Calvary Road Baptist Church


Roman 3.19-20


It was in April of last year that we began our Sunday evening study of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome. And this evening we reach what is our first milestone in our study of this great book. Romans, the great missions epistle of the New Testament, has as its goal the convincing of Christians to become involved in Paul’s aggressive evangelistic missions and Church planting ministry. And to accomplish his goal in the letter to the Romans, Paul needed to arrive at four distinct milestones in the thinking of his readers. That is to say; there were four separate truths he needed to drive home, four distinct concepts that he wanted to communicate, four realities he longed for the Romans to understand. That done, he knew the Holy Spirit of God would do His part to move the Roman believers in the right direction and grow them spiritually for involvement in world missions and aggressive evangelism.

And what are these four concepts Paul wanted to communicate? What are these four realities he wanted his readers to grasp? What are these four separate truths he wanted to drive home? Let me share the first one with you at this time, and the second one I will let you in on when we next consider the letter to the Romans. To enlist the support of Christians in worldwide missions, and to motivate believers to involve themselves with him in aggressive evangelism and soul winning, Paul first needed to establish in the minds of his readers the need for justification. That is, when you want to build a missions-minded Church you must convince believers, you must convince the members, beyond any shadow of doubt, that every man and every woman and every boy and every girl stands before God in need of a justification that cannot be supplied by one’s self. You have a need you can’t meet. Some of the most profound needs a person has are needs a person is unaware of.

To refresh your memory from our most recent foray into Romans I remind you what is this thing called justification? “A forensic (legal) term related to the idea of acquittal, justification refers to the divine act whereby God makes humans, who are sinful and therefore worthy of condemnation, acceptable before a God who is holy and righteous. More appropriately described as ‘justification by grace through faith,’ this key doctrine of the Reformation asserts that a sinner is justified (pardoned from the punishment and condemnation of sin) and brought into relationship with God by faith in God’s grace alone.”[1]

To restate: Justification is the act whereby someone who is guilty is declared to be innocent and is then given the standing and position of someone who is innocent, even though by personal experience the person is not innocent. So, justification is a legal finding made by a judge. Setting aside the details of how it is done for the moment, justification occurs when a judge drops his gavel and declares the guilty criminal standing before him innocent of all charges and free to go. And justification is what happens when a sinner comes to Jesus Christ for forgiveness and cleansing. If this sounds unjust to you, remember that the penalty for sin was paid by the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. Justice has been well served.

From Romans 1.18 all the way through Romans 3.18, Paul has been seeking to lay the foundation for that great truth in a variety of ways. First, he established, in Romans chapters one and two, this great need of man by showing the problem mankind possesses. Each and every human being has this need because each and every human being has this problem. That whether you be Gentile or Jew, whether you be moral or immoral, whether you be religious or unreligious, your behavior clearly illustrates that you do not have a relationship with the one true and living God. And why is that a problem? Without a relationship with God, you stand condemned to Hell. That’s a problem.

But don’t think that sinners ever accepted quietly Paul’s conclusion that they stand condemned in the sight of God. Anticipating vehement objections that they were condemned in the sight of God at every stage of his ministry experience, Paul knows he needs to elaborate, especially with respect to Jewish sinners, in his efforts to show that their Scriptures proved them to be under the dominion of sin. “How can we be under sin?” the Jewish person especially would ask. “We observe the Law.” In today’s text, the final two verses in Paul’s Scriptural demonstration of man’s need of justification, this final objection is dealt with. What about the Law?

We are about to see precisely to whom and for what reason the Law was given. Our text contains two statements which affirm this great issue. Read along with me Romans 3.19-20: 

19  Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.

20  Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. 


The purpose of the Law is seen in the concern of the Law, Romans 3.19: 

“Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law.” 

