We began our study of Romans 3 last week. As a result of what Paul had said in his letter in Romans 2:25-29, basically that the Jew and the Gentiles were equal before God, questions were raised in the minds of Paul’s Jewish listeners. The Jews held that they were different than the rest of the people of the world. They were God’s covenant people. What Paul had to say was disturbing. It rattled the confidence of some of the Jews as Paul boldly proclaimed that their being the covenant people of God didn’t provide them any insurance against the judgment of God.
In the beginning of Romans 3 we read, “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew?” Where did that question come from? Paul utilized a method of dialogue, called a “diatribe,” that was widely used by philosophers in the ancient world. By using this method the teacher would set up the argument of his critics and then provide the answer. We see this in Romans 3:1 in the question, “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew?” which is then followed by Paul’s answer, “Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.” Paul goes on in Romans 3 to raise more questions and then he provides the answers to the arguments he raises. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today and then we will see what we can learn. Let’s go ahead and begin with verse 1.
1 What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? 2 Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God. 3 What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? 4 Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.” 5 But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) 6 Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? 7 Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” 8 Why not say– as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say– “Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is deserved. (Romans 3:1-8 NIV)
Paul raises four questions in Romans 3:1-8. The first of the questions found in Romans 3:1 we addressed last week. The next three questions we will take a look at today. The first of the three questions is found in Romans 3:3 where Paul says, “Will the faithlessness of God’s people nullify God’s faithfulness?” The second question is found in Romans 3:5-6, where Paul asks, “How can God judge us if our unrighteousness highlights the righteousness of God?” The last question that Paul puts into the mouths of his critics is found in verses 7-8, where Paul says, “Why am I condemned as a sinner if my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness?” These questions will serve as our outline for today.
For the Jew, God’s covenant was irrevocable; He was true to His covenant no matter what. As the Jews listened to Paul’s letter the wheels began to turn in their minds. They reasoned, “If what you are saying is true, that we are not saved, or safe, because of the covenant and circumcision established by God, then doesn’t that prove that God is unfaithful to the promise He has made?” This is an important question and Paul will address it in much greater detail in Romans 9-11. For our study today let’s stick to our Scripture and see how Paul answers his critics. Read Romans 3:3-4 with me once again.
3 What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? 4 Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.” (Romans 3:3-4 NIV)
Those critics of Paul who raised this question should have already known the answer because of their familiarity with their own history. Throughout the history of Israel there were those who were faithless, but never once did the faithlessness of Israel nullify the faithfulness of God.
In Exodus 32-34, while Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments from God, the people were down below, at the base of the mountain, making a golden calf, an idol, to worship in place of God. How’s that for faithlessness?
When God delivered the Hebrew slaves from Egypt and they were heading towards the Promised Land through the wilderness, the faithlessness of the people led God to make another promise. In Numbers 32:13 we read,
13 The LORD’s anger burned against Israel and he made them wander in the desert forty years, until the whole generation of those who had done evil in his sight was gone. (Numbers 32:13 NIV)
The fact that God had established a covenant with Israel and entrusted to them the very Word of God didn’t guarantee that they would be faithful to the covenant, or the Message, that God had given them as a nation. The sin of some didn’t nullify God’s covenant promises either. John Mac Arthur writes,
The national salvation of Israel is as inevitable as God’s promises are irrevocable. But that future certainty gives individual Jews no more present guarantee of being saved than the most pagan Gentile. The mistake of Paul’s accusers was in believing that God’s unconditional promises to Israel applied to all individual Jews at all times. The accusers were right in contending that God cannot break His word. If the blessings of a promise failed to materialize it was because His people did not believe and obey the conditions of the promise. But their unbelief could not prevent the salvation which God would ultimately bring to the promised nation. But an even deeper truth was that, contrary to the thinking of most Jews, salvation was never offered by God on the basis of the heritage, ceremony, good works, or any basis other than that of faith. (John Mac Arthur, MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary: Romans 1-8, Moody Press, Chicago, IL.)
