A Commentary by John Stott
The ‘But now’ of 3:21 is one of the great adversatives of the Bible. For into the universal darkness of human sin and guilt the light of the gospel has shone. Paul again calls it ‘the righteousness of (or from) God’ (as in 1:17), that is, his just justification of the unjust. This is possible only through the cross, in which God has demonstrated his justice (3:25f.) as well as his love (5:8), and it is available to ‘all who believe’ (3:22), whether Jews or Gentiles. In explaining the cross, Paul resorts to the key words ‘propitiation’, redemption’ and ‘justification’. And then, in responding to Jewish objections (3:27-31), he argues that because justification is by faith alone, there can be no boasting before God, no discrimination between Jews and Gentiles and no disregard for the law.
Romans 4 is a brilliant essay in which Paul proves that Abraham, the founding father of Israel, was himself justified neither by his works (4-8), nor by his circumcision (9-12), nor by the law (13-15), but by faith. In consequence, Abraham is now ‘the father of all who believe’, irrespective of whether they are Jews or Gentiles (11, 16-25). The divine impartiality is evident.
Having established that God justifies even the wicked by faith (4:5), Paul affirms the great blessings enjoyed by his justified people (5:1-11). *Therefore*, he begins, we have peace with God, we are standing in his grace, and we rejoice in the prospect of seeing and sharing his glory. Even suffering does not shake our confidence, because of God’s love which he has both poured into our hearts through his Spirit (5) and proved on the cross through his Son (8). Because of what God has already done for us, we dare to say that ‘we shall be saved’ on the last day (9-10).
Two human communities have now been portrayed, the one characterized by sin and guilt, the other by grace and faith. The head of the old humanity is Adam, the head of the new is Christ. So then, with almost mathematical precision, Paul compares and contrasts them (5:12-21). The comparison is simple. In both cases the one deed of one man has affected enormous numbers of people. The contrast, however, is much more significant. Whereas Adam’s disobedience brought condemnation and death, Christ’s obedience has brought justification and life. Indeed, Christ’s saving work will prove far more successful than Adam’s destructiveness.
In the middle of this antithesis between Adam and Christ, Paul introduces Moses: ‘the law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more’ (20). Both statements will have sounded shocking in Jewish ears, because they will have seemed incorrigibly antinomian. The first appeared to blame sin on the law, and the second to minimise sin by magnifying grace. Did Paul’s gospel both disparage the law and encourage sin? Paul answers the second charge in Romans 6, and the first in Romans 7.
Tomorrow: The grace of God (continued) 3:21-8:39.