[If you have been following this study in Romans, the last time we left off at Chapter 2, Verse 16. We pick up here with Chapter 3, Verse 1. For a look at 2:17-2:29, please see “7 Things That Will Not Bring Salvation – Part 1” and “Part 2” which I wrote last Summer]
By the time that the Apostle Paul wrote his Epistle to the Romans, he was quite familiar in dealing with the objections of the Jewish religious leaders. He had experience in addressing their arguments and had doubtlessly been confronted with the very same questions repeatedly. Having just written some very direct charges against the orthodox rabbinical Jews, who rested on the Law of Moses and prided themselves in their belief that they were able to keep the same, Paul anticipates three common challenges which might be raised against these charges. Let’s look at them a little closer:
1.) If the Jew is just as guilty of sin in the eyes of God as the Gentile, then what benefit is there to being a Jew? (3:1)
The anticipated objection here is that if being born a Jew, knowing God’s will, knowing God’s Law, knowing God’s Word, teaching God’s Law and Word, and being circumcised do not make a person right with God, then is there any advantage at all to being a Jew? We know from the way that the Pharisees and other Jewish religious leaders dealt with Jesus that they liked to set little theological “traps” for those whom they saw as their doctrinal enemies (e.g., Matthew 12:10 and Luke 11:53-54). It is very likely that Paul had been asked such a question before during his ministry and he is quick to address it here. They would have had several Scriptures in mind when asking, and were hoping that Paul would misspeak and state that there was no advantage for the Jew, thus contradicting what God’s Word said (e.g., Deuteronomy 14:2). But Paul does not contradict God’s Word in addressing this anticipated objection:
“Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.” (Romans 3:2)
The “much every way” will be further developed in Chapter 9, verses 4 and 5, but he states here that the entrustment of God’s Word is the primary advantage. What an awesome gift it is to have access to the holy written Word of God! Not only did the nation Israel have access to God’s Word, they were given the privilege of being the people through whom God’s Word would come to the whole world.
2.) Are you saying that, because some Jews have disobeyed God’s commandments, then God will not honor His promises? (3:3)
Here is the second trap that Paul anticipated they would try to snare him with. Again, Paul is quick to refute such a notion:
“God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.” (Romans 3:4)
In other words, you can count on God’s Word being true. If every person on earth says one thing and God says differently, we know Who is correct. God is. Truth does not change in the face of popular opinion nor does consensus determine what is truly right and wrong. God made certain promises to the nation Israel that were unconditional. The question being posed here is whether or not God will honor these promises considering the lack of faithfulness on the part of some. Notice that Paul realizes that most will not admit that they themselves have blown it and come short of following God’s Law. Rather than asking an honest question, such as saying, “OK, you are right, we ALL have failed to keep God’s Law, how can we receive forgiveness?” they would rather try another trick question, “You aren’t suggesting that God is going to fail to keep His promises just because some OTHER PEOPLE haven’t obeyed, are you?” Oh, how they would have loved it if he would have played into their hands! But, again, he does not. Instead, he responds with a paraphrase of Psalm 51:4. Ironically, this Psalm is a complete outpouring from King David’s heart in repentance before God. It is one of the most pure and sincere prayers of heartfelt repentance found anywhere in the Bible and I do not believe it is a coincidence that Paul would choose to bring this particular passage to the remembrance of those readers whose attitude was so completely opposite of the words contained in it.
The important question is not whether or not God will honor His unconditional promises to the nation Israel, of course He will. The important question is whether or not God made any promises specifically to the individual Israelite where He would overlook his disobedience and lack of repentance, and of course He did not. There are no promises made to the individual Jew that they will be unconditionally saved from God’s judgment. Neither is any promise made that anyone will be justified based on the fact that they are Jewish.
Is God Finished With Israel?
“And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.” (Zechariah 12:10)
This verse, obviously, has yet to be fulfilled. But it will be. God’s promises to the nation Israel that remain to be fulfilled will be fulfilled. God is certainly not finished with the nation Israel, nor has the Church replaced the nation Israel. Verses such as this one in Zechariah could not possibly be fulfilled by the Church, it can only apply to Israel. It is of the utmost importance that we see this because if God is not going to honor His promises made to the nation Israel, how can we be confident that He will honor His promises to the Body of Christ?
