Romans - Lesson 11

Romans 2:17–3:20

Paul addresses the importance of obeying God's law and not just boasting in it, extending his critique to circumcision for the Jewish audience. In chapter 3, he acknowledges the advantages of being Jewish but warns against presuming salvation based on heritage. Paul stresses that religious rituals won't save you; genuine faith is essential. He emphasizes that righteousness comes through obeying the Law, highlighting the universal human condition of being enslaved to sin's power. Observing the Law or relying solely on works can't bring righteousness.

Lesson 11
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Romans 2:17–3:20

II. The Heart of the Gospel: Justification by Faith (1:18–4:25)

A. The Universal Reign of Sin (1:18–3:20)

1. All Persons Are Accountable to God for Sin (1:18-32)

2. Jews Are Accountable to God for Sin (2:1–3:8)

a. The Jews and the Judgment of God (2:1-16)

b. The Limitations of the Covenant (2:17-29)

c. God's Faithfulness and the Judgment of Jews (3:1-8)

3. The Guilt of All Humanity (3:9-20)

B. Justification by Faith (3:21–4:25)

1. Justification and the Righteousness of God (3:21-26)

2. "By Faith Alone" (3:27–4:25)

a. "By Faith Alone": Initial Statement (3:27-31)

b. "By Faith Alone": Elaboration with Respect to Abraham (4:1-25)

