In the third chapter of Romans, the Apostle Paul addresses the question of what makes us just or righteous in the sight of God. In chapters one and two he lays the groundwork for his presentation, by pointing out sins prevalent among both Jew and gentile. He then comes to the point by asking, "Are we [Jews] better than they? [Gentiles]" (Romans 3:9). That question then leads into his presentation of the doctrine of justification, which consists of two parts. In the first part he explains why the deeds of the law cannot justify anyone (Romans 3:10-20). In the second, he explains how we can be justified apart from the law (Romans 3:21-28).

[NOTE: To justify someone is to absolve them of guilt, vindicate them of any wrongdoing, or pronounce them innocent or righteous in the sight of the law. Therefore, spiritually speaking, a just person is someone who is innocent, righteous, or blameless before God.]


9 What then? are we [Jews] better than they? [Gentiles] No, in no way: for we have already proved that all men, both Jews and Gentiles, are all under sin;

10 As it is written: There is none righteous, no, not one;

11 There is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God.

12 They have all gone out of the way; they are together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.

13 Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit. The poison of serpents is under their lips,

14 whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.

15 Their feet are swift to shed blood;

16 Destruction and misery are in their ways,

17 and the way of peace have they not known.

18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.

19 ∂ Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.

  1. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh shall be justified in his sight, for the knowledge of sin comes by the law.

[Comment: In verses ten through eighteen Paul quotes several passages that condemn all who are under the law. He then states two important truths. In verse 19 he tells us that the law condemns everyone who is under it in order to silence every boast of righteousness by showing the whole world to be guilty. In verse 20 he concludes by saying that the law, can never make us righteous in the sight of God, because God gave it to reveal our guilt.]


21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is revealed, being witnessed by the law and the prophets,

22 Even the righteousness of God, that is by faith in Jesus Christ, unto all and upon all those who believe. For there is no difference,

23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,

24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

25 Whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;

26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus.

27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.

  1. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

[Comment: In verses 21-28 Paul explains that since the law cannot make us righteous, God has now revealed a way to become righteous without the law (verse 21), even the righteousness that is imputed to all who trust in Christ (verse 22). For if we have all fallen short of what the law requires, being cleansed of sin by the forgiveness that is ours through faith in Christ Jesus (verses 23-26), then we are "justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (verse 28).]



The words, "The forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace," tell us that the grace spoken of in verse 24 consists of forgiveness (Ephesians 1:7).

The words, "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin," explain why Paul refers to Christís blood as a "propitiation" and why he sees faith in Christís blood as a source of forgiveness (Compare 1John 1:7 with verse 25).

The words, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness," tell us that the faith by which we are justified is faith in Godís promise of forgiveness in Christ (Compare Galatians 3:6 with verse 28).


Even though the Apostle Paul carefully explains why the law cannot make us righteous, those who want to be motivated by the law are continually trying to find some way around his words. Therefore, as soon as they learn that James said, "by works a man is justified and not by faith only," they assume that the words of James negate what Paul said (Romans 3:28, James 2:24). In their blindness they then feel free to ignore Paulís warnings against trusting in works. However, a careful examination of what James said makes it clear that Paul and James were talking about two different things. When Paul spoke of faith he was referring to faith in Christ. In contrast, the words, "You believe that there is one God; you do well: the devils also believe and tremble," make it clear that the faith James regarded as "dead" was not faith in Christ at all. Likewise, when Paul spoke of works he was referring to works of righteousness, or obedience to the law. In contrast, the words, "Was not Rahab the Harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way," make it perfectly clear that the works James had in mind were not works of obedience, or righteousness, but what we would call the fruits of faith (James 2:19, 20, 25). Therefore, James was not saying that we need works of righteousness in addition to faith. Instead he was saying that if a person truly has faith in Christ it will make a difference in their life.


In the third chapter of Romans the Apostle Paul explains the proper relationship of law and gospel. Verses 10 Ė 20 tell us that the law cannot make anyone righteous. And, if the law cannot make us righteous, then it never was intended to make us righteous (Isaiah 64:6). On the contrary, God intended for us to take His law so seriously that we would feel condemned, unclean, and defiled because of our sin. And if people did take it that seriously, they would cry out to God for mercy, trusting in that mercy and in His promise of a messiah and forgiveness (Psalm 13:5, Acts 10:43). In verses 21 Ė 28 Paul goes on to explain how we are truly made righteous in the sight of God, namely through the forgiveness that is ours in Christ Jesus (Acts 10:4, 1 John 1:7, Galatians 3:6). Whoever contradicts one of these truths, either by claiming that the things we do make us righteous, or by claiming that faith in Christ is not enough to make us righteous is not rightly dividing the Word of Truth, and is not approved by God (2 Timothy 2:15).

Those who profess to trust in Christ, while trying to please God or gain His favor by their works, are not really trusting in Christ at all. If they were, they would be trusting in His blood (not works) to bring Godís favor, and they would believe that since their sins have been washed away God no longer sees any unrighteousness in them.

Those who seek righteousness by the law, generally compare themselves with others, and judge others, by assuming that they are more righteous. However, God sees no difference between the self-righteous and those who sin willfully. As far as He is concerned, both deny their sin and refuse to look to Christ for forgiveness. [Romans 2:1 and 3:19-20, 2 Corinthians 10:12, Hebrews 10:26, Galatians 5:4]


The Biblical doctrine of Justification by Faith can only be understood and appreciated by those who know that the law condemns them. That is why the Apostle Paul began by making it clear that the law cannot make anyone righteous (Romans 3:9-20). In fact, all who think that the law makes them even partly righteous, will not be able to understand how anyone can be made righteous through faith. And lacking that understanding, they will assume that Justification by faith is just a way of getting around the law (2Corinthians 4:4).

Gary Ray Branscome