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Romans 3:9-31: Jesus as the Sacrifice of Atonement
Individuals: Take time to think back about your past week. Where have you seen God work in your life or answer prayer? Write down any prayer requests you have.
Group: Open the study by sharing life updates, reviewing highs and lows of your past week, or sharing prayer requests and praises.
Icebreaker: What story sticks in your mind about a time when you intentionally chose to sin? How did you feel after making that choice? How was that situation eventually resolved?
All: Begin the study with a word of prayer, asking God to open your heart for today’s study. You can also pray for any prayer requests now, or save that for the end.
Read today’s passage: Romans 3:9-31.
9 What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. 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.
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. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. 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 righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
What is the context for this passage?
The book of Romans was written by Paul, an apostle whose ministry was to both Jews and Gentiles, but primarily to Gentiles. He travelled around, visiting churches and preaching the gospel. The book of Romans was specifically written to Christians in Rome.
The first three chapters of Romans focus on the difference between the wickedness of humans and the righteousness of God. Some of the verses, we discussed in the God Displays Wrath for Sin study—people rejected God, so he gave them over to the sinful desires of their hearts. These chapters talk about God’s judgment for sin and the difference between hearing the law vs. obeying the law.
And then it comes to today’s passage, where it clearly states that without God, no one is righteous, and even following the law cannot make us righteous. But we can have the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ.
Read the passage again.
Explore a different version if you have one available. If you are online, here is Romans 3 in NIV through Bible Gateway. You can change the version by using the dropdown menu at the top right of the page.
Try to summarize the passage in your own words.
Answer these three questions about the passage:
1. What does the passage say about God?
God is righteous (vs. 21, 25–26). This passage clearly establishes that God is righteous. What does righteous mean? God is morally upright in every way. God’s righteousness is one of the main characteristics we think about when we say that God cannot sin.
God is a God to both the Jews and the Gentiles (vs. 22–24, 29–30). In the Old Testament, God focused on caring for the Israelites (also called Jews). Non-Israelites could “become” Israelites and follow God by being circumcised and obeying the law of Moses, but God clearly focused his attention on the Israelites and not other nations or peoples. Here, we see that God has expanded his focus to include Jews and Gentiles (basically, anyone who isn’t Jewish). Now, everyone can have salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
God is glorious (vs. 23). The glory of God is a characteristic that sets God apart as someone to be honored and worshipped. It refers not only to the core essence of who God is but also his outward beauty and majesty.
God gives grace to people (vs. 24). Without God’s grace, we as humans would be destined to suffer in hell for all eternity as punishment for our sins. God’s grace, or his goodwill toward us, extends to us the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross so that we can be saved.
God sent Jesus to be the sacrifice of atonement (vs. 25). God knew that the only way that the penalty for sin could be paid once for all was through the perfect sacrifice. And he knew that the only perfect sacrifice was God, descended to earth as a man. So he sent Jesus to earth to be that perfect sacrifice. This was the final sacrifice of atonement that was needed for the sins of the people (see Leviticus 16).
God is patient (vs. 25). This passage tells us that God has forbearance, which is another word for patience. He had the patience to leave some sins unpunished for a time until Jesus could come and pay the final penalty for those sins.
God is just (vs. 26). When a decision has to be made to resolve a situation, in this case, sin and punishment, God always makes the best, fair, and right decision.
God is the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus (vs. 26). In this context, to justify means to make something righteous before God. God will only justify those who have faith in Jesus. Those who have rejected Jesus will not be justified and will not stand as righteous before God.
2. What does the passage say about people?
Jews and Gentiles alike are under the power of sin (vs. 9–18, 23). As humans, we all are born with a fallen nature, and we all sin repeatedly and often without thought. Sin holds power over us because it is natural and instinctual.
People are not good or righteous or glorious (vs. 10, 12, 23). In contrast to what we learned about God, humans are not good and righteous and glorious. We are not morally upright. We are not worthy of admiration. We are simply sinful without God. In fact, we all fall short of God’s glory.
People do not seek God or fear him (vs. 11, 18). If humans would be left to ourselves, our natural instinct would not be to seek a relationship with God. We would not be afraid of the punishment he can bring for sins. If people don’t seek God, then if anyone is to believe in Jesus for salvation, God must be the one who chooses to seek us.
