The Apostle Paul continues to address the church in Rome. This is a church comprised of both Jews and Gentiles. That is, ethnic Jews, but in the matter of faith … they are former Jews. The other ethnic group is called Gentile or heathen or Greeks. Basically this second group is simply everyone who was not born a Jew.
Jews, even today, are proud of their heritage. You can read about it in the gospels. They boasted about having Abraham as their father.
The Christians who used to be Jews, by religion, had a tendency to carry with them the pride of having been born into the race that God particularly and specifically brought into being. The Jews were (and are1) God's chosen people.
But it is always a problem when some in the church display pride in their background. I happen to have a Dutch heritage. I was in a church for a while that had quite a high percentage of Dutch folks. Every once in a while I would hear (jokingly) an expression; “If you ain't Dutch you ain't much”. I hope they were joking. Ethnic pride has no place in a church.
Paul knows the Jewish people well … he was one. And he knows how a Jew can put down a non-Jew. He knows that it can happen in church. So he has shown that Jews who brag about their salvation, as having something to do with how well they keep the law, are unsaved. He shows that Salvation in not based on your birth or ethnic background and it is not based on keeping God's law.
And Paul suspects there were hypocrites in the church. They were the ones who pointed their fingers at the sinners around them … who loudly condemned the condition of the world, but they were living a double life. They did the very things that they condemned.
Paul denounced the evil in the world. But did these sinners really have a chance? After all, they had no bible background like the Jews did. Paul did not 'let them off the hook' . He said they had enough 'bible background' right in the created universe to make them without excuse.
So as we approach this chapter, one question that will be answered is, “Does my earthly background make no difference at all? My Jewish background?”
Ro 3:1 ¶ Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? :2 Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.
The advantage of being Jewish?: This is an interesting question. Looking at the story of 'the Jew' historically certainly does not seem to talk about any advantages. They were slaves for the first 400 years. When they were finally freed, they wandered in the desert for 40 years – no place to call home and no luxuries or comforts. Then as they were 'given' a new land they experienced a constant battle. First with the occupants of the land that God gave them, and then with surrounding enemies. After a period of time they were taken captive by the Assyrians and then by the Babylonians. When a remnant was freed from Babylon and returned to their homeland, they found everything in a state of destruction and rubble. They were mocked by their neighbors, resisted by those who had settled in their land. And after getting somewhat settled, the Greeks came in and dominated them and desecrated their worship, the priesthood, their temple and slaughtered many of them.
Next, their land was oppressed by the Romans. Their babies were slaughtered by Herod. They were totally devastated by the power of Rome. Then in 70 AD Jerusalem was ransacked and all the Jews in all of Israel scattered into the whole earth. For almost two thousand years the Jews were without a real homeland.
Pockets of Jews settled in various parts of the world, in many cases their peace was short-lived and they found themselves expelled once again. This mistreatment and hatred came to a climax in the 1940's when six million of them were exterminated.
So what is the advantage of being a Jew? There doesn't really seem to be one, at least not historically. And at the end of Chapter 2 we read this: Ro 2:28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 9But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
So this tells us that there is no advantage to being 'born' a Jew. And there is no spiritual advantage either.
What about your background, or mine, before we came to Christ? Most likely none of us has a Jewish background, but we all have some kind of a past. If we were atheist or agnostic, we have a past. If we were baptized as a baby and brought up in a religion that did not emphasize receiving Christ as our Saviour, we have that kind of a past. We bring our past into church with us. Sometimes it is difficult to refrain from thinking or saying things that come out of our past and trying to put them into our present. For example, let's say that at age 30 I prayed to receive Jesus into my heart. This means when I was 29 and younger, I was not a Christian. If I had died before the age of 29 I would not have woke up in heaven. But suppose, just for argument sake, during those early years I attended my parents (non-evangelical, traditional) church. In that church there was a lot of ritual. One of the rituals had to do with prayer. So here I am now at age 30+, attending a bible-believing church, and I am in a prayer meeting. I notice that people are just sitting in their seat, praying. So I say, “I think people are supposed to kneel when they pray. We need to build little kneeling pads so that we can pray right. That's the way I always done it.”
So what about that? What difference does it make what you did in the past? We all have a past and we can't please everybody's past, can we? So what do we do? We appreciate our past to the extent that we can learn from it by comparing it to scripture, and then by committing to doing things God's way.
