A Study of the Epistle to the Romans
Argument Cannot Save the Jew
Some have said that this is the hardest portion of the book of Romans to understand, and it may be. But I hope I can help you to understand it. I am going to call this the fourth division:
There are in these eight verses four objections and four answers:
Verse 1. An objection
Verse 2. Paul's answer
Verse 3. Another objection
Verse 4. Paul's answer
Verse 5. Another objection
Verse 6. Paul's answer
Verse 7. Another objection
Verse 8. Paul's answer
Paul had been a Pharisee once and knew the pattern of their thinking. So he states their arguments here and answers them. These four objections in verses 1, 3, 5, and 7 are not independent of one another. There is only one real objection, and that is in the first verse; and when Paul answers that, the Jew squirms and varies his objection slightly, though to something that Paul says has already been answered.
"What advantage then hath the Jew? Of what is the profit of circumcision?" (3:1). The Jew did not like to ask that, did he? "What advantage is there in being a Jew if all you say is true, Paul? If we are condemned with the rest of the world, what good is it to be a Jew?" The Jew had a right to ask that. So Paul answers, "Much every way: first of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God" (v. 2).
The Jew somehow thought that by being a Jew, he could escape the judgment of God. But nevertheless there is an advantage in being a Jew (see 9:4-5). A great deal, but Paul is not going to discuss all the various reasons; he is just going to take one, "the oracles of God - Scripture." That word "oracles" singled out a certain element in Scripture - the prophetic element - the promises concerning Jesus Christ. Was not that a tremendous advantage for the Jew to have: that in his hands God committed the oracles that told of the coming of the Messiah? The Jew ought to have known Christ when He came. The very advantage that the Jew had was the very thing that condemned him, because he did not believe in the Messiah when He came. He did not make the most out of his advantage.
The Jew knew that this was a good answer. But he sidesteps the answer by objecting to something in it (3:3). The Jew knew that he had not believed those oracles, and so he says, "Well, what if some of us did not believe? We had the oracles - we will admit that. But we did not all believe them. Shall the unbelief of some cancel out the faithfulness of God?" Do you see what he is saying? He is saying, "Supposing that God back in the Old Testament did promise the Jews a Messiah; supposing that He came and some of us did not believe? Won't God have to keep His promise to the Jewish nation anyway?" He is arguing that God must keep His promises whether the Jew is a sinner or a righteous man.
Paul answers: "God forbid!" God's faithfulness cannot fail - it cannot be made "of none effect." Paul expands: "Yea, let God be found true, but every man a liar" (3:4). If every man in the world becomes a liar, God will still remain true - it dos not matter what happens. "That thou mayest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when Thou judgest" (Psalm 51:4). The very song of David showed God to be righteous when He condemned him.
The response of the Jew is clever but wicked. The Jew took this Scripture, twisted it out of shape, and made a terrible thing. He said, "But if our unrighteousness commendeth the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who visiteth with wrath?" (3:5). If God's righteousness appears in a clearer light because of our sin, can God blame us for our sin? The word "commend" means render conspicuous or being out in a clearer light. To put it in other words, the Jew says, "If our unrighteousness makes clearer the righteousness of God, He would be unrighteous to take vengeance on us."
What is Paul's answer to that? Again his answer takes on tremendous force. "God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?" Every Jew believed that God would judge the world. Paul is saying that if God cannot judge a sinner because his sin makes the righteousness of God more conspicuous, then He cannot deal with any sinner. That sort of reasoning would clear the slate for the Gentiles as well as for the Jews, and it would get rid of all judgment.
The Jew loved that argument, so Paul pursues the movement of this objection a step further. "If the truth of God through my lie abounded unto his glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner?" (3:7). He is still arguing that somehow, if the sin of man would make conspicuous God's righteousness - if man's lie made God's truth appear the greater - how then can God justly judge the sinner? The Jew is trying to argue that he ought to escape somehow. That is clever but fallacious reasoning. It is an attempt to escape the real issue and serves as a present refuge of sinners, and the Jew was one such.
Paul takes him on his own ground: "If you fellows are going to say that, then let us press that argument to its logical conclusion and see just exactly where it leads, as some people say." And what is the logical conclusion of that doctrine? Here it is: "Let us do evil that good may come." That is the logical outcome of that doctrine, and that is exactly what the Jesuits of the Catholic Church hold, namely this, that the end justifies the means. It does not matter what you do, just so the end is good. "Let us do evil that good may come." Paul says, "That is exactly what they say about us, and it is slander." Do you know what they said that about Paul? Paul taught salvation by grace apart from works. So the Jews used this doctrine against him. In effect they said, "This man Paul says that the more you sin, the more good comes out of it." So now Paul turns what they said about him right back on them! What is his answer to the whole thing? "Whose condemnation is just!"
There are two very solemn lessons from this. First, the strictest legalism leads to the worst license. Many well-meaning people want to keep the law today. They want to impose it on us Christians. They say, "f you do not teach the Ten Commandments, soon your folks will be sinning, and they won't care what they do." That is wrong. Those very Jews who would not accept the fact that they were condemned and would not accept Christ as Saviour, while depending on their law, finally said, "Let us do evil that good may come." This is the logical outcome of that frame of mind.
Second, by the same token, there are many professing Christians who are trusting in similar things today. Just as the Jew trusted in his law, his circumcision, and his birth, so those who are born of Christian parents and christened when they were babies keep the Ten Commandments (they do not really keep them) and think God will let them by! They need to read this passage and realize that there is no refuge for a sinner in keeping the law, in church ordinances, in mere human birth, no matter how good the family may be from which they come.
"What then? Are we better than they?" (3:9). Who are the "we"? The Jews. Who are "they"? The Gentiles? No, in no wise; for we before laid to the charge both of Jews and Gentiles that they are all under sin." All under sin - that is his conclusion.
From the argument of this passage, is there not reason to praise God that He has made a way of escape from the condemnation He has brought upon the world?
~Alva J. McClain~
(continued with # 28 - The Whole World Under the Sentence of Condemnation)