The Message of the Apostle Paul
The book of Romans is the doctrinal jewel of the New Testament. Here the great apostle most thoroughly expounds the gospel committed to his trust. Not being able to visit the church at Rome, he set about to write it out fully. And lest any suspicion might lurk in any mind that some important feature or ingredient be missing, Paul closes his presentation by saying, "I have fully preached the gospel." Rom. 15:19.
The message of Romans is the justification (acceptance and right standing) of sinful men in the sight of God. Before showing how this is achieved, the apostle shows how it can never be achieved. He says: "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight." Rom. 3:20.
Unless we read Paul's words carefully, their very familiarity will camouflage their devastating truth. He is not just telling us about the act of becoming justified. It is not so hard to get people to admit that they must look beyond their own experience for Christian initiation. But Paul is speaking about being justified—i.e., not merely becoming, but more especially remaining righteous in the sight of God. Therefore what Paul means is this: No man will ever be considered righteous on the basis of his performance. No man's life will ever be good enough to satisfy infinite justice. Let him scale ever so high upon the alpine heights of sanctification, the law will still say, "Not good enough." Good deeds, holy living are important. They have their place. But in the matter of our being righteous in God's sight, they have no place. No mortal human life, however sanctified by God's Spirit, will ever satisfy the law. Romans 3:20 will still be present truth during the time of trouble.
Let mortal man awake out of his dream and realize he has to reckon with the Eternal Majesty, by whose brightness the stars are darkened (Job 3:9), whose righteousness not even the angels can bear (Job 4:18), before whose purity all things are defiled (Job 25:5). Then he will cast himself down as nothing and confess, "By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin." Then the apostle adds: "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." Rom. 3:23. There are two verb tenses here —"have sinned" and "come short" (present continuous). Literally, the text reads: "All have sinned, and [all] continue to fall short of God's glory." Paul means exactly what he says. All keep falling short of the divine ideal.
"For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not." Ecci. 7:20.
As John Calvin said:
"For if the stars which seem so very bright at night, lose their brilliance in the light of the sun, what do we think will happen to even the rarest innocence of man when it is compared with God's purity?,, - Institutes of the Christian Religion, bk. iii, p. 758.
Romans 3:20-24 is true and always will be true of all men in this life. There is no need (as we will further prove) to put special riders into the text for the "time of trouble".
Romans 3:20-24 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,