Grace For The Journey
In our study of Romans over the last several weeks, we have seen Paul develop his case for the Gospel message. Remember that the theme of Romans is the Gospel message as Paul states in 1:16,17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it [the] righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous [man] shall live by faith.’”
The Gospel message is about
The righteousness of God
In providing a means of salvation
For sinful man who otherwise
Remains under His just condemnation.
In our examination of the first two chapters of Romans we have already seen God’s righteous condemnation and wrath upon all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. All men have been given sufficient knowledge of God so that they should seek Him. God has made Himself evident within man from birth and made Himself evident without to man in creation itself. The result is that all people are without excuse for not seeking Him (1:20).
The ungodliness and unrighteousness of some is obvious. Paul describes such people, the immoral unrighteous, in 1:21-32.
The level of depravity varies
From individual to individual,
But it is a spiral downward
Into greater evil.
It begins with a simple neglect
To honor God properly and
Descends into a refusal
To even acknowledge Him.
God’s wrath comes upon them by withdrawing His restraining hand and letting them pursue their sinful desires and their consequences. It begins with giving them over to the lusts, or strong desires, they have for what is impure. It continues downward into degrading passions in which the emotions caused by the lusts overwhelms common sense and reason and therefore controls. It ends in depraved minds in which discernment of right and wrong has become twisted. They condemn what is good as bad and approve what is evil as good. We live in a society in which this has become common place, but it has shown itself in societies and generations before us. Isaiah (5:20) pronounced woe on those who did this in his time.
The immoral unrighteous are obvious, but there are also the moral unrighteous. Paul deals with them in Romans 2:1-16. They are not as flagrant in their ungodliness and unrighteousness, and they even condemn those who are obviously immoral, yet their very judgement of others condemns them because they do the same things (2:3). They may not rob a bank, but they take things from work, put in less than a full day’s work for a full day’s pay, and violate copyright. Stealing is stealing and thieves do not go to heaven. The may not perjure themselves in a courtroom, but lying even when you are not under oath is still lying, and liars do not go to heaven either (Revelation 20:8). They may manage to keep their marriages intact and avoid extra-marital affairs, but they have a roving eye and a bent toward pornography. Jesus is clear in Matthew 5:28 that looking on a woman to lust after her is committing adultery in the heart.
The bottom line is that though
They are not as bad as those
Who are obviously immoral,
They still commit the same sins
In violation of even their
Own standards of conduct.
Their own consciences
Condemn them (2:15).
Finally, 2:17-29 covers those who are religious and claim to be righteous because they
supposedly know and seek after God. Paul uses the Jews as the supreme example of such people. They had all the advantages. They had the Law of God revealed to them which they taught to others. They had the godly heritage of Abraham. The problem was, they did not keep the law or follow Abraham’s example. Having the law and keeping the law are two different things. Having a godly people as ancestors and being godly yourself are two different things.
What should have been
An advantage to them
Became a curse
That condemned them,
Because they did know better,
But still violated
And sinned against Him.
This brings us up to our passage for study today in Romans 3:1-8. Remember that Paul was writing to a mixture of Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome. Those with a Jewish background would have a logical question at this point which Paul addresses – verse 1, “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision?” Paul addresses these questions in verses 2-8 and then addresses the final conclusion in verses 9-18. I faced a bit of a dilemma as I prepared this study because it would make sense to go all the way to verse 18 in this study, but in view of the rising antisemitism around the world and in our own nation, I want to take a little extra time in explaining the advantage and blessing of being Jewish.
I believe we are all aware that the repeating of the pro-Palestinian propaganda in recent weeks by world media sources has resulted in outbreaks of anti-Jewish persecution in various places around the world, particularly in Europe. The shifting of the U.S. in its policy toward the nation of Israel over the last decade has its foundation in a theological change that will bend and even support current political pressures from the Islamic nations. As a nation, we were shifting from recognition of the Jewish people as God’s unique chosen people with a promised land and future, to seeing them as just another ethnic group with no more claim to the land than anyone else.
Though there have been many Christians who have been caught up in antisemitism in years past and in the present, there is no Biblical reason for it, in fact, it is quite the opposite. Christians should be the best friends that even non-Christian Jewish people can have. We should also be the strongest defenders of the nation of Israel. That does not mean Israel, right or wrong, but it does mean that we reject the claims of the so called “Palestinians” and support Israel’s right to exist and claim to the land. More on this later. Let’s back to Romans.