People will not be declared righteous because of the law (vs. 20). The Israelites felt that it was important to follow the law, and it was during the times of the old covenant. But as we learn throughout Jesus’ ministry, the religious leaders had taken the law too far, and they were counting on their works of the law to save them, not God. This passage makes it clear that even following the whole law consistently and without fail will not be enough to be declared righteous before God.
People are conscious of their sin because of the law (vs. 20). One of the key reasons that God gave the law was so that people would recognize the line between good and evil, right and wrong. When we know what the law is, we are able to recognize how often we fall short of the law.
People have no right to boast before God or other people (vs. 27). In Jesus’ time, the religious leaders often boasted about how righteous they were because they followed the law. They looked down on anyone who wasn’t able to uphold the law as well as they did. In this passage, Paul puts all that boasting to rest. Even following the law isn’t enough to make you righteous before God.
People must uphold God’s law (vs. 31). Even though the works of the law are not what make us righteous before God, if we are to be obedient to God, we must still uphold the law. We still must be obedient to whatever God commands.
3. What does the passage say about God’s plan?
God’s plan is that sin brings ruin, misery, and lack of peace (vs. 16–17). The world would have us believe that sinning is fun. That by cheating the system, we can have power, success, and happiness. Instead, the opposite happens. Sin brings ruin and misery.
God’s plan is that everyone will be accountable to him (vs. 19). One day, all of us will stand before God and be held accountable for what we did on this earth. The standard he will measure you against is how well you were able to be obedient and not sin. Guess what? We have all sinned. None of us will measure up to that standard.
God’s plan is that his righteousness will be given to all who have faith in Jesus Christ (vs. 22). If we believe in Jesus, our unrighteousness is exchanged for God’s righteousness. God will no longer see all of the sins we committed and how much we don’t measure up. Instead, he will only see his own righteousness reflected back at him.
God’s plan is that all people can be justified before God because of God’s grace and because of the redemption that came through Jesus (vs. 24). The only way that we can stand before God as righteous is if we have faith in Jesus and exchange our unrighteousness for his righteousness. This exchange is completely an act of God’s grace; there’s nothing we can do on our own to be righteous before God. That grace came through the act of Jesus on the cross paying the penalty for our sins.
God’s plan is that Christ’s sacrifice must be received by faith (vs. 25, 28). Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. But in order to have that sacrifice applied on our behalf, we must receive that gift by faith. There’s nothing we can do to earn that gift. We must simply believe.
How does the passage fit into the overarching story of the Bible?
Sometimes it’s easier to understand a passage if you have a little outside knowledge from other passages in the Bible. This section will help provide that outside perspective.
Paul was an apostle at a time of great transition for the Christian faith. The Jews had relied on the law of Moses so significantly that they had a hard time removing themselves from that law. The Jews even forced that law on Gentiles who wanted to follow God, because at the time, that was the way to have a relationship with God. But all that changed with Jesus’ death on the cross. Now, all the works that went along with the law, including the sacrifices and the act of circumcision, were unnecessary. The old covenant and the old law were fulfilled through Jesus, and the new covenant was in place.
Paul, Peter, and the other apostles gave significant teaching to both the Jews and the Gentiles to change their way of thinking to be aligned with the new covenant instead of the old covenant. This is one of those Scriptures that demonstrates that the works of the old law were not enough to save people. Instead, to be saved, we must be justified by faith in Jesus Christ.
Individual: Answer the following questions thoughtfully for yourself.
Group: Pose these questions for discussion.
All: If you are willing to share, I’d love to hear your thoughts to these questions. Feel free to use the comment section to start a discussion about this passage.
What else strikes you about this passage?
How does the passage affect how you view God? How you view yourself?
How does this passage affect how you will live your life?
For Bible Essential studies, you can use my thoughts as your devotional, or you can download and use the journaling sheet to work through the passage on your own. If desired, you can then compare your thoughts to mine. Journal sheets can be downloaded and used now or later. They can be printed and filled in by hand or saved and filled out electronically. Journal sheets are available for individual or group use.
If you plan to lead a group study, a PowerPoint presentation is also available.
You can access these resources by clicking here: Romans 3 Resources