Sermon preached on Romans 3:1-8 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 6/3/2012 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“Much In Every Way”
Last chapter ended with Paul confronting the hypocrisy of many Jews. Jews that wanted to trust in their outward privilege as Jews, but didn’t live consistent with the truths they said they affirmed. Paul had made the point that outward religion, such as external circumcision was meaningless if it all was just an external thing. Paul said what really mattered was the heart. They needed circumcised hearts. Well, then Paul’s question in verse 1 comes in light of that discussion. What good is it to be a Jew then? Is there any advantage? Is there any profit in circumcision? That’s a sort of human conclusion someone might come to, but Paul says it’s not right thinking. In verse 2, he boldly answers the question. He says there is much advantage for the Jew; much in every way! At this point he doesn’t go into detail on that. He’ll do that in chapter 9 and give a list of several benefits that came to the Jewish people. But at this chapter he just lists one. But it’s the chief one, he says. To the Jewish people were committed the oracles of God, verse 2.
In other words, up to that point, God had delivered his special revelation to the Jewish people. This is talking about the Bible. The holy prophets of old had given God’s revelations to the Jewish people. Now, this does not mean that they were to horde that revelation and not share it with others. But nonetheless, the historical fact was that God had sent the prophets to Israel and revealed this truth first to them. That was their chief advantage. They had been given the Word of God. Even if some of them did not believe it, or live it out, this advantage and privilege was theirs.
Well, what we have here in these first two verses sparks a series of other related questions. In each of these questions, they are sort of foolish questions being asked, that Paul addresses. This question about the Jews was already a start of a kind of foolish question. It’s a foolish question in light of a truth God has revealed and Paul had been teaching. Paul had been teaching about the Jewish hypocrisy, and so that led to this question of if there was any value in being a Jew. Paul’s response was, “of course there is value.” “Much in every way!” And so we see three more of these sort of foolish questions today. Questions for which the answer should be obvious, but Paul will make it clear, nonetheless.
Paul goes out of his way to do this, and we see why. Notice in verse 5 he says that he says that he speaks as a man. This was a technical way the rabbis would address or entertain these sorts of foolish questions. You can see Paul’s training here. But the reason why he evidently addresses these kinds of questions is because he’s obviously been hearing them before. Like what we see in verse 8. He says that some have been slanderously accusing him essentially of some of this. Paul is setting the record straight here.
And as we look at these three questions and see how Paul addresses them, we’ll find that even as man’s character shows its depravity, God’s perfect and beautiful character is exhibited. Interwoven in the three questions we’ll see how man’s sinfulness can highly exalt and glorify God. Three qualities are particularly highlighted here. Man’s unbelief highlights God’s faithfulness, verse 3-4. Man’s lies, highlight God’s truth, verse 4. And man’s unrighteousness highlights God’s righteousness, verse 5. Keep these categories in mind, as we look at these three questions. The result is that man should be humbled, even as God is exalted.
Okay, let’s start with the first question then. The question is found in verse 3. Verse 3 says, “For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect?” Certainly not! Here’s where you see what I’ve called a bit of a foolish question. In the sense that the idea proposed in the question is most emphatically denied by Paul. What’s translated here as “certainly not” is one of the strongest types of negation in Greek. The issue Paul is addressing here in this question is about Jewish unbelief in light of their advantage. Paul already said that the Jews had so much advantage. How then do we account for the fact that some of them don’t believe? Note, he uses the word “some” here. Some Jews, such as Paul himself, do believe. But some do not, like those hypocrites mentioned in last chapter. The question Paul’s asking is if the Jews don’t have faith, yet they had been given all this privilege from God, does this mean God hasn’t been faithful to them? Does their faithlessness mean that God will not be faithful to them?
And so, Paul makes it very clear. God will still be faithful. But we have to understand what that faithfulness means for the unbelieving Jew. You see, God will be faithful to his promises, and he will be faithful to his threats. The very oracles of God that he had deposited with the Jews contained both. It held out blessings and curses. It had promises and threats. God had been faithful as promised to send the Messiah. God would be faithful to save all those who look to the Christ for such. That’s God being faithful to his promises. But God would also be faithful to condemn all those who reject his Christ. Psalm 2, for example, warned against rejecting the Messiah. God will be faithful to judge with wrath even unbelieving Jews. Jews that don’t believe in Jesus. And so man’s lack of faith doesn’t take away from God’s faithfulness. Rather, God’s faithfulness can be seen even in their lack of faith. Faithfulness that will bring wrath on those who do not believe, just as he had promised.
