In Romans 3:23-25, Paul reaches the conclusion that “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.”
Remember that back in Romans 2:6-7, Paul wrote that “[God] will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.”
Also 2:14-16: “When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.”
In Chapter 2, Paul is very much indicating that it is possible to be saved on the basis of works. It is true that all have sinned (3:23), but Jesus died for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). Also note 1 John 1:7, “If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” Also consider Hebrews 10:26, “If we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.”
The idea I see from Romans 2, 1st John, and Hebrews is that as long as people are not persisting in sin against the conviction of their conscience, they have forgiveness of their sins through Christ’s atonement. Romans 2 indicates that this principle applies to both Jews (who I think, in our day, are people associated with Christianity), and Greeks/Gentiles (who, I think, are everybody else you encounter today).
So, then, why be a believer? Well, notice that in Romans 3:23-25, quoted at the top of this article, Paul writes that those who have faith in Christ are justified by grace as a gift. This faith puts a person in a unique state. The forgiveness described in Romans 2, 1st John, and Hebrews is contingent on pursuing good works and following one’s conscience. However, the justification described in Romans 3 is a gift by grace, meaning that it is not merited by one’s performance. This unique state of justification cannot be attained by works given that all have sinned. The fact that this is not attained by works is described by Paul in Romans Chapters 3-5.
Now, what I am about to mention next is not widely taught among Christians, but I believe we’ll see later in Romans that the faith which brings a person into this unique state is a specific faith that goes beyond the baseline faith required to join the body of Christ. I think Romans 6-8 illustrates this, and we’ll look at that next time.