Shattering False Security of Salvation Part 3 – Romans 3:1-8
Pastor Mark Hardy February 12, 2012
In his story The Emperor’s New Clothes, Hans Christian Anderson tells of an emperor who was only interested in buying and wearing new clothes. One day two well-dressed con men entered the capital city and began to brag about being tailors who used a magic silk that would render the clothes invisible to anyone who did not have enough intelligence, education, and wisdom to be holding the position they did in the Kingdom.
The emperor heard about their skill and commissioned them to make him some new clothes at great cost. For a month the con men sat before the empty looms and pretended to be weaving, but continually asked for more jewels, silk, and gold so that they could complete the clothes. The emperor finally became impatient, but since he knew that only the wise and intelligent people would be able to see the cloth that they were weaving, he asked his High Minister and shortly afterwards his Captain of the Guard to see how things were going. Since both of them saw no clothes on the busy looms but didn’t want to be thought unwise and unfit for their jobs, they both returned to the emperor with a report about the magnificent beauty of the clothes. Next the emperor went himself. Though he saw nothing, he too did not want to appear stupid and unfit to be emperor. So he proclaimed the clothing was excellent and beautiful, had the two tailors kneel, took a sword and knighted them on the spot.
Finally, on the day set for the grand parade throughout the entire city, the two con men tailors dressed the emperor in his nakedness and then skipped town. As the emperor paraded before his people in his birthday suit, all of the people joined together in praising his beautiful new clothing, lest any of them be thought to be unwise. Until, all of a sudden a young child was heard to say, “The emperor has no clothes!” At once everyone acknowledged the truth, including the emperor. One innocent but honest remark by a child who did not know enough to keep his mouth shut stripped away the hypocritical pretense of the entire city.
Now like this young child, the apostle Paul has just got through honestly speaking to the Jews in Romans 2:17-29 where he shattered their delusion of falsely imagining themselves to be clothed with an eternal security that is nonexistent, and he has exposed the nakedness of their true spiritual condition before God. This morning as we come to chapter 3, Paul now anticipates the Jews strong reaction to what he has said, which he had encountered many times after his preaching in the synagogues (Acts 19:8; Acts 21:27-28; 24:5-6; 26:19-22).
As we continue on in our study of Romans 2:17-3:8, we are looking at four wrong assumptions of the Jews that gave them a false sense of security about their salvation and exemption from God’s judgment. Thus far we have seen the first three wrong assumptions:
1) Their heritage can save them (v. 17a)
2) Their law can save them (vv. 17b-24)
3) Their circumcision can save them (vv. 25-29)
This morning we will see the fourth wrong assumption in 3:1-8.
The fourth wrong assumption of the Jews is this:
IV. Their Objections can Save them
A. In this passage Paul anticipates and answers four objections from the Jews against his teaching in chapter 2 that their heritage, their Law, and their physical circumcision are not enough to save them. Now these objections that come from either an imaginary Jewish antagonist or Paul’s past experience are intended to discredit Paul’s teaching and restore to the Jews a sense of their security of salvation. As we will see, these objections build upon one another.
B. Now scholars agree that this is probably the most difficult passage in Romans, so hopefully I will be able to make it understandable. I believe its primary practicality for us today will be in aligning our attitude with Paul in his answers to these objections. The Jews first objection is this: Paul’s teaching Undermines God’s People. Look at v. 1: Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision?
1. The word “advantage” (perisson) refers to something that is superior, overflows, greater than, over and above. And the word “benefit” (opheleia) speaks of gain, profit, or value.
2. In chapter 2 Paul said that being an ethnic Jew with all of its privileges (vv. 17-24) and physically circumcised which symbolized their covenantal relationship with God (vv. 25-29) was not enough to guarantee their salvation and exemption from God’s judgment unless they were also a Jew inwardly who had heart circumcision as evidenced in a lifestyle of obedience.
3. Therefore, Paul was seen as having undermined God’s chosen people. So here the objector’s response in essence is, “What saving advantage is there in being a Jew over and above the Gentile?
4. Now we might expect Paul’s answer to be “None at all!” But he doesn’t because to say the Jews had no advantage would mean that the Old Testament isn’t true and God doesn’t keep His promises.