The Advantage of Being Jewish.
If being Jewish does not prevent a person from being under God’s wrath, then what advantage is there of being Jewish. If being a partaker of the covenant relationship with God as evidenced by circumcision does not make the person righteous before God, then what advantage could there be to being circumcised? In fact, given the persecution the Jews have had throughout the centuries, even in ancient times, it would seem that it was a disadvantage to be Jewish. How much more true is that in our own time. Paul answers, verse 2, “Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.”
No, being born of Jewish heritage
Does not automatically remove a person
From being under God’s wrath.
And, no, keeping Jewish rituals
Such as circumcision does not
Automatically make a person
Righteous before God.
But nevertheless, being Jewish
Gives many advantages.
The first one that Paul points out is that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.
The word “oracles” here is from “logion” which is usually translated as “word.” In English, “oracles,” often has a connotation of something given through some spirit medium, usually in a pagan, occultic setting. That certainly is not what is meant here, but rather that . . .
The Jews had “supernaturally received
The words of God from God.”
The is phrase, “they were entrusted
With the oracles of God” is a
Reference to the entire Old Testament.
How were the Jews entrusted with the “very words of God?” They did not come through the religious musings of some philosopher or mystical character. There are many cult groups and false religions around today based on such musings. They were not getting the supposed revelation about God through some medium who was not to be questioned. Mormonism, Islam, and other false religions are built on revelations that come from a supposed angel to some particular individual. Actually, the angels these people got revelations from were fallen angels which we usually refer to as demons.
The “very words of God” came to the Jews through many different people over a wide expanse of time and each of them were to be challenged for they had to meet the Biblical test of a prophet. The Scriptures clearly warn that along with the true prophets, God was going to allow false prophets to come to test people whether they would follow God or not. What religion other than ancient Judaism and Christianity can meet the tests of Deuteronomy 13 and 18:18-22?
Deuteronomy 13 clearly explains that no mercy was to be shown to such a false prophet. They were to be stoned to death even if it was your own brother, son, daughter, wife you love or closest friend (13:6). The false gods of the surrounding pagan nations were not to be worshiped by the Jews.
Deuteronomy 18:18 states, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account. But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death. You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?’ If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.”
Under those tests, the founders of the false religions that still exist in our time would have all been slain – Muhammad, who enticed and forced people to worship Allah instead of Yahweh. Joseph Smith and those who have followed him that call people to worship a God that is not the God of the Bible. Charles Russell and all the leaders of the Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) that have followed him for their many false prophecies. The list can go on and on. Though we cannot kill such false prophets in a secular democracy such as ours, we are still to test those who claim to speak for God (2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1). Don’t believe someone just because they claim to be a Christian and use the Bible. There are many false teachers out there that present the doctrine of demons as truth (1 Timothy 4:1-3) and seek to tickle people’s ears with false doctrine and myth (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
Being those entrusted with the Word of God
Is both a tremendous advantage and responsibility.
John MacArthur appropriately quotes from one of William Cowper’s poems on this point.
They, and they only, amongst all mankind,
received the transcript of the Eternal Mind;
Were trusted with His own engraven laws,
And constituted the guardians of His cause;
Theirs were the prophets, theirs the priestly call,
And theirs, by birth, the Savior of us all.
Paul had already commented on the advantage of this in his statements in chapter 2:17-20.
Because they had the words of God, the children of Israel could know His law and His will. Because of this, they could be confident in knowing what God demanded and what He wanted which was to result in them being able to be a guide to the blind, a light to those in the darkness, a corrector of the foolish, and a teacher of the immature. I pointed out in our discussion of this a days ago what each of these meant. The Gentiles were considered to be blind and in darkness because of their lack of knowledge of God.
The Jews were privileged with that knowledge
So they could guide the Gentiles
To the light and remove their blindness.
They had God’s standards, so they could
Be confident in correcting those who
Were foolish back to that standard.
They were to be the instructors of those who
Were still ignorant which would have included
Their own children as they grew up.
God did not entrust the Jews with His words on a whim. It was done because He had already chosen faithful Abraham and his descendants to be His chosen people. God made a covenant with Abraham. The Bible says in Genesis 12:1-3, “The LORD had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’” The covenant was made unconditionally that Abraham was to go to a certain land where God would make him a great nation, make his name great, and make him a blessing to all people.
