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Romans 1:1617; 2:511; 3:912comment (0)

November 28, 2013

By Thomas L. Fuller

Related Scripture: Romans 1:1617; 2:511; 3:912

Bible Studies for Life 
Beeson Divinity School, Samford University


A Problem You Can’t Solve

Romans 1:16–17; 2:5–11; 3:9–12

The first step toward new life in Christ — as well as living daily under His lordship — is recognizing one’s need. In the early chapters of his letter to the Romans, Paul sets forth the truth of God’s righteousness. 

Only in the light of that truth does it become clear that all of us have a problem we cannot solve on our own. But there is good news.


Broadcasting this good news — the gospel — is Paul’s passion and purpose in life. When he declares, “I am not ashamed of the gospel,” Paul is saying that it is a great honor and privilege to serve as a messenger of the truth: that Jesus died to save us from our sin and He rose from the dead to give us victory over sin and death. The good news of salvation in Jesus Christ is for all people — Jews and Gentiles — and it is appropriated by faith, not by works or following God’s commands (the Law).

Central to Paul’s message is the righteousness of God. Righteousness is a legal term, meaning “in the right” or “having right standing” before a judge. Here it refers both to God’s own righteousness and to the right standing God gives (imputes) to guilty sinners. That guilt — and the condemnation and wrath that follow from it — is determined by God alone (the Righteous Judge). God Himself is the standard, not the Law or how we rate compared to others. Our only hope for meeting this standard is to receive God’s gift of Jesus’ righteousness.


In 1:18, Paul declares that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness.” 

He then proceeds to make the case for the guilt of all humanity (1:18–3:20). Paul’s specific purpose in 2:5–11 is to show that God is impartial in meting out justice. It does not matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile; God’s righteousness is the standard for everyone. 

He will “render (judgment) to each person according to his deeds.” God does not grade on the curve, so to speak. Neither does He play favorites or give breaks based on any earthly qualifications. Fairly and consistently employing the standard of God’s own righteousness, all are found to be failing.

Some may read these verses as support for salvation by works, but that is a misinterpretation of Paul’s meaning. The impartiality of God’s judgment is the point Paul is making here. F.F. Bruce summarizes it quite well: “While, for Paul, forgiveness and eternal life are utterly of God’s grace, divine judgment is always passed in accordance with what men and women have done.”


Paul brings to a close his argument for the sinfulness and guilt of all humanity, giving specific attention to those who might claim special status and exemption from God’s judgment. Are there any exceptions? “Not at all,” Paul declares. “Both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.” Paul has been building this argument for some time already. 

He finishes the project by bringing forth evidence from the Old Testament Scriptures (Ps. 14:1c, 2b–3; 53:1c, 2b–3). The same sacred text to which one might point as validation of special status carries within it the words of indictment and judgment: “There is none who does good, not even one.”

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