So is it good to be born a Jew or not? Did Israel have a special standing in God's eyes or not? Did Israel have this standing under the Old Covenant or not? Do they still have a special standing now that the New Covenant has come, or not? These are the questions that Paul addresses throughout the book of Romans.
It goes without saying that Jew-Gentile relations were always strained. But that strain was exacerbated to a major degree once Jesus came and fulfilled his earthly ministry. For it was then that you had churches made up of both Jews and Gentiles who had embraced Christ as Lord. Were the “Jewish” Christians better than the “Gentile” ones? Or were they all “one in Christ?” The short answer to this is that Jews DID have an advantage under the Old Covenant; but that in the New Covenant this advantage is nullified. Things have changed in accordance with God's plan and Jesus is described as the “Savior of the World” rather than merely the Redeemer of Israel.
Paul addresses the historic Jewish advantage in Romans 3 where he writes, “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.” (Romans 3:1-2 NASB) As to the question, “What advantage has the Jew?” Paul answered that they had the “oracles of God” in a way that Gentile nations did not. God had revealed Himself to the Jews in a way that He had not done with any other people group. They were taught something of God's character. They were marked off as a “peculiar” people. Israel was to be different than any other nation; and a plethora of rules were set forth to show the “otherness” of Israel. Egypt wasn't entrusted with God's Word. Israel was and they were to act accordingly. But, of course, they didn't. Though God made a special covenant with the nation, they broke that covenant in break-neck speed and incurred God's judgment as a result. The Old Covenant with Israel is no more. A New Covenant has come. So, do the Jews have a special status under the New Covenant? Paul's answer is no.
The idea of Old Covenant Israel having the advantage of being entrusted with the oracles of God would be akin to a modern day American owning a copy of the Bible. In this regard, they have an “advantage” over a pagan, living in remote Africa that does not own a Bible and has never heard the gospel of Christ. It truly is an advantage to have access to information. It truly is an advantage to have the “oracles of God.” But simply having access to this information does not save. Americans are not saved because they own a Bible, any more than an Old Covenant Jew was saved because he had been taught the “oracles of God.” Paul lays this truth out as he proceeds in Romans 3. After saying that the Jews had an advantage because of information they had received, Paul goes on to say that the advantage is not a salvific one. Jews aren't saved just because they are Jews. Salvation is reserved for those who are “in Christ” regardless of their national heritage. Paul writes, “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.” (Romans 3:9) And he goes on to say “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) In other words, sin is a universal curse and a universal problem. While having information from God is advantageous, it does not save you. No matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile.
One of the major misunderstandings of our day is that the nation of Israel is the "chosen people of God." This was true under the Old Covenant, but is not true under the New Covenant. In fact, much of the New Testament was written to fight against this idea and to point out the the "dividing wall of separation" between Jew and Gentile has been broken down by Christ. (see Ephesians 2:11-15) Indeed there is a "chosen people" under the New Covenant but they come from "every tongue, tribe, people, and nation." (Revelation 5:9) Therefore modern day attempts by dispensational theologians who claim a special status for the nation of Israel actually argues against what the New Testament teaches. Ethnic divisions are wrongly enforced rather than teaching the peace that comes for all who are in Christ. Many of these errors are based on reading Old Covenant promises made to the Old Covenant nation, without regarding the New Covenant fulfillment of these promises that are proclaimed in the New Testament scriptures; as Christ fulfills in substance what was merely a shadow in the past.
The mistaken notion that many Jews had in Paul's day was that they would be saved on the basis of their standing as Jews. They were the chosen people. They were God's possession. They were a chosen race. Yet all of these phrases are used by New Testament writers to describe CHRISTIANS, rather than Jews. Peter wrote: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)
Of course, this teaching flew in the face of Jewish conventional wisdom which assumed they had a special standing based on their bloodline. But under the New Covenant, the only blood that matters is the blood of Jesus, which was shed to pay for the sins of those who trust in him. Not from the Jews only, but from both Jew and Gentile peoples. For there is no “Jew and Gentile” in the New Covenant, as the book of Colossians states, “There is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.” (Colossians 3:11) Many Jews expected salvation based on their status, or if not this then at least based upon their keeping the Law that had been entrusted to them. Paul addressed this error as well, stating: “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:19-20 NASB)
Paul first points out that whatever the Law says it is speaking to those who are “under the Law.” This would exclude Gentiles; and furthermore it would exclude Christians, even those who were Jewish. For Paul declares himself to be “not under the Law.” (1 Corinthians 9:21) So the Law speaks to those under the Law. But does the Law justify those who are under the Law? That is the real question and Paul is adamant and crystal clear with his answer that “By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight.” (v. 20) Paul even elaborates to the point of giving a reason why keeping the Law can't justify them when he says, “For through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” (v. 20) Far from providing salvation to the Jewish people, the Law's intent was to condemn them not to save them. The Law did not pay for sin, it simply reminded those under it that they were sinners. And it reminded them day after day after day in very dramatic fashion. Animals were slaughtered as sacrifices to remind Israel that “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) A yearly sacrifice was made on the Day of Atonement to remind Israel that the “wages of sin is death.” The Law didn't pay for the sins of the people, rather it reminded them of their ongoing sinful condition. Likewise, keeping the Law didn't justify Israel either for it too laid a burden on them that they could not bear. This is exactly what Peter said at the Jerusalem Council when the early church refused to force Gentiles who were being saved to adhere to the Law of Moses. Peter said: “Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.” (Acts 15:10-11)
Peter and Paul are in full agreement on the relationship between the Law and salvation. The Law cannot save and indeed could never be kept to perfection. And salvation comes about by the “grace of the Lord Jesus.” And this is true for all people regardless of their national heritage. Jews and Gentiles are all born in sin and it's only through knowing Christ Jesus that one is saved. The Jews had an advantage in having the Law, but it was not an “advantage” in terms of salvation. The great error of Judaism was that they could justify themselves by keeping the Law. Certainly Paul thought this as a Jew prior to his conversion. As did many others. But none are justified by the works of the Law. In fact, none are justified by doing works apart from the Law either. Gentiles cannot earn their way to Heaven by merit any more than a Jew can. Both groups need Jesus.
And this is what Jesus did for both groups. He came and lived a perfect life, then he died a sacrificial death. The Law is fulfilled in the One who kept it to perfection and the price for sin is paid by the One who died on a tree. There is no curse for those in Christ because Christ became a curse for us (Galatians 3:13). By faith we are “imputed” with his perfect righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21); and he is “imputed” with the punishment for our sins. The nation of Israel does not have an advantage as it pertains to salvation. They did not in Paul's day; and they do not in our day. Justification by Law-keeping is a works-based fallacy that cannot change the sinfulness of the human heart. The Law is fulfilled. Christ has come. Salvation belongs to those who know and trust in Him; for he did the work that no Jew nor Gentile could ever do. Jesus saves. And apart from him, no one else can.