What powerful truth is contained in this declaration of the Law’s concern. What error, among the cultists of our day like the Seventh Day Adventists, as well as among the legalists in so many Christian ministries these days, and among the sincere but profoundly mistaken Covenant Theologians, would be quickly eliminated by simply taking this profound statement at its face value? Just pay attention to what Paul writes! What does this phrase mean? Cultists are committed to a salvation by works scheme that supposes they can adhere to the Law of Moses or some portion thereof. Legalistic Christian ministries, while not so much emphasizing adherence to the Law of Moses, do foist upon the unsuspecting in their congregations the notion that spirituality is attained by adherence to the pastor’s rules and regulations as substitutes for the Law of Moses. In other words, you have to obey my dress code rules. You have to obey my behavioral standards. And that’s a substitute for the Law of Moses, and if you do that in most IFB Churches (I am sorry to say) you would qualify as spiritual. You qualify as spiritual if you do whatever the preacher says even if you don’t ever do what God says. Sad. And Covenant Theologians suppose the Law of Moses can be divided into two parts, the ceremonial Law (sacrifices and such) and the moral Law (truth telling, obeying the Sabbath and such), with only the moral Law binding on Christians of our day.[2] The problem with that understanding, of course, is the insistence by the epistle of James that the Law is a unified whole that cannot be so divided into ceremonial and moral parts, James 2.10. My conviction is that the phrase before us means that the Law speaks directly only to the Jewish people. And let me tell you what my reasons are for believing this: First, note the three words “what things soever.” These three words translate a single Greek word, a relative pronoun. And the word suggests that whatever in the world the Law says (here referring to the entire Old Testament)[3] it says to them who are under the Law (referring here to the Law of Moses), no matter what the Law is saying. Moral code? Dietary restrictions? Sabbath observance? Various ordinances? They are only for those who are under the Law according to Paul. He would know. But who are they who are under the Law? Though many commentators and theologians are convinced everyone is under the Law, Deuteronomy 5.2-3 speaks very decisively. Moses said to the children of Israel who he had led from Egyptian bondage to the foot of Mount Sinai where God gave him the Law, 

2  The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb.

3  The LORD made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day. 

This passage shows us beyond doubt that the Law of Moses wasn’t even given to all Jewish people, but only to those Jews who were with Moses at Mount Sinai and their descendants. Those Jews who lived and died before this time were not included. And Gentiles were certainly excluded from the covenant relationship with God referred to here by Moses. Ephesians 2.12 clearly shows Gentiles to be strangers from the covenants of promise! The concern of the Law is thus established clearly by what Paul has written. The Law speaks directly only to the Jewish people of the nation of Israel, from the time of Moses onward. Pretty clear.

The purpose of the Law is also seen in the consequence of the Law. There are two direct consequences mentioned by Paul in Romans 3.19: First, there is the consequence of the Law with all men: 

“that every mouth may be stopped.” 

You moms can visualize what Paul is getting at here. You walk into the kitchen. Jimmy has your flour all over the floor. When he sees you, he begins to voice a protest of his innocence, but you raise your hand and look at him just so. Caught red-handed, his protestations of innocence get caught in his throat. If he fears you the way he ought to fear you, mom, he will shut it down right there.[4] This is what the Law does to the Jewish person who would otherwise deny his guilt. He has been so completely caught in the act of sin that he must be silent. But what about the Gentiles? Paul, here, is logically arguing from lesser to greater. No one would argue that if the Jewish mouths are stopped, no one would question that the Gentile’s mouths would also be stopped since no one argued for the moral superiority of the Gentiles over the Jewish people. Then, there is the consequence of the Law with God: 

“and all the world may become guilty before God.” 

The Law does not prove to God that men are guilty of sin. God has always known that men are universally guilty of sin. What the Law does is vindicate God’s holiness and righteousness. It shows Him to be just in His dealings with Jewish people in holding them accountable for their sin. “And how can this be the consequence of the Law, when the concern of the Law is only the Jewish people?” Good question. Every mouth is stopped, and all the world has become guilty because the Jewish people are no different than anyone else, insofar as sinfulness is concerned. What the Law proves and illustrates in their lives applies to everyone else’s life as well. So, what about the purpose of the Law? It was given to the Jewish people led by Moses and their heirs to establish that all men are guilty of sin in the sight of God. 