The second question is found in verse 5. “But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust who inflicts wrath? (I speak as a man.) Certainly not! For then how will God judge the world?” Again, you see this question answered with the strong negation. Certainly not! The question here is about the justice of God. Is God right, righteous to inflict wrath on sinners, when God gets glorified in the process? You see, what’s behind the question is what we’ve been talking about with the Jews. If some of the Jews don’t have faith, God will still be faithful to punish them. In this, God’s faithfulness is demonstrated. Similarly, here in verse 5 we see that God’s righteousness is also demonstrated. If man is unrighteous, and God punishes that person because of it, God is shown to be righteous and just. In other words, as man looks bad, God looks good. God looks good because he didn’t allow man’s bad to be ignored. He deals with it.
So the sort of silly question here is that if God is glorified through our punishment, is that right? Well, of course it is. How else could God judge the world then, Paul says. The idea here is that we all know that the world is going to be judged. We all know that this is right. That if evil got away with evil, then this would be to God’s shame. It would say that God is unrighteous. But then if God is shown as righteous in punishing the wicked, we know this is a necessity. God can’t judge the world in any other way.
The third question here is in verses 7-8. Verse 7, “For if the truth of God has increased through my lie to His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner? And why not say, ‘Let us do evil that good may come’? — as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say. Their condemnation is just.” The third question takes and develops the train of thought even further. The question is essentially this – if God is glorified by my doing evil, and that’s a good thing, then shouldn’t I do evil? Doesn’t the end justify the means? Isn’t my job to glorify God? If God is glorified through judging my evil, isn’t that good? Well, Paul again says that’s foolishness. This time he doesn’t answer with a “certainly not.” But his words of condemnation are the equivalent. “Their condemnation is just,” he says. I think something to keep in mind here is that God is seeking to be glorified in all things. God is glorified when he punishes the wicked. But God is also glorified when he saves sinners and grows them in godliness. He’s glorified then when the Christian shows forth his work of grace by living righteously. So, it’s really foolish thinking that we should live unrighteously in order to glorify God. You can do that, but you will be under judgment. God will be glorified, but you would be condemned.
Notice that in light of this question, the contrast of God’s truth versus man’s lie is mentioned. That was something he stated earlier in verse 4 too. Verse 4 quotes an Old Testament psalm to help explain this. Psalm 51:4. That’s a psalm about King David confessing his sin with Bathsheba and Uriaih after the prophet Nathan confronted him. David in that Psalm acknowledges that this sin was ultimately against God. David had tried to cover up this sin. He had tried to lie about it before men. But God had seen. And God had sent the prophet to issue his judgment. David in this psalm confesses that God’s words are true on the matter, even when David had tried before to lie and cover it up. Let God be true but every man a liar. In other words, even when men try to lie about their sin or cover it up or rationalize it away, God’s judgment is true and correct and right. No man can show God to be a liar. His assessment is always perfect and correct. His judgment is always right and in accordance with truth.
So we’ve looked at these three questions, which I’ve described as a bit of foolish questioning. Stepping back at this point, remember the context for what I’m calling these foolish questions. The context helps to bring these all together. Remember, these string of questions was sparked by the initial question about the advantage of the Jew. We said that the Jews had the Word of God. That then led to discuss about the situation where some Jews had this advantage, and yet were under God’s judgment. Some of these Jews showed themselves to be unbelievers, to be liars, and to be unrighteous. That led to these questions of how this related to God. We saw that God’s truth remains, despite these unbelieving Jews. We saw that God’s righteous judgment remains. In all of this, God is glorified, even as these unfaithful Jews are condemned.
It would seem then that we should find some application in all of this. You see, this advantage that the Jews back then held, is what the visible Christian church has today, and even more so. We now, some 2000 years later, have the complete canon of Scripture. Old and New Testaments. The inspired oracles of the prophets and the inspired witness of the apostles. It is the visible church today which has this deposit of truth. To go along with that, we have the baptism, which is the new covenant equivalent of the Jewish circumcision. If the Jews back then could be said to have had such wonderful advantage, how much more the church today? The church of Jesus Christ has this wonderful advantage!