5. God did choose Israel out of all mankind to be His special people. Deuteronomy 14:2 declares about the Jews, “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth (Deut. 10:15; Ps. 135:4; Isa. 43:21).
C. Look at Paul’s answer in v. 2: Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.
1. Although Paul has clearly stated earlier that being a member of God’s chosen people did not automatically guarantee salvation, it did bestow many privileges or advantages that no other nation was given. What were these?
2. Here Paul says, “First of all,” (proton) which suggests that he is going to list a number of advantages, but he never gets past the first. He already listed some in 2:17-24 and will list more when he gets to 9:4-5.
3. But the advantage that is first in the sense of being the most important and supreme advantage of the Jews is “…that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.” The “oracles of God” (logia) is best seen as referring to all of the written utterances of God through Old Testament writers.
4. It is the entire Old Testament Scriptures, which contain all of God’s laws, commandments, promises, and prophecies. It is God’s speech, the very words of God in written form.
5. Only Israel had the immense privilege of being singled out by God and “entrusted with” (episteuthesan) or put in trust of the reception, collection, inscription, and transmission of God’s very words to mankind, which no other nation had been given (Deut. 4:8; Ps. 147:19-20). In other words, they alone were the stewards or custodians of this treasure beyond all other treasures.
6. They had God’s special revelation of Himself and His will. And possessed God’s promises to Israel concerning her coming Messiah and future salvation.
7. Now although simply possessing God’s Word didn’t mean that they were automatically saved, but they had in their trust God’s very words that would lead them to salvation and all its blessings. This tremendous privilege and advantage given to the Jews shows that Paul was not undermining God’s people.
8. However, their increased privilege and insight also meant an increased responsibility, far more than the rest of the world at that time who only had the knowledge of God in creation (1:18-20). And because of that they would also have a greater judgment if they didn’t believe and obey what God’s Word said. For God said to Israel in Amos 3:2, “You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”
9. Now as Christians today we have the advantage of being in Christ’s church and having the completed Word of God that by itself does not save us, but also leads us to salvation and its blessings as we get to know and obey what it says! But whereas we cannot obey what we do not know, merely knowing what God says and not obeying it simply makes us more accountable.
10. This is why we are commanded in James 1:22, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”
D. The Jews second objection is this: Paul’s teaching Negates God’s Faithfulness. Look at v. 3: What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?
1. Having just stated that the Jews have the great advantage of being entrusted with the very words of God, here the objector responds by saying, “What if some don’t believe it and obey it does that mean God won’t keep the promises of His Word? If that’s true, then Paul’s teaching negates God’s faithfulness.
2. Now most scholars see the word “some” (tines) here as referring to the majority of the Jews. Douglas Moo observes, “Paul’s use of ‘some’ to designate the unfaithful Jews must be motivated partially by a desire to lessen the offense, since Romans 9-11 shows that he regarded most Jews as having failed to respond appropriately to God’s word.” (pg. 184)
3. Therefore, the objector’s argument goes something like this: Since God promised to grant Abraham and his seed all the benefits of the Messiah’s kingdom in her future salvation, then even if God’s people are faithless still does not nullify God’s faithfulness to His promises.
4. The word “nullify” (katargesei) means to render ineffective, powerless, inoperative, null and void. So Paul’s antagonist in essence is saying, “Since God’s faithfulness is pledged to our salvation, our faithlessness has nothing to do with it! We’re guaranteed salvation no matter what we do just because of who we are!”
E. Now the very suggestion that God might not be faithful due to Israel’s faithlessness causes Paul to emphatically cry out in v. 4: May it never be!
1. This phrase (me genoito) was the strongest negative Greek expression that indicates a recoiling abhorrence, utter shock, and disgust to such a thought. It has been variously translated: “Never!” “No way!” “Not at all!” “Certainly not!” “By no means!” “God forbid!” “Perish the thought!” “Not on your life!” and “Not in a thousand years.”
