Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Romans 3:5-6

But if our unrighteousness brings out God's righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing His wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world?

The unrighteousness of man calls into question the righteous judgment of God. Paul gets a couple more hypothetical problems to address in v.5-8. Now these last two problems stray from the original topic. We’ve gone from the moral law to the ceremonial law in chapter 2, and the first two problems of chapter 3 were still regarding ceremonial law, Jewish heritage, and God’s faithfulness. Now the first objection here, the third of this chapter, has nothing to do with the original topic. The Jews say, “If God’s justice is magnified in the wickedness of humans, is it really right for God to pour out His wrath?” If God is making use of the unbelief of the Jews in order to magnify His faithfulness, isn’t it unfair for Him to judge and punish them for their unbelief? If God glorifies Himself through my sin, isn’t it unfair for Him to judge me for that sin? This person is saying that since man’s unrighteousness depicts God’s righteousness, shouldn’t He be happy about that turn of events? Paul here is facing people who would rather rationalize than repent. He’s convicting them of sin. And they’d rather talk about anything else. So they change the subject to God’s judgment, given that He is glorified either way.

Again, we get Paul’s famous, “God forbid!” This time our NIV is, “Certainly Not!” God is never unrighteous! Paul rejects outright the suggestion that it is unjust for God to judge those who have sinned, even though in His judgment, His faithfulness is declared and His glory is magnified.

Paul says that the God of the Bible is beyond questioning in the righteousness of His just judgment. God is a just judge. Now, he’s speaking to Jewish people who believe in God’s judgment, and they believe in a final judgment. And perhaps he’s saying to them, “Look, if you think that God might be unjust in His judgment now, how can you think that He’s going to be just in His final judgment, which we all agree is going to occur?” Or Paul may be saying something like this, “If you are saying that sin ceases to be sin and ceases to require judgment, because God overrules it for His glory, then there’s no sin that can be punished, because God overrules every sin for His glory.” The Jews thought it was right to punish a sinner, so this view doesn’t mesh with the position that Paul knew they held. And if they were going to argue that way, then they would have to say that no sin can be judged. Their argument would be self-refuting. It would display their inconsistency.

Notice how, when faced with the judgment of God for sin, these people immediately want to ask the abstract question, “Is it right for God to judge?” rather than the obvious and concrete question, “How do I deal with the fact that I‘m a sinner and I deserve judgment?” They would rather go to some sort of abstract and preposterous theological question - the idea that God’s judgment is unjust - than deal with the fact which is close at home that they are sinners in need of God’s divine mercy. And so often when we’re in gospel conversations we run into that very thing. Perhaps you confront someone with their sin, and suddenly they have all these intricate theological questions that they want you to answer. “Well, before we get to that, I’ve got some questions about angels that I need you to straighten out. Or help me with predestination, I don’t understand that. Or how do you know God exists?” Suddenly, there’s this great interest in various speculative theological issues. Why? Because, you’re getting close to home. You’re dealing with sin. And sin can accept anything except repentance. It will do anything to stay alive. And so the favorite thing to do for the unrepentant unbeliever is to run away from the accusation of sin and go to some abstract theological question.

When the homosexuality thing came up in the Episcopalian church a couple years ago, I remember seeing on local television, an interview with a lady who attended a special meeting at one of the local churches saying, “Jesus never said anything against homosexuals. Paul may have, and Moses may have written some stuff in the Old Testament, but Jesus never did, and that’s all that matters.” How wrong is that? Can you place a higher value on Leviticus chapter 17 than on Romans chapter 1? It’s all infallible, inerrant, and inspired. This kind of “Jesus didn’t say it” tactic ignores Paul’s claims of being an apostle, of having authority to direct the churches, and it ignores what Scripture says about being all-God-breathed. It also contradicts what Jesus said about Scripture and tries to separate Jesus and Paul. The teachings of Jesus and Paul are practically synonymous, and when people try to separate their doctrine, they undermine the value of Scripture. As Christians, our view of Scripture as Holy is devotion and worship. We show God that we love His Word by upholding the value of it. And this type of argument makes that Word look self-contradictory and ridiculous. It’s sad.

Here’s what Paul is saying: If you can face God’s judgment apart from Christ, apart from grace, apart from mercy, and apart from the gospel in your own righteousness, go ahead and do it, because God is just, and if you are righteous, I promise you He will acquit you. Now, you might be acquitted from punishment, but you have only done your duty, so you wouldn’t merit eternal life and glory. That’s another topic for another day, but that’s what Paul is saying. The gospel is for everyone. Without it, none will be saved.

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