Romans 3.20: 

“Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” 

It seems to be in the bosom of the lost man to think that he can somehow merit God’s pleasure, or earn a saving relationship with God, by doing some good thing or performing some good work. And, of course, the most highly developed philosophy of works righteousness the world has ever seen was the works of the Mosaic Law religious system that existed in our Lord’s and Paul’s day. Nowadays this attitude is anemically imitated by the person who thinks he is going to heaven because he keeps the Ten Commandments, or because “I try to do my best,” or because he sells more Watchtowers on the corner than anyone else. But whatever the form of this do-good-to-get-saved philosophy, there has to be a standard that flesh supposedly measures up to to be justified in the sight of God. And the highest such standard ever used for such purposes is the Law of Moses. Therefore, let’s take note of how Paul deals with this perversion of the Law that was given to the Jews.

First, there is Paul’s refutation: 

“Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight.” 

Here we see evidence, from Paul’s refutation, that there were people who claimed to be justified in the sight of God by performing certain deeds of the Law. And, no doubt, they were meticulous in their observances. Orthodox Jews in our day, for instance, keep two refrigerators so as never to mingle dairy products with meat products, so as not to in any way violate the prohibition of Exodus 23.19 and 34.26, 

“Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk.” 

But whether it be circumcision or Sabbath day observance, ritual baptism to wash away sins or giving tithes of everything you receive, or the rigid observance of dietary codes and other so-called works of the Law, we are told that this is not the way a man is justified in the sight of God. How would the requirements encoded in the Law guide us in principle in the 21st century? No amount of giving to the Church, or giving to Jerry Lewis’s kids, or building a hospital for the benefit of little children (St. Jude’s), or singing in the Church choir, or speaking in tongues, or going soul winning, or reading your Bible, or praying, or dressing modestly, will justify you in the sight of God. And how dare I make such an assertion? I do not make such an assertion. The inspired pen of the apostle of Jesus Christ makes the assertion. I just preach it.

Then, there is the reason for Paul’s refutation. Why will doing deeds of the Law not justify flesh in the sight of God? Why cannot you or I, or anyone else, do such things to please God and thus be rewarded with eternal life? 

“for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” 

The Law was not given to justify, but to give sinners knowledge of their sinfulness. Just as a pair of pliers can’t fly, and just as a locomotive can’t float, and an airplane can’t plow a field, the Law cannot justify flesh in the sight of God. A thing will only do what it has been designed to do. Locomotives only pull cars on tracks. Pliers only round off the corners of nuts and bolt heads. Airplanes only fly. In like manner, the Law only gives knowledge of sin. It wasn’t designed or empowered to do anything else. Therefore, to attempt to use the Law of Moses for any other purpose or with any other people is to pervert the Law. 

The only method that sinful man has ever devised to justify himself in the sight of God is by doing good deeds of some kind. That is how religions of every kind differ from the Christian faith. It has always been hoped by unregenerate man that the performance of good deeds will please God so much that He will thus judge the do-gooder worthy of heaven and eternal life. Search the world high and low, and you will find that the greatest and most noble standard by which such good deeds are evaluated is the Law God gave to Moses and the children of Israel on Mount Sinai, also called Horeb. But even this is insufficient, as Romans 1.18 - 3.20 has proved, and as we have seen in our text today.

What, then, does this mean for sinful men? It means if you are attempting to be justified in the sight of God by these types of things you are still in need of justification. Since justification in this manner simply doesn’t work, men are still in need of justification. It just has to come another way. Does this convince Paul’s readers that men are in need of justification? Yes, it does. The best men can do simply does not do. After they are all done doing what they do, they are still in need of being justified.

That means you, my friend. Do your very best, and you still need to be justified in the sight of God. Your best, my best, isn’t good enough. There has to be another way. That other way is Jesus Christ. How many of you have already realized that Jesus Christ is the only way and you have trusted Him as your Savior? And how many of you have not yet committed your life to Christ? Now, how many of you Christians realize now as never before how desperate is man’s need, and you are willing to take a step of commitment and become involved in our Church’s outreach and evangelism ministries?


[1] Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki & Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1999), page 69.

[2] David H. J. Gay has written extensively on this approach to Law observance being introduced by Roman Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) who first posited the three uses of the Law that was divided into two parts, the ceremonial Law and the moral Law, and that approach being accepted by the Reformers. Specifically, see David H. J. Gay, Christ Is All: No Sanctification By The Law, (Bedford, UK: Brachus, 2013), pages 25-26, 35-37.

[3] William Hendricksen, Exposition Of Paul’s Epistle To The Romans, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1981), page 124.

[4] Leviticus 19.3

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