Preached on Feb. 11, 2018 at Dillingham Presbyterian Church
SermonAudio link: tinysa.com/sermon/4171880492
At the end of Romans chapter 2 we saw Paul contend that what matters for salvation is not that you are a Jew outwardly, as a physical descendant of the nation of Israel, but that you be a Jew inwardly; that to be a true believer you must have the Holy Spirit within you which renews your heart and gives you faith.
In the passage we’re looking at today we’ll find a series of question that Paul has found to come up against the Gospel. In Paul’s responses to these question we get the title of today’s sermons – “God’s Faithfulness Upheld.” REPEAT
Paul is defending God’s covenant faithfulness. The passage will be broken down into 3 points which we will address as follows:
1. Possessing the Scriptures was an advantage to the Jews.
2. God is faithful even though man is not.
3. God’s faithfulness does not give man liberty to sin.
We saw that being a Jew outwardly did not bring salvation.
Paul then imagines a person objecting to this saying “Is there then no advantage of being a Jew?” If being a Jew does not in itself bring salvation, is there no benefit to being a Jew?
1. Possessing the Scriptures was an advantage to the Jews. (v. 1-2)
We read from chapter 3 verse 1 of questions that Paul likely had dealt with:
“Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision?”
Because one’s salvation is independent of their ethnicity, one might expect that Paul would answer this question saying “There is no advantage to being a Jew.” But he doesn’t. Rather, he contends that there is much benefit to being a Jew. There is much benefit because they were entrusted with the oracles of God.
Continuing in Romans 3:2 we read Paul’s answer to the question “What advantage has the Jew?” He writes,
“Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.”
There is then a benefit that has been given the Jews. To begin with, for starters, Paul says “they were entrusted with the oracles of God.”
What though are the oracles of God?
Were these oracles, like the ancient Greek oracle at Delphi, some sort of soothsayers or psychics?
The word oracle probably more often than not brings up these connotations of divination – where certain people in the ancient world might get themselves into a frenzied state and utter supposedly divine revelations. The most famous of these was the oracle of Delphi in ancient Greece to whom citizens and Kings alike to visit in an attempt to have their biggest questions about the future answered.
But the oracles Paul is referring to are not so much people/prophets at all, but are the communications from God Himself which have been written in the Old Testament. The oracles Paul is referring to are are the commandments, predictions, and promises of God given to His prophets and written down for posterity, for future generations. The oracles are the entire Old Testament. This is what has been entrusted to the Jews. It was to the Jews whom God gave the Scriptures.
The word we have translated as “oracles” is, in the Greek, the word the λόγια [logia] which is related to the word for “Word.” So the oracles are the words entrusted to the Jews.
It was a great honor for the Jews to be entrusted with these oracles of God. You might imagine that the scrolls themselves were pretty cool. Just as today we might view the Dead Sea Scrolls as a thrilling historical artifact. And the copies the Jews carried around were even older than the Dead Sea Scrolls! But it was not the physical paper (or animals skins, rather) that set these writings apart. It was their actual content – the words of God received by the prophets. And the Jews remained the keepers of this repository.
Thus the Jews were greatly blessed in having these oracles. Not only were some Jews followers of God through having heard God’s written word, but the Jews were blessed with good national laws based on the revealed law of God for Israel. This is great advantage.
And Paul says “to begin with.” That is, there are other benefits God has given the Jews, but Paul does not enumerate them here. Probably the other benefits are of less importance than the great benefit of having God’s oracles – His Words in the Old Testament.
Among the benefits that God gave Israel, Paul might have included the patriarchs, the judges, the prophets, the temple, the ark of the covenant, etc. All of these things were also entrusted to the Jews. But it is the Word of God which is preeminent. This is the greatest advantage for the Jews.
It should be noted too that God entrusted THEM with the oracles of God. That is, he entrusted the whole nation! All the people. God’s word is not just for some priestly class or wise scholars. God entrusted it to all the Jews!
This truth was greatly emphasized in the Reformation. Against the Catholics who desired to keep the Bibles in only Latin and with the scholars, the Protestant Reformers translated the Bible into the vernacular – the common language – German, French, English, etc. and encouraged every person to read the Bible themselves. So here too with the Jews – THEY were entrusted with the Scriptures. Parents were to teach their children the Scriptures, not leave the Word of God with the scribes and priests locked away in the temple. The Scriptures were for all the people of Israel. That is a great advantage.
Likewise, you today are to read the Bible and teach your children from it, not relying only upon Sunday school to do the work for you. The obligation, in the Scriptures, to teach children is upon the parents first! In fact, in church history some have worried that Sunday school might take away from that responsibility of parents. That they might shirk their responsibilities and rely on the Sunday school entirely to teach their children. But this is often an over-reaction. It IS the parents responsibility to teach their children; that is true. But Sunday school can be a good supplement to that teaching.
