Let God Be True Though Every Man a Liar
Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? 2 Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? 4 May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, "THAT YOU MAY BE JUSTIFIED IN YOUR WORDS, AND PREVAIL WHEN YOU ARE JUDGED." 5 But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) 6 May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world? 7 But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner? 8 And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), "Let us do evil that good may come"? Their condemnation is just.
Their Condemnation Is Just
The text ends, "Their condemnation is just." Whose condemnation is just? Well, we will see. And we will not only see, but we will see why it is just. Therefore, this is very relevant to you and me. There is a judgment coming on the world. It's mentioned in verse 6: "Otherwise, how will God judge the world?" He is going to judge the world. And some will be condemned. And their condemnation will be just. Who are they? And what did they say in these eight verses that unleashed this terrible sentence against them from the inspired apostle? I hope you will listen and learn how not to deal with God and his Word.
As Romans 3 opens, Paul has just argued in Romans 2:25 that if a Jewish person does not follow the Law of God, then his "circumcision has become uncircumcision." That is, he is no different from a Gentile. Not only that -he said in 2:27 that Gentiles who do follow the Law of God will in the last day stand in judgment over Jewish people who have treated the Law as a mere letter, instead of letting it have its inward transforming effect by the Holy Spirit. He said all this to make plain that Jews, as well as Gentiles, are all under the power of sin and in need of the great life-giving gospel that Paul preaches about the gift of God's righteousness (1:16-17) - namely, that no matter how much sin you brought into this room today (Jew or Gentile), you can have a right standing with God because of Christ's death and resurrection, if you will put your trust in him. That's been the point so far in Romans: Jews and Gentiles alike need the gospel and God gives his own righteousness freely to those who trust his Son.
But now Paul takes a kind of detour in Romans 3:1-8. He has said something that is very provocative and that will not go unchallenged, namely, that some Jews are not really Jews and some Gentiles can really be Jews, even if they are not circumcised. The problem is that this seems to call into question the special position of Israel as God's chosen people. And that means it would call into question the whole Old Testament. And if Paul's gospel does that, it will not stand.
Then What Advantage Has the Jew?
So Paul asks - or, he lets an imaginary objector ask - in verse 1: "Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision?" You see what's up. He has said that Jews can be judged by Gentiles and perish, and that Gentiles can become true Jews by a heart change of faith in the Messiah. So what advantage is it to be a Jew? Isn't he calling into question the whole structure of the Old Testament based on the Jews being God's special chosen people who have tremendous advantages?
Paul answers in verse 2 that there are great benefits to being a Jew. "Great in every respect." Then he begins a list of advantages (verse 2b), but he only mentions one thing: "First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God." Paul stops here because he intends to finish this list later (in 9:4-5). In fact, this whole problem of whether God is being faithful to his covenant with Israel in the work of Christ is taken up in Romans 9-11, so that Romans 3:1-8 is just a brief detour to deflect the criticism until he gets to Romans 9. There he finishes the list like this: ". . . who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen" (9:4-5).
But here he only mentions one advantage: they have the oracles of God - they have been entrusted with the Word of God in the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament. Then he stops and let's his imaginary objector pose the problem which he will answer: "OK, Paul, you say Israel does have a special chosen place in God's plan, but you also say that Jews are perishing in unbelief and even being judged by Gentiles. It sounds like double-speak: which is it, covenant security as Jews, or unbelief and judgment?" They assumed it had to be one or the other.
God Is Not False or Unfaithful
Paul answers in verse 3, "What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?" In other words, he rejects the assumption that if some Jews are unbelieving and perishing, God is unfaithful. Verse 4: "May it never be!" God's unfaithfulness is unthinkable. In fact, it is not only unthinkable if only "some" are unbelieving (as verse 3 says), but even if all men prove false to God, God would not be untrue to his glory and his covenant if he judged them all. Verse 4: "Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar." (More on that next week! What an amazing statement about the centrality and supremacy of God in the universe!)
Then to support this statement that God is not false or unfaithful, even if he judges the Jews as well as all other sinners, Paul quotes Psalm 51:4. Now recall that Psalm 51 is the psalm of King David's confession after his adultery with Bathsheba. Here is what David said in the context of the psalm. He says to God, "Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge" (51:4). In other words, David says that the reason God would be just to judge him is that his sin was against God. David's sin makes God's judgment of David righteous - it is true to God's nature, it is true to his glory, and so this righteousness is faithfulness to his covenant.