The behavior of people does not alter, and will never alter, the character of God. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is the Anchor of all history. Everything changes, but God remains the same. I want you to know that this is the great hope of every one of us. You do not have that assurance about people. People are as fickle as the weather. Today they will be your friend. Tomorrow is a brand new day and you may find out that those you love, and who loved you, have now turned against you. I have sure found this to be true with church people. I’m never amazed any more at how those who smile at you when they are in your presence will so quickly talk behind your back. My great hope, my solid Rock in this unstable life that we live, is that God is not like us.
Paul asks the question, “Will the unbelief of people nullify God’s faithfulness?” The Greek word that is translated, “nullify,” means, “to make ineffective, to make powerless, or to wipe out.”
If you read the book of Numbers then you will learn about God’s great faithfulness in the midst of the unfaithfulness of His people. Throughout the wilderness wanderings of Israel they were constantly grumbling about something and demonstrating their lack of faith in God, but God led them, He provided leaders for them, and He was faithful to them all the way to the Promised Land. Throughout God’s Word we read about the faithfulness of God. In Lamentations 3:21-23 we read,
21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:21-23 NIV)
God’s faithfulness is heralded just as boldly in the New Testament. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy we read,
13 if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself. (2 Timothy 2:13 NIV)
Our lack of faithfulness to God doesn’t affect God’s faithfulness, but it does prove just how sinful we truly are. I’ve thought long and hard about this during the week. God has shown Himself faithful throughout my life. As I look back on my life, at this time in my life, I can see how God has been so faithful and gracious to me even before I ever acknowledged Him. His faithfulness has never wavered. You would think that when presented with these facts that the highest priority of my life would be that I would desire being faithful to God above all else. Doesn’t that make sense? Of course it does. How about you? Has God been equally faithful to you throughout your life? I know He has because I know His character. Has this caused you to desire being faithful to Him above all else in your life? How can we be so faithless? God’s faithfulness humbles me to the nth degree!
Because of God’s faithfulness, when He points a finger at my heart and pronounces me guilty of all charges, I know that He is right and I am wrong. This is really what King David was saying in Psalm 51:4, which is quoted by Paul here in Romans 3:4,
4 “As it is written: “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.” (Romans 3:4b)
David pulled the wool over everybody’s eyes when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and then had her husband, Uriah, killed when he found out that she was pregnant. David brought the poor widow of Uriah into his home and took care of her while the subjects of the kingdom were in awe that their king would have such compassion. Then, one day, God sent the prophet Nathan to expose David’s sin. David responded by saying,
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. (Psalm 51:3-4 NIV)
Our unfaithfulness to God and His Word do not prove anything other than that God is right on target when He announces that we are sinners who are desperately in need of His grace. God is faithful, even in our unfaithfulness.
Let’s move on before we run out of time. The second question that Paul puts into the mouths of his critics is found in Romans 3:5-6, where Paul asks, “How can God judge us if our unrighteousness highlights the righteousness of God?” Let’s read together from Romans 3:5-6.
5 But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) 6 Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? (Romans 3:5-6 NIV)
Paul’s critics are saying that the more guilty the criminal, the more heinous the crime, the more just the Judge appears. So why would the Judge “judge” us when our sin makes him look good?
I’ve been thinking about this and trying to come up with an illustration that makes clear what Paul’s critics are saying. Have you ever seen a beautiful diamond displayed against a deep, dark, piece of black velvet? It really makes the beauty of the diamond pop doesn’t it? The brilliance, translucence, and multi-faceted beauty of the diamond is highlighted much more against a black piece of velvet than against a white piece of velvet. The diamond should praise the black velvet for making it look so good, not stand in judgment of it. This is what Paul’s critics were saying about our sin in relation to God’s righteousness. Our sin makes the righteousness of God shine like a diamond so God shouldn’t stand in judgment of us.
