Pulling Down Strongholds:
Against God’s Goodness
In a Brief  Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 13a of 83

1 What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? 2 Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God. 3 For what if some did not believe?  shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? 4 God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged. 5 But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say?  Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man) 6 God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world? 7 For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner? 8 And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,)  Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just” (Romans 3:1-8).

The letter of Roman is really a great theological treatise on the doctrine of salvation. Every aspect of the doctrine of salvation is covered in this book In it Paul explains the doctrines of election, of regeneration, of faith and repentance, of justification, of sanctification and of glorification.

Paul begins this letter by building up a case for the doctrine of justification. Justification teaches us that if anyone of us is saved, it is entirely by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ. None of us can be saved by our own works because all our good works are tainted with sin.

The apostle Paul therefore begins this letter by telling us that all men, without exception, are guilty before God. In chapter 1, he shows us that the gentiles who do not know the written Law of God are guilty. In chapter 2, he shows us that those who know the law of God,—namely Jews and Christians,—are also guilty.

In our previous study, we saw how Paul uses a sledgehammer to destroy the self-righteousness and self-confidence of the Jews. He reproves them for thinking that their knowledge of the Law of God makes them righteous before God. He rebukes them for assuming that because they were circumcised, they must be special in the eyes of God. And he condemns them for being Jews outwardly but in not inwardly. He condemns them, in other words, for intellectualism, ritualism and nominalism.

The true Jew would know salvation by grace through faith. But the sad fact is that there were very few true Jew. In general, the Jews in the days of Paul were mostly religious hypocrites who relied on their self-righteousness.

These same nominal Jews would object strongly to what Paul is teaching them. Pride always resists the truth. But what are their objections? Paul gives us a glimpse of them by addressing them in the first 8 verses of chapter 3.

So then, these 8 verses, are really a kind of excursus from Paul’s main arguments. He is pausing here to address some objections before going back to his main thought that all men are guilty before God.

Why is it important for us to answer these objections? It is important because the nature is God is being questioned! In particular, if we read carefully, we will see that the Jews are, in fact, accusing Paul of destroying the goodness of God, the faithfulness of God and the justice of God by his doctrine.

Paul is addressing sinners. We are all sinners,—whether we are converted or unconverted. As sinners, we all hate God. True believers love God, but because they have a remnant of corruption in their heart, they will also be tempted to despise God. We will be tempted to question God’s goodness, faithfulness and justice. Unbelievers hate God, and they will latch on anything that will give them excuses not to believe God’s Word.

Therefore, unless these objections are addressed, we will all be distracted from hearing what God has to tell us concerning His mercy and grace in the Gospel. We are all familiar with this kind of distraction. You are listening to a sermon or a lecture, and half-way through an objection to what is being said crosses your mind. When that happens, you stop listening. Instead, the objection grows louder and louder in your head.

The apostle, writing under inspiration, is seeking to address this problem. God is good, faithful and just. We must not doubt that. Neither should we entertain any thought that the Gospel of Christ is somehow contrary to the goodness, faithfulness and justice of God.

The Lord helping, then, let us consider first of all, how Paul affirms the fact that…

1. God is Good

The objector asks:

What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?” (v. 1)

What is the use of being a Jew, what is the point of circumcision, when it is no guarantee of salvation? Paul had just said that being a Jew,—having the Law and being circumcised,—does not guarantee salvation. In fact, being a Jew outwardly is, in some ways, worse than being a Gentile. The nominal Jew will certainly be punished more severely than the moral Gentile.

If that is so, what is the point of being a Jew? God has called out a people to live unto His praise. But there does not seem to be any benefit for this people! It appears that God was merely making use of them. It appears that they suffered for God and worship God, but He actually hates them. Is God good after all?

How would you feel if you are employed by a prestigious company, and you are given a prestigious title: “Director of Operational Reforms.” You are told that you will be paid at the end of your contract. But just before your contract ends, instead of being paid, you are given a termination letter, in which you are also told all the things you did wrongly.

Perhaps some of the Jews might have felt like that. What advantage is there in being a Jew, and in being circumcised?

How does Paul answer? He says:

Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God” (v. 2)

The word “chiefly” is interesting. It occurs 60 times in the Greek, but most times (5 of 6 times), it is translated “first,” or “first of all.” Essentially, what Paul is saying is that there are many other reasons why it is advantageous to be Jews, but he is giving us the first and most important reason: “because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.

What does he mean? Paul is commonly interpreted as saying the Jews had the privilege of being the custodians of God’s word. Thus it may be said that it is advantageous to be Jews because the Jews were keepers, transcribers and preservers of God’s Word. The world owes it to the Jews for being God’s instruments to preserve and transmit His Word.

But is this really what Paul is saying? I do not think so. That would not answer the question: What advantage is there in being a Jew? It would not address the indignation that may arise in the Jewish heart of being used by God, and then discarded.

I believe, rather, that Paul is saying that it was advantageous to be Jews because God had chosen them out of all the people in the world to hear, know and practice His Word.

·       The Word of God teaches us who God is. The Jews, of all people of the world, knew who God is.

·       The Word of God shows us what duty God requires of us. The Jews, of all people in the world knew what God requires of man.

·       The Word of God is the Truth, and the Truth is what gives us true freedom. The Jews, of all people in the world, knew how they might obtain true freedom.

·       The Word of God contains God’s promises. The Jews, of all people of the world, had the privilege of receiving these promises.

We can think of other reasons why it is advantageous to be Jews, such as God’s providential protection through the ages, such as having an advance civil statute to govern them, etc.

But the privilege of having the oracles of God entrusted to their care and use far surpasses the other privileges. They were the first to know how to obtain eternal life. They were the first to hear about the promised Messiah. They were the first to hear the Gospel of Christ. The Lord himself restricted his ministry very much to the Jews. And He instructed the apostles to go to the Jews first.

The Jews had more opportunities for freedom and life than did any other people in the world. Surely it was a great advantage to be a Jew! God’s goodness towards the Jews cannot be denied at all!

It is likewise a great advantage to be a Christian. Whether you are a child or an adult, it is a great advantage to be a Christian. Let no one think that because it is possible for a baptised Christian to be worse off than an unbaptised unbeliever, there is no advantage to being a member of the church. There are many advantages, which testify of the goodness of God! For, first and foremost you have been committed the oracles of God. Of all the people in the world, you alone have heard, and know and can live according to the Law and Gospel. Is this not a great privilege?

“[Knowest thou not] that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” (Rom 2:4). Do not despise the goodness of God. Millions are perishing without hope even as you sit here listening to the Word of God. Do not doubt that God is good in leading you to profess faith and to be baptised and to be part of a church. Do not doubt that you have great advantage being a Christian. Yes, it is true that you will be worse off than the unbelievers if you remain disobedient. But no, that does not nullify the advantage that you have.

But now a second question arises. It is advantageous to be a Jew, but it is a fact that some, or rather most of the Jews, did not believe. And according to Paul doctrine they would perish in their sin. Does this not throw a question mark on God’s faithfulness? After all, did not God make a covenant to be the God of the Jews?

… to be continued next issue

JJ Lim