Let me begin by summarising what we’ve learnt already. Paul has written about how he longed to go to Rome in order to minister to the members of the church there. And he said that, instead of being ashamed of the gospel, he’s eager to preach the gospel, because the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, because in the gospel the righteousness of God — or the righteousness which God gives — is revealed. In other words, in the gospel, God reveals that sinners can become right with God through faith in his Son who died for our sins. For the sake of Christ who lived for us and who died for us, and through faith in him, God declares us righteous in his sight: our sins are pardoned for ever; and we’re accepted by God for ever; and we receive from him the gift of eternal life. As it’s written in the Old Testament book of Habakkuk:
The one who is righteous by faith will live.
So, in the gospel, God reveals his righteousness, the righteousness which he gives to those who trust in his Son. However, every day God also reveals his wrath. He reveals his wrath against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness. People know there’s a God, because the world around us speaks to us of him. But people have suppressed their knowledge of God and they have not given thanks to him. And so, God has revealed his wrath against them. But he reveals his wrath, not by striking the wicked down with a thunderbolt from heaven, but by loosening his restraining grip so that the wicked fall deeper and deeper into sin and into all the misery it causes us. Every day God reveals his wrath against sinners. But in the gospel he reveals that sinners can become right with God through faith in his Son who died for us. That was all in chapter 1.
In chapter 2, Paul was addressing an imaginary Jew. And in verses 1 to 16, he made three mains points which he addressed to this imaginary Jew who represented all of the Jews. First of all, in verses 1 to 5, he explained that if it’s right for God to condemn the Gentile pagan for his sins, then it’s also right for God to condemn the Jew who does the very same things:
Mr Jew, since you do the same things the Gentile pagan does, don’t think you’ll get away with it.
Then, in verses 6 to 11, Paul explained that God is impartial: he doesn’t show favouritism and he treats Jews and Gentiles the same way. So, if it were possible for someone to obey God’s law perfectly, then God would reward that person for what he has done whether he’s a Jew or a Gentile. But if someone breaks God’s law, then God will punish that person whether he’s a Jew or a Gentile. Whether you’re a Jew or a Gentile doesn’t matter.
And then, in verses 12 to 16, Paul answered the Jew who was counting on the fact that he possessed the law. And Paul was really saying:
So what? So what if you have the law? Having the law isn’t what counts. Have you kept the law? That’s what counts.
Those without the law who sin and those with the law who sin will both likewise perish. And they will perish because they have sinned.
And then, in verses 17 to 24, Paul was accusing this imaginary Jew of not practicing what he preached. He boasted about having the law, and regarded himself as a guide for the spiritually blind who don’t know God. And he saw himself as a light for those in the dark about God’s will. So, he boasted about having the law. But — verse 21 — why don’t you practice what you preach? And Paul made the point that this imaginary Jew was guilty of doing the very same things as his pagan neighbour. Despite all his privileges, the Jew was still a sinner.
In verses 25 to 29 of chapter 2 Paul referred to circumcision. The Jews rely on the fact that they are the circumcised people of God. But, if they have disobeyed the law — and all of them have disobeyed the law — then being circumcised will not shield them from the wrath of God. Being circumcised will not help them. And having the law will not help them. Since they’re sinners, they’re liable to the judgment of God.
And, of course, Paul’s purpose in saying all that he has said in chapters 1 and 2 is to make clear that we have all sinned. Jews have sinned. Gentiles have sinned. Everyone has sinned. Therefore every one is liable to God’s condemnation and wrath. However, in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed. In the gospel sinners discover that we can become right with God, not by works of the law, or by the things we do, but through faith in his Son who died for us.
Verses 1 to 8
As we move into chapter 3, it’s as if Paul has thought of a possible objection. If God is impartial and treats the disobedient Jew the same was as he treats the disobedient Gentile, then what advantage is there in being Jewish? What value is there in being a member of God’s chosen people? And Paul responds in verse 2:
Much in every way!
