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No One Is Righteous December 21, 2010

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
Tags: , , , ,

Here are my thoughts on Romans 3:9-20.

Summary: In this passage, Paul summarizes the argument that he has been developing since verse 17 of chapter 1: no one can be declared righteous in God’s sight by their own strength. He begins by bluntly telling the Jews that based on the truths outlined in the preceding passages, they are no better than the Gentiles in terms of their standing before God. To drive home this point, he strings together several Old Testament quotations that illustrate the magnitude of the sins that ensnare all men. From these quotations, it is clear that all men have 1) turned from God and 2) turned toward a life of sin. In fact, the sins that they commit are sins of both word and deed. Ultimately, these sins stem from a fundamental lack of respect for God’s holiness and an improper reverence for His name. Paul concludes by noting that the law (either the natural law that is written on the Gentiles’ hearts or the law that the Jews possess) unequivocally demonstrates that all men are sinful and fail to uphold it. Thus, no one can be justified by trying to obey the law; instead, they have a clearer picture of their sinfulness as a result of this endeavor.

Thoughts: Verse 19 nicely portrays the “courtroom atmosphere” that has pervaded Romans up to this point in the epistle. We should view the current situation in the epistle as follows: all men have sinned, and so God, acting as both prosecutor and judge, has put all men on trial for their sins. He charges them with having committed sin, and they are unable to say anything in their defense, since His charges are based on fact. From this, we would naturally conclude that all men will be found guilty of wickedness and sentenced to death, which is God’s just punishment for sin.

The theme of justification reappears in verse 20, and it will be explained more thoroughly in verse 21. For now, Hodge notes:

To justify, then, is not merely to pardon and restore to favor; nor is it to make someone else inwardly just or holy; but it is to declare or pronounce just – that is, judicially to declare that the demands of justice are satisfied, or that there is no just ground for condemnation.

Of course, the precise method of justification has been debated for almost two millenia. Instead of engaging in an exhaustive discussion on this topic, it suffices to note that Hodge lists interpretations of this concept that are incorrect based on the Protestant view – which states that men cannot be justified by works; in particular, this includes

…not only ceremonial works, not merely the works of the unregenerate done without grace; not only the perfect obedience required by the law originally given to Adam, but works of all kinds, everything either done by us or in us.

Now, as for the incorrect interpretations (from the viewpoint of Protestants), we see that

  • the Pelagians assert that men cannot be justified by observing the Old Testament ceremonial law (e.g. performing the external rites of circumcision and sacrifice), but they can be justified by doing “works which are morally good”
  • the Catholics assert that works performed before one is “regenerated” do not constitute a basis for justification, but the works done after regeneration are sufficient for justification to occur
  • the Arminians assert that under the old dispensation, God demanded that men perfectly obey the law, but that under the New Testament (or Gospel) dispensation, imperfect obedience to the law is sufficient for one to be justified
  • “speculative and mystical theologians of Germany” such as Olshausen and Neander offer a philosophical restatement of the aforementioned Catholic belief: the grace of God effects an inner change in men, and these changed men are then able to do works that justify them.


1. vivator - December 21, 2010

You misunderstand Catholic teaching on Justification – please read my post where I compare side by side Catholic and Reformer’s views at:

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