A Distinction Made
“Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” (Romans 9:6-7)
In addition to what we have just read in Romans 2:28-29, further clarification is made in Chapter 9 concerning who God considers a real Jew and a bona fide member of the nation Israel. The assumption being made in the second anticipated question addressed in Romans 3:3 is that the promises God has made to Israel as a nation will automatically be conferred upon every individual of Jewish descent. This is not the case.
3.) So, if man’s disobedience actually magnifies the goodness of God in comparison, thus bringing Him glory, then how can God judge the very sinfulness that brings Him glory? (3:5)
All right, so if God will honor His unconditional promises because of His own goodness and His own faithfulness regardless of the lack of faithfulness of the nation to whom the promises are made, then how can God judge the very sin that demonstrates man’s unrighteousness and emphasizes His own righteousness? Having failed to catch him in his own words, this third attack on the Gospel made against Paul attempts to take the Gospel to an illogical end. Rather than trying to create a supposed contradiction between the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the clear teachings of the Old Testament, the effort now is to create a fallacious leap of logic in the very nature of sin and God’s judgment.
I must confess that it is beyond me how anyone could draw such conclusions and make such suggestions in light of the clear presentation of the Gospel. But, from what verse 8 tells us, this is no hypothetical objection. People had actually made such an argument. Maybe it seems logical to some people, but I admit, I sure do not understand the reasoning behind it. We see other examples of such philosophical arguments throughout the Bible and even in our own modern day. There has, in recent years, developed a lot of attention on the disciple Judas Iscariot in some theological circles as well as in popular books and T.V. documentaries. The basic argument is that, since Judas’ betrayal of Jesus caused the will of God to be fulfilled through the Crucifixion, then he was a participant in God’s will and, therefore, is a hero and not a villain. What a horrendous example of calling evil “good” and good “evil!”
Well, if this argument is true, then even the devil could not be judged because his actions have also contributed to fulfilling God’s will and bringing the Lord glory. Rather than being serious, meaningful questions asked in order to better understand the Gospel, objections such as these do little more than “muddy the waters” by perverting the straightforward Good News of Jesus Christ into a complex, philosophical conundrum. This is what is going on in the objection raised in Romans 3:5. Paul quickly brings the matter back to Earth in verse 7 by stating that, just because God’s righteousness is magnified in contrast to the sinner’s sinfulness, the sinner is still a sinner. Verse 8 makes it clear that judgment is in no way avoided by this supposition.
“The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born.
Then Judas, which betrayed him, answered and said, Master, is it I? He said unto him, Thou hast said.” (Matthew 26:24-25,)
Jesus Himself made it clear that, although the actions of Judas fulfilled prophecy concerning our Lord, he was in no way a hero for what he did and God will judge him for his sin.
It is astounding to consider that there would be those who would rather argue ad absurdum against the clearly presented evidence of the Universal sin-guilt of all mankind, but there were those who would. There still are. Rather than accept the Good News that Jesus Christ will forgive the sins of all who come to Him, many people want to dispute, argue, and object to the fact that they are sinners at all. They go to great lengths to create ridiculous philosophical conundrums in an effort to shift the focus of blame from themselves. They might feel that they are resting soundly on a supposed loophole, but we can be assured that no loopholes exist. To the Jewish legalists, those resting on the Law of Moses, Paul declared that the Law will never acquit any person; it will only serve to condemn them. Every mouth will be stopped and all will be found guilty before God (Rom. 3:19). Not only will such foolish challenges made against the righteous judgment of God not be accepted, they will not even be entertained. So many people are counting on their chance to defend themselves before God, to explain why they are not sinners. But no chance will ever come. Man is unable to justify himself before a Holy God. Job responded to his friend Zophar’s accusations that he was guilty of sin:
“Surely I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to reason with God.” (Job 13:3)
Yet when Job had his chance, he said: “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken; but I will not answer: yea, twice; but I will proceed no further” (Job 40:4-5). There will be nothing left to say when we stand before God. None of us will be afforded the opportunity to reason with God about our own sinfulness. Let us come to Christ now and confess what we are that He may cleanse us and give us life in Himself.