It’s evident from the way Paul has written the book of Romans, that Paul expects Christians to be interested in learning theology. Theology is the study of God. And so I hope you are prepared to put on your thinking caps this morning as we study the nature of God and His gospel of salvation. I make no apology for the fact that it is somewhat heavy lifting for so early in the morning. But God calls us to reason together, to study His word, so that we might know Him and come to be known by Him. It may be difficult study, but I hope it will prove beneficial to your faith.
As Peter said at the close of his second epistle, “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord [as] salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all [his] letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as [they do] also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2Peter 3:14)
Now in Rom. chapter 1, vs 16, Paul said, “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.” Salvation is available to all men, regardless of race, religion or nationality. But the caveat to salvation is that one must first come to realize that he is lost, that he is a sinner, and that he is under the condemnation of death and the judgment of God, BEFORE he is able to come to salvation.
It’s as if you were swimming in the ocean during the summer time, just enjoying the water, and the lifeguard swam out to you yelling for you to grab hold of the buoy so that you might be saved. You would probably not appreciate his efforts, and would in fact think he was being embarrassing and insulting, by insinuating that you were drowning, when in fact you thought you were doing a pretty good backstroke. But if in fact you realized that you were caught in a riptide and helpless to swim against the current, and the lifeguard swam out to save you, you would be grateful and grab hold of his buoy without hesitation.
And so to that end, Paul has been arguing that all men are lost, all men are sinners, and all men are condemned to death under the judgment of God and in need of salvation. He has shown that the pagan is a sinner and under the judgment of God, he has shown that the moral man is a sinner and under the judgment, and finally he is in the process of showing that the religious man, as exemplified by the Jew, is a sinner and under condemnation as well.
But Paul’s point is not just to condemn men, but to bring them to salvation, which only can come when man recognizes that he is a sinner, and repents of his sin. I would point out to you that in the next vs, 1:17, Paul says that faith is the means of salvation; the just shall live by faith. But in the next two chapters, Paul is teaching that repentance is the other leg of salvation. Faith and repentance are the two legs of salvation, and it is of the utmost importance that we stand on both of them in order to stand fast in our salvation.
So the whole purpose of this long argument regarding the sin nature of all men, is to make us cry out in repentance, “what must I do to be saved?” in order that we may be justified by faith in what Christ has done for us.
Now there are a few rhetorical theological questions that Paul wants to address regarding the objections of the religious man, particularly as illustrated here by the Jews. These questions are theological objections to Paul’s assertion that they also were sinners, and an attempt to vindicate themselves and say that they really were not in need of salvation, they were somehow better off than the pagans. And though talking about the Jews religion may seem irrelevant to some of you, I believe there attitude illustrated here which is also typical of the church age. I believe there are parallels to the modern Christian church and ancient Judaism, which was in effect, the first church of God. The Jews were the first “eklesia” the “called out” ones. We, as the New Testament church, are the second “called out” people of God. And there are many similarities and parallels between the two groups.
So the first question that the Jews might ask of Paul, as a way of defense against his charge of being a sinner is, isn’t there an advantage to being a Jew? Isn’t there a privilege that is given to God’s chosen people? So Paul writes, “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision?” Is there any spiritual advantage to being a Jew, or to being circumcised, which was the physical mark of the promise of God’s blessing upon their nation.
And Paul answers that question in vs 2; “Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.” The primary privilege that was afforded the Jews, was that they had been given the scriptures. All of the writers of scripture up to this point were Jews. God had personally dictated the law to Moses, and had written it on tablets of stone with His finger. So the advantage in being a Jew is not that you’re saved by being Jewish or by circumcision but that as part of the Jewish nation you have received the Scriptures which are able to lead you to salvation.
And I also want to point out that the word “Logia” in the Greek, translated as “oracles” in the NASB, is very important to the doctrines of inerrancy, inspiration and authority of the scriptures. It literally means unto them were committed the words of God. So we should be confident that though the words of God were penned by man, yet they wrote down the words that the Spirit of God was speaking through them. That’s one of the main reasons that we should come to church, to hear the word of God spoken to us, to be in the presence of the Spirit of God, and to be a part of the body of Christ.
