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3-1 The Spin Stops Here 11-14-2004

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MBC - 11/14/2004 - Pastor Doug Thompson

“The Spin Stops Here!”

Romans 3:1-8

Let’s back up to 2:25 to get a running start on ch.3--and I have to encourage you here to put on your thinking cap, because the first 8 verses of ch.3 are some of the most difficult vss. to interpret in the entire letter:

Ø      ROM 2:25 For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.

Ø      ROM 2:26 So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?

Ø      ROM 2:27 And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law?

Ø      ROM 2:28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh.

Ø      ROM 2:29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.

Ø      ROM 3:1 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision?

Ø      ROM 3:2 Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.

Ø      ROM 3:3 What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?

Ø      ROM 3:4 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."

Ø      ROM 3:5 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.)

Ø      ROM 3:6 May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world?

Ø      ROM 3:7 But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner?

Ø      ROM 3:8 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.

Did you notice in vv.1-8, there are 9 questions in 8 verses? And it’s difficult to figure out who is asking the questions, is it Paul’s imaginary objector, or is it Paul himself firing questions back to this guy? I know this passage sounds complicated, but we are going to unravel it this morning, so that every one of you can understand it.

Paul is imagining someone who is questioning him about what he has just been saying: Jews and Gentiles are on an equal footing before God--equally guilty of sin! So the logical question is, “Does it mean anything then to be a Jew?” At first he sounds sincere and honest, but as he goes on, you see that his questions are challenging and mocking. He is sarcastic, he is twisting God’s Word to make it look ridiculous, and finally, he is outright blasphemous.

Ø      What is Paul’s response? Does he say, “Well good neighbor, would you be open to a 32 week study of apologetics to answer those intelligent questions you are asking?” No. He says, “You are a slanderer, and God will be just in sending you to hell.”

Whoa--not very seeker friendly, Paul! But there is a difference between having honest questions about the Bible and the way God does things, and finding fault with God and finding fault with the Gospel. Those who criticize God’s Word and criticize the good news of the Gospel are not honest, sincere seekers, they are what Proverbs calls “mockers and scoffers.” They are spiritual spin doctors who play word games with the Bible, because they don’t want to submit to it. And they do just what this imaginary man is doing with Paul: when you present the truth of Scripture, they twist the Word and fire back with sarcastic questions and objections:

Ø      You show them Scriptures on election and predestination, and they come back at you: “Oh, so we’re just a bunch of robots? So God is an ogre who forces people to do things against their will? Oh, so we don’t have to share the gospel because the elect will just get saved no matter what we do?”

Do you see that these are not honest questions, they are accusations against God and His Word? Predestination was God’s idea, not mine, or John Calvin’s.

Ø      We have no right to criticize God and the way He does things! Beloved, we need to search our hearts here: Ask yourself, “Do I do that? Do I ever get indignant at what I read or hear in the Bible? Do I challenge God when I read something I don’t understand?”

In Rom.1, we looked at what Paul says about those who have never heard the gospel, and it’s sobering: they will not be saved--not because they haven’t heard the gospel, but because they all reject what they do know. After that message, someone told me, “My wife was really troubled by that message. She said, “The God I know wouldn’t do such a thing!” And it made me think of--

Ø      EZE 18:29 "But the house of Israel says, 'The way of the Lord is not right.' Are My ways not right, O house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are not right?”

Burn this into your brain: Never find fault with God or His Word. Never put your own spin on it to make it more manageable or palatable. Never attribute evil or injustice to Him--never. If you do so, His Word will have no effect on your life. And ultimately, the gospel contained in this Word will have no effect on you. So determine to get all God-accusing thoughts out of your head. That is a crime against God’s goodness. When you hear a passage that you struggle with say, “O Lord, You are right, and just and good--Is it not my ways that are not right, O Lord?”

So let’s tackle this passage, but I have to caution you: “You’re about to enter a No-Spin Zone!”

 

I. “Is there no difference between a Jew and a Gentile?”

Let’s get a running start on this passage: Beginning in 1:18, Paul is showing us ourselves and the world through God’s eyes--and what He sees through His eyes is not pretty! The billions in this world who don’t know anything about the true God and His Son are in chaos. And we don’t have to go to Africa or India or some remote island to see this, we can see it right here in California: Paganism--witchcraft, goddess worship, are right in our own backyard. But have you noticed that in the last few years, we are sliding down past paganism to outright barbarianism: people without any law, morality, or even conscience--people who will kill you without batting an eye, people who are worse than animals. These people are lost and need a Savior.

In ch.2, Paul deals with people who do know the truth about God from His Word. They are moralists, they pride themselves on their civilized behavior. But they are also hypocrites. They do the same things that they criticize in the pagans and the barbarians--or at least they entertain themselves with it on cable or satellite TV.

Ø      To sum it up, the world as God sees it? The bad people are bad, and the good people are even worse. All of mankind stands condemned in the light of God’s blinding holiness, and in need of a rescue that only God can provide. And that rescue is the Gospel, the good news that anyone who comes to Jesus in trust and surrender will be forgiven of their sins, and adopted into God’s eternal family. No one is so bad they can’t get it, and no one is so good they don’t need it.

