The Bad News Concluded; the Good News Introduced
© C. O. Bishop 9/1/15 THCF 9/6/15
Romans Chapter 3
Paul has just finished condemning (for cause) all of three groups of people:
- Immoral Sinners (those who ignore moral values and restraints)
- Moral Sinners (those who adhere to at least some moral values and restraints, and are sure that because of that they will be on good terms with God) and
- Religious Sinners (including the Jews: those who adhere to some form of religious piety, whether based on the Word of God or not…but in this case he specifically addressed the Jews, as they did have the Word available.)
That pretty well sums up the human race, doesn’t it? Biblically, we could divide the whole race into two groups: Jews and Gentiles. We could also state that within each group there are people who ignore all moral restraint, and others who adhere to some (or many) moral values. Paul systematically proved that all these groups were under judgment for sin, and ended with the idea that the Jews were under special judgment because they knew the Law and ignored it.
That is a pretty negative premise with which to begin, though it certainly “levels the playing field,” if that is considered a good thing: no one has a special advantage, and no one is treated unfairly. Paul is simply completing the Bad news as the necessary foundation for the Good News. But I am sure that to each of the groups mentioned, it was shockingly bad news; especially to the Jews who thought they were already on God’s side, and destined for heaven.
So what advantage IS there to being a Jew?
3: 1What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?
2 Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.
Paul, a Jew, poses the question, “Then what possible advantage is there to being a Jew?” His answer? “There is much advantage in every way, but the chief advantage was that to them were entrusted the oracles of God.” As far as I can tell, every single Old Testament prophet was a Jew, unless you recall that Abraham was an Iraqi, later referred to as a homeless Syrian; and none of the immediate progeny of Jacob had ever heard the word “Jew”. That was a later descriptive term applied first to the tribe of Judah and those associated with him, and later to all the children of Jacob (also called Israel).
Melchizedek was certainly not a Jew, though he was the one who blessed Abraham in the name of the Most High God. But every single one of the writers of the Old Testament were Jews, as were all but one of the writers of the New Testament (and that one is questioned by some). (Luke may have been a Gentile, as “Luke” is a Gentile name. But that would suggest that anyone with a Jewish name must be a Jew. (Joe? Sarah? Steve? Elizabeth? Where do you want to stop?) That is clearly not sufficient reason to make such an assumption.) I really do not know what Luke’s origin may have been, but without controversy, all of the other writers were Jews. Is that a privilege? An honor? Looks like one to me. Would it at least tend to give them an “inside track” as far as an opportunity to know the God of the Universe? I would think so.
Further, in every village where Paul (and the other apostles) preached, they began with the synagogue—the Jewish elders in that village. Why? Well, for one reason, they had been waiting for the Messiah for a long time, so it was fitting that they should hear the message first. But a practical reason is that those believing Jews, who had already trusted in the coming Savior, and the blood of his sacrifice, had also been soaking in the Written Word for their whole life; memorizing it, studying it, meditating upon it, and receiving teaching concerning it. They were in a position to vault into Christian maturity far more rapidly than a Gentile, who, even if he were a proselyte to Judaism, could only recently have begun to understand the Word of God. Thus, it was possible for Paul to be run out of a town by the unbelievers, but leave behind a fledgling church with ordained elders…after three weeks or less in some cases!
But what about all those Jews who don’t believe in Jesus?
3 For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?
He follows his line of reasoning a little further, saying, If some of God’s people fail to believe God’s Word, does that diminish the faith (or faithfulness) of God? Nope. In fact, it underscores it, as He continues faithful regardless of the sin of his people. In the case of the nation of Israel, God demonstrated this truth later on, showing that there will come a time when the believing remnant of Israel will ultimately turn to God as a nation, and finally, “all Israel will be saved.” Not every offspring of Jacob in history: all the living remnant of Israel. God never took his hand off their history, though they repeatedly took their eyes off of Him.