  • This lesson offers a deep dive into Paul's Letter to the Romans, revealing its pastoral aims, Paul's intentions to visit Spain, Jerusalem, and Rome, and its relevance to early Christian dynamics and theological inquiries about the Law in Christ's time.
  • This lesson offers a fresh view of Paul's theology, focusing on Romans. It emphasizes the first-century context, highlighting Gentile inclusion and unity in Christ, challenging traditional views. Gain insights into Paul's message and its relevance today.
  • Explore the book of Romans for modern faith conflicts: balance tradition with contemporary practices, learn from history, and grasp Paul's ministry and Gospel's complexities.
  • Follow along with Dr. Moo as he begins a thorough review of Romans 1:2-5. You will learn how Paul emphasizes Jesus' earthly life, resurrection, and his appointment as the Son of God in power. This lesson examines the interconnectedness of faith and obedience, underscoring that while faith initiates salvation, genuine faith inherently entails obedience to Christ as Lord, maintaining a balanced Christian life.
  • By delving into Romans 1:16-17, you'll understand the Gospel extends beyond individual salvation, encompassing God's reign over creation and His establishment of justice. The Gospel challenges worldly powers, offering hope and transformation to all who embrace it.
  • Listen along as the class discusses questions and answers revolving around Romans 1:16-17.
  • In Romans 1:18-28, you learn that all people are held accountable by God, having knowledge of Him through natural revelation but some turn away. This passage highlights the manifestation of God's wrath against sin, the exchange of truth for falsehoods, and the absence of excuses for humanity's actions, ultimately emphasizing God's fair judgment.
  • Listen in as the class and Dr. Moo discuss aspects of Romans 1:18-28.
  • The lesson discusses Romans 2:1-11, it highlights the use of the diatribe device and the transition from focusing on Gentiles to Jews. It underscores the Jewish belief in their special status and their potential misunderstanding of God's judgment. The lesson reviews the focus of the text on key themes such as judgment, righteousness, and the relationship between faith and good deeds.
  • In this lesson, you'll review the significance of the Law, notably the Law of Moses, in God's judgment. Paul stresses that mere knowledge of the Law isn't sufficient for righteousness; obedience is key. The primary message is that salvation ultimately relies on God's grace and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as human efforts and consciences alone cannot secure salvation. This lesson highlights the importance of understanding these concepts in interactions with people of different religious beliefs.
  • The key takeaway in this lesson is that while being a Jew comes with a great heritage, it doesn't guarantee salvation. Obedience to God's law is crucial, and reliance on religious heritage or rituals won't save you. The lesson emphasizes the universal human condition of being under the power of sin, and people cannot be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the Law or by the works of the Law. Only through faith in Christ are we made righteous.
  • This lesson explores the New Perspective on Paul, emphasizing that the Law was for Jewish covenant status, not just salvation. It promotes a holistic faith view, balancing vertical and horizontal aspects, Spirit-led obedience, and 1st-century Judaism diversity, enriching Pauline teachings in the church.
  • In exploring Romans 3:21-26, you'll gain insights into the relationship between righteousness, faith, and salvation. Paul highlights God's righteousness, which is accessible to all through faith in Jesus Christ. By weaving together themes of righteousness, faith, and inclusivity, Paul challenges conventional Jewish and Gentile perspectives, emphasizing the continuity of God's salvation plan while underscoring the centrality of faith in Christ for all believers.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insights into the potential challenge in translating Romans 3:23-24, particularly the term "all" and its connection to the debate on universalism in evangelicalism. Dr. Moo stresses the importance of coherence in biblical interpretation and explores the themes of God's righteousness, faith, and grace in justification. The lesson reviews the cultural background of redemption, drawing parallels with the Greco-Roman slave market and emphasizing the need to understand both the problem of sin and the Gospel solution.
  • Embarking on this lesson, you'll gain insight into the historical development and contemporary challenges surrounding the doctrine of justification. Through exploring classic Reformation principles and contemporary reassessments, you'll understand the tensions between Protestant and Roman Catholic perspectives, particularly regarding the infusion of righteousness and the role of grace.
  • The lesson explores the intricate connection between faith and works, justification, and sanctification in contemporary theological discourse. It delineates divergent views on justification, with scholars like Piper advocating for the preservation of biblical distinctions amidst modern theological trends. The lesson examines key questions regarding the meaning, basis, time, and means of justification.
  • Students in Dr. Moo's class ask multiple questions about justification.
  • By studying Romans 3:27-4:25, you gain insight into Paul's theology, where faith, exemplified by Abraham's righteousness, transcends works and ethnicity, emphasizing the universal scope of salvation through Christ.
  • Hear the questions the students ask regarding Romans 3:27–4:25. And discover Dr. Moo's answers to the questions posed.
  • In Romans 5 – 8, you gain insights into profound theological concepts like justification, identity in Christ, and the tension between present reality and future hope, guiding you to embrace your changed identity and hope for future transformation amidst life's trials.
  • Students as deep questions about Romans 5-8. Hear what Dr. Moo presents as answers to their questions.
  • Through Romans 5:1-11, you'll review the contrast between the Old and New Realms, understanding the essence of living in grace, finding hope amid suffering, and experiencing the assurance of eternal security rooted in Christ's sacrifice and God's love poured into believers' hearts by the Holy Spirit.
  • In Romans 5:12-21, Paul contrasts Adam's sin with Christ's redemptive grace, emphasizing humanity's hope and victory over death through union with Christ, while various interpretations of original sin underscore the universal need for redemption and Christ's pivotal role in restoring humanity to God.
  • Listen to the thorough questions the students ask regarding Romans 5:12-21.
  • The students ask excellent questions of Dr. Moo in this insightful discussion on Romans 6:1-14.
  • Through this lesson, you will gain a deeper understanding of the theological implications of Christ's death and resurrection as explained in Romans 6. You will explore different interpretations of Paul's language regarding the old self and the new self, considering the implications for the Christian life. Ultimately, you will be challenged to recognize your identity in Christ and to actively live according to that identity, rejecting the slavery of sin and embracing servitude to God.
  • Hear the questions the students ask of Dr. Moo regarding Romans 6:1-23.
  • In diving into Romans 7, you'll explore the Law's role in Christian life. Paul's discourse clarifies the distinction between law and gospel, emphasizing the Torah's significance in understanding divine commandments.
  • Class discussion on Romans 7:1-6
  • In Romans 7:7-12, Paul explores the Law's role in intensifying sin and contrasts it with Christ's liberation. His narrative prompts reflection on individual experience and collective identity, enriching understanding of Christian faith.
  • The class discusses the previous lesson on Romans 7:7-12.
  • This lesson covers interpretations of Romans 7:13-25; whether Paul's description is of pre- or post-conversion struggle with the Law.
  • In Romans 8:1-22, discover the Spirit's transformative power over sin, leading to a life free from condemnation, intimacy with God, and anticipation of future glory amid present sufferings.
  • Explore the theological insights on environmental stewardship, emphasizing Christian responsibility in light of Romans 8:19-22.
  • Gain insights into Romans 8:23-27, understanding destined glory despite present suffering. The Spirit intercedes, bridging current and promised futures, offering assurance amid weakness.
  • Romans 8:28 offers profound insights into the nature of God's providence and the believer's journey of faith. Beyond its surface meaning, the verse challenges misconceptions about 'good' and underscores the transformative power of God's grace. It invites believers to trust in God's unfailing love amidst life's trials, anchoring their hope in the assurance of His sovereign care and redemptive purposes.
  • Romans 9:1-5 highlights Paul's profound concern for Israel's salvation and the theological complexities surrounding God's promises. Reviewing salvation history, you'll learn that God's offer of salvation for both Jew and Gentile, fits within the Old Testament narrative.
  • Paul discusses Israel's role in God's plan, emphasizing grace over race. He illustrates divine choices and sovereignty, sparking debates on salvation.
  • Discover diverse views on election, Israel's struggle with faith, and the significance of overcoming theological narrowness in Romans 9:30-10:21. Gain insights into law versus faith in attaining righteousness and the importance of engaging deeply with Scripture for a comprehensive understanding.
  • Gain insights into faith versus works, Christ as the culmination of the Law, and the inclusivity of righteousness through Him. Embrace unity in Christ, transcending cultural divisions, and embodying love and holiness.
  • Gain insight into contrasting righteousness by law vs. faith in Romans 10:5-13. Accessibility of salvation through Christ bridges Old and New Testament teachings, emphasizing unity and continuity.
  • Gain insights into Romans 10:14-21, emphasizing faith, preaching, and Israel's reception of the message. Dr. Moo highlights Paul's use of Old Testament quotes and God's ongoing relationship with Israel, revealing the significance of faith and salvation.
  • Gain insight into Romans 11:11-15. Paul discusses Jewish rejection, Gentile salvation, and Jewish inclusion, aiming to provoke Jewish envy. The phrase "life from the dead" hints at spiritual renewal or future resurrection.
  • Gain insights into the Olive Tree analogy in Romans 11:16-24. Understand humility, faithfulness, and the purpose of warning passages in Scripture.
  • Discover the mystery of Israel's salvation in Romans 11:25-32. Paul reveals unity of Jews and Gentiles, challenging arrogance and emphasizing God's inclusive love.
  • Gain deeper understanding of Christian-Jewish ties, navigate theological challenges, address Israel-Palestine tensions, and embrace God's inclusive grace.
  • Gain deep insights into Romans 12:1-2: True worship extends beyond rituals, urging sacrificial living and transformation in response to God's mercy.
  • In Romans 12:3-8, Paul stresses humility, unity, and diverse gifts within the body of Christ, urging faithful stewardship for the edification of the body of Christ.
  • Gain insights into love's complexity in Romans 12:9-21. Paul urges sincere affection, alludes to Jesus' teachings, and prompts contemplation on love and judgment.
  • Gain insights into balancing submission to authorities with obedience to God. Understand the context of Paul's exhortation to Roman Christians and the complexities of submission, emphasizing humility, unity, and love in the Christian life within God's sovereignty.