2. It is absolutely unthinkable that God’s faithfulness to His covenant promises with Israel should be rendered ineffective even by the Jew’s unbelief. Therefore, the Jews were perfectly right in defending God’s faithfulness because no matter how men respond to His promises, God is absolutely faithful to keep His word.
3. This is why despite Israel’s unbelief and rejection of Jesus Christ the Messiah, God has not rejected her and will be faithful to His promises to save Israel. He has merely postponed the fulfillment of His promise to redeem and restore her as a nation (Zech. 12:10; Rom. 11:1, 25-29), which Paul will further elaborate on in chapters 9-11.
4. However, as Paul has already said no individual Jew can claim security in God’s promises apart from repentance and personal faith in God, resulting in obedience from the heart (Isa. 55:6-7; Rom. 2:28-29). This is why Paul says in 9:6, “…For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.”
5. What the objector doesn’t understand is that God is faithful to His promises in both the saving and the judging of His people. He is equally faithful when He blesses them for their obedience and when He judges them for their disobedience (Neh. 9:32-33; Ps. 45:4; 54:5; 96:13; 119:75).
6. Paul then goes on to affirm God’s faithfulness in different words in v. 4. Look what he says, “…Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar…” (Ps. 116:11)
7. In other words, if every person in the world said that God is not “true” (alethes), meaning ever and always truthful, reliable, and trustworthy to Himself and all His promises, God is still true and every person is a “liar” (pseustes), which is the total opposite of what God is.
8. John Stott said it well, “So far is it from the case that human unfaithfulness undermines God’s faithfulness, that even if every single human being were a liar, God would still be true, because he remains invariably himself and true to himself.” (pg. 96)
9. Paul then proves that God remains faithful and true by quoting a portion of King David’s repentant words to God from Psalm 51:4 out of the Septuagint (LXX—the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament—50:6): As it is written, “THAT YOU (i.e. God) MAY BE JUSTIFIED IN YOUR WORDS, AND PREVAIL (i.e. triumphs) WHEN YOU ARE JUDGED.”
10. In this illustration of David’s humble confession of his sin with Bathsheba to God, he declares that when God Himself is criticized and judged by arrogant men God is always vindicated, proved to be right, and always triumphs in His righteous judgment. God’s faithful and true character will be upheld.
11. Therefore, even though David’s sin was chastened and punished (2 Sam. 12:9-12), God did not withdraw His faithfulness from him (2 Sam. 7:1-17; 23:5). God fulfilled the Davidic Covenant in the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who was in the line of David, for God always keep His Word in spite of Israel’s faithlessness.
12. Praise God for His faithfulness in our lives. For 2 Timothy 2:13 says, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” (Deut. 7:9; 1 Cor. 1:9; Heb. 10:23; 11:11; 1 Pet. 4:19)
F. The Jews third objection, which is a clever twisting of the previous objection, is this: Paul’s teaching Impugns God’s Justice. Look at v. 5: But if our unrighteousness (referring to Israel’s faithlessness and sin) demonstrates (or displays) the righteousness of God, (i.e. His faithfulness and truthfulness) what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous (or unjust), is He? (I am speaking in human terms).
1. Here we get a glimpse how the Jewish objector perverted the gospel of grace and forgiveness that Paul preached. His reasoning goes like this: Since God benefits from our unrighteousness or sin because it gives God the opportunity to display His righteousness more clearly, then He is unjust to punish the sinner who is simply helping to manifest His righteous character.
2. Therefore, by undermining the just wrath of God against sin the objector accuses Paul of impugning God’s justice in judging the sinner. This perverted reasoning is pretty handy in justifying one’s sin by saying that his sin simply gives God more of an opportunity to display His character, grace, or forgiveness!
3. Now lest his readers think that this expressed his own belief about God being unjust, under divine inspiration Paul immediately adds the parenthetical statement, which is seen as an apology, (I am speaking in human terms).
4. In other words, “This is not what I believe, but is man’s perverted logic.”
G. Then in addition to his apology, Paul plainly answers the objector in v. 6 declaring: May it never be! (Stop there)
1. Once again he cries out, “God forbid!” “Perish the thought!” “Not on your life!” “Not in a thousand years.”
2. How do you even dare suggest such a thought! God’s righteous justice can never be called into question!
3. Paul then shows how impossible it is to think of God as unrighteous by pointing to the result if the unthinkable were to happen. Look at the end of v. 6: For otherwise (i.e. if He really is unjust), how will God judge the world?”
