"Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God's sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin." - Rom 3:20 (NIV)
Paul says that both Jews and Gentiles are all under the power of sin (10) so that no one is better than the other (9). No one can be 'safe' from the dominion of sin. Challenges and trials are present all around us as well as within us. Our thoughts, words, actions are polluted by our nature as sinners.
So if God reveals himself to us, will we automatically become holy and become His faithful followers? No. It is not automatically. The more we know the Scriptures the more we know about sin. Similarly, when a child does not know that stealing is evil, he will continue to steal and steal. But when he knows the law that stealing is evil, then he will know that it is not worth doing. That's what Paul said, that the Torah opened the way for people to know sin (20).
But even though stealing is a sin, why do so many people steal? Rules cannot prevent humans from sinning. It was what actually happened with the Jews. Torah, which was the guideline, was not able to prevent humans' desire to sin. Moreover, the law of Torah is numerous. There are 613 laws in Torah. It's even impossible for humans to do all the laws. No man can save himself by the virtue of deeds. However, thanks to God, that it is God Himself who has carried out (fulfilled) the Torah perfectly through His Son, so Torah is not a condition of salvation. Salvation is completely a gift, and the only way to receive it is through faith.
So there is no other way for humans to be saved than to hope in God's grace. The Bible often tells that God has a concern for humans. Not because humans are perfect, but because we are fragile, weak, sinful and need the grace of God.
The main thing Paul is trying to say is that salvation is a gift from God and it is not the result of human efforts. We should not do good in order to get salvation from God, but we should do good because God loves us.
Reflection on Roman 3:9-20 by Fr. Fransiskus Diaz, SVD
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