Romans 3:1-8: God’s Faithfulness

Last time, we ended on a particularily negative note.  To quote my final statement to show you just how negative,

If the Christian refuses to live the way of Jesus, it is as though she were never a Christian to begin with.

Rough words, especially in a Christian culture where salvation is based solely on accepting as fact matters that are supposed to be believed through faith. Paul doesn’t stay in the negative, though. He moves on to something much more positive: The subject of God’s faithfulness.

Paul begins by asking a question:

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? (Romans 3:1 ESV)

This is a rhetorical question.  Paul is probably asking the question that he knew they would be asking and beating them to the punch.  It’s as if his listeners heard him just rip Jewishness up one side and down the other and say that, in essence, it doesn’t matter how Jewish you are.  If you live like an unbeliever, you will be treated as an unbeliever.  So, Paul turns to deal with this very issue.  He states,

Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. (v. 2)

The first thing that sets Jews apart from Gentiles is that they were chosen by God to receive His law in a written form.  Having the written code was to be viewed as a privilege, not a burden.  The Law is special, and not something that everyone has been given.  The only people who receive God’s word are those whom He has chosen.  I am sure you can see the Christian parallels.

At this point, Paul changes the subject.  He tells these Jewish Christians that they are a special people because God has chosen them for a purpose.  He now moves on to explain his comments about what we talked about last time: that circumcision is pointless if you refuse to live like one of the circumcised.  If one is listening to what Paul is saying, it may sound like he is not making any sense.  Jews are special and chosen and set apart and yet non-Jews are safe because they live more righteously?  “If God chose us, and not them,” you can hear the Jews saying, “Then how can He be called faithful to us if He saves some of them even though they are not His ‘chosen people’?”  Paul answers this issue.

What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 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.” (vv. 3-4)

Paul says no.  Paul says that God is still faithful to His people even when they are unfaithful to Him.  But this is kind of a backhanded assurance.  Paul has just said that those who live as though they are not God’s people will be treated as though they aren’t.  So, Paul is telling these Jews, in a more subtle manner, the same thing he has been saying over and over again.  God is faithful to those who show that they are His people, whether they be a Jew or a Gentile.  No, someone showing their lack of faith in God and God bringing judgment on them is not faithlessness on God’s part because, obviously, that person is not one of God’s people to begin with and He has no obligations to them.

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.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? (vv 5-6)

This brief section speaks very clearly to us today.  In the context the church currently finds herself in, there is a growing affinity toward this idea that God will not judge anyone, or that He doesn’t judge.  There is a growing push for the idea that God would be “cruel” or “mean” to pass judgment on the unrighteous.  But, as Paul points out, this is merely a human argument.  God has given His standards to humankind to live by, they are either wriitten on our hearts (if we are Gentiles [ie. non-Jews]) or they have been given to us in written form (if one happens to be a Jew).  We are all without excuse.  We all inherently know the difference between right and wrong and, even when the lines are blurred, as happens in many instances in life, we know where to look for the answers or we have some inkling of an idea as to what the proper course of action is.

If we deliberately choose to do what we know to be wrong, though, God is not “unjust” or “mean” to punish us for those actions.  God is not “unrighteous” if He chooses to punish people for not being obedient.

But, just as we dont choose whether or not God is just or unjust in His judgment, we also cannot choose whether He is just or unjust in His mercy either.  We are wrong if we define God’s love in merely human terms, but we are also wrong if we define His judgment in merely human terms as well.  God’s mercy and God’s judgment are God’s to define and do with as He sees fit.  As God once said to Moses,

“I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” (Exodus 33:19b ESV)

And, later on in Romans, Paul gives his own commentary on this statement:

So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Romans 9:16 ESV)

And if this is true of His mercy, then it must also be true of His wrath.  Who or how God judges is not for us to decide, it doesn’t depend on “human will or exertion,” but on God, whose wrath (or mercy) it is to bestow.

But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?–as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just. (vv.7-8)

Paul closes this section by addressing an argument that still seems to live on to this day: if it is up to God who is saved and who is condemned, then why does it matter how I live since God will be the one deciding my fate in the end?  A similar argument is used against election and universalism and the sharing of the Gospel.  Of election, it is argued that it undermines the sharing of the Gospel because if God is the one who chooses who will be saved, then the elect will be saved whether we share the Gospel with them or not.  And, of universalism, it is said that it undermines the sharing of the Gospel because, if everyone will be saved anyway, what’s the point of sharing the Gospel?

This is the kind of argument being used here in Romans, and Paul says it is a foolish argument.  What God ultimately chooses to do should play no role in how we live our lives.  There are certain things that we have been called to do, and we should do them simply because God has told us to do them.  No matter what we do, God is faithful and righteous.  He will keep His promises.  Those who are His people will be redeemed and those who aren’t, won’t.  But our obedience matters.  And Paul is still driving this point home even here.

If you wanna keep sinning, Paul says, then so be it.  Your “condemnation is just.”

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2 thoughts on “Romans 3:1-8: God’s Faithfulness

  1. […] the section of this study where we bounce back and forth between James and Romans, that we go from last time talking about God’s continued faithfulness despite appearances to James’ discussion of […]

  2. I found this really helpful. Thanks a lot and God bless.

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