Now, when you hear Paul reply like that, then you’d expect him to list some of the many advantages the Jews have over the Gentiles. If they have many advantages, tell us what they are, Paul! But, in fact, Paul only gives one example. Verse 2 again:
First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.
And, of course, that’s true. God had given the Old Testament Scriptures to the Jews and to them alone. ‘Praise the Lord’, the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 147. ‘Praise the Lord!’ Why?
He declares his word to Jacob,
his statutes and rules to Israel.
He has not dealt thus with any other nation;
they do not know his rules.
Praise the Lord!
Think of the advantage that a child has who grew up in a Christian home compared to a child whose parents are unbelievers. One child is brought up, knowing the Scriptures, and knowing the gospel. One child is brought up in the church, surrounded by Christian teaching and Christian example. And the other child grows up, without knowing the fellowship of God’s people, without knowing anything about the Lord or about the glory of the gospel. Well, that’s the advantage the Jews had over the Gentiles: the Jews were brought up, knowing the Lord, and knowing his ways, because they had his word. And in his word, he gave them laws to keep. And in his word, he also gave them promises, didn’t he? Promises about God’s intention to deliver his people from our sin and misery by the coming Saviour. And he announced these things to them in various ways in the Old Testament Scriptures. In the Scriptures, God revealed to the people of Israel that he would send the Saviour into the world. So, the Jews had that advantage over the Gentile nations.
But, of course, look now at verse 3 where Paul mentions that some did not have faith. Think, for instance, of all those Jews we read about in the gospels who did not believe in the Lord Jesus, even though he is the promised Saviour who died for our sins and who was raised to give us life. And think of all the Jews in Paul’s day who did not believe, even though they heard the gospel message about Jesus Christ, the only Saviour of the world. Though God gave his word to the Jews and announced to them the coming Saviour, there were many who did not believe in the promised Saviour.
So, will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? Given their unbelief, will God break his word to them? And Paul answers in verse 4:
Not at all!
Even if everyone else is a liar and unfaithful to their word, God will never, ever be unfaithful or untrue to what he has said.
And so, what has God said? Well, in his word, he promised to condemn sinners for their sin. And Paul quotes from Psalm 51 where David acknowledged that God is right to judge and to condemn sinners for their sinfulness. God, of course, has also promised to forgive and to save all who trust in his Son. And Paul will get to that. However, for now, he’s making clear that God is right to condemn those Jews who do not believe, because God has always made clear that his will judge and condemn sinners for their sin.
Paul moves on in verse 5 to consider another point. Someone might argue that if their sin brings out, or shows forth, God’s righteousness, then that’s a good thing, isn’t it? It’s a good thing when people see that God is righteous in all his ways and is prepared to punish a lawbreaker. Think for a moment of a human example: When a jury hears all the evidence and determines that someone is guilty, and when a judge sentences that person to 10 years in prison, well, that’s a good thing. It’s a good thing when justice is seen to be done and when lawbreakers get what they deserve. And so, giving God the chance to show his righteousness and his justice and his hatred of sin is surely a good thing as well? And if that’s the case — if our sin reveals something good about God — then it would be unjust for God to punish us, wouldn’t it? That’s Paul’s argument in verse 5.
And Paul uses a similar argument in verse 7: If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and increases his glory, why should I be condemned for it? Surely I ought to be praised for accomplishing something good? If my wickedness leads to God’s glory, why should I be blamed?
It’s clear that Paul has no time for these objections. In verse 5, he says he’s using a human argument. And he means he using a merely human argument that can’t stand up to God’s examination. And in verse 6, his answer is an emphatic ‘By no means’. And in verse 8, he says that those who reason like this deserve to be condemned. In Paul’s mind it’s quite clear: Those who sin deserve to be punished by God. And God is right to punish those who break his law.
This passage is interesting in view of a trend among evangelicals who emphasise God’s grace so much that they make it seem that we can do as we please, because, sure, God is gracious and kind and will, of course, pardon us. You know: We can do as we please, and sin as much as we like, because our sinfulness only magnifies the grace of God. But listen to what our church’s Confession says:
God continues to forgive the sins of those who are justified. Although they can never fall from their justified state, they may fall under his fatherly displeasure because of their sins and they may not have the light of his countenance restored to them until they humble themselves, confess their sins, ask for forgiveness and renew their faith and repentance.