Dr. Douglas Moo, from Wheaton College Graduate School, offers an exegetical examination of the book of Romans. This course was recorded during a D.Min. seminar at the Carolina Graduate School of Divinity in May 2012.

Please note that the audio mp3 file numbers on downloaded files are two greater than each lecture number beginning with number 15.

Dr. Douglas Moo 
Romans 2:17-3:20  
Lesson Transcript


Romans 2:17; 3:23-26; 3:1-8

Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God. You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you. Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God. What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar. As it is written: “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.” But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” Why not say—as some slanderously claim that we say— “Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is just!


A. Obedience is the critical Matter:  

In verses 2:17 and following, Paul turns to the issue again of the Law and circumcision. Now he is clear about addressing the Jew for the first time. Now he is explicit in verse 17, ‘you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God.’ There is that typical attitude of the Jew in Paul’s day, relying on God, we’ve been given God’s law. We can boast in God because He is our God. Paul basically says that those are great things, but you have got to do what God says. That is the key point again. He criticizes the Jews for boasting in the Law in verse 23, but dishonoring God by the breaking it. 

In verse 25 to the end of the chapter, he says basically the same thing about circumcision, this central, fundamental mark of being a Jew. It is great to be circumcised, Paul says; it is a mark that God gave His people, a sign of His covenant with them. But, again, what matters is whether you are obeying God as one who has been circumcised. That is the critical matter.


B. Being a Jew is not Going to Save You: 

In chapter 3, Paul asks a question now – ‘What advantage is there of being a Jew. What value is there in circumcision?’ Again, here is a typical device that we see Paul using a lot in Romans. He asks himself the question to move his argument to the next stage. 

