4.4 Romans -- the Shortcomings of the Law
Rom 2:17-29, Rom 3:1-20. Here, Paul has to walk a tightrope. How can he badmouth something which was not only good, but God-ordained? But the universe has changed within the last few years: the Law has become an impediment to salvation, instead of a means to it. No longer can it be used as a tool for Gentile-bashing. What Paul was trying to get people to see, especially the Jews who had an ingrained attachment to the Law, was that the entire legal/sacrificial mode of doing religion had been superseded in the Kingdom of God. Now one became part of the family of God through rebirth from above by the Holy Spirit -- righteousness was relational rather than behavioral.
"A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God" (Rom 2:28-29).
One can almost hear the Temple walls collapsing at these words. In a sense, he takes the entire Old Testament and spiritualizes it. It is not the Law that works righteousness in a man because of good deeds, but the Spirit who works it in him (through faith).
He then appears to backtrack to list advantages of being a Jew (Rom 3:1). However, he finds only one advantage: Jews were entrusted with the words of God. But he immediately reverts to the sin problem:
"Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin" (Rom 3:9).
He uses the Old Testament Scriptures to show that "there is no one righteous, not even one" (Ps 14:3). He restates his prior conclusion:
"Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin " (Rom 3:20).
In this last phrase, he gives another jolt to the traditional reading of the Old Testament. The Law does have its use, after all -- it brings before us the awareness of our own lack of holiness. It shows us that we are liable to God's judgment. It does not make us right with God.