What Jews and Gentiles Share
“What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin.”- Romans 3:9
Guarding against a misunderstanding of his condemnation of Jewish sinners in Romans 2 is Paul’s concern in Romans 3:1–8. That is why he reminds readers that Jews have privileges as those who first received the oracles of God, privileges that Gentile sinners do not share in the history of redemption (vv. 1–2). Jews have an advantage epistemologically—with regard to knowledge—over the Gentiles, for they have a clearer revelation of the Lord’s character in the Scriptures, which confirms the impossibility of God’s ever breaking His promises (vv. 3–8). But the Apostle’s desire to make sure we hear his point loud and clear also necessitates his qualifying what the Jews’ privilege means for them in light of God’s judgment. That concern prompts him to say what he does in today’s passage.
The Jews may have a certain advantage due to their place in the history of redemption because it was to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants that the Lord first revealed Himself (Ex. 3:6), but when it comes to the prospect of sin and damnation, the Jews have no inherent advantage over the Gentiles. In fact, when it comes to human wickedness, Jews and Gentiles alike share in the condition of being “under sin” (Rom. 3:9). Paul is obviously referring to Jews and Gentiles who do not have saving faith in the God of Israel and His promises, for faithful Jews who lived before the coming of Christ cannot be said to have been under sin, having experienced the salvation of the Lord. Apart from saving faith, however, Jews and Gentiles stand on the same level playing field. Both are guilty of breaking God’s law, whether they know it in its clarity and precision as the Mosaic law or depend upon nature and conscience for understanding His standards.
Martin Luther comments on today’s passage that Paul “is not speaking about men as they are in their own eyes and before men, but as they are before God, where all are under sin, namely, both those who even to men are manifestly evil and those who in their own eyes and in the eyes of other men appear to be good.” The Apostle’s argument only works if the standard to be declared righteous before God is absolute perfection. After all, we all know “good people” who take care of their families, volunteer in their communities, and otherwise seem to be at peace with other human beings. Viewed against the Lord’s perfect justice, however, all people apart from Christ are under sin. All have failed to meet His righteous demands no matter their earthly parentage.
To be under sin is to have sin as one’s master and to suffer under the verdict of guilt before the bar of God’s justice. Christians have Christ as their master and have been pronounced righteous in Him, so we are not “under sin” in the same way that a non-Christian is. However, sin’s influence does remain until we see the Lord face-to-face, and we should never underestimate it. Through daily repentance we can mortify this sin by the Holy Spirit and become more like our Savior.
Passages for Further Study