I’m so glad that Paul threw in, (I am using a human argument.) By doing so he shows just how absurd our thinking truly is. If God viewed our sin as an enhancement to His holiness and turned a blind eye to it, then God would no longer be holy and righteous. Because God is holy and righteous, He stands against all unrighteousness and sin. Someone today might say, “Wouldn’t there be peace on earth if the Lord simply refused to condemn and judge our sin?” How in the world would evil be dealt with if a holy and righteous God didn’t expose evil for what it is?
Paul shows the weakness and folly of human arguments. I’ve heard the same kind of arguments, on a human level, against the United States for going to war against Saddam Hussein and the Taliban. I hear talking heads on T.V. say things like, “Look what we have done! We have destroyed our peace, we’ve lost our sons and daughters, we’ve caused the world to hate us because we went into Iraq and Afghanistan and began hunting down Saddam and the leaders of the Taliban.” Do they honestly think that Iraq was a peaceful, pristine land under the dictatorship of Saddam? Do they honestly think the Taliban was a “gardening club” before America placed a target on its leaders?
Saddam was part of a fraternity of evil dictators who have massacred millions. Josef Stalin killed 20 million of his own people. Adolf Hitler killed 6 million Jews. Pol Pot, the leader of Cambodia in the 1970’s, killed somewhere between 2 and 3.5 million of his own people. In the 70’s, Idi Amin, the President of Uganda, killed over 300,000 of his own people. It is said that the bodies of his victims so filled the River Nile that they clogged the Owen Falls Hydro-Electric Dam in Jinja. I guess if the rest of the world would have just left these evil dictators alone then the world would have experienced peace and their evil deeds would have made the rest of us look more righteous. Our arguments are so weak.
Paul’s critics ask if God is unjust for judging us, and those I have just mentioned, since our sin casts such a great light upon His righteousness? Paul says, 6 “Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world?” To undermine God’s justice is to disqualify Him to be the Judge of all the world. God is just. Abraham said,
25 Far be it from you to do such a thing– to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25 NIV)
When David was being pursued by King Saul because of Saul’s jealousy of David, David had no one to defend him. When you’ve got the King after you then you are in trouble my friends. David wasn’t hopeless, he appealed to God, the Righteous Judge. David told Saul,
12 May the LORD judge between you and me. And may the LORD avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you. (1 Samuel 24:12 NIV)
When David was writing Psalm 9, he wrote about the righteousness of God in the face of constant attacks from surrounding nations. Read along with me.
7 The LORD reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment. 8 He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice. (Psalm 9:7-8 NIV)
I want to show you one final example, out of the countless examples I could show you concerning the righteousness of our Great Judge. Turn with me to Psalm 98. In verses 8-9, the psalmist writes,
8 Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; 9 let them sing before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity. (Psalm 98:8-9 NIV)
Throughout Scripture we learn that God is not only Judge, but that He is a Judge like no other. He is righteous, He is just, He does not show favoritism, and He is merciful.
In our last section of Scripture for today we come to the third question raised by the critics of Paul. Take a look at Romans 3:7-8 with me.
7 Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” 8 Why not say– as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say– “Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is deserved. (Romans 3:7-8 NIV)
This is a very similar question to the one that we have just discussed. Both arguments seek to undermine the holiness, righteousness, and justice of God by downplaying our own sin. James Montgomery Boice writes,
I believe this is the most extreme form of the question because, in addition merely to dismissing the judgment of God or excusing sin, this argument actually encourages the indulgence of the sinful nature and appetite by allegedly Christian people. (James Montgomery Boice, Romans Vol. 1. Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI.)