In light of what Paul has said in chapter 2, Paul asking that question in verse 1, we might expect simply give the answer, ‘none at all.’ Paul, we understand what you’ve been saying: There is no more favored nation clause, Jews are the same as Gentiles. They sin just like the Gentiles do; they are judged by God for it. So, no, the Jew has no advantage. Well, Paul confounds us with his response. ‘What advantage is there in being a Jew? What value is there in circumcision? Much in every way!’ he says in verse 2. 

What we have here is what we talked about earlier; the balancing act that Paul is working at throughout the letter to the Romans. On the one hand, he wants to say to Jews, you can’t presume on your heritage to expect to be saved. But on the other hand, he continues to want to affirm that there are advantages to being Jewish. It is a good, rich, valuable heritage. 

When I have thought about preaching Romans 2 to contemporary congregations, and I’d be interested to hear what you think of this, one of the applications I thought might be appropriate here would be an application to those who have been baptized as infants in a particular church or denomination. In which I would want to say to that person if you are relying on your baptism into your own denominational community for your salvation, you are in trouble. Because it is what you have done as an individual human out of that situation and on the basis of that experience that God is going to look at. Your baptism, by itself, is not going to save you, any more than circumcision, by itself, would save a Jew. 

But I might also want to say to that person, nevertheless, that heritage you have had, that experience of being raised by godly parents, perhaps; that experience of being exposed to Christ in the church is a good heritage to have. There are good things about it that are not to be thrown away or treated lightly or with disrespect. But just don’t think that is going to be what saves you.


C. Being Religious is not Going to Save You: 

It seems to me the sort of thing that Paul is saying to the Jewish people of his day.  Paul says that I am a Jew, too. I have a great heritage; I was raised in an environment where I was taught the Scriptures. I have a great foundation. But the tendency and the problem in those kinds of contexts is precisely that I would begin relying on the fact that I was circumcised or the fact that I was born in a certain kind of home or the fact that I was raised in a certain kind of religious community; that I would rely on those things for my standing before God and there I am tested by the works that I have actually done, and those works always fall short. That is the sort of thing Paul is trying to say. Of course, the parallels aren’t exact; the Jewish people because of the Old Testament heritage stand in a unique place that no other group can claim. But there are those parallels to some of the situations we face in our day. 

I was raised in a Lutheran church, baptized, and confirmed. Whatever your theology of these things is, in my case I have to be frank and say I don’t think they worked. It wasn’t until I was a senior in college that I came, in my view, to genuine saving faith in Christ. I remember coming home and telling my dad that I had become a Christian. My dad, good Lutheran that he was, said that I had become a Christian when I was confirmed. I replied, no, I don’t think I was, Dad, I don’t think that ceremony did it. But that is the attitude, that’s the assumption that we can so easily make precisely when we have been exposed to a ‘Christian Environment.’ 

It is like having an inoculation. You get a very mild case of the measles so that you don’t get a major one. A lot of people in our culture, sadly less and less, have been inoculated, have had a little bit of religion that they think is adequate. Paul here in Romans 1 to 3, among other things, is trying to expose precisely that problem of religiosity, that doesn’t come to grips with the Gospel, doesn’t come to grips with Christ, doesn’t involve a genuine commitment of the heart but simply, a superficial experience. A lot of the Jews in Paul’s day were exactly in that situation. That is why he writes what he does here.


D. Everybody is Under Sin’s Power: 

In 3:1-8, Paul’s purpose is to say, Jews do have an advantage but please, understand it is not by any means, an absolute advantage. 

Here’s what I find to be the basic summary of the argument of Romans 2 and 3: those who obey the Law are the ones e who will be declared righteous. Verse 3:9 is a very important statement on Paul’s part: Jews and Gentiles alike are all (note the ‘all’ there) under the power of sin. This is the NIV translation; ‘under sin’ would be another way to translate this. Paul uses the language of ‘under’ with the sense of power, so I think the NIV gets the sense of what Paul is after here.

It is a very important diagnosis of the human condition. I talk about that in the commentary but central for us to understand. For Paul the problem is not that human beings sin; the problem is that human beings are under sin’s power. So, the whole problem that human beings face is far more significant, far more fundamental than just doing bad things. Rather the problem is that we are helpless slaves to doing bad things and can’t rescue ourselves. What that means then is people cannot be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the Law or by the works of the Law. 

This is what I want to talk about next. It gets us into this whole ‘New Perspective’ thing.  I’m hesitant to take us too far afield into this issue, but we need to be at least aware of this approach a little bit and understand its significance.