effects of sin on mankind?
  3. What purpose does the law serve in the grand scheme of the gospel?
  4. In light of the dismal picture Paul paints, why does mankind need Christ as Lord and Savior?