Thursday, October 27, 2011

Romans 3:1-8 – Righteousness in Judgment

Righteousness comes from God; this is the consistent theme of Romans. We've seen our case studies of people who in their own mind are ok, but Paul has declared they are heading for the destruction of God's wrath.

First we had the wise fools of Romans 1 who ignore God revealed in creation, and suppress the truth about God. To them, God declares their ignorance will not be excused.

Then we looked at the morally depraved, who believed the lie which Satan has told from the beginning, "be your own god".

Next we had the self-righteous hypocrites, standing on personal righteousness, while hardening their hearts against God's grace and mercy.

Last week we studied the religious posers; these are legalistic rule makers, who think they can checklist their way into God's favor. The flaw in their plan however is the weakness of the flesh, and an unchanged heart.

The apostle Paul's approach to planting churches was to begin in the synagogue when possible. "To the Jew first" was his commitment, this is what Jesus told them, and that is what they did. He was, after all, a Jew himself; and his heartbeat was to see his Hebrew brethren trust in their Messiah, Jesus Christ.

But as you read the book of Acts, and the letters Paul wrote he was always frustrated at the hardness of heart he found in many Jews. So in each city they would have some Jewish converts, and then they would have some hardened opposition to the gospel. When it reached that point Paul would turn to the Gentiles, where the gospel has less resistance. And there is a lesson for us in Paul's methodology; sometimes we expend so much energy on the people we want to see saved, but we cannot be the Holy Spirit, nor can we believe for other people. There comes a time when we have to step back and see where God is working, submit our will to His and join in the work that God is already doing. This week we will look at hardened hearts, and a hardened resistance to the righteousness of God. Here Paul will answer the objections of the defense lawyers, people who say God has no right to judge.

1 What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? 2 Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God.

"What advantage then has the Jew?" In other words, "If all you say is true, Paul, then what difference does it make that we are Jews; if we stand condemned with the rest of the world?"

Paul answers this objection without negating the truth of what he had just established in chapter two. He says, "Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God". Paul essentially says, "Even though the Hebrew birth and the Hebrew Bible do not save you, they certainly have revealed salvation to you". The Jew had the privilege of holding in his hands and hiding in his heart the revealed promises concerning Jesus Christ!

The entire Old Testament was about the coming of Israel's Messiah! Over three hundred Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Micah 5:2 told them where He would be born (fulfilled in Matt. 2:1-5). 700 years before Jesus walked into Jerusalem the prophet Isaiah recorded how the Messiah would be born (Isaiah 7), what He would be called (Isaiah 9), and detailed how He would die (Isaiah 53). In Psalm 22 one can read the description of the crucifixion of Jesus. It tells of the piercing of His hands and feet, the gambling for His clothes, and even records the very words that Jesus would say on the cross. This one Psalm contains 33 direct prophecies that were fulfilled at Christ's death; even though it was written a thousand years before Christ's birth. Isaiah said that the Messiah would be crucified between two thieves (Isaiah 53:9-12). Zechariah said that He would be betrayed for exactly thirty pieces of silver (Zech. 11:12). Yet the very advantage that the Jew had (the oracles of God) was the very thing that condemned him; because he did not believe in the Messiah when He came. John records in his gospel, "He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him" (John 1:11 NKJV). Objection #1 - overruled. The Jew is indeed privileged, but privilege cannot replace a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

3 For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? 4 Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written:

" That You may be justified in Your words,

And may overcome when You [are] judge[d]." (Psalm 51:4)

{Psalm 51

1 Have mercy upon me, O God,

According to Your lovingkindness;

According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,

Blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

And cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I acknowledge my transgressions,

And my sin is always before me.

