Have you ever gotten stuck in a decision (or a discussion) where both options (or viewpoints) seem equally bad? It seems likfe there’s no good way to proceed, and you’re ready to accept some sort of sub-optimal solution. But then, a wise third party points out that there are more than two valid paths. Suddenly, both of the bad options can be discarded (with much satisfaction) and the new, better solution becomes the focus of moving forward.
Since the law wasn’t enough for Jewish people to be justified from sin, and Gentiles were condemned by their consciences, Romans 2:12 kind of seems like a no-win situation, with two equally unpleasant choices.
All 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.
Romans 2:12 NIV
However, Romans 3:21 gives us good news, which happens to be a great message about the gospel, itself: There is another way. As the Lookout (referenced below) put it, “A new way to be right with God happened through God’s own initiative.”
And, this isn’t something that God hid from everyone until Jesus came to earth as a baby, although the full picture didn’t take shape until God revealed to us the next phase of what He had planned all along. The Scriptures testify to this plan, even if those who read them didn’t necessarily get it at the time. Like the prophecies about Jesus that were fulfilled (even though they were sometimes fulfilled in different ways than people expected), a review of Scripture (especially what we call the Old Testament) helps confirm the revelation of God’s plan and the validity of Jesus’ ministry, through what had been written before.
Rather than dwelling on the two options that sin gives us in Romans 2:12, let’s take a look at a longer passage from Romans 3, to learn how this “third option” is obtained:
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
Romans 3:21-24 NIV
After letting us know that there is an alternative to perishing or being judged for our sins, this passage tells us that Jesus Christ is the other means to righteousness, through belief. In fact, this is the only way of being justified that actually can be obtained by sinful people (like you and me).
And, here we have a great leveling of the “playing field”, so to speak, or – as was suggested in an earlier article – level ground at the foot of the cross. It doesn’t matter if you are Jewish or non-Jewish: every one of us has sinned, every one of us didn’t live up to the righteousness of God’s glory.
In fact, while we might like to quote Romans 3:23 (starting with “for all have sinned…”) on it’s own, and that’s probably OK, it is even more powerful in context, here. In fact, the message that leads into verse 23 doesn’t start with everyone sinning: it includes a word of hope in verse 21 about another way to obtain justification, and it tells us how to obtain that justification while also breaking down differences in verse 22.
And, the message doesn’t end there, with the fact that “everybody sinned”. It extends this free justification by God’s grace to all people (see verse 24), and confirms that this salvation was obtained by nothing less than Jesus Christ, Himself.
- Everyone of us has sinned, regardless of our background.
- Any sin invalidates us from being righteous before God. No one gets a free pass.
- God made another way for those of us who chose not to be good on our own (which happens to be each of us).
- Jesus provided redemption / salvation for us, even though we were sinners.
- We can accept God’s offer of righteousness through Jesus when we believe – when we have faith – that He did, in fact, pay for our sins by dying for us.
Now, that last step is much richer and more life-changing than it might seem on the surface: belief and faith in Jesus result in our learning more and following His instructions for a better life with God, out of love and obedience. However, that process starts with hearing and faith (see Romans 10:14-15).
If you hesitate to tell other people about how to find salvation through Jesus Christ, and you don’t talk about your faith because you’re afraid that someone might ask you a question about it, I encourage you to start with Romans 3, verse 21. Or, if you’ve never heard that good news, I encourage you to re-read the passage above, and keep reading from there (whether in your own Bible, or an online version like the one that is linked in various places in this article).
There are those who memorize several verses from Romans (sometimes called “the Romans Road”), to explain the gospel to those who don’t know Jesus, and that’s a great summary of good news that Jesus brought to us. But, if you are concerned about remembering all of them, just keep a bookmark in your Bible at Romans 3:21, and start there to find a great story of man’s sinfulness and God’s grace, which you can read in just a few verses!
From Sunday School lesson prepared for February 6, 2022
- The Lookout, February 6, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Romans, Volume 1, by Jack Cottrell. College Press Publishing Company, © 1996.