Now Paul quotes this Psalm to support his claim that God is not unfaithful or untrue even if some Jews or all men are unbelieving and false to God. So it goes like this. Verse 3: the unbelief of some Jews does not nullify God's faithfulness; and verse 4: even if every man were false to God and under God's judgment, God would still be faithful and true. Why? Because David himself said that God had the right to judge him because of his sin. He did not claim that his Jewishness would spare him. "I have sinned," David said (and now Paul quotes him in verse 4b. "I have sinned . . .") ". . . that you [God] may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged."
So Paul's answer so far is: Yes, Jews have advantages, like having the very Word of God entrusted to them. But if they are unbelieving they will be judged. This does not call into question God's faithfulness or truth or righteousness. Rather, the sin of those God judges (like David's sin) vindicates God in his judgment. The sin of Israel is the very thing that magnifies God's righteousness in judgment.
Now you might think: Paul, this is a good place to stop your detour. You have made your point. Now go back to the main road and pick it up with verse 9: all are sinners and need the gospel. You are starting to lose me. This is really heavy sledding. Have you forgotten that there are children in the audience at Rome, and some plain, simple Christians who are having a hard time following this detour?
But Paul, evidently, is not persuaded by these considerations. (I want to talk about that next week!) He presses on to answer these objectors. He has had so many debates about these things with Jews and Gentiles that he knows what they say at this point and he wants to give at least a brief answer. One thing they say - and this is amazing - is that God has now involved himself in a colossal contradiction, if Paul is right. It's going to sound outrageous, but that is how far people will go when they realize that some of their long-cherished beliefs are crumbling.
Doing God a Favor by Sinning
They say, in effect, (now get this!), if our sin (like David's sin), our unrighteousness, shows or magnifies God's righteousness when he judges us, then really, we are not the instruments of sin, we're the instruments of God's glory to magnify his righteousness. So he would be unrighteous to condemn us. He would be condemning us for the very thing that magnifies the glory of his righteousness in judgment. Now if that sounds like a word game, it is. It's the way you start using language when you've lost a hold on reality. But here it is in verse 5, as Paul expresses their objection to what he has said: "But if our unrighteousness [like David's] demonstrates the righteousness of God [when he judges us], what shall we say? [Paul asks] The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? [Which is what they were saying would be the case if Paul were right. Then Paul adds with a kind of embarrassment for speaking this way] (I am speaking in human terms.)." And he answers in verse 7: "May it never be!" No indeed. God is not unrighteous to inflict wrath on you even though your sin magnifies his righteousness when he judges you. You are very wrong.
In fact, in arguing this way (Paul might say), you entangle yourselves in three contradictions of your own beliefs. Here they are: First, God isn't unrighteous to judge those whose judgment magnifies his righteousness, Paul says (verse 6b), "for otherwise, how will God judge the world?" In other words, one of your cherished beliefs is that God will judge the world. You believe that. But he couldn't judge the world, if this sophistry of yours were true: that he can't condemn people if their condemnation magnifies his righteousness. You know well that God will judge the world, and that his righteousness will be magnified in that judgment. That's your first contradiction.
Second, take me, for example, Paul says. You think I'm telling lies right now, as I talk. I'm sinning, you think. What if God judged me now? Would he be just? Or would my lying about the truth glorify God so much when he condemned me, that he would be unjust to condemn me? This is the point of verse 7a: "But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner?" This is the second trap you have fallen into with your word game. You really do think I am a sinner and that God would be righteous to judge me, even though my sin would magnify his glory in my judgment. So you don't really hold to your position.
Finally, on the basis of your position - that God can't judge those whose sin magnifies his righteousness when he judges them - on this nonsensical position, we may as well all just go on sinning. Because your whole point is that our sin glorifies God's righteousness in judgment, and so we are not really sinners but God-glorifiers, and so safe from his wrath. Verse 8: "And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), 'Let us do evil that good may come'?" And to that kind of convoluted, weaseling use of language and theology, Paul says, "Their condemnation is just."
When God's Word Seems to Contradict Itself
There is condemnation of Jews and Gentiles, and there is justice. And these two things do not contradict. This is where we began. Who are they whose condemnation is just? Those who play games with the Word of God. More specifically in this case: those who see two true things in the Word of God that they can't reconcile and deny that this can be. For them it was, on the one hand, God is faithful and God is righteous and God is true to his glory, and, on the other hand, God judges his very own chosen people and condemns them along with the Gentile world. Two truths, for them irreconcilable. What advantage then would the Jew have? So they try to reject one of these truths. And the result is sophistry - tricky reasoning, word games. Today we might call it spinning. And to this Paul says, "Their condemnation is just."
So my closing exhortation is: Don't play games with the Bible. Be as careful as you can in handling the Word of God. And when you can't reconcile one true thing with another. Wait and pray and study and seek the Lord. In due time, they will be reconciled.