Now as I said in my introduction, I believe that there are many parallels between Judaism and Christianity today. And though I don’t normally like to call out other churches by name, yet in light of the many misconceptions out there, I am going to do so today. Because the predominant church in the Christian religion in the world for the last 2000 years has been the Roman Catholic Church. And like the Jews, they claim to worship the same God as we do. They purport to teach Jesus Christ. They observe the same ordinances as we do, such as baptism and communion. They have the same Bible, for the most part, with the addition of the Apocrypha. And yet, like the Jews, even though they hold to many of the same beliefs, in actuality they teach a righteousness that comes on the basis of works. They teach that salvation is found in the church, just as the Jews taught salvation was of the Jews. The Catholics teach that righteousness is applied through baptism at infancy, just as the Jews believed righteousness was acquired through circumcision eight days after birth. The Catholics believe that righteousness is granted in communion, that is is acquired through various ceremonies and rituals such as catechism, or mass, or confession. And of course the Jews had their own rituals and ceremonies which they believed were good works which were credited as righteousness.
But the one advantage that Paul zeros in on here, is that the Jews were the custodians of scripture. The Jews mindset was that simply their possession of the scriptures ensured them that they would escape judgment. And I believe there is a parallel to the Catholic Church, and to even many Protestant churches as well. The Catholic Church in particular were responsible for translating the Greek Bible to the Latin, but though they possessed the scriptures, they kept the scriptures from being translated to other languages from the 4th century through the Reformation. In fact, they were guilty of burning at the stake such men as William Tyndale, who had translated the scriptures to English. So their great advantage was that they had the scriptures, but like the Jews, they put to death those that taught it contrary to their traditions.
So the Jews (as well as the Catholics and many Protestant churches) had the scriptures, but they did not read it. They did not read it with understanding. In Mark 12:24, Jesus said, “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God?” They practiced the law, they kept the ceremonies and rituals, but they failed to understand what the law and the sacrifices were teaching. And so do many churches today in their observation of communion or Lent or Advent, or baptism fail to actually appropriate the salvation that such ceremonies are meant to illustrate. If I might make a weak comparison, it’s like watching a video about a how to swim, or actually learning how to swim and becoming a swimmer. Merely being in possession of God’s word and even hearing God’s word is useless without appropriation and application. That’s what faith means. Not just hearers of the word but doers.
The advantage then of the Jews is not that being Jewish made them exempt from God’s judgment but rather that they had the Word to lead them to salvation. That was their advantage. And if a Jew in that age, or the church in this age, rejects or ignores the Scripture that God has given him, then he loses his advantage and in fact he is at greater disadvantage for having ignored that which God provided. In fact, he is even more culpable in the sight of God because he did not take advantage of his privilege.
Then Paul builds on that argument, and says in vs 3, “What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?” The rhetorical question that Paul asks is “what if some of the Jews were unfaithful? What if some of them did not believe the scriptures? Their unfaithfulness doesn’t nullify the faithfulness of God, does it?” See, the Jews didn’t see faithfulness or belief or obedience as something contingent for God’s blessing. They were counting on the fact that they were the chosen people of God, and that God’s promises concerning them over rode any consequences to sinfulness. And so while they might realize that they had been unfaithful, yet they were counting on God keeping His promises concerning them so that they didn’t have anything to worry about.
So Paul answers that question of God’s faithfulness by saying, “May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, that Thou might be justified in Thy words, and might prevail when Thou are judged.”
Now Paul is not saying that in spite of their unfaithfulness God will still give the Jews a glorious future, just on the basis that they are Jews. But he is saying that since God is faithful, those Jews that are faithful to Him will receive the fulfillment of the promises. And I would add to that the promises of God have been kept in regards to the Jews. The promise to Abraham that from his seed would come a great nation, and that one would come forth in whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed, was fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah. So God was faithful to keep His promises to the Jews.