4. Now every Jew knew the Old Testament truth that the God of Israel will judge the world and He is just. For Abraham said about God in Genesis 18:25, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”
5. Moses said to Israel in Deuteronomy 10:17, “For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe.” (32:4) “For all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.”
6. And Elihu declares in Job 34:10, “Therefore, listen to me, you men of understanding. Far be it from God to do wickedness, and from the Almighty to do wrong.” (Job 8:3; Ps. 50:6; 58:11; 94:2)
7. Therefore, if God is not just it would disqualify Him as the righteous Judge that He has revealed Himself to be. Also, if God condoned all sin as merely was an opportunity for Him to display His righteousness then there wouldn’t be anyone to judge and God would not judge.
8. But God is the holy and just Judge of the world and He will judge the sins of unrepentant men. For God has promised in Exodus 34:7 that He “…will by no means leave the guilty unpunished” (Num. 14:18).
H. The Jews fourth objection, which reiterates the previous objection in different terms, is this: Paul’s teaching Attacks God’s Holiness. Look at v. 7: But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner?
1. Since Paul taught “salvation by grace through faith apart from works,” he was accused of being “Antinomian” or “anti-law” and therefore seen as giving people license to sin. Therefore, the objector here says in essence: Since “my lie” or sinful falsehood causes God’s “truth” (aletheia) or truthfulness to “abound” (eperiseusen) or increase by contrast to His “glory” (doxan) or honor and praise, then not only should I keep on sinning to bring more glory to God, but He shouldn’t judge me as a sinner when by my sin I’m glorifying Him.
2. Here Paul is accused of teaching that the more sinful, wretched, and false you are, the more God’s truth is made clear and He is glorified. How ridiculous! No wonder the objector said Paul was attacking God’s holiness.
I. But that couldn’t be further from the truth Notice that Paul makes it clear that this was no hypothetical accusation as he interrupts the words of his opponent with a parenthetical statement in v. 8. Look what he says: And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come?” (Stop there)
1. This was the motto that Paul was accused of living by and teaching. In other words, the end justifies the means.
2. Since the good end is God’s glory, then it doesn’t matter what evil means you take to get there. How absolutely perverted!
3. And yet, he says “…as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say.” Paul didn’t attack God’s holiness; on the contrary, he lived to proclaim it and to live it out in his daily life.
4. And beloved we are to do the same! For the apostle Peter said in 1 Peter 1:14-15: As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.”
5. Charles Hodge is right when he says, “According to this reasoning, says Paul, the worse we are, the better: for the more wicked we are, the more conspicuous will be the mercy of God in our pardon; we may therefore do evil that good may come. By reducing the reasoning of the Jews to a conclusion shocking to the moral sense, he thereby refutes it.” (pg. 75)
6. Remember this: It is never right to do wrong in order to do right. The end does not justify the means.
7. Now Paul is going to hit this licentious, antinomian view of life head-on later in his letter. Listen as I read 5:20-21, “The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (6:1-2) “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?”
8. Now since this perversity of Paul’s gospel was not even worth acknowledging with a serious answer, he simply says about these slanderers at the end of v. 8: Their condemnation is just. In other words, they deserve the judgment that they will get.
In closing, Paul’s powerful refutation of the Jews objections shows that these arguments also cannot give them security of salvation and exemption from God’s judgment. He has shattered all of the Jews wrong assumptions and has exposed their utter spiritual nakedness before the holy and just Judge of the universe. Their only hope of escape is to come to Jesus Christ in saving faith and be clothed in the perfect clothes of His righteousness.
In Romans 2:17-3:8 Paul has been driving home the point that if you are depending on anything other than Jesus Christ alone for your salvation then you are lost! Jesus is the only way to heaven! Have you received Him personally as your Savior and Lord? If you have, that’s just the beginning—now you are to daily submit to His Lordship in your life, so that He can enable you to truly live to bring glory to Him.