We see a similar truth in the Church: the Church has failed God in every way, over and over, but Jesus said “I will build my Church, and the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it!” God knows his sheep, and Jesus said He will not lose a single one of them. So, in answer to the question about God’s reliability, Paul says:
4 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.
The result is that God is absolutely correct in His Judgment, and no accusation against Him will ever be right. (Notice that the truth of God’s Word is not dependent upon those who believe it. My believing it does not make it true. The World’s denial of it does not make it untrue. God’s Word, and, in fact, Truth as a principle, has to stand or fall on its own merit. It either is true or it isn’t. And since The Bible claims to be all true, it either is all true, or it simply isn’t true.)
5 But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man)
6 God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?
7 For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?
8 And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.
While it is true that Man’s sin is met by God’s Grace (and judgment…don’t forget the Holiness of God), it is foolish to think, “Well, then, more sin means more grace, right?” I used to think Paul was setting up a “straw man” as it were, because I could not imagine someone being goofy enough to teach such a thing, but there are evidently cults teaching just that, today, and advocating really wallowing in filth, so as to inherit more of the grace of God.
Paul says they are worthy of the condemnation they will receive. We should meditate frequently on Isaiah’s response to his vision of God. In Isaiah 6:1-8, Isaiah saw Jesus on the Throne of God, and was devastated at his own guilt, and the guilt of his people, compared to the utter Holiness of God. The Angelic response to God’s presence was similar: they cried out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of Hosts! The whole Earth is filled with His Glory!” All of those who saw Him were primarily impressed with the Holiness of God, above all His other attributes.
Other prophets had similar visions and experienced similar dismay. Some simply passed out—they nearly died at the revelation of the Holiness of God. No one got inspired to “go and sin more energetically”: not one! Remember too: Jesus told people “Go, and sin no more!”
Don’t ever get the idea that Jesus is “soft on sin.” It is completely true that He loves sinners, but it is equally true that He hates sin… all of it.
Please bear in mind that Jesus, the Jesus that we admired in Bethlehem, and in Jerusalem, in the temple, and at the Cross, is also the one the Bible identifies as “the Judge of all the Earth.” And Jesus, himself, personally confirmed that truth. (John 5:22)
V. 9-20 Paul’s Conclusion to the “Bad News” of the Gospel
9 What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;
In verse 9, the “we” and “they” are Jew and Gentile: Paul speaks from the Jewish perspective, and confesses that the Jews are no better than the Gentiles, in spite of the advantages they were given. They still ran away from God, pursuing sin, and their history proves it time after time.
10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
13 Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:
14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:
15 Their feet are swift to shed blood:
16 Destruction and misery are in their ways:
17 And the way of peace have they not known:
18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.
19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
Paul concludes in verses 9-20 that there is not one person in the whole natural human race, who is free from sin; and that, collectively, we are a total loss. He says, “There is none righteous, no not one.” In verses 9-12, he quotes Psalm 14:2, 3. (Turn there and read it.) Notice in Psalm 14, he is not talking about the Jews, nor about any particular group of people. He is definitely talking about the whole human race. He also quotes Psalm 5:9, 140:3, and other passages, applying those as well, as a blanket condemnation of the whole world. He concludes in verse 19, 20 that all the world is guilty before God, and that no flesh can be justified (“declared righteous”) by works of the Law, since by the Law is the knowledge of sin. Law is only the light that reveals our lost state: it cannot save us.
V. 21-28 Divine Contrast
21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;
22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:
23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
Finally, in verses 21, 22, the righteousness of Christ imputed—apart from law-keeping— is revealed, and it is completely validated by the Old Testament prophets (specifically David, as we shall see later on.) That righteousness is only available to those who place their faith in Him, but it is applied to all that do so. It is “unto all (therefore available to all) and upon all (applied to all) them that believe.” Verses 21-25 are all in reference to the same individuals…and it is all past tense…a “done deal.”
