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Romans 3:20

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Therefore, by the deeds of the law - On the score of obedience to this moral law, there shall no flesh, ου πασα σαρξ, no human being, be justified; none can be accepted in the sight of God. And why? Because by the law is the knowledge of sin: it is that which ascertains what sin is; shows how men have deviated from its righteous demands; and sentences them to death because they have broken it. Thus the law is properly considered as the rule of right; and, unless God had given some such means of discovering what Sin is, the darkened heart of man could never have formed an adequate conception of it. For, as an acknowledged straight edge is the only way in which the straightness or crookedness of a line can be determined, so the moral obliquity of human actions can only be determined by the law of God; that rule of right which proceeds from his own immaculate holiness.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

By the deeds of the law - By works; or by such deeds as the Law requires. The word “Law” has, in the Scriptures, a great variety of significations. Its strict and proper meaning is, a rule of conduct prescribed by superior authority. The course of reasoning in these chapters shows the sense in which the apostle uses it here. He intends evidently to apply it to those rules or laws by which the Jews and Gentiles pretended to frame their lives; and to affirm that people could be justified by no conformity to those laws. He had shown Romans 1:26, Romans 1:29-31; Romans 2:28-29. The conclusion is therefore a general one, that by no law, made known either by reason, conscience, tradition, or revelation, could man be justified; that there was no form of obedience which could be rendered, that would justify people in the sight of a holy God.

There shall no flesh - No man; no human being, either among the Jews or the Gentiles. It is a strong expression, denoting the absolute universality of his conclusion; see the note at Romans 1:3.

Be justified - Be regarded and treated as righteous. None shall be esteemed as having kept the Law, and as being entitled to the rewards of obedience; see the note at Romans 1:17.

In his sight - Before him. God sits as a Judge to determine the characters of people, and he shall not adjudge any to have kept the Law.

For by the law - That is, by all law. The connection shows that this is the sense. Law is a rule of action. The effect of applying a rule to our conduct is to show us what sin is. The meaning of the apostle clearly is, that the application of a law to try our conduct, instead of being a ground of justification, will be merely to show us our own sinfulness and departures from duty. A man may esteem himself to be very right and correct, until he compares himself with a rule, or law; so whether the Gentiles compared their conduct with their laws of reason and conscience, or the Jew his with his written law, the effect would be to show them how far they had departed. The more closely and faithfully it should be applied, the more they would see it. So far from being justified by it, they would be more and more condemned; compare Romans 7:7-10. The same is the case now. This is the way in which a sinner is converted; and the more closely and faithfully the Law is preached, the more will it condemn him, and show him that he needs some other plan of salvation.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
It is in vain to seek for justification by the works of the law. All must plead guilty. Guilty before God, is a dreadful word; but no man can be justified by a law which condemns him for breaking it. The corruption in our nature, will for ever stop any justification by our own works.
Ellen G. White
Selected Messages Book 1, 347

There are many who cry, “Believe, only believe.” Ask them what you are to believe. Are you to believe the lies forged by Satan against God's holy, just, and good law? God does not use His great and precious grace to make of none effect His law, but to establish His law. What is the decision of Paul? He says: “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law.... For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and [the commandment then ended?—No.] I [Paul] died.... Wherefore the law is [standing directly in the way of my having liberty and peace?—No.] holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:7-12). 1SM 347.1

Paul learned that there was no power in the law to pardon the transgressor of law. “By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified” (Romans 3:20). “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:3, 4). 1SM 347.2

The Lord saw our fallen condition; He saw our need of grace, and because He loved our souls, He has given us grace and peace. Grace means favor to one who is undeserving, to one who is lost. The fact that we are sinners, instead of shutting us away from the mercy and love of God, makes the exercise of His love to us a positive necessity in order that we may be saved. Christ says, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain” (John 15:16). 1SM 347.3

When Adam fell, provision was made for his restoration. In due time Jesus, the Prince of life, came to our world to enter into controversy with the powers of darkness. In this world Satan had an opportunity to exhibit the result of the working out of his principles of freedom from all law, and Christ, by His unswerving obedience to His Father's commandments, made manifest the result of practicing the principles of righteousness. In accordance with his principles of evil, Satan harassed the Son of God with fierce temptations, and finally brought Him to the judgment hall, that He might be condemned to death without cause. The confederacy of evil moved upon the hearts of men to work out the principles of evil. Christ and Barabbas were presented before the multitude. Barabbas was a notable robber and murderer; Christ was the Son of God. Pilate looked upon the two, and thought there would be no hesitation in the choice of Jesus. The marks of nobility, intelligence, and purity were plainly revealed in His countenance, in marked contrast to the coarse features of Barabbas. He asked, “Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? (Matthew 27:21). And the hoarse cry of the infuriated mob was heard, calling, “Barabbas.” “Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified. And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified” (Matthew 27:22, 23). 1SM 347.4

