Romans 3: Say Ah
Ever been sick? Went to the doctor and he/she looked in your ears, had you open your mouth and press your tongue down with that little wooden stick and say ah? Did they order blood work or even an xray- or ultra-sound so they could perform a thorough examination to determine the cause of your sickness? Most of us have had those tests done by now. But there are some who seem to be blessed with excellent health and never go to the doctor. It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.
Paul is conducting a thorough examination. At times, he is like a lawyer seeking to prove our guilt. At other times he can be likened to a doctor examining a patient to find the causes of their illness. Open your mouth, stick out your tongue says Paul. Then he will tell us what the condition our tongues tell him about our overall health.
So far in his letter to the church in Rome, to the believers both Jews and Gentiles, Paul has dealt with the: willfully ignorant who do not want to thank God or glorify Him; the self-righteous and the super religious. He deals with those who sin apart from the law-the Gentile and those who sin under the law- the outwardly religious Jew.
Paul has even brought up the subject of those who call themselves Jews, who possess the law and who are the circumcised and clearly states: a man is not a Jew if he only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly and circumcision is of the heart, by the spirit and not the written code.
Paul knew what arguments and questions this would create and thus addresses those questions in chapter 3 which begins with this question: What advantage is there in being a Jew, what profit is there of circumcision? The Jews had the benefit of the special covenant of God with the Jews of which the circumcision was a badge or symbol of that special covenant. The question was a natural one- what was the advantage if circumcision did not give us righteousness? This would seem to the Jews that Paul is saying this physical act makes no difference in our standing with God.
Lets look at it from a 21st century perspective: does the Gospel tell us our church membership in a certain denomination and baptism help us gain salvation? The answer is no. For we are told clearly- For by grace are you saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God,not of works lest any man should boast. ( Ephesians 2:8,9) But after you are saved- after you have believed- church membership and baptism are a badge or symbol of what you have become. If you are not truly saved, have not believed in Jesus then church membership and baptism are a sham, and instead of becoming sacred they are made profane. And like the circumcised, temple-going, law observing Jews of Pauls day, the Gentile who did business with them everyday knew they were as quick to lie, cheat, steal, and commit adultery as they were. Their actions blasphemed God among the unbelievers, rather than glorifying it. Their hypocrisy was obvious to all. They were Jews in name only and remember the name Jew came from Judah, which means to praise God.
But there are benefits to church membership and baptism and Paul says there are many advantages to being Jewish. The one he mentions here is they have been entrusted with the Word of God, the Old Testament. ( In Romans 9, Paul will list more advantages to being Jewish).This advantage of having been given Gods Word also created a responsibility. The descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob received more truth from God than any other group of people living on the earth at that time. To them the Scriptures were given. Through them the Scriptures were to be shared. From them the whole world would receive Gods invitation to receive Gods Grace. But also God gave the Jews certain promises specific to them that have not yet been fulfilled.
But the advantages the Jews had and have is of no advantage for a blessing or a promise must be acted upon in order to realize the advantage. A promise not believed and acted upon is like a check not cashed.
What happened? The Jews turned their privilege into a source of power over the people. They turned their relationship into a religion. They took the law and added to it their interpretations of the law which excluded grace. Even though clearly they had been told: And he( Abraham) believed in the Lord; and He counted(credited) it to him for righteousness. Was Abraham circumcised? No. And the law had not yet been given. This was a righteousness that is by faith from first to last.
By the time Jesus came- the Jews had turned this relationship into a religion of outward symbols, religious holidays, diet and a ridiculous list of man-made laws. Jesus would speak out against the Pharisees legalism. Such legalism was not keeping the law, which was impossible, but an outward sham of hypocrisy that said man could earn or merit favor with God by keeping these laws. Jesus would reveal a gospel from God . For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last(Romans 1). Just as it is written in the Old Testament: The just shall live by faith.: ( Hab.2:4)
Why were the Jews of Pauls day against this doctrine of justification by grace through faith? There are at least three main reasons:
- Gods unmerited favor, which is what grace is, releases the individual from the religious control. This religious control was the source of power, prestige and livelihood for the Jewish religious leaders. The temple was big business and gave them power within the Roman empire. Their control over the Jewish population through religion made these men important to the Roman government.