- In Genesis 13:14-17 God designates the particular land that He will give to Abraham and his descendants.
- In Genesis 17:19 Abraham is told that these covenant promises would be passed down through Isaac (not Ishmael).
- In Genesis 26:4 God confirms this covenant with Isaac.
- In Genesis 28:13-14 and 35:11 the Lord confirms the covenant will not go through Esau, but through Jacob who is renamed Israel.
Later, the covenant with Israel’s descendants is detailed through Moses on how God wanted them to live and what the blessings would be for obedience and the curses for disobedience. Prophets then followed who often revealed what God was about to do even as they corrected the people and called them to live according to God’s commands.
The Jews are God’s chosen people (Deuteronomy 10:15)
Who were to be a kingdom of priests
And a holy nation (Exod. 19:5,6), and that is why
His very words were entrusted to them.
1 Peter 2:9 tells us that this responsibility to be priests who proclaim God’s excellencies to all people now belongs to us who are Christians. However, the Jews are still God’s chosen people and when we get to chapters 9-11 we will see the promises that God will still fulfill to and through them.
The Truth of God’s Promises.
In verses 3-4 Paul moves to the next objection that would have been on the minds of his Jewish readers . . .
If being of Jewish lineage and keeping
The rituals were not enough,
Then perhaps God was
Not true to His promises.
Paul corrects a common belief among Jews then which still exist even today. Verses 3-4 state, “What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man [be found] a liar, as it is written, ‘That You might be justified in Your words, And might prevail when You judge.”
Paul’s argument here is simply this.
The unfaithfulness of individual Jews
To keep the covenant that God
Made with them that results
In them being under God’s wrath
Does not nullify the promises that
God has made to the whole nation.
God’s promises to Israel were usually conditional, and those that were unconditional dealt with the nation as a whole. There were blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience, yet even when curses were being brought against individuals and the even nation, God’s unconditional promises to the nation would still be carried out in the future. Paul makes this point very clear in chapters 9-11 which we will get to in the future. The nation of Israel will be saved (11:26), though individuals within the nation will perish under God’s wrath (2:17-29; Zech. 14:2). Those who hold to the covenant theology position in this area make the same mistake today that the Jews often made then.
The failure of individuals does not
Nullify God’s promises to the nation.
The church has taken on certain responsibilities that belonged to the Jewish nation, but the church has neither absorbed nor replaced Israel, for God still has plans for His chosen people as a nation.
Whenever there is confusion about what God has said or what He is doing, there is one thing certain. God is true in all that He says and all that He does even if that means every man is found to be a liar. In other words . . .
God is the standard of truth,
Not man’s attempt
To understand everything
And put them into nice categories.
God is perfect and His word verifies itself and He is justified by His own judgement. The judgement of men cannot stand against God.
The Purity of God.
In verses 5-8 Paul moves to the next objection his Jewish readers might have had with what he has taught, “But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) May it never be, for otherwise how will God judge the world? But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner? And why not [say] (as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say), ‘Let us do evil that good may come?’ Their condemnation is just.”
Paul has stated that God’s righteousness is shown in the gospel, yet to this point Paul has only pointed out that everyone is ungodly and unrighteous. Can God be pure if He is glorified by what is impure? How can the unrighteousness of man demonstrate the righteousness of God? If this is true, then wouldn’t it be unjust for God to punish sin when that very sin brings Him glory? This would have sounded like it could be blasphemy to many Jews.
Paul makes a parenthetical statement at the end of verse to make sure his readers know that what he has said here is being spoken of from the point of view of human logic. In other words, Paul is clarifying that this not what he himself has said or believes, but is rather an argument that was laid against him. Paul intensifies his disclaimer saying, “May it never be.” If Paul was speaking, he would have been shouting this. God neither encourages nor approves sin in order to glorify Himself. If that were true, then God would be unjust and would have no basis by which to judge the world.
The Old Testament is full of references to God as judge and that He is righteous and just in His judgements. For example . . .
- 1 Samuel 2:10, “Those who contend with the Lord will be shattered; against them He will thunder in the heavens, The Lord will judge the ends of the earth.”
- Psalm 7:6, “God is a righteous judge.”
- Psalm 58:11, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous; Surely there is a God who judges on earth!”
- Psalm 67:4, “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy; For Thou wilt judge the peoples with uprightness.”
