Chapter 3 is the big one! Everyone is the same: all under the power of sin, all falling short of God’s glory and his standards of holiness. And, left to his own human devices, “…there is no-one who seeks God” (3:11). No-one will be declared acceptable to God by obeying the Law; the only point in having the Law is to be more quickly made conscious of our sin. It is the same for Jewish sinners as it is for Gentile ones, and the Jewish sinners ought to have an advantage, since they have the words of God in the Old Testament scriptures already, pointing them towards Jesus and convicting them of sin. Gentiles just have their consciences to direct them.
“But NOW…” (3:21). Our faith is firmly based upon historical events and verifiable facts. At a certain point in human history, God did something that made the difference! Before the ‘now’ – the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ – the rules were different and this method of forgiveness was not possible; ‘now’ everything has changed and righteousness can be obtained by faith, independently of keeping the Law.
“God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood.” (3:25). To ‘Atone’ means to deflect the wrath of God that would otherwise be sent as punishment for sin. We read in 2 Corinthians 5 that Christ became sin on behalf of sinful mankind; it is as though Jesus was the ‘lightening conductor’ that took the ‘bolts’ of God’s righteous anger away from us and instead through his own body. It did two things simultaneously: it satisfied God’s justice, since every sin must justly be punished or else God wouldn’t be being just. And it enabled God to ‘justify’ us – to declare us acceptable to him – since we have no further sins to be punished for.
If you are trapped in a great forest fire, the only safe place is where the fire has already burned out the foliage, since it cannot be burned twice. Similarly, if we want to avoid the justifiable wrath of a holy God directed against our sin, the ‘place of safety’ is where God’s fire has already fallen – on his only Son on that cross. “… But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him”. (Hebrews 9:26-28). “But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice, he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy”. (Hebrews 10:12-14)
So that’s the end of boasting! We have done nothing, and He has done it all. It makes no difference whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, a Protestant or a Catholic, an evangelical or a liberal; you will end up as an ex-Jew, ex-Gentile, ex-Protestant, ex-Catholic, ex-evangelical or ex-liberal, and with a new life by faith in Christ. “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”.