So, we return to our subject.
Paralleling the question “What advantage has the Jew” Paul asks another question “Or what is the value of circumcision?”
These might be essentially the same question – “circumcision” being a reference to the Jews. Or it might be a slightly more precise question asking about the advantage of circumcision itself for the Jews.
In the last sermon I mentioned some about this advantage. Some of this value.
What is the value of outward circumcision?
Circumcision did not save anyone, but it pointed to the covenant with God, a God who does save, and this has great value.
The modern version of the questions Paul addresses might be stated, “Then what advantage has the church-goer? Or what is the value of Baptism?”
One might very well be asking these questions after being told that attending church does not save you, and that baptism does not save you. These are both true statements.
“Then what advantage has the church-goer? Or what is the value of Baptism?”
There is a serious epidemic of those in the world today who say they are Christians but never attend church, nor are members of any church.
Some say they are not into “organized religion.” We ask, do they prefer disorganized religion?
Perhaps it is possible in some extraordinary circumstances for a Christian to not be a member of a church, and not to attend a church. But this is not the norm. Christians should have a passionate desire for church. They should attend. And they should become members so that they, like the new converts in the books Acts can be “counted among the number”
Christians are part of the body, the church. A Christian should not be separated from the church, just as a part of the body should not be separated from the whole. Christians, also, are to submit to their elders which is scarcely possible if you do not have a church and therefore do not have elders to submit to in discipline. Furthermore, the author of the book of Hebrews commands us to “not neglect to meet together.” And Paul commands us in Ephesians to use our gifts to build up the church. This is only possible in the context of a church.
Even though Church membership and attendance does not save you, it has great value. It is there where you worship God, hear his word, enjoy fellowship with the saints, be part of the body, and have the discipline of the elders. Church has immense value.
Baptism too. Though it does not save you, it has great value. Like circumcision, baptism points to the Covenant with God.
One pastor, speaking on this passage, has spoken of a personal story – his own grandmother, who it seems had no relationship with God, but would pull out her certificate of Baptism and say “here it says that I am a Christian.” We know that this is foolish.
Baptism does not save anyone, but it is — like circumcision was — a symbol of God’s covenant with us.
Paul, in fact, calls Baptism a “circumcision made without hands” and “a circumcision of Christ.”
More exactly, Paul says:
“In him [Jesus] also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in Baptism” “In which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” – Colossians 2:11-12
So just as the Jews had many great advantages, so to do those who attend church and are Baptized.
So to summarize our first point – Possessing the Scriptures was an advantage to the Jews.
But to continue on, we see in the text that some Jews proved to be unfaithful. Not all who were Jews outwardly proved to be Jews inwardly, true believers.
And so Paul says in verse 3:
3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?
That is, does man’s sin void God covenant?
Paul answers as he continues in verse 4:
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.”
And so this is our second point: God is faithful even though man is not. REPEAT
2. God is faithful even though man is not. (v. 3-4)
Stephen, the first martyr, the first recorded person who would die for the faith, in the book of Acts speaks about these people.
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.” [Acts 7:51]
They were uncircumcised in heart an ears. Resisting that Holy Spirit by whom only can the heart of man be renewed in righteousness with a circumcision of the heart.
But though man be unfaithful, God remains faithful. Paul says “Let God be true though every man was a liar.”
He then says “as it is written” which we known means he is going to reference the Old Testament.
As it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.”
Where is this written? Where does this come from in the Old Testament? It is from Psalm 51:4 which reads:
[Psa 51:4 ESV] 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
The unfaithfulness of man is set in relief to God’s faithfulness. God’s faithfulness is seen more strongly in contrasting it to man’s unfaithfulness. Like darkness makes light stand out, the evil of man makes the goodness of God more obvious.
But why is that God’s covenant promises have not been broken? Did he promise the save the whole nation of Israel?
The Jews of Paul’s time should have known from reading the Old Testament that not all individuals within the nation or ethnicity of Israel would be saved. REPEAT
The examples are plentiful.
In Korah’s rebellion, in the book of Numbers, some 249 co-conspirators, ALL OF WHOM WERE JEWS, were led by a man named Korah in a rebellion against Moses. Moses responded to Korah saying “in the morning the Lord will show who is his.” And God proved that the men of Korah, all of whom were Jews, were not his people when he had the ground under them split apart and the earth swallow them up.
And then, among others, there were Hophni and Phineas, the wicked sons of Eli in 1 Samuel. Both of whom were Jews, but are described not as “sons of God” but as “sons of Belial” or “sons of the Devil.” Not all Jews are chosen of God.
And then in the New Testament we have Judas Iscariot, who also was a Jew, but was not among God’s chosen people. Judas Iscariot is spoken of by Jesus in the Gospel of John as “the son of perdition” – the one destined for destruction.