Verse 23 (with which most Christians are thoroughly familiar) states that “ALL have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” But the point that is missed, is that he is talking about believers! He is saying (in v. 22) that there is no difference (among believers) because all were the same unclean, guilty sinners, and (in v. 24) that all have been freely declared righteous (justified) by GRACE, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (“Redemption”, in this particular passage, comes from the word “lutro-o”, meaning to be set free from slavery. In other passages it comes from one of two other words: “agorazo” or “exagorazo”. The first, “agorazo”, means “bought in the marketplace”. Jesus literally bought us with his blood. The second implies being “bought out of the marketplace”—that is, that He bought us OUT of that slave-marketplace of sin and that we have been removed from it forever. “Lutro-o” carries the final idea; that we have been set free, eternally, to serve out of Love; not fear.) All of these points are completely true of all believers in Christ…those who have trusted in the shed blood of the historical, Biblical Jesus Christ for their salvation.
v. 25 specifies that our faith is to be in the blood of Christ—not a creed, not a code of morality, not a church membership, nor an ethnic identity; but through the person and work of Christ: specifically, faith in His shed Blood. That is a pretty important concept and frequently is omitted in Bible teaching, today. I don’t know whether it is due to ignorance, personal revulsion at the concept of a blood-sacrifice, or rebellion against the stated need for it. But this was the error of Cain, if you recall, and it seems to increasingly be the error of the modern Church. Cain thought that he could bypass the “gore” of a blood sacrifice, and go straight to a worship experience with God. God sought to correct Cain’s error, explaining what was wrong: Cain compounded the error by killing Abel. Take note that those who deny their need for a Savior, or deny the efficacy of Jesus’ blood, will always attack those who recognize that need and who place their faith in His blood. This is a Biblical principle, and has been consistently borne out in human history.
v. 26 Paul says that Jesus himself is not only righteous, but that He is the only one who can authoritatively (and effectually) declare a sinner to be righteous. He declares those who believe in Him (this implies consciously placing one’s faith in him for salvation, not just believing he exists, or whatever) will be “declared righteous” by Him. The word “Just” means “righteous: having a right standing before God”. “Justified” means “declared Righteous”.
27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.
28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
v. 27: Some final questions are posed: “Where is boasting?” It is excluded by the law of faith. That is an interesting concept: “the Law of Faith”. Saving Faith always produces level ground and true humility. How could I be “proud to be a Christian?” The fact of my salvation was predicated upon the fact of my absolute guilt as a sinner. There can be no pride there, surely. Paul’s conclusion in verse 28 is that a man is justified by faith (alone) without works of the Law.
29 Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also:
30 Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.
31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.
There is a brief transition in ideas, in verses 29-31. Paul poses the rhetorical question “Is God the God of the Jews only?” (Now some Jews and many Gentiles would have automatically said “yes” because they completely misunderstand who God really is, and thus miss the fact that there is only room for one Sovereign in the universe. There is only one God, in fact, and that God must be the God of all things and all people…there is none other.) Paul concludes then, that the same God has to accomplish the justification of all… both Jew and Gentile. He asks one final rhetorical question: “Do we make void the law, through Faith?”
The answer, resoundingly, is “NO!” (“God Forbid! Yea, we establish the Law.”) But how could the preaching of the Grace of God establish (i.e. “build up; strengthen the position of”) the Law of God?
When we consider the role of God’s Law, throughout History, we can see that Grace is always the conclusion of the Law. By accepting God’s Grace, in salvation, we confess that the Law is correct in condemning us, and agree that we cannot possibly please God in the flesh.
If that is not what you think, in terms of the meaning of Grace, then I would suspect that you do not understand your genuine need for a Savior, and I would question how in the world you were saved. How could you place your faith in an unseen Savior, confessing your sin by so doing, if you do not see yourself as a hopelessly lost sinner apart from His Grace?
But we do see ourselves that way, and we do trust in His Grace. And we rejoice in our Savior.
Lord Jesus, help us to see you in your Holiness, to see our own crying need for your Grace, and to daily seek your face in confession and prayer, and the study of your Word.