- Psalm 82:2, “Arise, O God, judge the earth! For it is Thou who dost possess all the nations.”
- Isaiah 33:22, “For the Lord is our judge , The Lord is our lawgiver, The Lord is our king; He will save us (Isa. 33:22).
The Jews understood this very well, and it was obvious that if He condoned sin, then He would not have a basis for true, righteous, fair, just judgement.
Paul was being slandered on this point
Because they did not understand
The Gospel of grace that Paul was preaching.
To them, it seemed as if Paul was saying that they should do evil that good would come of it. If lying makes the truth of God abound to His glory, then why not lie even more so God’s truthfulness can be exalted even more? If my sinfulness makes God’s holiness even more apparent, then my sinfulness is good, but if that is true, then how could the liar, the adulterer, the idolater, the covetor, etc. be judged a sinner? If that is what Paul was teaching, then their condemnation would be just.
However, that is not what Paul was teaching. He will go on throughout the rest of chapter 3 and the rest of the Book to clarify the Gospel of Grace and God’s righteousness in justifying the sinner. In short . . .
Paul was anticipating the arguments
He would receive against
The gospel of salvation by God’s grace
Because he has already faced them and
The personal accusations made against him.
These arguments and accusations still exist. Let’s apply them in the Christian context.
The Jewish legalist rejected Paul’s Gospel of grace because then there would be no advantage in being a Jew, and from their point of view, this would make God a liar that does not keep His promises. The “Christian” legalist also rejects the Gospel of grace because it would nullify all their work in trying to earn their salvation. But . . .
They view the Bible and salvation
In the same way as the Jewish legalists did
– Salvation comes through
Obedience to the law,
Keeping the rules,
And being born into a family that
Does this that is a great help.
They correctly understand that God
Would be unjust if He condoned sin,
But they do not understand
They are the religious unrighteous.
Their self-proclaimed righteousness
Is destroyed at the wall of truth
In the fact that they themselves sin.
They know the rules, but
They do not keep them.
Like a good trial lawyer, they do their best to manipulate the laws to give themselves the illusion of keeping them, but they are in fact guilty.
They understand correctly that
God will keep His promises,
But they fail to understand
That they do not meet
God’s conditions for salvation.
God will judge them according
To their very deeds
(2:6; Revelation 20:12)
Which will condemn them
Instead of vindicating them.
They will be cast into the lake of fire.
There are also the antinomians which means “without law.” They correctly understand that they are sinners that cannot earn their salvation, but they actually take on the ideas that Paul was falsely accused of proclaiming that God is glorified by their sin. They reject all Biblical commands, or at least the ones they do not like, saying they are free from the law and can therefore do anything they want.
Paul’s concluding statement in verse 8 applies to them. The are justly condemned for they make God unjust and cause God’s name to be blasphemed just as surely as the religious unrighteous do. Their lifestyle often becomes that of the immoral unrighteous or the moral unrighteous at best. They pervert God’s grace into lasciviousness.
To continually live in unrepentant sin
Is a clear indication that
The person is not saved.
Genuine salvation is from
Sin to righteousness (Romans 6)
For the purpose of
Becoming holy (Ephesians 2:4),
Conformed to the image
Of Christ (Romans 8:29),
And for the performance
Of the good works God
Has prepared beforehand
Genuine salvation is about
A living, ongoing relationship
With the Sovereign Creator
Of the universe who
Makes us righteous before Him
Through His grace in granting
The sacrifice of Jesus Christ’s life
To be the substitute payment
For the penalty of our sin.
You can do nothing
To earn this gracious
Gift of salvation,
But once accepted,
You are no longer your own,
Because you have been bought
With the price of His precious blood.
What is the advantage of being a Jew?
Great in every respect.
- They have been given the words of God.
- They are God’s unique chosen people.
- But those advantages will be of naught unless they follow God’s words with circumcised hearts of love for God (Deuteronomy 10)
What is the advantage of being raised where there is Christian influence whether it is in the home, with other family or friends, or a local church?
Great in every respect.
- You have available to you the words of God
- You have around you those who love God and desire to help you understand those words and walk with God.
- But those advantages will be of naught unless you personally seek God’s forgiveness for your sins through Jesus Christ and strive to walk with Christ according to His word.
Are you taking advantage of what has been given to you?
This is God Word … This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!