Availability of a Righteousness from God: Part 1 of 2 (series: Lessons on Romans)
by John Lowe
Availability of a Righteousness from God
In the first eight verses of chapter 3, Paul continues the subject of the guilt of the Jews. He anticipates arguments in rebuttal to his conclusion that neither Israel’s law, her circumcision, or her birth could save her. These theoretical objections are stated in the odd-numbered verses and Paul’s answer to each objection is stated in the even-numbered verses.
1 What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision?
What advantage then has the Jew? If the Jews are condemned along with the heathen, what advantage is there in being the chosen nation of God? Or what is the profit of circumcision? Since circumcision is the sign of Israel’s covenant relationship with God, what advantage is that relationship if being Jewish will not save?
2 Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God.
Much in every way. Paul contends that there are many privileges which God has granted to Israel. A list of them is given in chapter 11; it is not necessary for Paul to enumerate them here. Rather, he simply points out one as an example of the others.
To them were committed the oracles of God. One of the chief ancestral privileges of Israel is that they were the custodians of the oracles of God. Acts 7:38— “This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give to us”; and Hebrews 5:12—“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food”—The oracles of God are the Old Testament Scriptures. It was a great advantage to the Jew to be singled out by God and entrusted with the oracles of God, through which God revealed Himself. This privilege carried with it a heavy responsibility.
Paul uses the oracles of God to encompass the entire Old Testament.—the Jews received the very words of the true God. They had a great advantage in having the Old Testament because it contained the truth about salvation; “And that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). It contained the truth about the Gospel in its basic form; “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed” (Gal. 3:8). When Paul said, “Preach the Word” (2 Tim 4:2), he meant the oracles of God—the Holy Scriptures.
3 For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect?
What if some did not believe? Perhaps to soften the effect a little, Paul phrases the question to apply to some of the people. He asked, “If some failed to believed, would God react by being unfaithful to the whole nation?” As keepers of the Old Testament, the Jews had in fact failed to comprehend the message of the Old Testament, especially the prophetic and messianic passages. The unbelief of the Jews is seen in their rejection of Jesus as Messiah, and consequently they did not believe the oracles of God which they so carefully guarded.
The second question is Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect?
This would be another way to put it: “Granted that not all Jews have believed, but does this mean that God will go back on His promises? After all, He did choose Israel as His people and He made definite covenants with them. Can the unbelief of some cause God to break His word?” Paul’s answer is a classic.
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 judged.”
Certainly not! This expression has been translated a variety of ways such as, “good heavens, no,” “may it not prove to be so,” “perish the thought,” etc. Whenever there are questions whether God or man is right, always proceed on the basis that God is right and every man is a liar. This is what David said, in effect, in Psalm 51:4: “The complete truthfulness of all You say must be defended, and You must be vindicated every time You are called into question by sinful man.” Our sins only serve to confirm the truthfulness of God’s words.
Let God be true, but every man a liar establishes a principle which is found throughout this epistle. God does not formulate His purpose or will according to outside influences, but according to what He Himself is. If men prove unfaithful to God’s oracles, He is nevertheless faithful in His promises to them. The quotation which follows is from Psalm 51:4 where King David had broken the covenant of God and had found in himself no righteousness or integrity of any kind. Paul quotes this verse in order that his readers may clearly see the difference between the faithfulness and integrity of God and the lack of the same in man—“That You may be justified in Your words, And may overcome when You are judged.”
The unbeliever who questions the faithfulness of God is a liar and God is going to make him out to be a liar someday. Why? Because the faithfulness of God is true and cannot be changed. That’s very important. John says, “He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son” (1 John 5:10). How bad is it not to believe that God gave His Son to die for you? Well, I’ll tell you how bad it is. You make God a liar. That is what you do when you reject His Son.
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.)
A third objection is now raised. But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? This is a clever but illogical argument. It is twisting Scripture to make what is inherently evil appear to be ultimately good. Paul anticipates someone saying, “If my unfaithfulness causes God’s faithfulness to be more apparent, is not my sin by contrast enhancing the world’s concept of the absolute holiness and faithfulness of God?” And a second question is: Is God unjust who inflicts wrath? Would it be unjust of God to punish me for contributing to a more perfect picture of His true character?
The expression I speak as a man does not mean that his words lack divine inspiration but rather that Paul is using human reasoning to express this inspired truth about God. Since God’s justice is not something that may be called into question, Paul indicates that only foolish human reasoning would attempt to do so.
The answer to both questions is an emphatic, God forbid. The consequence of this line of reasoning would be to deny God the divine right to judge any man. If God cannot judge men, then who can?
6 Certainly not! For then how will God judge the world?
Such an argument is unworthy of serious consideration. If there were any possibility of God’s being unrighteous, then how could He be fit to judge the world? Yet we all admit that He will judge the world. Paul may have been thinking about the truth found in Genesis 18:25, “…Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” And Paul had this to say in Acts 17:31, “Because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” What a terrible calamity it would be if God were ever do something wrong. But it is impossible for God to do wrong. “Let God be true”—let every man be wrong.
7 For if the truth of God has increased through my lie to His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner?
Paul had angered the Jews by teaching salvation by grace apart from works. Therefore, he uses that situation to theorize a final argument from the Jews. The point he is making is that if the truth of God (and we know that Jesus said, “I am the Truth.”) has been made more apparent and more glorious by the untruthfulness of sinful men, then men should not be condemned or brought to judgment; they should be commended, instead. If that is the case it would be better for a man to continue in sin for the Lord’s sake. If the doctrine of salvation which Paul preaches is a lie, and the truth becomes apparent by contrasting it to Paul’s teaching, then why is Paul also judged as a sinner? Shouldn’t he be considered a saint if his alleged false doctrine more clearly indicated what was true? Paul has turned the tables on the Jews by using their own logic and putting them in an indefensible situation. They could not admit that Paul’s teachings were true. But if they claimed them to be false, by their own logic, they would have to say that divine good arose out of Paul’s doctrine.