Pulling Down Strongholds:
“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.…” (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 by grace through faith. These objections, as we saw in our first instalment, 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. In this second part we shall see how he deals with the objection that the doctrine contradicts the justice of God. The argument apparently is that if the doctrine is correct, then many of the Jews would perish since they believe not in Christ. If that were the case wouldn’t God’s faithfulness towards his people be thrown into jeopardy?]
Paul anticipates the objection in this way: “For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?” (v. 3).
The Jews were God’s people. Circumcision was a symbol of their relationship with God. They were God’s covenant people. When God commanded Abraham to circumcise himself and his children, He promised Abraham:
“And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee” (Gen 17:7).
Circumcision marked out the descendants of Abraham as the people of God. God promised to be their God. But there’s a problem. It is a fact that not everyone amongst the descendants of Abraham believed God’s promise. So it is a fact that not every one of the descendants of Abraham believed in the Gospel, which is implied in God’s promise. In fact, the vast majority did not believe!
“For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it”
…says the writer of Hebrews (Heb 4:2).
Does this make the faith of God without effect? The word “faith” here refers to fidelity or faithfulness. Does the unbelief of some nullify the faithfulness of God? Does it mean that God is not faithful to His promise?
Now, you must realise that this question presupposes that God is sovereign, and He is able to keep that which He promise. Or let me put it this way: This question about God’s faithfulness can only arise if the questioner understands that salvation is entirely the work of God. If the questioner thinks that God has no power to keep his promise, then He would not question God’s faithfulness.
Suppose someone you love meets with an accident. He is admitted to the A&E. The doctor examines him, and assures you: “Oh, don’t worry, he is going to get well. I promise you that he will be alright.” Two hour later, the same doctor comes out, shaking his head, and he says, “I am afraid, he did not make it. We tried our best. I am sorry.” What would you do? Do you pound him on the chest and say: “You did not keep your promise! You went back on your word!”
Perhaps in a moment of anguish you might do so. But deep in your heart, you know that the power of life and death is not in the hand of the doctor. You know that the doctor is not being unfaithful to his promise. He had simply made a promise of which he had no power to keep.
So too, if God made a promise and He had no power to keep it, no one would question His faithfulness. Indeed, if it is true that God has no power to keep His promise, then the apostle would simply have answered: No, their unbelief does not make the faithfulness of God without effect. Because salvation does not depend on God, but on us! God tries His best, but ultimate it is up to us.
This is not what Paul says. Instead he says:
“God forbid [mh; gevnoito, mē genoito—not at all! absolutely not!] (v. 4a)
Does man’s faithlessness nullify God’s faithfulness? Absolutely not! Why? Notice that Paul does not give a reason. This is not the place to give the reason. He gives the reason elsewhere. For example, in Romans 9 and Galatians 3, Paul explains the apparent contradiction. The answer as we shall see is that not every of Abraham’s children are the children of the promise. God does not promise to save every descendant of Abraham without exception. In particular, his promise is not for those who believe not His promise.
We shall see that reason when we come to it. But for now, consider how Paul answers:
“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” (v. 4)
What is Paul saying? He is paraphrasing Psalm 116:11 and quoting Psalm 51:4. He is saying that God always speaks the truth and He is always right! Notice what Paul is doing? The objector is saying that his doctrine destroys the faithfulness of God. Paul is saying: That is ridiculous! God does not contradict Himself!
The point is: there are many things we may not fully understand. But never must we question God’s faithfulness. God is sovereign, God has promised, God is also faithful. We must never implicate God with sin just because we do not fully understand all that He is revealing to us concerning Himself.
The point is: God is the Creator, while we are creature of dust. He is infinite, while we are finite. He is omniscient, while we cannot even see what is behind us. “His understanding is infinite” (Ps 147:5), while our understanding is finite. How then can we question God?
God is a faithful God. He is a God who keeps his promise faithfully. The fact that some did not believe and many continue not to believe does not change the fact that He is a faithful God. He does not change His mind. He is still the God of Israel.
We are the Israel of God. He has promised His Spirit to us and to our children and to as many as He shall call. He will not turn back on His word. The fact that it is possible that some of our children may be lost does not make Him any less faithful. He has promised to be our God and the God of our children. Our children will continue to worship Him, and so will our children’s children. This is His promise. We must not doubt that even if we may not fully understand everything for now.
We have seen apology of God’s goodness and faithfulness. But what about His justice?
… to be continued next issue