Romans – The Gospel of God ‘All the World Guilty’ – Chap 3 vs 1-20
In this message we are dealing with two matters. The first one concerns the character of God and His promises to the Jewish people (vs 1-8) and the second concerns the condemnation of God and the guilt of the world (vs 9-20). In verses 1-8, Jewish Objections are Anticipated and Answered by Paul. These verses are the third and final stage of his evidence against the Jew. Then Paul brings what he has written from chap 1 v 18 to chap 3 v 8 to a climax and conclusion in vs 9-20. In these verses we are thinking about The World and God’s Universal Condemnation. Paul sums up his ‘prosecuting’ evidence by appealing to the testimony of Scripture before finally declaring the divine verdict of ‘all the world … guilty before God’ – v 19.
The Character of God and His Promises to the Jewish People - Their Objections Anticipated Answered - vs 1-8
Their Advantage and the Oracles of God vs 1-2
Paul, having established the guilt of the Jew in chapter two now anticipates and answers what can be called Jewish objections to his arguments. Continuing to use a diatribe style of argument, Paul deals with three primary issues of concern to the Jew: Jewish privilege, God's faithfulness and God’s justice. The series of eight or nine rhetorical questions used by Paul fit into these three categories. Paul is therefore answering three major questions: Is the Jew advantaged? Is God trustworthy? And is God fair?
What questions and answers belong to Paul and which belong to an objector can be debated. The point is, Paul is the speaker throughout, he is the one articulating the objections and giving the answers. Nobody knew the Jewish mind better than he. Perhaps the verses could be paraphrased something like this:
“Well may you ask, ‘What advantage then has the Jew?’ … I tell you, much in every way ...” (vs 1-2) “You respond, ‘What if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect…?’ I say Impossible for this reason…” (vs 3-4) “You argue, ‘If our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God what are we to conclude? Is God unjust…?’ I must answer certainly not because…?” (vs 5-6) “You protest, ‘If the truth of God has increased through my lie to His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?’ Indeed, we have been falsely accused of saying just that, but the fact is the condemnation is deserved” (vs 7-8).
In light of what Paul has just stated about circumcision and Jewish identity, (Rom 2:25-29) an obvious question arises, just ‘what advantage then has the Jew or what is the profit of circumcision?’ – v 1. Or to state the question another way, just what is the benefit of being one of God’s covenant people? While there is much that has given them advantage, the primary thing, says Paul, is that they received ‘the oracles of God’ – v 2. The word of God was entrusted to the Jew. They had the ‘law and prophets’ – v 21. But it was more than just that fact. Through the word of God, not only did they have the light of truth, they specifically received the Messianic promises of salvation and kingdom glory to them as a people. The Jew was truly privileged.
Their Unbelief and the Faithfulness of God vs 3-4
If the Jew has been so privileged by being given ‘the oracles of God’, then the following needs to be answered, ‘For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect?’ – v 3. In other words, where does Jewish unbelief leave God's faithfulness to His promises? Despite all their privilege and allowing for the many true believers over the centuries, unbelief nationally and continually marked the Jewish people the climax of which came when they rejected and crucified their Messiah. So what happens to God's promises through the prophets to the Jewish people and nation of blessing under their Messiah and their place in His coming kingdom? God promised, for example, that ‘Israel shall be saved in the LORD with an everlasting salvation’ – Isa 45 v 17 and He promised that He would never forget Zion (Isa 49:14-16). Indeed, the LORD spoke of Zion’s ultimate future: ‘Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising … the sons also of them that afflicted thee shall come bending unto thee; and all they that despised thee shall bow themselves down at the soles of thy feet; and they shall call thee, The city of the LORD, The Zion of the Holy One of Israel’ – Isa 60 vs 1-3, 14. Ten years or so after writing this letter, Jerusalem will be overthrown by the Romans, the temple destroyed and the Jews scattered. So what happens these and the many other promises found in the prophets? Are they now null and void? And if so, then surely this calls into question God's faithfulness. Is God to be trusted? Is His word dependable?
Paul says that God’s faithfulness and dependability cannot be called into question or doubted for God is ever true in, and to His word and He is ever righteous in His judgement and he quotes from the Old Testament to prove the point –
“That You may be justified in Your words, And may overcome when You are judged” – v 4.
This is a quotation from Psalm fifty one verse four. The translator’s notes of the New English Translation give an alternative reading to the second line of this quote. Instead of ‘when You are judged’ it could be ‘prevail when You judge’ (NET). This would mean that Paul maintains the original sense of these words in that God is the one judging, rather than the one being judged. Alternatively, if we read the quotation as it appears here, the sense is that God is not only right, He will ultimately be proved to be right despite man’s present assessment of Him and His promises. Thus Paul prefaces the quote, ‘let God be true but every man a liar‘. Either way, the point is, God will keep His promises and He will deal with Israel righteously. Paul will further address this matter in chapters nine to eleven. Remember, it was David who originally spoke these words from Psalm fifty one in his confession of repentance. He did so for he was acknowledging God’s righteousness as one who had grievously sinned against Him. The Jew who followed the example of David and truly repented as a sinner before God would never call into question God’s faithfulness. Nationally, in that future day of the Messiah according to Zechariah 12 vs 10-14, the nation will repent and justify God as they acknowledge their sin and confess the one ‘whom they pierced’ as their true and only Messiah.