The fact is that God is faithful. In 2Tim. 2:13 Paul says, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” But His faithfulness to perform His promises of blessing is also counterbalanced by His promises to curse. When God reminded Israel of all the blessings that He had promised concerning the land that they were entering, He also reminded them of the consequences of unbelief. Deut. 11:26-28 “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, which I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way which I am commanding you today, by following other gods which you have not known.” So while it may be a comforting thing to consider the faithfulness of God in regards to blessings, it should also be a frightening thing to consider God’s faithfulness to execute His word in regards to judgment.
What Paul is saying in effect, is that the unfaithfulness of the Jews, contrasted with the faithfulness of God, makes God’s truthfulness stand out in sharp relief. Even if every man on earth were to say the same thing, if it was against the word of God, then all men are liars, and God is true. Paul quotes from the prayer of David in Psalm 51, David’s great prayer of repentance after he had sinned with Bathsheba and had been rebuked by Nathan the prophet. David said, “I confess that I have sinned against You, “THAT YOU MAY BE PROVED RIGHT IN YOUR WORDS, AND PREVAIL IN YOUR JUDGING.”
David wanted to make his confession and repentance as unconditional as possible, in order that his own unrighteousness might be greater contrasted with the righteousness of God as His judge. And that is the way we should repent. Not by making excuses for our sin, but taking full responsibility for it as an affront to God. Repentance is actually agreeing with God, that I have sinned against God’s word, and I am guilty as charged and worthy of God’s judgment upon me. That’s an important principle to remember; repentance is agreeing with God. Agreeing that His law is good, and I have transgressed against it and am a sinner, worthy of the punishment that I am due.
But there is yet another extension of that argument that Paul wants to address. And that is the perverse objection that some men might make, that as David said if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, then isn’t God being unrighteous for judging me as a sinner? Listen how Paul phrases it. Vs 5 “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.)” In other words, he is speaking as a man.
We have already determined that man’s unrighteousness contrasts like darkness against the brightness of God’s righteousness. An example of that may be found at a jewelry store. They place the diamond ring on a background of black velvet so that the jewelry stands out more brightly in contrast. And that is what Paul is saying here. That man’s unrighteousness causes God’s righteousness to stand out more clearly, and so given that, doesn’t that mean that God is acting unjustly when He judges me for my unrighteousness? After all, my sin makes His mercy and grace look even better.
So theological rationalization might say, “I sin because when I sin God forgives and when God forgives He gets glory because forgiveness manifests His glory. So when I sin it gives God a marvelous opportunity to demonstrate His grace. When I sin it gives God a marvelous opportunity to show His love and His mercy, therefore my sin does not warrant judgment from God, and any God who would judge me for that sin, is Himself being unloving and unmerciful.”
Now though that type of thinking actually goes on today in some churches under the guise of antinomianism, it’s a diabolical reasoning which in reality impugns the character of God. And Paul’s objection to that line of reasoning is more than a little indignant. He says, “May it never be! For otherwise how will God judge the world?” It’s as if Paul said, “What? God forbid! God unfair? Shall not the Judge over all the earth deal justly?” Even the Jews must recognize that God will judge the world. They just wanted to exempt themselves of that judgment. But as Paul has said, God is true, God is just, and God is holy. And so His judgment is true, and just, and holy. And God will judge the actions and the motives of all men, according to chapter 2 vs 6, “who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS.”
The next set of theological questions that Paul proposes are also the type that a religious man might ask as he tries to vindicate himself before God. Someone might ask in vs 7 “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 claim that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come”?