Paul comes back to this argument in Romans 5-6 when he tells his readers that the Law was given to show us our sin, but where sin increased so did God’s grace through the righteousness of His Son Jesus Christ. In the first verse of Romans 6, Paul uses the diatribe method once again when he says,
1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Romans 6:1-2 NIV)
When Paul’s critics argued that the lie of their life enhanced the truth of God they were merely playing games in trying to justify their sinful lifestyle. We are not any different than those who have gone before us. We love to talk about God’s love and forgiveness, but we totally dismiss God’s justice and our responsibility to live a life that reflects the holiness of God. S. Lewis Johnson has written,
Probably the heresy of modern, mainline Christianity, that has penetrated more churches, Protestant church, than any other heresy, is the heresy of Universalism. That is that everybody is ultimately going to be in heaven. It has so penetrated our modern mainline churches that in our liberal churches it is rare to find a minister who does not believe in Universalism. That is why we always hear, ‘God is love’ and why we so rarely hear, ‘God is just.’ ‘God is love,’ but ‘God is just’ is forgotten. God is so loving that He will ultimately over rule all rejection of Him and everybody is going to be in heaven some day. There is no such thing as Hell, as these fighting fundamentalist speak about hell, but rather God is loving. That is one of the greatest of the heresies that is prominent in our churches today. Paul didn’t teach Universalism or universal salvation, he taught universal judgment. He taught that all people will ultimately have their actions judged by God. An incidentally my Christian friends, you must not think that what Paul meant by that was simply that the unbelieving man is going to be judged for the Scriptures make very plain that the unbelieving man will be judged at the Great White Throne judgment but the Scriptures lay a great deal of stress upon the fact that even believers must ultimately have a judgment for themselves. That is a very terrifying thing to, for we must all stand before the judgment seat of Jesus Christ to receive the things that we have done in our bodies whether they be good or worthless. So the Scripture teach that God is going to judge the world. The Bible teaches universal judgment not universal salvation. (S. Lewis Johnson, The Problem of Antinomianism.)
This is the plague that is running rampant in the modern-day American Church. We have morphed God into some kind of soft-spoken, easily manipulated grandpa who just gives and gives and gives and never requires anything from us. God is love, He is merciful, but He is also just and He holds us accountable for the life He has given us.
God can, and does, bring good out of evil, but we are still held responsible for our sin. This is an amazing thought. How can God use something that is absolutely horrible to do something amazingly good? Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. Do you remember the story of Joseph and his brothers? If you will remember, Joseph’s brothers hated him. They decided to kill him, then they decided that they would sell him as a slave to the Midianites, who in turn sold him to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials in Egypt. That is horrible. There is no way around it. What Joseph’s brothers did to him is inexcusable wouldn’t you say?
Well, while Joseph was in Egypt, through a strange turn of events, Joseph rose to second in command and through his influence God used him to save the entire nation. Not only did God use Joseph to save the Egyptians, but He used Joseph to save his knuckle-headed brothers and the rest of his family. His brothers had been sent by their dad to go to Egypt to see if they could get some food because there was none in Israel because of the famine. When Joseph’s brothers found out that their brother was the big man on campus in Egypt they feared for their lives. When Joseph revealed to them that he knew who they were and he remembered what they had done they were even more afraid. They made up some lie about how their dad wanted Joseph to forgive them. Joseph responded to them by saying,
20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20 NIV)
God is Sovereign my friends. He can even take something as horrible as Joseph’s brothers selling him as a slave and use it to accomplish His purposes in history, but make no mistake about it–Joseph’s brothers were accountable for their sin.
We can’t go out and live however we want to live and then say, “Oh well, God will forgive me and He will use my sin to highlight His holiness.” We are accountable. We have died to sin. We have been made alive to the righteousness of God and now we are called to walk in that righteousness in our daily life.
What do you make of all of these arguments that Paul has answered? Are they legit? I don’t think so. They are nothing more than our effort to rationalize our ungodly lifestyles. We will give God lip service, but we refuse to surrender our lives to live according to God’s will.
How about you today? What kind of life are you living? Are you living however you want to live and banking on God to fill in the gaps or are you seeking to live your life fully surrendered to His will? Those of you who have never surrendered your life to Jesus as Lord and Savior, I want to assure you that you can’t live a righteous life, unless the Lord is living through you. Won’t you invite Him in this very morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
July 16, 2013