Romans 3:14-20 by Robert Dean
As we wrap up our study of this chapter in Romans, we are again reminded of the overall theme of this book: the righteousness of God. But man is helpless, hopeless, and no one living is righteous. Job asks the question that all of us must ask, how can a man be righteous before God?

In this lesson, we learn more about this gift of righteousness we receive from God.
Series:Romans (2010)
Duration:1 hr 1 mins 19 secs

No Human Can be Righteous – Part 3
Romans 3:14–20
Romans Lesson #034
September 15, 2011

Romans is talking about the righteousness of God. The phrase is first used in Romans 1:17—verses 16 and 17 should be read together NASB “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it {the} righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘BUT THE RIGHTEOUS {man} SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.’” That sets the theme of Romans. Chapter 1:18-11:36 focuses on God’s perfect gift of righteousness through faith alone in Christ alone. The first subdivision in that section is 1:18-3:20 which we have concluded. God’s righteousness condemns all members of the human race and this demonstrates the need for every human being to acquire God’s righteousness. You can’t just get into heaven on your own. We have to have the righteousness that fits God’s standard.

The first thing Paul says is that God’s condemnation of the human race is based on the rejection of Him by the human race and this leaves God in His justice to delivering the human race/mankind to His own desires. We suffer the consequences of our rejection. The second direction humans move toward is emphasizing their own morality. In one sense they go towards licentiousness or antinomianism and then in the first five verses of chapter two, which is the second point, there are others who move in the direction of morality, thinking that somehow they can be good enough. They recognize that morality is necessary to have a productive, stable society. The third point that Paul makes is that the universality of human failure will be demonstrated when God judges everyone on the basis of works. All will fail; our works aren’t good enough. Fourth, God also condemns the Jew because of his trust in religious externals. The Jews thought that because they were given the Law, that they had the covenant with Abraham signified by circumcision, that this meant that they had an automatic get-out-of jail free card. But it didn’t do that, it just gave them a place of privilege but it didn’t get them saved. Therefore Paul concludes in Romans 3:9-18 that all are under sin, Jew and Gentile alike. He gives a conclusion: the application of the Law is that all the world is guilty before God and that the Law is not the source for justification but is the means of the full knowledge of sin. The next section is the fact of justification—Romans 3:21-5:21. Justification will be defined and explained and it is the imputation—the crediting of God’s righteousness that is then acquired by faith alone in Christ alone.

For those who think that somehow we can get righteousness, or for the Jew who thinks that somehow they can get righteousness through the Law, we have statements from the Torah. In Ecclesiastes 7:20 Solomon says there is none righteous, there is not a righteous man on the earth who does good and sins not. Isaiah in 64:6 says all we are like an unclean thing and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.

Paul builds on this and in verse 20 as he concluded that section stated NASB “because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law {comes} the knowledge of sin.” This doesn’t refer to simply the externals of Jewish ritual. The term refers to obedience to all of the Law and an emphasis on morality. The Law wasn’t given as a means to get righteousness but it is to show that we can’t do it on our own. Man is helpless, hopeless and it is impossible for us to do anything whatsoever to save ourselves.

There are those who have been influenced by the theology that is called “the new perspectives on Paul.” We have to understand a little about the spasms are of the day so that as we are out there in the world and talking and interacting with people we can understand some of the things that are going on. One of the elements in this new perspectives of Paul idea is that Paul really wasn’t talking about condemning all morality here, he is just condemning by the works of the Law, the idea of ritual of the Law only. But that is not true. The phrase refers to all human efforts, and that is clear from many passages that we have seen.

Psalm 143:2 NASB “And do not enter into judgment with Your servant, For in Your sight no man living is righteous.” This is a blanket condemnation from the Torah that everyone is guilty of sin. Then in Job 9:2 NASB “In truth I know that this is so; But how can a man be in the right before God?” In the context of Job 9 Job has lost everything. His three friends come to encourage him. They look at him. And the knee-jerk reaction of most people is if you are going through this kind of suffering you must have done something to deserve it. There is this thought in the mind that somehow if a person goes through intense adversity then God must be punishing them for something that they have done. Of course, the flip side would be that someone who isn’t apparently going through any adversity must be richly blessed by God. And that, too, is a wrong and superficial judgment.