So back to verses 1 and 2, Paul says that there is some kind of advantage to having a Jewish background. And that is, it was to the Jews that the 'oracles' of God were given.
'The oracles of God' refers to God's word. The translators should never have used the word 'oracles'. It is the Greek word 'logia'. That is a form of the word you may be familiar with, 'logos'. It means 'Word'. For the Jews, that was the Old Testament. God gave His word to Israel through Moses. The first five books, from Genesis to Deuteronomy, comprised the whole bible in the early years, until some Prophets added to the writings. The Jews taught the scriptures to their children at a very young age. For example, we read in Deuteronomy 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. De 6:6-9
The advantage of being a Jew is simply that they had 'the light' of God. They did not have to search for God. And they did not have to resort to philosophy to figure out the best way for people to live their lives on this earth. It was all spelled out for them in scripture. And it was 'a light' for them bring to the nations around them.
Imagine with me for a moment a scenario which must have happened regularly a couple of hundred years ago. A family hitches up the horse and carriage and travels a few miles over dirt roads to visit relatives. They stay a little longer than they had planned on, and now darkness falls on them before they are half-way home. Thankfully there is a full moon and a cloudless sky. The dirt road has many dry wagon ruts cut into it after the last rain, and now they are hard as a rock. By using the moonlight and looking very carefully they can avoid most of the worst ruts.
But just a few years later, someone invented the model 'T' Ford. With the flip of the switch … there is light. The ruts are still there but now it is much easier to have a somewhat smooth ride home.
The moonlight in the above scenario represents the 'light of creation'2 that the heathen have. For the heathen it requires much more careful 'looking' than the Jews, who have the brilliant light of scripture.
Paul took advantage of the light that the Jews had. When he was church-planting across Asia, he always looked for a synagogue and started there. If he could lead a few Jews to believe in Jesus, he would have the advantage of having a few core members who really knew their Bibles. That could save Paul many hours of time spent discipling new believers. Within a relatively short time he could even appoint some as elders.
Ro 3:3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?
… unfaithful, That is, unbelieving. It is one thing to have the light, but it is quite another to make use of it. At one point in the Jews history, all the copies of 'the law', their bible, had disappeared (2Kings 22.8).
As Paul points out, the Jewish people as a whole, were custodians of God's word. But if they began to take things for granted and if they came to the place where the word of God has taken a back seat, and if their daily lives became consumed with this present world and their desire to better themselves … the Word of God will be of no use to them. The promises of the Word will not apply.
How many of us have gone through periods in our lives when the bible was on the coffee table and a few copies in our library and perhaps even on our night stands, but there they sat, unused for months or years. What was the advantage of being a Christian at that point? One advantage … at least we had a bible if we should ever need one.
But just because we don't read our bibles, does that mean that God has gone back on His word? Paul says;
Ro 3:4 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." The more we sin, the more unbelieving that we are … the more God stands out in marvelous contrast. He is the Faithful One.
Ro 3:5 But if our unrighteousness (our sin of unbelief) 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.)
So if my sin of unbelief and doubt, and my unfaithfulness makes God to appear all the more Faithful … maybe I did a good thing by being unfaithful. In a round about way I make God look good. I could even say it's kind of like I am 'Glorifying' God. So Paul is kind of sarcastically saying, “Why would God punish me for an action of mine that actually made Him look good? If He punishes me for doing a good thing, that would make Him evil!”
Ro 3:6 By no means! For then how could God judge the world? 7But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? 8And why not do evil that good may come? — as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.
Paul has been preaching that we can receive a free pardon from our sin by believing (putting faith) in Christ's payment on the cross for us. The Jews who heard Paul teach this, found this to be ridiculous. (Why on earth would God just forgive somebody? They need to work it off!) And so they slandered him and made fun of his teaching.
Ro 3:9-10 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one;
The Jewish heritage being as strong and ingrained as it is, I suppose the possibility existed of some of the converted Jews returning to traditional Judaism. That was a concern for Paul. They had come out of Judaism for the sole reason that they recognized Jesus as the true Messiah. But after some time went by perhaps some were thinking that this was not really a dividing factor after all. Perhaps they, down deep in their hearts, believed that Judaism was genuinely God's true church. This would be like a person raised Catholic, attending a evangelical church, receiving Christ as Savior … and then, for some reason they 'cooled off' – cooled in their relationship with Jesus, their fellowship in the church faded away … and ending their lives by reconciling with the Catholic church just so that would qualify to receiving the 'last rites' before they die. If that is you … may I remind you … church membership does not save! Going back to your 'roots' is a worldly and secular thing and it can be equal to turning away from God.