4 Against You, You only, have I sinned,

And done this evil in Your sight—

That You may be found just when You speak,

And blameless when You judge. }

"For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect?"
The objector is essentially saying here, "O.k., we admit that we have received God's Word about the Messiah; but not all of us have believed it. So, will the unbelief of some cancel out the faithfulness of God?" Paul answers, "Certainly not!" God faithfulness to Israel is without question, but he has always kept His promises with a those who are willing to repent and live by faith. God keeps His promises in spite of humanities failure.

To illustrate this truth Paul quotes from King David's prayer of repentance in Psalm 51:4,
"Against You, You only, I have sinned and done this evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge."

Truth is truth whether it is believed or not. Man's failure does not equal God's unfaithfulness. Objection #2 - overruled, "Let God be true, but every man a liar".

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.) 6 Certainly not! For then how will God judge the world?

"But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust who inflicts wrath?"

In other words, because God made these moral demands knowing humanity would fail, does that make His wrath unjustified? After all we were doomed to failure from the beginning.
The apostle Paul again answers, "Certainly not! For then how will God judge the world?"

As Paul will explain later on in his epistle, the giving of the Law did not suddenly make mankind guilty of wrong. God didn't arbitrarily paint a target somewhere other than where we had already shot the arrow and then call it a miss. The target has always been present. God's totally righteous character is - and always has been - the standard. The Law simply illuminates and magnifies the target, leaving mankind with even less an excuse for missing it. In Adam, Satan showed that man was corruptible; but in Jesus, God demonstrated that man is redeemable.

The Lord did not give the law to humanity in order to justify His wrath. On the contrary, He established clear lines between right and wrong as a means of grace, to confront us with our offenses. The giving of the Law was a first step in His plan to redeem us. Objection #3 - overruled, the Law was meant by God to guide us to grace; not keep us from it.

7 For if the truth of God has increased through my lie to His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner? 8 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 Jew continues objecting to Paul's reasoning to the point of using twisted logic. He says, "For if the truth of God has increased through my lie to His glory, why am I also still judged a sinner? And why not say, 'Let us do evil that good may come?'"

Remember the jealousy of Joseph's brothers, how they plotted to kill him, then they sold him into slavery. He ends up in Jail completely forgotten except by God. God raises him up, makes him a ruler in Egypt then brings his family back to him, so he can save them from the famine. When his brothers realize Joseph is alive and in charge, they think Joseph will use his authority for revenge against them (as they deserved), but Joseph has a different answer. "But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive." (Genesis 50:20) God can use the acts of evil men to accomplish His purpose, but the hearts of those men are still evil, and will be judged when they stand before God.

I have actually heard this argument first hand from skeptics who say "if God is really sovereign, and will accomplish His purpose, then how can sinners be guilty"?

Critics of the apostle Paul were accusing him of spreading just such a doctrine. They misconstrued the gospel of grace by saying, "This man Paul says, 'It doesn't matter what you do because God's grace will cover all your sin.'" While this statement is essentially true (God's grace does cover all of our sins) it does not take into account the indwelling Spirit of God that impels us to "walk in newness of life". Paul will address this twisted logic and perversion of grace later on in chapter 6 where he says, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? CERTAINLY NOT! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" Objection #4 - overruled, sin does not glorify God or magnify grace at all, rather is it God's response to sin that is marvelous.

In Romans 2:17-29 the apostle Paul revealed that a Hebrew birth and a Hebrew Bible do not equal a righteous standing before God; and in Romans 3:1-8 he anticipates and overrules any objections they might put forth. In every case: the heathen, the hypocrite, and the Hebrew have all rejected God's revelation and God's instruction. Instead of the Creator they worship creation, instead of the Lord they submit to the Law. All fall short of God's glory; all are guilty before God; and as a result, all will be justly judged and condemned. God's righteousness is revealed in the faith of the redeemed, and in His judgment of the rebellious.

Questions to consider:

Why do you think Paul was so committed to reaching the Jewish people with the gospel?

How can growing up in a "Christian environment" be detrimental to someone experiencing genuine salvation?

What are some common objections people have with the phrase, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23)?

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