Text: Romans 3.1-8
Introduction: What do you do when you encounter two truths in the bible that seem to be contradictory? Surely you’ve crossed some. Surely throughout the time you’ve been reading Scripture, either you’ve encountered it or someone one brought it to your attention – maybe in a dialogue or a debate about something: two immutable truths that contradict each other…at least as far as you can see.
That’s what we have today: something that looks like two irreconcilable truths about God. The question for us this morning is: what do we do when that happens? Here is my answer and the direction I’ll be headed all morning: Your confusion should lead you to the Absolutely Incredible Greatness of God.
In the text today, Paul will introduce an imaginary person to debate with him. I say imaginary. He may have been a very real person from one of Paul’s discussions with the Jews at one time or another. Or maybe these are different arguments raised by various people at different times.
Scripture Reading: Let’s read this short text. Read: 3.1-8
3 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? 2 Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.”
5 But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) 6 By no means! For then how could God judge the world? 7 But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? 8 And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.
Boy, let that last sentence resonate in the air: Their condemnation is just.
If you’re confused here, join the crowd. This is a tough passage. Tom Schreiner, professor of NT at Southern Baptist Seminary, says in his commentary on Romans that this is the toughest passage in Romans. I hope to make it not so tough by the time we’re through.
To start out, I don’t want you to focus on the relative pronoun their. Typically, I think one would ask such questions as who, what, when, where, why, But let’s take this differently. I want you to focus in on what. What is happening here or what is going to happen?
Someone is being condemned for their behavior, for their actions and God, who does the condemning, is just in this action.
And don’t forget v6 which says God will judge the world. This is where the text is headed: condemnation. That is really where Paul has been headed all along. That’s why he so desperately wanted to preach the gospel to both the Jews and the Gentiles. It is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first, but for the Gentile also.
But back to the beginning of this text, he’s just been declaring in 2.25-29 (the passage we looked at last week) that God will regard uncircumcised Gentiles who keep the law as circumcised Jews. And, to add insult to injury, circumcised Jews who do not keep the letter of the law (which is impossible) will be judged by those Gentiles. If that is so, Paul’s imaginary friend asks, then what advantage is there to being Jewish? Which is what we see there in verse 1.
Objection #1: what advantage has the Jew?
Paul, you’re wrong. If what you’re saying is true, then there is no advantage in being Jewish. It would appear that Paul is being trip upped here. You’d expect him to say that there isn’t any advantage, but he doesn’t. Instead, he begins a list of the advantages the Jews have. rd v 2; It sounds like he is starting a list here. And, he really is, it just that he only mentions the first item on this list at this time. Turn to chapter 9 in this book where he continues this list. We pick up in v 4: 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. Now you know where the list is… let’s get back to our text. 1st off, Paul says, the Jews have the oracles of God (lit.: τὰ λόγια τοῦ θεοῦ). So, they have God’s Word and in that Scripture, they have His promises to them.
That is huge! No one else has recorded what God has said. It was given to them. All of his promises and predictions. Their heritage, his love, his intercession.
Transition: Well then, speaking of his oracles, his sayings…with that in mind – if the promises of God are true and Salvation is of the Jews, then what if some of the Jews are unfaithful? What if they never turn to him through the Messiah? He said he would save the Jews – He said the Messiah would come and save them… what if they never do respond? What if they are unfaithful… as the overwhelming majority of them appear to be? Rd v 3;
Objection #2: 3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?
This sounds like a pretty good question. If the advantage is theirs in every way, then what if some Jews are unfaithful? If 1) salvation is of the Jews, and 2) you can only be saved by coming to Christ, then will their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? Yeah, Paul! If indeed the advantage is theirs, then can they jack all of this up by not following God? Does that mess up what God is doing?
Paul, answers quickly in v 4: μὴ γένοιτο; May it never be! Let God be true though every one were a liar! Paul is saying that it doesn’t matter what anyone does – God is faithful, that’s his nature. He can’t be unfaithful. His promises will stand and it doesn’t depend on humans. At All!
Then, to clarify and put an exclamation point on his declaration, Paul quotes from David to back up his statement. His quote comes from Psalm 51. Let’s go there. Rd Psalm 51.1-4 …so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. David is saying that his sin is what God uses to magnify his own glory. David sinned and God now uses that sin to show his own perfection. He alone can judge that sin. He alone can condemn that sin. Do you catch that? He says: Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
Wow! This is some pretty deep theology here. I act according to the will of God. And God, then, is justified and blameless in his judgment against me.
Here’s the conversation: Paul says the unbelieving, circumcised Jews will be judged by the believing, uncircumcised Gentiles. These Gentiles will get into heaven and the Jews will not. “So, Paul, let me ask you a question then: if that’s true, then what advantage is there in being Jewish?” They expect the answer to be none which they know is wrong. But Paul says what they know to be true. Every advantage! I mean, they have the very oracles of God! The Jews know the oracles of God promise salvation to Israel. They then offer a very real possibility: What if some Jews are unfaithful? Won’t their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? You can’t have it both ways! Paul says: No! It isn’t just if some Jews are unfaithful, but even if every single man who ever lived were found to be a liar, God is still righteous and true and faithful!
Here is what Paul is saying: God doesn’t need man to do anything to vindicate Him. He is vindicated in himself. He is perfectly sufficient in himself.
