Perhaps because of pride, or a misunderstanding of God's intentions, the Jews began thinking of themselves more highly than they ought to have. At this point in Romans, Paul is clarifying one of those misconceptions. So Paul attempts to show that the law affects everyone, Jews and Gentiles alike.
12All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) 16This will take place on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.
Another problem, it appears, was that the Jews at that time thought that because they had the law they were somehow justified before God. But Paul is clearly saying here in this text that this wasn't the case. The Jews had the same problem as the Gentiles. The only difference, however, was that God entrusted to them His laws and commands. This, Paul explains later on in chapter 3.
It's important to know this because in our culture there is this similar misconception in some churches that if we somehow do enough or are good enough, we can somehow make ourselves right with God. Look at verse 12 again. Not only is Paul refuting this faulty thinking, he goes a step further and shows us that the law does the exact opposite. "All who sin under the law will be judged by the law." Is there anyone in church who believes they have never sinned under the law?
Also, can anyone have an excuse because they haven't heard of God's laws or commands? Paul says no because God has placed within us the concept of right and wrong. I believe that this is our conscience. Paul says it as much in verse 15 that God has written it on their hearts. In fact, when they try to do good, they "do by nature things required by the law, [therefore] they are a law for themselves."
Again, let's go back for a second. What about those who do know about the law? Paul says they'll be judged by the law due to their sin. So is it possible that there are those who can obey the whole law and be declared righteous by God as in verse 13? Paul says that if you could, then you would be declared righteous. But here's the thing...Romans 3:10-11 says this:
10 As it is written:
"There is no one righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
So it's clear Paul isn't saying that it's possible to be righteous before God. Whether you have the knowledge and understanding of God's laws or not, there's no way we can stand before a Holy God justified by how we have lived our lives. NO ONE is righteous.
But just in case you think you can find a loophole, Paul shows us again that there is no way in and of ourselves that we can declare ourselves righteous before God. For example, if you're a Jew, Paul explains in length that it's neither the act of circumcision or having the law that makes any difference. Even for those that weren't Jews, Paul says if they weren't circumcised but kept the law's requirements, they would be regarded as though they were circumcised. The point is is that it's not really the outward act of circumcision that had any merit. What has merit is the circumcision of the heart.
But wait! There's more. Previously, we got a taste of the beginning part of Romans 3. Now let's look at the rest of the text in context:
12 All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one."
13 "Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit."
"The poison of vipers is on their lips."
14 "Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness."
15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 ruin and misery mark their ways,
17 and the way of peace they do not know."
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, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.
Can you see the extent of the problem? We've turned away from God, we've become worthless, not even capable of doing good. Paul describes how our sin has permeated our entire being from our throats, our lips, our mouths, and our feet.
So what does the law do? It obviously has shown us at this point that it can't save us. In fact, what it does do is show us how very bad off we are. If there is no way to be justified before God and we have sinned and are being held accountable to God, what can we do? Where is our hope? Certainly, we are in danger of receiving His wrath.
That's the bad news. Fortunately, Paul didn't end his discourse there. The good news is that God has a way for us to get around this predicament. And what a predicament it is! The one way, and the only way, is through His Son Jesus!
From there, Paul goes on to tell us about God's righteousness...RIGHT AFTER telling us how totally messed up our situation was. So okay, he explains that God is righteous. How does that help us with our problem? God's righteousness IS the answer to our problem. Romans 3:22 says, "This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe." But wait, there's more! Look at what Paul writes here:
22b There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
Do you see? Paul said before that whether one had the law or not, they had the same problem. And here he says that there's no difference again. Jews and Gentiles alike have sinned and we all fall short of God's righteous standards no matter how hard we tried or no matter how good we were.
Praise God! He had an answer! Despite our sin, He provided a way through Jesus for us to be justified...APART FROM ANYTHING WE DID OR COULD EVER DO! Paul says that through Jesus, God's sacrifice of atonement on the cross, we are able to be justified freely. Nothing for us to do but to receive by faith this offer of Christ's atonement.
But why did God do this? Why did God offer Jesus as a sacrifice so that we could be made right with God? The text says that He did it because He had to demonstrate His justice. He had to show that He was just, for one, to show that He could not let sin go unpunished. But He also did it to show that He is the One, the only One, who could justify us by putting our faith in Christ. To put it in a nutshell, not only was God the Judge and Executioner, but He took our place as the Defendant as well.
So how can any one of us refuse this offer? An offer where Jesus takes the penalty for our sin and justifies us before God with His own righteousness? How?
Let's make one thing clear here. Jesus did not die on the cross so that He could be the Savior for those who would choose to deny Him though. The text says that God is the "one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus." That means there's a choice to be made. Have you made that choice? Even if you say you don't know, or haven't decided yet, you need to understand that you have already made a choice. But it's not to late if you're reading this. You can change the choice that you've made. The only clear way to receive Jesus' substitutionary death on your behalf is to choose to put your faith in Jesus while you still have the time.
It's not hard, but you need to be sincere. You can't hold back from God by going through the motions. He knows your thoughts and He knows the intents of your heart. Have you, or will you, receive God's free gift? There's no other way, you know. Ask Him to show you how. Talk to Him, pray to Him, draw near to Him. Your life will never be the same.