So Job and his three friends start talking. There is this dialogue that goes back and forth between each of them and there is about three series or sets of dialogue where one will take his position, then the other will give his view, and then the other. They are all manifestations of the view that that if God is taking you through this, if He is letting this happen you must have done something to deserve it; you are basically at fault. In a previous dialogue in Job chapter four when Eliphaz, one of his friends, says, “Can mankind be just before God?” He is basically saying no one can be just before God so you deserve this. Job is questioning that, and in Job 9:2 NASB “In truth I know that this is so; But how can a man be in the right before God?” That is really the 64,000 question. How are we righteous before God? And that is what Paul answers in Romans and tells us how we get this gift of righteousness.

Job and his three friends wrestle with the question of why these horrible things have happened to Job. Job questions how he can sit down and reason with God face to face about why this is happening. And he is saying you can’t. Finally, when we get toward the end of Job God begins to speak to Job and answers Job’s question—sort of. He answers him by giving him about a hundred questions and never really explains why it is that Job went through what he went through. The conclusion is that God is omniscient and understands all the billions of elements that go into any event, and we can’t comprehend five of them at the same time. And this is what God is pointing out to Job: where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Where were you when I created the sun, the moon? It is all to point out that God’s magnificence, His omnipotence, His wisdom and knowledge of everything and how puny, limited and finite and restricted our knowledge is that we can’t understand what He is doing; all we are left with is trusting Him. Job says: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” That is not an empty faith, not a leap of faith; it is a faith that is based on the content and the object of the person of God and His character.

These passages emphasize, though, that no one is righteous before God. This is the continuous testimony throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.

Romans 3:21 NASB “But now apart from the Law {the} righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.” The opening phrase “the righteousness of God” is the same phrase we have in 1:17. What does that mean—the righteousness of God? Most of the commentaries take it to refer to the imputed righteousness of God to man. It is not talking about God’s own righteousness but it is talking about the righteousness that God has given to us.

Quotations: The man who wrote this first one was a colleague of Dr. Chafer’s, for many years the librarian at Dallas Seminary. What he wrote in the Bible Knowledge Commentary on Romans 1:17 is a little confusing:

This righteousness is not God’s personal attribute. However since it comes from God [from the source of God] it is consistent with His nature and standard.

A.T. Robertson:

A God kind of righteousness. In response to faith this righteousness is imputed by God in justification and imparted progressively in regeneration and sanctification, culminating in glorification when standing and state become identical.

He has drawn a distinction between the righteousness that is imputed and the righteousness of God’s character. What is wrong with that? The righteousness that we are given according to Scripture is the righteousness of God. These writers aren’t clear on that. The righteousness that is imputed is not something that is quantitatively given to us. And this is one of those areas that is really confusing.

In Roman Catholic theology they believe (under the doctrine of imputation and justification) that the righteousness that we have as a Christian at salvation is a moral infusion of God’s righteousness. What that means is that you are changed morally. According to Roman Catholic doctrine there is a moral shift that occurs because you are actually given quantitatively the righteousness of God. They would translate, you are made righteous.

When Martin Luther came to a saving understanding of the Scriptures he did so by reading Romans and he came to understand that this Roman Catholic view of infused righteousness was wrong—that we are not made righteous. The idea that Paul is talking about is that we are declared righteous; we are not actually given anything quantitatively. We are credited with Christ’s righteousness so that the Supreme Court of Heaven declares us to be righteous. The point to be made here is that we can’t distinguish between God’s attribute of righteousness and what is imputed to us. It is legally imputed to us but it doesn’t make us righteous.

“The righteousness of God is revealed …” There is a second element here that is important for understanding that this isn’t talking about the ongoing imputation of righteousness. That is the verb there that is translated “revealed,” the same word that we have in Romans 3:21. The verb that is translated “is revealed” is a perfect tense verb in the Greek. The perfect tense means that the action of the verb is completed action, completed and over and done with at some point in the past. The writer uses it to either emphasize the present ongoing results of that completed past action or he is talking about the completion of the action—emphasizing the fact that is was completed—in a former time. E.g., My mortgage is paid. Present tense “is” but that would reflect of a Greek perfect tense—that it was paid off in the past with the ongoing results so that today I can relax, I don’t have a mortgage to pay off. It seems that the verb here, “is revealed,” is a perfect passive indicative, indicating that the revelation of this righteousness is something that was completed and over and done with in past time so that we are experiencing present on going results. It is a fixed, final past tense idea. That can only apply to the character of God, not to imputation unless people are no longer receiving that righteousness. It is completed.

The context also indicates this because there is a contrast between verse 17 and verse 18. Verse 17 talks about the righteousness of God and verse 18 talks about the wrath of God. The wrath of God is a figure of speech that is describing the application of God’s justice. So again it is talking about an attribute of God just as righteousness of God must be talking about an attribute of God.