- Grace removed the religion of works as the means by which a person maintains a relationship with God. What happens to revenues when the believer no longer has to purchase lambs for sacrifices? Now do you understand why Jesus drove out the moneychangers in the temple?
- Grace renders religion obsolete and ineffective. This was bad news for those whose power and monies came from running the temple which was the center of their religion.
In addition to these reasons, common sense tells us after a while people do what they do simply because- this is the way, we have always done it. But that was not true,was it? Those who had received Gods Word knew how God had behaved since the beginning, and because He is unchanging we can observe Gods interaction with His creation and see how God operates. Adam and Eve did not earn or deserve the privilege of their relationship with God nor did their behavior merit them the luxury of living in the Garden of Eden they were all a gift of God. They did nothing to deserve what they had received. It was all of Gods Grace. As far as keeping the law- they had only one commandment and could not keep that one. God was revealing a truth about man in the best of circumstances with only one law to keep, could not keep it. No man is justified by the law, for no man can keep the law.
Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. ( Galatians 3) We must realize the law was never given as a means of earning salvation by keeping the law. In fact the law was given as Gods first step in His plan of redemption, which we must remember the plan of salvation was created before the foundation of the earth.
The next question Paul knew would be on the minds of the Jews was : What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify Gods faithfulness? This is an interesting question which simply says- when we are unfaithful, when we lack faith how does this affect our standing with God and His promises to us. Will it nullify Gods promises and faithfulness to us? Paul says Not at all! God is true and faithful. Faithful is He who calls you- who will also do it. ( 1Thess 5) God will keep His promises to Israel in His perfect timing on His schedule.
How does this apply to us? Well let me ask you, have you had a lack of faith in God since you became a Christian that resulted in your committing a sin? Of course you have. When you sinned, were you then no longer a child of God? NOT AT ALL! No Christian, a true born again believer will remain sinless after salvation. What we must remember is when we first believed, all our sins were forgiven; we were justified; and sin was no longer imputed to us.
However, from the moment one first believes and is born again we have two natures. An old nature that we will read about later in Pauls letter, that is as incorrigible as ever. Called the old nature or old man, the flesh, this nature will always battle against our new nature, which cannot sin. Paul will tell us our old nature is crucified with Christ so that the body of sin might be destroyed and we should no longer serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. We are to count this as true and we are now dead to sin and alive unto God.
Paul says knowing this we ought not to sin, and ought to do what is right. But we do not always succeed in this and our question is the same as the Jews- will our unfaithfulness nullify Gods faithfulness? And the answer, thank God, is not at all.
We will remain His child, but we will interrupt our communion, our fellowship with God and our joy will be missing until we are restored through godly sorrow that leads to repentance. We will also be disciplined by God as a loving father disciplines a disobedient child.
When an unbeliever sins against God, this is the action of an enemy of God. When a believer sins against God, he sins against the One who loves him/her, gave His son up for them, adopted them and blessed them with every spiritual blessing. God is grieved. But He will not deal with us as He will with an unbeliever, but as a loving Father who wants to discipline us for our good that we might share in His Holiness.( Hebrews 12)
Next Paul deals with those who are looking for loopholes. The carnal Christian always looks for a loophole to rationalize their sins. This argument is clearly presented later when Paul explains the law was added so that the trespasses might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more. So the carnal Christians says- well then, let us sin all the more , so grace might abound all the more. If my lies enhance Gods truthfulness- then why not lie more and thus give God even more glory. Let us do evil- that good may result. And of course the carnal Christian uses the loophole- if all my sins are forgiven, those past, present and future, then whats the big deal? Pauls answer: God Forbid. Certainly Not!
Sin always has consequences for not only the sinner, but for others who are affected by their sin. The husband who indulges in the secret sin of pornography rationalizes no one in being harmed. Yet he is committing adultery in his heart. And as a man thinketh in his heart so is he. Later he is drawn into adultery, a divorce follows, his children, his extended family are hurt and their lives are impacted.
