What does Romans chapter 3 mean?Romans 3 begins with a question-and-answer session, as if between Paul and an imagined opponent. Paul poses questions, much like those one would expect from someone taking issue with what Paul wrote in Romans chapter 2. This opponent asks what advantage there is to being a Jew, if the law can't keep individual Jewish people from facing God's judgment for their sin. Paul insists there is an advantage to Israel, as a nation, in that they have been given the "oracles"—the Word—of God. He then shows that God remains faithful to Israel in spite of her faithlessness. In fact, Israel's unrighteousness only serves to further prove God's righteousness. That does not mean, of course, that God wishes for people to sin more and more to make Him look better (Romans 3:1–8).
Next, Paul's shadow questioner asks if Jews are better off than Gentiles. This time, Paul says no. Every single person, Jew and Gentile, is under sin. Having the law doesn't change that. Paul strings together a series of quotes from the Old Testament Scriptures to show that God's Word has always taught that all humans are sinful. He begins with "none is righteous, no, not one" from Psalm 14:1. Then he quotes several verses to show how humans have always used our bodies—our throats, tongues, lips, feet, and eyes—to express our sinfulness. Then Paul delivers his most damning and conclusive sentence, yet: No human being will be justified in God's sight by following the works of the law. The law brings knowledge of sin but no hope of salvation (Romans 3:9–20).
Finally, though, Paul turns to the point of his letter to the Christians in Rome. The law can never justify us, but Paul reveals that there is a way to be declared righteous in the eyes of God apart from the law. It is available through faith in Christ for all who believe. True, all have sinned and fall short of being able to participate in God's glory. But we can be justified—declared righteous before God—through God's grace as a gift. This is something we could never earn. Salvation is possible through the atoning sacrifice of Christ's blood when He died on the cross to pay for our sin. God is the one who put Christ forward to be sacrificed in this way to show His own righteousness. Our sin must be paid for. God's just anger must be satisfied, and it was satisfied in Christ's death. That allowed God to become not the executioner but the justifier of everyone who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21–28).
Paul closes out the chapter by emphasizing that this gift is available to be received by everyone, both Jews and Gentiles alike. Nobody can earn it. Nobody deserves it. All who come by faith may receive it (Romans 3:29–31).