In Romans chapter one verses 16-17 Paul declares, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” These two verses are often referred to as the heart of the letter. They state the theological theme which Paul outworks in the first seven chapters. Martin Luther wrote in his Commentary on Romans: The Gospel is called the power of God in contradistinction to the power of man. The latter is the (supposed) ability by which he, according to his carnal opinion, obtains salvation by his own strength, and performs the things which are of the flesh. But this ability God, by the cross of Christ, has utterly declared null and void, and now gives us His own power by which the spiritual – (the believer) – is empowered unto salvation.
In Romans 1:18-3:20. Paul quickly begins to paint a picture of mankind’s position before God. It’s as if Paul leads the reader into God's courtroom where all of mankind will be tried. Until man knows he is a sinner he cannot appreciate the gracious salvation God offers in Jesus Christ. Drawing on three separate arguments Paul declares that all men are sinners, guilty before God and in need of redemption. The first of Paul’s three arguments in this first section is found in Romans 1:18-32. Here Paul argues that the whole Gentile world is guilty.
Paul’s next argument is that the Jewish world is also guilty (Romans 2:1-3:8). The Jews thought that because they were God's chosen people they were exempt from judgment. They were given the Law, they had the physical sign of God’s covenant – circumcision, and they were led by God to the Promised Land where they saw victory after victory. God proved time and again that He was the one true God and He had promised never to abandon them. Surely they would escape His wrath. However, the Jews’ actions were contrary to the law. They were guilty along with everyone else.
Paul finishes his argument in Romans 2 by drawing a distinction between outward and inward circumcision. The Jews had come to depend on this outward sign of circumcision instead of the spiritual significance it represented. They had come to believe that only those who had been circumcised in the flesh were saved. Their faith was in this physical religious rite which they thought guaranteed a person’s entrance into God’s kingdom.
First Paul argued that the Gentile world is guilty. Second he declared that Jewish world is also guilty. Romans 3:9-20 presents Paul’s third argument that in fact the whole world is guilty before God! Paul finishes this first section of the letter in Romans 3:20 declaring that “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the Law is the knowledge of sin.” Some commentators have called this verse the ‘therefore of condemnation’, a horrible position for all of mankind that we will see answered completely in Romans chapter eight verse one, the ‘therefore of no condemnation’. The Jews stand condemned by the law and the Gentiles by creation and conscience, the whole world is guilty, both Jews and Gentiles need a liberator.
In Romans 3:21-22 God begins to reveal His answer to this guilt and condemnation. The two words, ‘But now’, opening chapter 3, verse 21 begin to introduce the solution to the terrible spiritual predicament facing mankind. The...