David, a hero to the Jews, says that God uses this sin of David’s to glorify Himself. David, a man after God’s own heart! God is just to judge his sin of murdering Uriah. He is just and blameless to judge his adultery with Bathsheba.
So, let us sum up what Paul has said to this point:
- Yes, Jews have advantages, like having the very Word of God entrusted to them.
- However, that doesn’t bring entitlement. If they are unbelieving, then they will be judged for their unbelief.
- This action by God does not call into question God’s faithfulness (his truth or his righteousness). Let every man be found a liar and God will still be found faithful!
- Instead of God being found unfaithful, the sin of those God judges vindicates God in his judgment. David teaches us this truth in his colossal failure. The sin of Israel is the very thing that magnifies God’s righteousness in judgment. God is justified and blameless in his judgment.
Transition: Ok… You’re saying that when we Jews who are the elect of God and have all of God’s promises and covenants, when we sin, God is justified in his action against us.
Contradiction: If God is vindicated in his judgment against our sin and our sin brings glory to God, then what right has God to judge us for our sin? You said it yourself, Paul: we’re glorifying God and you can’t judge God Glorifiers!
This is their third objection. We see it in v 5:
Objection #3: 5 But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us?
Paul adds this little parenthetical statement: I speak in a human way. It is his subtle way of saying that the Fear of God fills him just to utter these words – to speak against God in this manner. What person in their right mind would make such an objection!?! But these Jews who debate him utter such words. They say: Paul, if you’re saying that our sin glorifies God, then isn’t God wrong to judge us for the very thing that brings him glory? Paul screams out: μὴ γένοιτο. May it never be! Rd v 6; If that were the case, then God couldn’t even judge the Gentiles (which, of course, the Jews are fine with).
I think some would consider v 7 another objection, but it appears to me to be a repeat of the previous arguments, only pushed further. Rd v 7;
This can be seen in two ways:
- This is Paul’s defense against their accusation. Paul is saying, if you truly believe this, then why do you accuse me of being a liar, and condemn me as a sinner? Why don’t you call me a God Glorifyer? You, are the one talking out of both sides of your mouth. I don’t think this is what he’s doing. I don’t take v 7 this way. Here’s how I see it:
- This is a repeated argument of v4, which is their objection and pushed to the extreme. My sin, my unfaithfulness, my lie glorifies God, huh? Then, why am I condemned as a sinner? And v 8 clarifies. Rd v 8; And, if that is the case, then why not sin all the more to bring God even more glory?
Paul’s answer is in today’s jargon: Really?
You see, these are not new objections being raised at all. These are the same arguments, only pushed to the extreme with the hopes of making Paul’s thesis look lame.
Here is their problem:
- They think too highly of themselves.
a.They think they’re entitled because God chose them to be his people. And this comes in spite of the fact that they’ve been told that it has nothing to do with them. Deuteronomy teaches us that it wasn’t because they were larger than other people groups. Indeed they were smaller. It wasn’t because they were already successful and independent. They were slaves! They had forgotten from whence they came. They had forgotten the rock from which they were hewn.
b. They think they’ll avoid the judgment of God because they have his law, ceremony and the temple. But this is what that means: They began to love the things of God and not God. They began to love his laws and use them by which to measure his love. They loved their ceremonies – because they were festive and fun and traditional. They loved their rituals, because they were memorized and they followed them so closely. And it all became about them. They thought too highly of themselves!
2. They don’t think highly enough of God. I think it is so easy to replace God with God things. And this is something they were guilty of, too. We have to be very careful… watchful, even, that we don’t begin to love the things of God more than we love Him.
Application: Paul is showing us how great God is, but these people just don’t see it. This is all about God and how Great He is.
- God is Good. He has been so good to the Jews to choose them as his own. He gave them an inheritance. He made them into a people, a nation. He gave them his word and his promises. He has, likewise, been so good to us in much the same manner.
- God is faithful. Though all humans through all of human history fail God and prove themselves to be liars, their actions would not nullify the faithfulness of God. You can bank on that today. What he has said, he will accomplish. God is faithful and true!
- God is righteous. He is righteous in all of his deeds. He is righteous in his judgment. He is righteous in his punishment. He is perfectly righteous in all His ways.
- God is sufficient in Himself. God doesn’t need us to do anything to get done what he wants. Sure he uses us to accomplish what he desires, but he doesn’t have to. He isn’t lonely. He didn’t create us because he was alone. Paul will get here in chapter 11. We don’t have any counsel he needs. We don’t have any gifts or talents to bring that makes him say, ‘Oh, thank you, I needed that.’ God is totally sufficient in Himself.
Can I ask you this morning some questions:
- Do you think more highly of yourself than you ought? Is it too rude of me to say: Get over yourself! God chose you, but not because there is anything particularly good in you. You don’t have anything to bring him, except this filthy bag of bones and flesh.
- Have you replaced your love for him with God things? Is Christian music your devotional material? Do you listen to preachers on the radio listening for sermons that make you feel good about yourself? Motivational Preachers? Or is your first love God and do you run to his word to hear from Him?
- Do you see God for the Great God He is? Are you awed by His majesty? Overwhelmed by his mercy? Overcome by his goodness? Swept away by His glory? Don’t let the things you don’t understand push you away from God. Instead, let the things you don’t understand demonstrate your weakness and his profound greatness.