So Paul has to say again … Judaism does not save! And to the Greeks, Good works do not save!
Paul carries on with a whole list of indictments against all humans.
Ro 3:10 as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one3; (Ps 14:1-3)
Ro 3:11 no one understands; no one seeks for God.
Ro 3:12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one."
Ro 3:13 "Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. (Ps 5.9)" "The venom of asps is under their lips."
Ro 3:14 "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness."(Ps 10.7)
Ro 3:15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood;(Isa 59.7)
Ro 3:16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
Ro 3:17 and the way of peace they have not known."(Isa 59.8)
Ro 3:18 "There is no fear of God before their eyes." (Ps 36:1)
These verses apply to every one of us. They are speaking about our fallen, sinful nature that we inherited from Adam. And as a result of that nature, these verses are also speaking to the fact that we are also sinners by choice. Paul will speak much more about this in a following chapter.
Total Depravity. Ps 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
We are born that way. The term we give to our status at conception – we are totally depraved.
But I think it is important to emphasize again what total depravity means and what it does not mean. John Calvin, using the following verse … Eph 2:1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;, taught that, to be totally depraved, was to be dead. Dead people can do nothing. They cannot excercize faith because they are dead. They cannot pray, ask forgiveness or repent, because they are dead. He illustrated 'dead' by referring to a lifeless corspe. In his view he taught that it first took an act of God to inject life and faith into the dead person, in order that they could now hear, repent and believe. What is the problem with this teaching? The biggest problem is how it contradicts so much of scripture that teaches it is the responsibility of all people everywhere to repent4. So 'dead' people can repent … they are commanded to repent. In Calvin's view, the only ones who can repent are those that He chooses to first put life into.
We were born with three parts to our being; Body, Soul and Spirit. Both the body and soul of sinners is alive and can be commanded to repent. The spirit of man is what is 'dead in trespasses and sins' and need a new birth from above.
Ro 3:19 ¶ Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.
Notice how far reaching this verse is; the whole world. The first part of the verse says, 'those who are under the law,' and we usually take this to mean the Jews. So how does the law apply both to Jews, and to the whole world? Actually is covers the whole spectrum. The law which the Jews had, spelled everything out … every detail. The basic moral law that is in the world is that which teaches us to not hurt, kill, destroy or steal … simply because we wouldn't want someone to do that to us.
The countries in which we live, make laws to govern us, allow us to live safely and in peace. Are the lawmakers believers? Are they taking the laws right from the Bible? If you were to ask any Canadian lawmaker where does God or His word fit into present day law making … you would likely get a strange look. They would think you were weird for even asking that.
And yet their laws do come from God. Romans 13:1 ¶ Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.
From what Paul is saying in verse 19 of our present chapter, and from what we have just quoted from what he says in chapter 13 we have to conclude that the whole world is under the law of God. Everyone is held accountable, even those who push God out of their thinking. All of our mouths are 'stopped'. What does that mean? It refers to boasting. We might try to boast by saying that we keep more laws5 (Jas 2.10) than the person down the street. But Paul is saying that by the works of the law … no one will be justified … because to be justified, we would need to be perfect. Since we all sin … we are all lost and in need of saving.
Ro 3:20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation6 by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.
28 For we hold (we believe or we teach) that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one — who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.
Coming up in the next chapter will be a close look at Abraham. God chose him to be the grandfather of Israel. Israel would become a nation and receive the law. Abraham, who preceded the law, is the person that Paul uses to show that salvation by faith has nothing to do with the commandments of God.
1 The Jews are God's chosen people, but with this qualifier: We will read in the 10th chapter that, although God has a plan for them that will not be fulfilled until after the tribulation period, and even to the end of the millennial reign, that until then, just like branches of a tree, they have been broken off until a future time. So physically they are the chosen, but spirituality they are broken off and the church is now the Chosen people of God, the body of Christ.
2Romans 1:20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made...
3Ps 14:1 ¶ « To the choirmaster. Of David. » The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.: 2 The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. 3 They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
4Acts7:30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.
5James 2:10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.
6Atoning sacrifice. The lid of the Ark of the Covenant was called 'The Mercy Seat' and it was called the 'Lid of Atonement'. The actual word is propitiation.