Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jul 16 2013 - Romans 3:9-31 – Amazing grace

Paul has now come to the conclusion of his survey of the human condition. When he spoke of the corrupt nature of Gentile society, his Jewish compatriots would nod their heads sadly, or perhaps proudly. But then he has turned his fire onto his fellow Jews. It is not only ‘those people’ whose lives have failed to match up to God’s standards, the same is true of ‘our own people’, those who were entrusted with the very oracles of God; “What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin” (Romans 3:9).

Paul now rounds off his argument with a string of Old Testament quotations that speak of how people have fallen short of God’s standards to which he adds the punch line, “Now 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” (3:19). These things, says Paul, were written to those who had received the law; these verses describe us. Both Jew and Gentile have fallen short of God’s standards and have nothing to say before him by way of mitigation. It’s a shocking and humbling picture.

But this is not the message Paul has to proclaim; it is only the context for his message. The hope of humankind is not humankind; it is God. “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify” (3:21). Where humanity has messed up God has stepped in to clear up – to act in righteousness and to put things right. This is the message that has gripped the apostle Paul; the message he wants all to hear and understand.

Paul writes to a mixed church of Jewish and Gentile Christians who are arguing with one another. He wants them to see that the Gospel is a great leveller. It declares that we all fall desperately short of God’s standards, no matter who we may be. But it also declares that all who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ are justified by God – accepted by him and welcomed into his family – regardless of background, race or class. Jesus’ death and resurrection are the grounds of such acceptance, for by his sacrificial death he paid the price our sins deserved, and by his resurrection from the dead he has brought life and immortality to all who believe in him. Salvation – acceptance with God – is all of grace.

One of the implications Paul draws from this truth is that we are left with nothing to boast about (3:27) – unless, of course, we boast of God and the cross of Christ. Grace robs us of grounds for boasting but gives us much cause for praise, joy and thanksgiving, for confident hope in God, and for devotion to him made visible in loving service of God and of others. Amazing grace streaming to us from an amazing Saviour calls for amazing lives – lives that prompt questions and point to Jesus Christ; lives that bring the blessing of God to a broken world.

“Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from your ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against your holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is nothing good in us. O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore those who are penitent; according to your promises declared unto men in Christ Jesus our Lord. Grant that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life; to the glory of His name. Amen”

Peter Misselbrook