The second chapter of Romans has laid out God’s requirements. Be doers of the law and not hearers only. Just because you have the law of God does not mean that this is enough to be justified. God will justify those who are seeking the glory and honor of God (2:7), who are practicing God’s law (2:13), and those who are cut in the heart, whose desire is God (2:29). Also, Paul has taught that being a physical Jew does not justify. Keeping the law of God is what is important to God. Just because the Jews possessed the law, were children of Abraham, and were circumcised did not mean that they would be pronounced innocent. This is the line of thinking that leads into Paul’s writing in chapter 3.
Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. (Romans 3:1-2; ESV)
The question is a natural question. What is the advantage of being Jew? What was the point? If God is impartial and judges justly, then why did God even bother having a special people? Why did God have an Israel? What was the advantage of being a Jew? Have you ever wondered this? Why did God have a nation like Israel to be his special people? Why did God have such a plan? Paul is going to explain why in more detail in chapter 9. But Paul gives one advantage here.
Paul says that the Jews had a tremendous advantage. They were entrusted with the oracles of God. The advantage is that they were given something that the rest of the world did not have: the very words of God. What a blessing! But Paul has already made this point in chapter 2 about the Jews possessing the law of Moses. Paul is speaking about a greater advantage.
To entrust is to assign a person a particular responsibility. The thing that has been given to you isn’t actually for you; it’s for the person to whom you are supposed to deliver it. This is the idea behind what Paul is writing. The advantage is that the Jews were entrusted with God’s messages for the world, not just for themselves. Remember that chapter 2 has condemned them for not being lights in the world and guides to the blind. They were entrusted with the divine message that was to be delivered to the world. One can see why Paul calls God’s messages “the oracles of God.” This is how the pagans worshiped their gods. One went and was entrusted with the oracle from the god and the messenger told the people what the oracle was. The Jews were given the oracles of God which they were to use to teach the world in righteousness. The words of God also taught them about God’s salvation. They had the promises of God that he would save Israel through the Messiah. But rather than teach the world, they kept God’s message to themselves. They did not deliver the message. It is this thinking that leads into verse 3.
But before we can go to verse 3, I would like for us to consider that we have similar advantages from God today. I don’t know that we appreciate the blessing we have of possessing the written word of God. It really is something that we take for granted. We have paperback Bibles, hardcover Bibles, fake leather Bibles, and expensive leather Bibles. You can own a Bible for $1 to $250. We have all sorts of translations to aid understanding. We have literal translations and easy to read translations. We can compare translations in our studies to learn God’s will. We have multiple Bibles, perhaps some we have never opened or hardly use. We have the word of God and we are to be lights in the world. We have the advantage of knowing God’s salvation plan. God has revealed it to us through his word. This is a great advantage and we live in a great time in history to experience this advantage. When we see that these are the very words of God, why would we not want to have all kinds of bibles for various uses, from one that rides around in the car for our appointments, to a reading bible, to a study bible, a bible for work, and a bible for the kids. But are we sitting on God’s message or are we teaching people? It is interesting that we are in a world of personal religion and spirituality. You can believe what you want but you can’t tell others about it. Christians can easily fall into this thinking. But we have been entrusted with God’s message, not to keep for ourselves, but to share with the world. We must fulfill our mission. The mail carrier has an important role in delivering the mail. They cannot keep it for themselves because it was not intended for them. God’s word works the same way.
3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.” 5 But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) 6 By no means! For then how could God judge the world? 7 But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? 8 And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just. (Romans 3:3-8; ESV)
Based on Paul’s charges in chapter 2, the next question is about the unfaithfulness of the nation of Israel. Israel was to be a guide to the blind but they were not. Israel was to be the light to the nations but were not. Israel was to be a teacher of righteousness but they needed to be taught themselves. Israel, rather than the mechanism to heal the nations, needs healing. Rather than bringing people to God, Israel has shown themselves to be in need of a physician. Since Israel broke the covenant and was unfaithful, will this nullify God’s faithfulness to the covenant? What will God do now?
This is an important question and would be a natural question. If the covenant has been broken because Israel violated it, then is God going to be faithful to the covenant or not. What would be our expectation of God’s answer to this question? I think the natural answer would be that we broke the covenant, so God does not have to keep his end of the covenant. But that is not the answer. Even though Israel has been unfaithful, God is still faithful. God still keeps his word. God is righteous and God is just. I love Paul’s answer: BY NO MEANS! ABSOLUTELY NOT! Let the world be full of liars but God will remain true and keep his word! Israel’s unfaithfulness does not nullify God’s faithfulness. By the way, verse 3 is another instance where the NIV makes a mistake in its translation. This is not about personal faith, but the nation’s faithfulness to the commission given by God. Though faithless, will God still save Israel? The answer is yes. God keeps his word and he is faithful to his promise.