When I was growing up, my Dad was my Dad. He would always love me and accept me as his son. But, from time to time, I disobeyed him. And when I disobeyed him, he would punish me. But even though he punished me, he was still my Dad. Well, through faith in the Saviour, we’re adopted into God’s family. He becomes our Heavenly Father. He will always be our Heavenly Father; and true believers will always be regarded as members of his family. But when true believers sin against God, we may fall under his fatherly displeasure. And when we fall under his fatherly displeasure, we’re liable to suffer some kind of punishment from God in this life unless we confess our sins and repent of them. Now, true believers don’t have to worry about eternal punishments, because the Lord Jesus has graciously and freely delivered us from them. But God the Father might very well need to chastise his children in this life for the sins we commit. So, no one should say:
I don’t have to worry about sin, because my sin magnifies the grace of God.
No, every true believer should seek God’s gracious help to fight against sin. And when we do sin, we need to confess it and repent of it.
Verses 9 to 20
I can probably deal with verses 9 to 20 quite quickly. In verse 9, Paul asks: Are we any better? Presumably he means:
Are we Jews any better off compared to Gentiles? You know, even though we have the advantage of having God’s word to guide us, are we really any better off?
And what is Paul’s answer? It’s there in verse 9:
Not at all!
Not at all, because Jews and Gentiles have this in common: we’re all alike under sin. And from verse 10 to verse 18, he strings together a series of quotation from the Old Testament which make the point that we’re all sinners. There is no-one righteous, not even one. And what Paul means is that — setting aside the effect of the gospel for the moment — there is no one who is right with God. Some people are naturally very, very bad. And some people are naturally very, very good. You know, they’ve been brought up well and they’re careful to live a good life. But it doesn’t matter how good a person is, because everyone is a sinner in the sight of the Lord. And no one ever seeks after the true God. That is — and again we’re to set aside the effect of the gospel for the moment — no one by themselves will ever seek after God. Instead of seeking him, all have turned away from him. And in verses 13 and 14, Paul uses quotations which emphasise how we sin by what we say. And in verses 15 to 17, he uses quotations which emphasise the violence of what we do. And he also lists the different parts of our bodies as if to make the point that though we were created to glorify God and to serve him, we use our bodies to do evil. And verse 18 is the climax:
There is no fear of God before their eyes.
In other words, no one, no one thinks to worship God. That’s what we were made to do, but we because of our fall into sin and misery, no one does what we were made to do.
And look now at verse 19: Before the judgment seat of God, every mouth will be silenced. There’s nothing anyone can say to excuse ourselves. So, if anyone is hoping that they will be declared right with God on the basis of what they had done, they need to realise that no one, no one will be declared righteous in the sight of God by observing the law or by the things we do, because, in fact, the law of God only reveals to us our sin. Every time we hear it, it reminds us that we’re sinners who have not done what God’s law requires of us. So, the Jews have the law, but the law tells them that they’re sinners who are liable to God’s punishment. And when the Gentiles hear God’s word, it says to them as well:
You’re a sinner who is liable to God’s punishment.
The law makes clear that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. The law leaves us feeling hopeless and helpless, because we haven’t done it; and in the law God warns that he will send curses on all who disobey his law.
But the good news is — and this is what we’ll come to next time — the good news is that there is a way for sinners to become right with God. It’s not by works of the law, but it’s by faith in Jesus Christ who died to pay for our sins. And all who trust in him are justified freely by God’s grace so that our sins are forgiven and we’re accepted as righteous in his sight.
Every day the wrath of God is revealed against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness. But in the gospel, a righteousness from God is revealed so that sinners can be reconciled to God. And by that gospel, our sins are forgiven and we receive the hope of the resurrection and everlasting life in the presence of God.