Or take this logic to a ridiculous extreme with this example: breaking the law, human laws is criminal and requires we have police, courts, jails, lawmakers, judges,lawyers, bailiffs, jail keepers, prisons, buildings, insurance, police cars, agencies and really creates a lot of jobs for people. So the more crime- the more people employed in dealing with crime. That is good , right? God forbid. Each crime has a victim or victims. It is always hurtful and no good can come from it.
There are no loopholes. Be sure your sin will find you out. When you sin as a Christian and confess that sin, repent from that sin with true self-judgment, God is faithful to forgive you and cleanse you from all unrighteousness and communion and fellowship is restored.( I John 1) However, you may still suffer from the consequences of your wrong-doing- bodily , in circumstances or otherwise. A word to the wise- dont sin. And if you do- confess it immediately and turn from it. Be on guard against it. That is why it is so important to know and understand God.
What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understand, no one who seeks God; All have turned away, they have together become worthless, no one does good not even one! (Romans 3: 9-12) Paul says- WE ARE ALL GUILTY- EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US.
Psalms 14 says : The fools says in his heart there is no God, In the original Hebrew, there is is omitted. It reads this way: The fool has said in heart- No, God. In our unregenerate state- we were all rebels who said- no,God.
The Psalmist continues and states: the Lord looks down on the sons(children) of men to see if there is any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have become together corrupt; there is no one who does good, no not one.
You do understand before we were born again, before we were regenerated- the whole of our inner being was controlled by sin. Our minds were controlled by sin- none that understand. Our hearts were controlled by sin- none seek after God. And thus our will was controlled by sin- so that none did good.
No sinner seeks after God. Therefore God must seek after the sinner. Go back to the first sin and the first sinners, who came looking for whom? The Lord did- man where are you?(Genesis 3) Are we not told that Jesus came to seek and save the lost? Did not the Lord Jesus tells us the Father draws us to the Son. The Shepherd went after the lost sheep, and we like sheep have all gone astray.
Yet these Jewish people had the Word of God to direct them. A light upon their path and a lamp unto their feet. But as Paul says, the law was simply a step in showing man how sinful he was and in need of a Redeemer.
Look again at the charges: none are righteous. What does it mean to be righteous? It means to right, right with whom? Be right with God. Being right with God is different than being right with my fellow man. When we have a difference with another person, we can usually settle our differences with some sort of compromise. God says it is His Way or no way. This is the Way of a Sovereign God. You can accept His terms or not accept His terms, but you cannot alter His terms. To be right with God is to accept what He accepts- which is His terms for salvation, which is available to all.
The next charge is there is none who understand, there is none who seek after God. We do not seek after God, He seeks after us. In fact, we not only do not seek after him we turn away, to become filthy, like a sow who is washed and returns to wallow in the mire.
And there is none that do good, no not one. We are headed in the wrong direction, we are on the broad way that seems right to man but leads to destruction.
We are coming to close to Pauls opening remarks that have clearly brought us this stage, where we want to throw ourselves on the mercy of the court.
we have One who speaks to the Father in our defense- Jesus Christ the Righteous One!(I John 2)
We have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, in fact, Paul is going to have us open our mouths and say ah as the Great Physician pushes that little stick to depress our tongues and looks inside. For all uncleaness comes from the inside. We are in critical condition, our hearts are diseased with sin. Our blood is infected with a deadly disease, a terminal disease. Listen as Paul describes the symptoms that reflect our condition: Their throats are open graves. Human speech tells us a lot doesnt it? For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh. For by thy words thou shalt be justified and by thy words thou shalt be condemned. ( Matt12). The hardened heart of the unbeliever is like a stone- the Word of God bounces off of it. Our tongues practice deceit and are full of poison. It affects our whole being. Our minds are blinded and we do not know the way of peace and there is no fear of God. Our feet carry us swiftly to ruin.
Only the Great Physician has the cure. Only a new heart and a blood transfusion will save us. He will give us a new heart and a blood transfusion that cleanses us from all of the infectious sin.
And they we are told: If we confess with our mouth, the Lord Jesus and believe in our hearts that God has raised Him from the dead, we will be saved. ( Romans 10)
Jesus said, It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous but sinners. Matthew 9.
Paul knew his condition. He knew within him, dwelled no good thing.
Arent you glad you realized you were sick, unhealthy, dying, blind, and unrighteous?
Have you not realized your condition yet? Say Ah.