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Ellen G. White
Selected Messages Book 1, 219

“By the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20); for “sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). It is through the law that men are convicted of sin; and they must feel themselves sinners, exposed to the wrath of God, before they will realize their need of a Saviour. Satan is continually at work to lessen man's estimate of the grievous character of sin. And those who trample the law of God under their feet are doing the work of the great deceiver; for they are rejecting the only rule by which they can define sin, and bring it home to the conscience of the transgressor. 1SM 219.1

The Law of God reaches to those secret purposes, which, though they may be sinful, are often passed over lightly, but which are in reality the basis and the test of character. It is the mirror into which the sinner is to look if he would have a correct knowledge of his moral character. And when he sees himself condemned by that great standard of righteousness, his next move must be to repent of his sins, and seek forgiveness through Christ. Failing to do this, many try to break the mirror which reveals their defects, to make void the law which points out the blemishes in their life and character. 1SM 219.2

We are living in an age of great wickedness. Multitudes are enslaved by sinful customs and evil habits, and the fetters that bind them are difficult to break. Iniquity, like a flood, is deluging the earth. Crimes almost too fearful to be mentioned, are of daily occurrence. And yet men professing to be watchmen on the walls of Zion will teach that the law was designed for the Jews only, and passed away with the glorious privileges that ushered in the gospel age. Is there not a relation between the prevailing lawlessness and crime, and the fact that ministers and people hold and teach that the law is no longer of binding force? 1SM 219.3

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Ellen G. White
The Great Controversy, 467

The law of God, from its very nature, is unchangeable. It is a revelation of the will and the character of its Author. God is love, and His law is love. Its two great principles are love to God and love to man. “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” Romans 13:10. The character of God is righteousness and truth; such is the nature of His law. Says the psalmist: “Thy law is the truth:” “all Thy commandments are righteousness.” Psalm 119:142, 172. And the apostle Paul declares: “The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” Romans 7:12. Such a law, being an expression of the mind and will of God, must be as enduring as its Author. GC 467.1

It is the work of conversion and sanctification to reconcile men to God by bringing them into accord with the principles of His law. In the beginning, man was created in the image of God. He was in perfect harmony with the nature and the law of God; the principles of righteousness were written upon his heart. But sin alienated him from his Maker. He no longer reflected the divine image. His heart was at war with the principles of God's law. “The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” Romans 8:7. But “God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son,” that man might be reconciled to God. Through the merits of Christ he can be restored to harmony with his Maker. His heart must be renewed by divine grace; he must have a new life from above. This change is the new birth, without which, says Jesus, “he cannot see the kingdom of God.” GC 467.2

The first step in reconciliation to God is the conviction of sin. “Sin is the transgression of the law.” “By the law is the knowledge of sin.” 1 John 3:4; Romans 3:20. In order to see his guilt, the sinner must test his character by God's great standard of righteousness. It is a mirror which shows the perfection of a righteous character and enables him to discern the defects in his own. GC 467.3

The law reveals to man his sins, but it provides no remedy. While it promises life to the obedient, it declares that death is the portion of the transgressor. The gospel of Christ alone can free him from the condemnation or the defilement of sin. He must exercise repentance toward God, whose law has been transgressed; and faith in Christ, his atoning sacrifice. Thus he obtains “remission of sins that are past” and becomes a partaker of the divine nature. He is a child of God, having received the spirit of adoption, whereby he cries: “Abba, Father!” GC 467.4

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Ellen G. White
Selected Messages Book 1, 363

If you would stand through the time of trouble, you must know Christ, and appropriate the gift of His righteousness, which He imputes to the repentant sinner.—The Review and Herald, November 22, 1892. 1SM 363.1

Through Christ, restoration as well as reconciliation is provided for man. The gulf that was made by sin has been spanned by the cross of Calvary. A full, complete ransom has been paid by Jesus, by virtue of which the sinner is pardoned, and the justice of the law is maintained. All who believe that Christ is the atoning sacrifice may come and receive pardon for their sins; for through the merit of Christ, communication has been opened between God and man. God can accept me as His child, and I can claim Him and rejoice in Him as my loving Father. We must center our hopes of heaven upon Christ alone, because He is our substitute and surety. 1SM 363.2

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