Before we continue forward I would like for us to allow this concept to sink into our hearts. We are in a covenant with God through Jesus. We are violators of this glorious covenant. As we studied last week, we are faced with the problem of honoring God. We are to be lights to the world, guides to the blind, and teachers to the nations. But our actions do not always honor and glorify God but cause dishonor. We still sin even though we have been brought into a covenant relationship with God. But do our actions cause God to no longer be faithful to the covenant.
We get all of these questions in our heads when we sin concerning God’s faithfulness. Will God still forgive me of my sins even though I have made some terrible mistakes? Yes, God keeps his covenant! Will God still love me even when I make mistakes? Yes, God is faithful. God is always faithful. We have great security in this. It does not matter what everyone else in the world does, God will keep his word. God keeps his promises. What a great God we serve! What a great source of confidence and encouragement we have. God is faithful even though we are unfaithful to the covenant. God’s love never stops! God’s faithfulness never stops! It does not matter what we have done, God will always, always, always take us back. This is the greatness of God’s righteousness. God is not relying on us. God is the one who is faithful and is the one who can save.
Verse 4: To validate this thought, Paul quotes from Psalm 51 which is quite interesting. Psalm 51 is David’s prayer of repentance that was written after committing the sin of adultery. David is saying that there is no doubt about the rightness of God’s verdict. God’s words are always true, even if all human words prove false. It is interesting to see that Paul is referring to a historical instance of grave sin and God’s forgiveness. Further, the psalmist goes on to ask God to create in him a clean heart and a right spirit. David in his sin declares that God is right to judge. God is in the right and we are in the wrong. This quotation from Psalm 51 reminds us of our sinfulness, that God is right to judge us in wrath, but despite our sinfulness remains faithful to the covenant and offers forgiveness.
Verses 5-8: I believe the point is this: just because God uses Israel’s unrighteousness to show his own faithfulness does not mean that they are exempt from judgment. Just because God used the unfaithfulness of Israel to reveal how truly faithful God is, that does not make God unfair or unjust when he still judges the people for their unfaithfulness. To judge the world fairly, God must judge everyone. God cannot only judge the Gentiles. He must also judge the Jews even though their unfaithfulness revealed God’s faithfulness. Further, just because Israel possessed the promises of nation’s deliverance does not exempt it from judgment. God must judge everyone.
This is a great thought against the doctrine of eternal security regardless of one’s actions. Just because we are the people of God who have come to Jesus for the forgiveness of sins does not negate that judgment must come to all people. God is not partial. Everyone must be judged. God cannot only judge the lost. He must also judge his own people. If we are not seeking the Lord and do not have a heart that has been transformed for the Lord, then we will experience God’s wrath.
In verses 7-8 it seems that Paul is addressing another response that would have been raised against Paul. “If Israel’s falsehood means that God’s truthfulness shines out all the more brightly, why should God object?” Why should we be condemned as Gentile sinners, as stated in Romans 2:27? Paul will deal with this statement more fully in chapter 6. Paul just makes the simple remark: the condemnation is deserved upon those who think this way. Some were apparently saying that this message of grace was a message of how sin brought the good and faithfulness of God out. But this is warped, depraved thinking.
The Sinful Condition (9-20)
Paul comes back to the original question. While the Jews did have advantages because they were given the oracles of God, those advantages did not translate into having a superior moral position over Gentiles when it comes to salvation or judgment. Jews and Gentiles are under sin. No one is left out of this problem. More importantly, no one has a superior advantage when it comes to receiving the solution to this problem.
Paul then makes a number of quotations, mostly a string of quotations from the psalms. But this is not just an overly repetitive way to say the same thing. “We get it, Paul, no one is righteous.” There are two important observations to make from these quotations. First, these quotations from Jewish writers (David and Isaiah) about the people living in Israel. These are writings about other Jews. When these words were penned, they were not written about the Gentiles, but about the wickedness within their own nation. The Jews are just as sinful as the Gentiles, even though they possessed the law of Moses. Second, there is a movement in the message. The charges are going astray (vs. 12), wicked speech (vs. 13-14), and violent behavior (vs. 15-17). So Paul is not just saying that “no one is righteous” in a number of different ways. Rather, Paul is giving a comprehensive indictment that the Jews are not any better off than the Gentiles.
- There is no one righteous. No one is faithful. No one has kept their end of the covenant. We are all under the power of sin. We need to hear the truth that we are in sin and we are doomed.
- God has no reason to have to keep his word with us. We have broken the covenant. We are under sin. God has no legal obligation to stay with us.
- But our unfaithfulness does not nullify the faithfulness of God. God remains faithful! God will keep his word and will keep his covenant faithful toward us. Oh, the riches and grace of God.