The legalistic and self-righteous Jew chose to ignore that ‘the oracles of God’ declare both salvation and judgment. They assumed that by being a Jew and keeping, as they thought, the letter of the law they earned the former and were in no danger of the latter. The divine promises of salvation to Israel were never on the basis of merit, they were given because of God’s love and mercy (Deut 7:6-8; 9:3-6). The privilege of the Jew did not mean they were better than others and deserving of what God promised, rather their privilege meant that they were more responsible, accountable and therefore deserving of greater judgement. The Lord Jesus Himself taught these things. He taught that “to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” – Luke 12 v 48 and he also said: “The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here” – Matt 12 v 41. What the Jew and indeed all self-righteous people need to learn, is that God is never under obligation to anyone. He never deals with man on the basis of merit for he has none, but by His mercy. His only obligation is to Himself and His word. Thus the willful unbelief of the Jew, rather than casting doubt on God’s faithfulness, brings them under His righteous judgment and reminds them most seriously, that if they are to have any part in the Messianic kingdom they too must repent and “be born again” – John 3 v 3. The unbelieving Jew along with the unbelieving Gentile both merit the wrath of God (Rom 1:18; 2:4-6). Moreover, God’s faithfulness has been absolutely demonstrated toward the Jew for despite the nation’s greatest sin, the rejection of their Messiah, the gospel was given to the Jew first.
Their Unrighteousness and the Justice of God vs 5-8
Paul now confronts the issue of Divine justice (vs 5-8). The next two objections he raises represent the arguments against what he has stated in defence of God’s faithfulness and righteousness. If God is faithful to His promises and righteous in His dealings despite Jewish unbelief then surely, protests the Jew, He is being unfair in His judgment? And so Paul states the objection, ‘If our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God … Is God unjust who inflicts wrath?’ – v 5. In other words, how can God’s wrath be righteous if the unrighteousness of the Jews serves to demonstrate all the more His righteousness? And, ‘if the truth of God has increased through my lie to His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner? And why not say, “Let us do evil that good may come”?’ – v 7. That is to say, how can God’s condemnation be justified if the false belief of Jews actually enhances His truthfulness bringing Him greater glory? This is false reasoning, according to Paul. To the first objection Paul emphatically answers, ‘Certainly not!’ – v 6 for such an idea means that if God doesn’t righteously judge the Jew the same as the Gentile then He is partial and if that is so, ‘how will God judge the world?’ – v 6 . Paul has previously argued strongly and clearly that God is always both consistent and impartial (Rom 2:1-11). As to the second objection, the very idea of questioning God’s right to condemn me as a sinner is, says Paul, preposterous (v 7). He and his partners, despite being slanderously accused of it, never suggested any idea of “let us do evil that good may come?” – v 8. The condemnation of the Jew is, alongside the Gentile, deserved. Says Paul, it ‘is just’ – v 8.
The Testimony of Scripture and the Divine Verdict of Guilt - The World and God’s Universal Condemnation vs 9-20
The Conclusion of the Evidence v 9
Paul again affirms to his readers what he has already proven – Jew and Gentile are ‘all under sin’ – v 9. The Jew, despite all his privilege is no 'better' than the Gentile whom he despised. They stand equally guilty and equally condemned. What Paul concludes from the evidence he has presented up to this point, he now goes on to confirm from the testimony of the Old Testament scriptures in vs 10-18. Their description of human sinfulness further demonstrates the reality of universal guilt and since these are the scriptures or 'law' of the Jews, their truth speaks and applies to them first (v 19).
The Witness of the Scriptures vs 10-18
Paul takes quotations from the Psalms and one from Isaiah and in so doing puts together a character description of man living in rebellion against God. Paul is showing that the Jewish scriptures clearly testify to the sinfulness of all who rebel against God. Paul thus asserts that the Jew as well as the Gentile is guilty before the judge of all. Their behaviour proves it and their scriptures confirm it.
Paul’s description of man from the testimony of scripture (vs 10-18) proves that in character and conduct as well as in thought and word, he is a sinner. Some may object, claiming not to be this bad. Yes, thank God we are not as bad as we could be, but as human history demonstrates, given the right set of conditions and circumstances we all have the ability to shock ourselves and show just how unrighteous we are underneath the veneer of respectability so easily on display in a civilized and polite society. At any rate, the fact is, all are ‘guilty before God’ because ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ – v 23. Self-assessment and self-comparison might lead us to conclude that while I’m not perfect, I’m not a bad person and certainly nowhere near as bad as others. What matters, however, is not how I appear before fellow humans, but how I appear before God who is holy. Even at our ‘best’ we fall short of His standard and are in need of His mercy. Thank God, that is what He offers through the gospel.
The Verdict of Universal Guilt vs 19-20
Paul thus stresses in his concluding verdict of universal guilt that those ‘under the law’ cannot avoid the accusing testimony of their own scriptures. He writes: ‘Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God’ – v 19. Thus all mankind stands condemned and accountable before God. Any arguments and objections against the evidence have no validity in God’s ‘court of justice’. All are silenced before Him who is the judge of all. The case against man is indisputable by the evidence presented. No defence is possible and no grounds for appeal is available for man has been tried in the supreme court of the almighty Creator. Man’s only hope is in the God whom he has sinned against. Yet again, Paul’s final statement in his ‘prosecution’ of man, is directed toward the self-righteous unbelieving Jew. Justification by the law is impossible for by it 'is the knowledge of sin’ – v 20. The Jew must learn that having the law is not the same as doing the law neither does it provide any protection from the power of sin or the condemnation of God. Rather it exposes sin which merits divine condemnation and renders those so enlightened all the more accountable. The Jew has nowhere to hide, he is left without cover or defence standing equally condemned before God along with the Gentile.