Notice that this question is very similar to the previous question in vs 5, “if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say?” And vs 7, if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory…” In both cases there is an attack on God’s character and justice. It’s not that dissimilar to the question often asked today, “How could a loving God allow this or that to happen in the world?” The unspoken assumption is that either He is not a loving God, or He is unjust, unloving, and uncaring. And I’m afraid that proposition is inferred more often than we might like to admit. We live in an age when we have fabricated a God out of our own imagination. We have ascribed God’s blessings and benevolence upon ourselves when we have a good day, or when we get a raise, or when we get some material thing we want. We say, “God blessed me with so and so.” When in actuality, it’s quite possible that God had nothing to do with it.
But then conversely, when our prosperity doctrine runs afoul of the reality of life, when people get sick and die, when tragedy strikes, when we lose our job, etc, etc, then don’t we often call into question the goodness and justice and mercy of God? Don’t we often by implication impugn the character of God when He doesn’t respond to our beck and call? I suggest we are not much better than these Jews who sought to extricate themselves from the judgment of God by calling God’s justice into question.
The religious man, Paul says, asks, “why am I still being condemned as a sinner?” In fact, he says, why shouldn’t we do evil that good may result? Why not do evil that good may come? They are presuming upon the grace of God. And notice that Paul indicates that they accuse his gospel of grace as taking advantage of God’s mercy. So in their argument they are presuming upon God’s mercy and love. They are taking advantage of God. The only advantage that they actually had was the word of God, the scriptures, the law of God. That should have been sufficient to call them to repentance so that they may be justified by faith unto salvation. But they have tried to gain a further advantage. They have mistaken the mercy of God for leniency. That God shouldn’t really care about sin. And to add further insult, they have insulted His character, by saying that if God were to judge our sin, then He is himself unjust.
In fact, the opposite is true. Paul says because of their attitude towards their sin, that their condemnation is just. Their condemnation is deserved, and it is the righteous act of a holy God to judge their sin and condemn them. Their sin is deserving of God’s just judgment, because they have not repented of their sin, but instead want to make excuses for it. Like the Jews were guilty of doing, It’s a common excuse when we are confronted by our sin to want to compare ourselves with others. And we seek to find some validation for ourselves by pointing out that others are worse than us. We’re not as bad as so and so. We may not be all that righteous, but we still aren’t as bad as those people. And the Jews, as the prototypical religious person, were good at doing that. He had the Gentile world living all around him with their blatant idolatry and immorality. And so he thought that compared to them, he looked pretty good.
But what Paul reveals about the religious man is that he is actually more in rebellion against God than even the Gentile. Because he had the word of God, and because in his heart he wants to somehow implicate God in his sin. It’s not bad enough that he is a sinner, but he wants to somehow blame God for it, or get God to overlook it, based on the threat that if He doesn’t then God is unrighteous. And as Paul says, for such a religious person, their condemnation is just, it is doubly deserved.
And I think along with that thought is the objection that is heard far too often today when people are confronted with their sin. And that is to say, “Well, God made me the way I am.” And I think that this attitude is reflected in Paul’s argument as well. But that too is a lie. Let God be true, though every man be a liar. When God made man He said it was good. Everything that God made was good. But man chose sin and thus incurred upon himself the condemnation of sin, and the judgment of sin which is death. One instance of rebellion opened up a Pandora’s box of every conceivable sin that progressively corrupts a man until he is totally corrupted. So God didn’t make you the way you are, sin made you the way you are. And sin deserves the judgment of God, that we may agree with God, “You are justified in your words, that you might prevail in your judging.”
But man’s unrighteousness does not annul the faithfulness of God. God’s mercy triumphs over judgment. God has provided an antidote for sin and for the condemnation that all men are under. And that antidote is appropriated by first recognizing that you are a sinner, that you deserve the judgment of God, and by faith to trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and that He has taken your place under God’s judgement for your sin. He took the lashes that were due to you. He took the suffering of the cross that was due for you. He died the death that was due to you so that you might be given the mercy and grace of God. That you might be saved.
Today the Lifeguard is calling out to you to take the buoy of salvation which He is offering to you. Do you recognize that you are perishing? If so, then I urge you to take it and receive Him as your Savior and Lord.