And of course it is this advantage to us that so clearly communicates to us the gospel. That we can be saved by grace through faith, in Jesus Christ. That yes, we have all lied. We have done acts of unrighteousness. We have not acted in faith and faithfulness in all circumstances. In other words, we’ve all fallen short of the glory of God. Yet, it’s this advantage that we have that tells us the solution. The advantage of the Old and New Testaments is the witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That we can turn and put our trust in Jesus who forgives sins. That instead of justice being served against us for our sins, that Jesus has stood in our place. He has taken the blow of justice for us. The result is that God can truthfully declare our justification. God can justly declare us in a right standing before him. He can declare sinners right before him, because of Christ. This is what we believe and trust in. This is what our advantage has told us. It’s what our baptism symbolizes. We rightly glory in this advantage! This chief advantage of having heard the gospel and finding salvation in Jesus Christ.
And so the church of Jesus Christ today is full of advantages. And yet if back then there could be unbelieving Jews who had all their advantages, we know that the same could be true within the Christian church today as well. It would seem that this is an application we need to wrestle with as we consider this passage. That there can be those who have been baptized into the church from their birth. They have grown up hearing the Word of God all their lives. Outwardly they’ve affirmed it to others. They claim to be a Christian when asked. They know how to talk like a Christian when in the right crowds. But on the inside they don’t believe. Their hearts are hard and they look to live for themselves, and not for the Lord. If that is you, then this passage is a wakeup call today. All of the advantage you have been given! Don’t spurn it! Don’t fritter it away! Recognize that all this advantage has been given that you would call out to God. That you would put your faith and trust in him. That you would look to follow him from the heart. Today, if you hear his voice calling, do not turn a deaf ear. Even now the Spirit holds out the gospel before you. Turn and be saved. This advantage is so that you would believe and be saved!
Another related application that comes from this passage has to do with the nature of all these questions. I’ve mentioned the foolishness of many of these questions today. Paul talked of speaking as a man. Paul’s condemned some of the thinking here. He’s shown how these foolish questions are easily answered by the Word of God. Well, the application I want to bring is this: When you hear the questions he deals with, I hope that they’ve seen a bit foolish even to you. I hope that the answers to the questions seem a bit obvious. I hope you said things like, of course God is righteous to punish unrighteous people. Or, of course I shouldn’t try to sin so God can judge me and he can be glorified that way. I hope you’ve stood back and thought how obvious some of the answers to these questions are. But I would submit to you that the answers probably seemed obvious to you, because you have become well trained in the Word. In the advantage that God has give you. The advantage of the Scripture.
You see, Paul said, “I speak as a man.” In other words, these are the kind of wordly questions you might get as a Christian. We are going to get some foolish kinds of questions from people. Questions that you might think are so obvious, because Scripture is so clear about the subjects. And yet, the point is that you will only come to those immediate conclusions if you know the Word. Again, the Word has been given to us for our advantage. If you embrace this advantage, and become a student of the Scriptures, then you will see so clearly the answers to the foolish questions. But this is why we get sometimes these foolish questions. People from human wisdom think the foolish questions are so appropriate, because they just don’t know the Word. They don’t realize that God’s Word explains these things so clearly. They hear little bits of Bible teachings here and there and come to false conclusions. They might even accuse Christians of teaching some of their false conclusions – just like they did of Paul here in verse 8.
But again, the answer is to go to God’s Word. If you are trained in the Scriptures, you’ll be able to tell right away when people present a false conclusion, or inaccurately pit one truth against another, as we saw Paul address here. In other words, I think you should expect that as a Christian you will get some foolish questions from time to time. Paul took the time to answer them here. We should too. We should always be ready to give a defense for the hope that we have, to anyone who would ask. And let us answer even the foolish questions, the ones that seem so obvious to us, with gentleness and respect. Let us share with people that advantage we have – the Scriptures, which are able to make one wise unto salvation. This is not an advantage to keep to ourselves. It’s one to share with the world.
Well, then, in closing let me point us again to God’s glory. If man’s unbelief, and lies, and wickedness can still be used to bring glory to God, how much more can our faith, and truthfulness, and righteousness be used. Surely, that is the implied call here. We don’t want to be like the unbelieving Jews who disregard God’s word. No, this is a call to faith and belief. To believe the Scriptures. To believe the gospel. To live in light of God’s truth and look to live as people of truth. To seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness. God’s grace will train us in this. Let us seek to grown in such grace. And as we grow in such grace, then that will glorify God. For the world will see his handiwork in our life. The world will see God growing us. That will especially be true at the end when he finishes his work. That too will glorify God, and it also has the added benefit of being good for us too!
Copyright © 2012 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.