Scripture Text: Romans 3:1-8
Wrathful and Righteous (Sermon Text)
At the end of chapter two, Paul wrote that race and ritual acts do not make one Jewish. Being Jewish is much more than that. It is something inward, not outward. It is something spiritual, not physical. Since being born a Jew and having the covenant sign of circumcision did not make a person a real Jew, an obvious question might be, “What advantage was there in being a member of the Jewish race?” This is a natural question for Paul to raise because he had just spelled out the fact that being Jewish was no guarantee of entering into the kingdom of God. From what Paul had written, the answer would seem to be there is no benefit at all! But that would challenge the integrity of God, Who had chosen Israel for Himself and had given them the sign of the covenant.
Maybe you have asked a similar question. What advantage is there in growing up in a Christian home? What advantage is there in being baptized? What advantage is there in joining a church? These are good questions and some people genuinely ask these things. I would submit to you that there is value in these things. As we have already discovered, though, none of these things make one right with God. They will not save you, but nonetheless, there is value in having them. Those who grow up in a Christian home with genuinely faithful parents have a distinct advantage over others who do not grow up in a Christian home. Likewise, those who are members of a local church have an advantage over those who are not.
Having God’s Word is Our Advantage
In chapter two, Paul wrote that God showed no favoritism. This, however, does not mean that some people do not have certain advantages over others. After declaring that being Jewish is not a matter of having the Law or being physically marked for the covenant, Paul began chapter three with the following question:
Romans 3:1Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision?
If being ethnically Jewish was not enough and having the physical mark of the covenant, circumcision, was not enough to enter God’s kingdom, what advantage was there to have these things? If being a Jew ethically and physically was not enough, then what was the value? Later in the letter of Romans, Paul lists many of the advantages the Jews had.
Romans 9:4-5 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
Therefore, Paul listed several advantages to being Jewish. God had chosen the Jews to be His representatives on earth. Of all the nations on planet earth God had chosen the Israelites to be the custodians of His redemptive plan for the human race. But there was one advantage that Paul mentioned here in chapter three — the Jews had God’s Word. God had entrusted to the Jews His Word and His Law. They did not have to guess what God desired. Most married people would like to have a resource like that to understand their spouse. God had revealed things to the Jews that they did not have to guess. Stephen, one of the first deacons in the Church and who became the first martyr of the Church, gave a defense of God where he said that Moses had received “living oracles” from God to give to the Israelites. (Acts 7:38) That was a tremendous advantage.
There is a gap between God and man. It is a gulf that can only be bridged by the cross of Jesus Christ. People wrongly close the gap between God and man by trying to bring God down to us or trying to raise man up to God. Neither way is correct. Having God’s Word is a huge advantage for us because we can read about our true nature and respond to God the way we ought to respond. We know what God is like. We know what we are like. And we know what God requires of us for salvation. In chapter two, though, Paul asserted that having the very Word of God did not make people right, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” (Romans 2:13) For all mankind, Jew and Gentile alike, true righteousness is a matter of the heart. But, there is still an advantage nonetheless in having God’s Word and knowing His revealed will. Moses told the Israelites the following:
Deuteronomy 4:7-8 For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?
Maybe a more current question for us, “Is there any advantage to being a member of the Church?” We have been learning the value of church membership during Sunday school lately. Of course, the value of church membership depends on what your view of the Church is. If you view Church as a club or a business, then it will be no different from any other secular organization. Put your name on the roll, show up when we meet, support the organization with your money, but do not do anything else. But…if church is a family, a special family called together by God for His purpose, then there is great value. It is not because the Church is perfect, but just the opposite. Church members are all imperfect sinners saved by God’s grace and need each other for support and accountability. The crucible by which God molds individual believers into the image of His Son is the local church. There is great advantage in church membership!
God Remains Faithful Even When We Are Not
So, there were advantages to being Jewish, just as there are advantages to being in the Church. But, let’s assume that the local church contains some people who are not genuine believers. These folks are not faithful to the purposes of God. What if these people go through the motions of Christianity, they hear God’s Word preached, they profess Christ publicly, and they regularly attend church gatherings. Is there any advantage of being in the Church for them? Yes, hearing God’s Word and being among God’s people is a tremendous advantage. Maybe these folks will turn and believe. Maybe they will commit themselves to Christ. It is advantageous to have Christian parents, to attend a church, to attend a Christian school, and to read the Bible—but none of these advantages can save us. But, what does it say about God who called unfaithful people together as a nation, as His people and representatives on earth? Paul asked this question:
Romans 3:3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?
