With Dale Ratzlaff
We pick up our study in Romans 3:1-9
Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. 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 MAY BE JUSTIFIED IN YOUR WORDS, AND PREVAIL WHEN YOU ARE JUDGED.” 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 claim that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come “? Their condemnation is just. What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin (Rom 3:1-9).
In the last part of Romans 2 Paul said that for a Jew who was a transgressor of the law, his circumcision meant nothing. If this statement is true, then the Jew must ask, “What is the benefit of circumcision? Don’t God’s chosen people have some advantage?”
Paul’s response is a quick, “Great in every respect,” and then he lists one benefit: they were entrusted with the oracles of God. At this point Paul moves to a discussion of the justice of God. The underlying questions are three:
(1) Will the unbelief of the Jews (probably in reference to their rejection of Christ) nullify the faithfulness of God’s promise to the Jews? Paul’s answers is in the strongest terms, “May it never be!” This will be worked out in some detail in Romans 9-11.
(2) In God’s providence, human unfaithfulness may often demonstrate God’s righteousness. If this paradox is true, then why are sinners judged? To answer this question, Paul quotes a part of Psalm 51:4.
“Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge.”
David’s sin was punished, yet God did not withdraw his faithfulness from him. God never condones evil, but His punishment of sin is part of His righteous character. This is the same truth Daniel expresses in his prayer.
As it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come on us; yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our iniquity and giving attention to Your truth. Therefore the LORD has kept the calamity in store and brought it on us; for the LORD our God is righteous with respect to all His deeds which He has done, but we have not obeyed His voice (Dan. 9:13-14).
Daniel, knowing that the seventy years of captivity prophesied by Jeremiah were nearing their end, prays for God’s deliverance. In doing so Daniel shows that the very fact that the Jews were taken into captivity demonstrates God’s justice. God did just what He said He would do if the Jews broke the covenant. However, Daniel goes on to plead God’s faithfulness in His promise to bring His people out of captivity after seventy years. Daniel understands God’s justice and God’s mercy. We must never undermine one to support the other. Understanding how these two attributes of God work together is the very essence of the gospel story. Paul will work these out in the following chapters of Romans.
(3) Yet a third question arises. If it is true that unrighteousness actually demonstrates the righteousness of God, which Paul has just affirmed, then why not go ahead and sin so we will make God’s justice appear even better? Why not “Let us do evil that good may come”?
Apparently, some were claiming Paul was teaching this heresy. Again, Paul answers this accusation in the strongest terms, “Their condemnation is just”. In Paul’s day, as it is in our day, there will be those who twist what is taught, taking things out of context, and making applications which are not supported by the truth of Scripture.
Paul ends this section with a warning to those who sit on the sidelines criticizing the Jews for their unfaithfulness.
What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.
In our next study Paul will give a graphic description of sin that will stop even the most pious person from claiming personal righteousness. Then we will be ready for the good news! I can hardly wait!
Building on the theology worked out in these verses in Romans, we can make several applications. First, Christians who are living outside of God’s fellowship by a life of disobedience and sin should expect God’s Justice in allowing difficulties to come into their lives. As a loving Father, God disciplines His children when they wonder off in sin. David, Daniel and Paul understood this well. We must remember the truth that God’s justice in dealing with sin does not negate the faithfulness of His promise to His children.
Second, many who have wandered away from God and turned to a life of depravity have in a moment of desperate need cried out to God and were drawn back into fellowship with the assurance of salvation and the inner witness of the Spirit. This, however, should never cause us to think that it was the sin that brought them back into fellowship. Sin should always be avoided. Nevertheless, God in His mysterious ways—numerous ways—draws sinners to Himself
Third, somewhere along this journey of life there will be times when even the best Christian will question God’s justice. When bad things happen to good people we are often left with few answers. Those of us in pastoral or counseling positions need to be very careful not to give answers quickly to the “Why questions”. We would do well to take Paul’s advice: let God be found true, though every man be found a liar. We can rest in the justice and faithfulness of our God. Later, in Romans 8 Paul will expand on the love of God,
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).
But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:37-39).
Father, I pray for wisdom, power, and the will to live in obedience to your word. Thank you for your justice and faithfulness. May I never doubt your righteous character, your unending faithfulness and infinite love. May I rest knowing that all things will work out for the good and nothing can separate me from your love.
In Jesus name I pray.