It is clear, not all ethnic Jews are true children of God.
Perhaps more clearly than anywhere else Paul explains later in Romans, in chapter 9:
[Rom 9:6-8 ESV] 6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.
And so it is clear that God’s promise to the nation of Israel did not mean that he would save each and every individual Jew. God therefore breaks no promise in there being some Jews who are “uncircumcised in the heart.”
God remains faithful even though man is not.
3. God’s faithfulness does not give man liberty to sin. (v. 5-8)
So we move to the last section of this passage.
If our sin makes God’s righteousness that much more evident, as darkness makes light stand out, why are we blamed for sin?
In verses 5 through 8 Pauls presents a series of questions that an unbeliever may ask following what has just been said of man’s faithlessness and God’s faithfulness.
It again reads:
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.
This can be broken into 2 questions. 1. Is God just? And 2. Why not do evil if God forgives us?
Let us look at the first question first. Is God just?
This is the center of all Christian ethics – it is God who is the judge, not man. So why are we blamed for sin? Because God is the rightful judge. His judgments are always right. When we say “God is sovereign” we not only mean that He is all-powerful and “in control” but that He determines what is true and what is false, and what is right and what is wrong. These are not categories above him, but are his own determinations from his eternal unchanging will.
And the second question, “Why not do evil if God forgives us?”
God forgives our sins in Jesus Christ. But this does not mean that we should sin more so that we might be more blessed.
In chapter 6 Paul writes more on refuting that terrible lie that says “Let us do evil so good may come.”
This is the lie of non-Christian ethics. Ethics which focus on some ENDS, some ends goal, which man choses. It is this type of non-Christian ethics that says “maybe I can do something a little bit evil so that something better will come of the situation.” It is this type of non-Christian ethics that says “I think it would be better for this child to not be born, and therefore I will abort him.” But God’s ethics says “thou shalt not kill.” Truly, you do not know whether the child will have a rough life and be a “drain on the system” or be the next great inventor or medical doctor. We don’t know the ENDS, we cannot know the ENDS. Only God can know the ENDS. As finite human beings the ethics God has given us are not ENDS-based, but are MEANS-based. God tells us not to kill, he tells us not to steal, he tells us not to commit adultery. We are not to wonder whether we might make a better life for ourselves if we skirt around these commandments. We are to obey them. Plain and simple. Only God knows the ends.
And the laws are JUST because God is JUST and they are His laws.
But opponents of the Faith slander the truth. They lie about what the Christians are saying. They say “So, you’re saying because God is forgiving that we should sin more!?” Certainly not!
By the time Paul is writing Romans he has been around for a while. He has been preaching the Gospel for years. And he knows what objections are likely to come up against it. If salvation is OF God 100%, then should we sin more? By no means! To say otherwise is to slander His teaching.
The Romans were also known to slander the Christians. For one, they would say that the Christians are cannibals! They heard about the sacrament of Holy communion and the bread and wine as symbols of the body and blood of Christ, and from this they said “you are cannibals,” “you are eating your own Christ.” We know that this is not true. This is a slander of what Christians actually believe.
These questions put to Paul are based on false inferences. It is as if I were to say “I like pizza” and someone concludes from that that I hate ice cream. This is a false inference. Likewise, it is a false inference to conclude that I should commit evil from the fact that God forgives sins.
The error Paul is addressing is called Antinomianism. This come from the Greek “anti” meaning “against” the Greek “nomos” meaning law. So an antinomian is one who is against the law; one who teaches that we no longer have to obey the law because God will forgive us anyways. But Paul is not opposed to the law as such. The law has its purposes. And just because we have the Gospel of grace, does not mean that we should no longer obey the law.
These are the nuances of the Christian Faith. There is a balance in many ways.
We find balance in the teaching that being a Jew does not save, but there is still advantage to the Jews in being entrusted with the oracles of God.
We find balance in the teaching that being circumcised does not save, but that it pointed to a God who does.
We find balance in the teaching that being baptized does not save, but that it points to a God who does.
We find balance in the teaching that attending church does not save, but that it is an important connection to the body of Christ for the Christian and should be embraced.
And we find balance in the teaching that the law does not save, but the law should be obeyed. When a person makes false inferences from one half of one of these doctrines, they slander Christians just as Paul stated they do. And, as Paul says, their condemnation is just.
So we conclude.
God’s faithfulness is upheld. God gave the Scriptures to the Jews, and though they rejected Him, He remained faithful. But this faithfulness of God does not give man the liberty to sin.
God keeps His promises. He does not change. God is always faithful. We hold on to that truth in all our trials. God is always faithful. Amen.
Preached on Feb. 11, 2018 at Dillingham Presbyterian Church