If God made the Jewish people, gave them His Law, and called them His people, did their unfaithfulness impugn God’s faithfulness? Paul was calling attention to a difference between God and man. As human beings, we are by nature covenant breakers. We do not always tell the truth. We do not always keep our promises? That probably comes as no surprise to you. All of us have experienced doing wrong and being wronged by others. This was true for the Jews. Did the unfaithfulness of the Jews nullify the faithfulness of God? Paul answered, “Absolutely not!” Because of our sinful nature, we are unfaithful, but God by His holy nature is always faithful. God remains faithful even though we are unfaithful. We do not project our sin onto God. He remains holy and righteous. To illustrate this truth, Paul quoted a part from King David’s confession of sin:
Psalm 51:4 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.
David wrote Psalm fifty-one as a wonderful example of genuine repentance. In it David begged God to deal with him, not according to justice, but according to His mercy and love. In so doing, David acknowledged that God was right when He spoke and was justified when He judged. David acknowledged the fact that God had every right to condemn him because David was a wretched sinner who had committed a grievous act of sin and God was always the righteous Judge. In quoting David, Paul made the point that God is always righteous, both in His judgments and when He speaks. Paul was saying that God will always be proven right. If God were put on trial, He had His day in court, He would be vindicated every time. We, on the other hand, would not be.
My wife and I occasionally watch Law and Order, where there are stories of police detectives catching the criminal and the lawyers proving, or disproving, their guilt or innocence. The more interesting episodes of this show are those when there is a reversal. The one who is believed to be guilty turns out to be innocent. We just saw one such episode where the one being tried for a murder was found innocent and a witness in the trial turned out to be the guilty one. In God’s courtroom, however, there are no surprises. He is always found righteous and we are always found guilty — unless we have the Great Defense Attorney, Jesus Christ. Then, and only then, are we declared righteous. Is Jesus Christ your Defense Attorney? Is He your Advocate before God?
God is Always Righteous in Dealing With Us
Some might think that our unrighteousness serves to show God’s righteousness. If that is so, then how could God possibly be angry at us? Another way to ask this question:
Romans 3:7 But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner?
Apparently in Paul’s time, there were those who argued that God is absolutely perfect, and when we sin, our sin, in a certain sense, testifies to the greatness of God. The more we sin, the more righteous God appears by contrast. So these people think our sin demonstrates the righteousness of God. And if God shows his righteousness by exposing our unrighteousness, are we not doing God a favor by continuing to sin? This kind of thinking led some to think that we should sin more for God’s glory.
Romans 3:8 And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.
There is a clear teaching in Scripture that God can bring good out of our evil. For example, God brought the redemption of the world through the treacherous act of Judas. Do you think, though, that Judas can stand at the judgment and say to God, “Give to me a great reward because I delivered Jesus to be crucified and if it was not for me there would have been no atonement?” No! Paul stated that God is completely righteous to judge our sin. How could God judge us unless He was a righteous Judge? Paul said the idea that we can bring good by purposely doing evil was “slanderous.” Though Martin Luther, the Reformer, once said that we should “sin boldly,” I do not for a moment believe Luther advocated our sinning for the greater glory of God.
“Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. For he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here we have to sin. This life in not the dwelling place of righteousness but, as Peter says, we look for a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Pray boldly — you too are a mighty sinner.”
Luther acknowledged our sin. He accepted it but he also believed in God’s amazing grace through Jesus Christ. We should accept that we are sinners and we should accept that God is wrathful and righteous in judging sin. But we should also trust in God’s grace through Jesus Christ. Judas had no basis upon which to claim a reward from God. His betrayal was altogether wicked. His condemnation at the hands of God is perfectly just, in spite of the fact that God was able to overcome his evil. God may be able to bring about good from evil, but those acts are still evil and God is still righteous in judging us for it. God desires for His Church to be His holy people. We are called out of the world so that we will be different from the world. Yes, sin boldly, rejoice in Christ boldly, but also pray boldly, for you are a mighty sinner and need God’s grace every day.
In closing, God is always righteous. He is just. We are guilty. We have sinned and fallen short of His glory. We are prideful, boastful, lustful, hateful, wrathful, disobedient, irreverent, slanderous, greedy…we are sinful. We are unrighteous, but God is always righteous. If it were not for God’s mercy, we would be consumed by His wrath. Thanks be to God that He is also loving. He loves us so much that He gave us the written Word of God. We do not have to guess what the will of God is or the requirement for righteous living. God also gave us the living Word of God, Jesus Christ. God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whosoever believes in Him will be forgiven and have eternal life. Are you still living with guilt? Are you still living a rebellious life? Use God’s Word. Take advantage of that tremendous resource. Trust in God for He is always faithful. Repent and turn to Jesus Christ for He is our Great Savior. Do not delay. Do it today. Nothing but the blood of Jesus Christ can pardon your sin, can make you whole again, can give you hope and peace, or the righteousness of God. The Gospel is the power of God for our salvation, to everyone who believes. Believe in it today!
This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.