Pulling Down Strongholds:
Against God’s Justice
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 13c of 83


“…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).

[We have been considering in this tranche of articles, Paul’s response to the anticipated objections of the unbelieving Jews against the doctrine of justification. These objections are based upon the idea that if Paul’s doctrine of justification is correct, then the goodness, faithfulness and justice of God would be thrown into question. We have already seen his response to the charge that the doctrine destroys God’s goodness and faithfulness. In this final instalment, we must consider how Paul defends the doctrine against the charge that it destroys God’s justice]

3.  God is Just

Paul anticipates the objection again:

But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous [or unjust] who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man)” (v. 5).

Notice Paul’s embarrassment that such an objection could even be raised? “I speak as a man” he qualifies. If our unrighteousness commend or accentuate the righteousness of God, isn’t God unjust to punish us?

The objector is a Jew outwardly. He is thinking: God made us His people. Then He ordained that we should fall into sin. Our sin benefits Him. It benefits Him because His righteousness can now be seen against a dark background of unrighteousness. You know how it is like. If you light a campfire on a bright noonday, you can hardly see the fire. But if you light a campfire in the darkness of the night, you will see just how big and bright the fire is.

The objector is thinking: God made us and used us as a backdrop to accentuate his own righteousness. Isn’t He unjust then to judge and condemn us,—as Paul says He would?

Another objector picks up the same thought in verse 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” (v. 7).

If my falsehood serves to accentuate God’s truth, why am I judged as a sinner? When I lie, I am doing God a favour because it magnifies His glory! How then does God judge me as a sinner? It is not fair is it?

Should we preach that God will judge us? Should we not rather say: “Let us do evil, that good may come” (v. 8). That is: instead of burdening the conscience of the hearers with the fear of judgement, should we not rather make them feel good? Should we not tell them that good will come out of evil—especially in the lives of those who are God’s people?

There were some who “slanderously reported” that Paul and his associates taught that. And others even affirm that he said it. Having been misquoted, misunderstood, or misrepresented many times, I can understand how the apostle must have felt!

But how does he reply? He did not defend himself. He says: “God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?” If God is unjust to take vengeance on the Jews, how shall He judge the world?

Remember that the objector is a Jew outwardly. As a Jew he will not think that it is right for the Gentiles to sin. Indeed, he has no doubt that God will judge them. Many of the Jews despised the Gentiles. They gloat over the fact that God would judge Gentiles.  But they cannot imagine that God should judge the Jews. When the Lord told them that they were in bondage of sin, they were indignant. “We be Abraham’s seed,” “Abraham is our father” (Jn 8:33, 39) they cried.

Because of this confidence, the Jews invented all sorts of excuses to justify their sin. But these excuses can only find sympathy among reprobate minds. Only one whose mind is twisted in sin can think like that. This is why Paul pronounces that their “damnation is just” (v. 8). To suggest, as they did, that God is unfair in condemning sin (whoever is the sinner) is to blaspheme the very nature of God. So even as they question God’s condemning, they are proving themselves to be worthy of condemnation!

Thus, Paul does not even bother to answer them at length. He simply reminds them: If God cannot judge them for their sin, He cannot judge the world too. The unbelieving Jew is caught in his own sophistry.

Beloved brethren and friends, is there anyone of us caught in this kind of sophistry? We can make all sorts of arguments against the truth, but remember that God will call us to account for the things we say. Some of the Jews were saying that sin is all right because it accentuates God’s righteousness. Such a doctrine destroys souls by making them lawless. Did not the Lord warn us that anyone who teach men to break the commandments of God will be called least in the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5:19)? Dare anyone of us then forward arguments that will promote lawlessness?

Conclusion

We must conclude. We have seen in our text how the unbelieving Jews object to Paul’s theology:

“Paul, you cannot be right about what you say about God and the Jews,” they say. If God is good, it cannot be that He will call Israel to be His people, and then destroy most of them. If God is faithful, He will not allow any of the descendants of Abraham to perish. If God is just, He will not punish our sin, because our sin brings out His righteousness.

We have shown that these arguments are weightless, even blasphemous. We have seen how the apostle shows that His doctrine (which is the doctrine of sovereign particular grace) does not destroy the goodness, faithfulness and justice of God as the Jews claimed.

Now, we must pause for a moment before we end this study to ask ourselves: What were the Jews doing in raising their objections? You must realise that they are not questioning the goodness, faithfulness or justice of God. What they are saying is that Paul’s doctrine does not fit with their idea of the goodness, faithfulness and justice of God.

Now, if these objections are raised today, may people will say: Leave them alone. They can believe what they want. We will believe what we want.

But this was not Paul’s attitude. Paul knew that what they were doing was dangerous. We must not think that their objections are frivolous and nothing more. No, they are dangerous. The Jewish objections are frivolous indeed. But they are also dangerous. If they were not, the Holy Spirit would not have inspired Paul to record those objections. The fact is that they are dangerous for our souls, just as some health advice can be dangerous for our bodies.

The fact is: unless Paul got those things sorted out, the Jews would not listen to the message of the Gospel of Christ. Ultimately, then, what Paul is doing (in our text) is to tear down strongholds in order that the Gospel of Christ may have entrance into our hearts. That is ultimately what really matters. What really matters is our relationship with God in Christ. We are created to glorify and enjoy God. We can only do so through Christ Jesus.

Ultimately all theology must point us to Christ. Ultimately, all defence of the faith (like what Paul is doing) must remove obstacles that prevent us from enjoying God in Christ.

So yes, we must continue to teach. Yes, we must continue to tear down. We must continue to instruct, to answer questions, to correct false notions and to warn against errors. Unless we get our doctrine right, we shall in the first place be hardened against the truth, and in the second place, be swayed by every wind of false doctrine.

When either of that happens, we will depart from the old path and head down the road of destruction. The history of the church has shown it over and over again. When false doctrine or thinking is allowed to take root, the church is on the way to apostasy.

Children, take heed. Theology is not for fun. Careful study of the Scripture is not for fun. It is to ground you firmly in Christ.

Ever tried to pitch a tent? Some weeks ago, I brought my sons camping in Pulau Ubin. We found a nice campsite. But the problem is that the patch of ground had lallang and thorns. How to pitch the tent? Well, the first thing we did was to clear as much lallang and thorns as possible before pitching the tent. After pitching the tent, we noticed more thorns and lallang blocking the tent entrance. So we continued to remove them.

Now, this is what growing up in the Christian faith is like. We must not only pitch the tent of truth. We must remove the lallang and thorns of errors.

You must pitch the tent of truth by reading the Bible, hearing sermons, learning your catechism and listening carefully when your pastor or your own father explains the Scriptures. When you pitch a tent, you must pull the strings down at the side and peg them into the ground. The more pegs you have, the stronger the tent will be. So too the more you know, the less likely you will be blown away.

But remember you must also remove the lallang and thorns of errors. Fathers, you must do so by correcting errors. Children, you must do so by thinking about the things you learn. You must not learn blindly. You must think. And when you think, if there is anything you do not understand, you must ask. Always remember to ask your father or pastor any questions or problems that you may have.

This is the way to grow in true knowledge. But remember, knowledge is not the same as faith. You can have no faith without knowledge, but knowledge is not faith. If you have knowledge and no faith you will perish like the Jews. Knowledge must lead you to Christ. Therefore, remember always to think about how a truth that you learned helps you to believe Christ, to obey Him, to serve Him, to enjoy Him and to love Him. Unless you believe and serve the Lord Jesus Christ, you will perish with the world. Amen.

JJ Lim