Now when we come to ch.3, I want you to imagine that Paul is sitting at a table discussing all of this with a Jewish friend. He was nodding in agreement with Paul all the way through ch.1, but he began to tense up during ch.2, and by the end of the chapter, his fist was clenched on the table and he was fuming inside. But he has kept control of himself, and says very calmly to Paul:

Ø      “Paul, you have just put Jews on the same spiritual level as Gentiles. You have just said that circumcision doesn’t matter. Some Jews are not really Jews, and some Gentile are true Jews! I understand your point that it isn’t physical surgery on the body that sets apart the people of God, but spiritual surgery on their souls. The prophet Jeremiah said the same thing.

Ø      “But Paul, if all of this is true, then does the Jewish nation have any special place in the purposes of God? What about His promises and covenants with the Jews? God made the distinction between the Jews and the rest of the nations, and now you are saying there is no difference? Haven’t you just abolished the entire OT? Is there any advantage at all in being a Jew?”

Now this is a legitimate theological question--Look at how Paul answers it:

Ø      ROM 3:2 [Yes, it is a great advantage to be a Jew] in every respect. First of all, they were entrusted with the oracles of God.

Paul says, “Of course it is a great privilege to be a Jew! First, they were entrusted with the oracles of God (literally “the very words of God”) and this was a serious stewardship, they were meant to uphold God’s words by their faithfulness and obedience.”

Paul says, “First,” but there is no “second!” But he is going to pick up this same question--“what about the Jews?” again in chs.9-11:

Ø      ROM 9:4 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,

Ø      ROM 9:5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

The Jews were a blessed people, no doubt about it, and the greatest privilege of all was that they were given the very words of God--it wasn’t given to the Scandinavians or the Incas. And do you remember what Paul told Timothy about the privilege he had being brought up by a Jewish mother?

Ø      2TI 3:15 from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

It was a great advantage to be a Jew, that but spiritual advantage doesn’t automatically grant spiritual status--Privilege doesn’t equal possession! It never guaranteed salvation apart from personal faith.

*It’s exactly the situation with children brought up in Christian homes. They have a great advantage of hearing about Jesus, hearing His Word, hearing the Gospel, and hopefully, seeing God’s grace modeled. When they reach the age of being able to comprehend and believe the Gospel, they have the categories for understanding the Gospel. It is even a great spiritual advantage for an unbelieving spouse to live with a Christian--

Ø      1CO 7:14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.

For unbelieving husbands or wives or for children to live in a home with a Christian, is a tremendous privilege and advantage, BUT IT ISN’T A SPIRITUAL “GET OUT OF JAIL FREE CARD!” If any of you who fall into this category this morning: “Count your blessings!” Get on your knees and thank God for putting you in a marriage with one of His children! You kids, thank God every day if you have Christian parents! Think about the advantage you have over kids who have parents who never teach them anything about Jesus Christ. And God has blessed you with this opportunity to hear the Scriptures which are able to make you wise unto salvation!

But this won’t save you. If you don’t respond to the light in your home, and you--personally--repent of your sins and turn to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior--you will be worse off than those kids in the pagan homes on the Day of judgment! Why worse? Because you will be judged according to the light you have been given. Do you understand that? Don’t take the light around you lightly! Privilege doesn’t equal possession!

II. “Will our unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness?”

Now at this point, Paul’s imaginary friend begins to change his tone, and it’s subtle at first, but he begins to put his own spin on God’s Word:

Ø      ROM 3:3 What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?

It’s like he is saying, “Sure, I will grant you that a lot of my people were disobedient--to put it mildly! But that doesn’t nullify God’s faithfulness, just like the song says, right Paul? “Morning by morning, new mercies I see, great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!” I.e., “Even though we flake out, God is still committed to us, our salvation is guaranteed, so there really is a difference between us and the Gentiles--no matter what we do.”

Paul responds, “You are right, God is true, and He will always be true and right even if every person in the world is wrong.” But Paul is taking this a different direction than the man across the table. This guy is saying, “God is faithful to His promise, therefore even if I turn my back on Him, He still has to be faithful and let me slide.” Paul is saying, “God is faithful to His promises, but He is also faithful to His warnings, and He will even judge those who had great spiritual privilege if they don’t repent and believe.”

This is the flip side of God’s faithfulness. Look at the same thought in:

Ø      2TI 2:11 It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him;

Ø      2TI 2:12 If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us;

Ø      2TI 2:13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.

We tend to read this and say, “See, if I am unfaithful, God is still faithful--He’ll let me slide.” But I believe this passage contains two positive statements: if we died, we will live--if we endure we will reign; and two negative statements: if we deny, He will deny--if we are faithless, He is still faithful--to judge us! If you walk away from God it proves that you never knew Him and His salvation, and God will be faithful in His judgment.

But Paul’s point here is that God is just! God is right! And He will be glorified by showing mercy and He will be glorified by executing judgment. That is exactly what David was saying in this quote from Ps.51:

Ø      PSA 51:4 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.

Do you see what David is doing in this confession of his sin with Bathsheba? He is vindicating God! “God, others might say, ‘Oh look how mean God is to David! He is really being too hard on the man, He should lighten up.’ But God, I tell you, it is my sin! I am the one who is wrong, and whatever you do to me, however you discipline me for my sin, You O God are blameless and just!”

No excuses. No spin. No arguing with God about how He is treating him, just surrender and humility. David’s baseline was that whatever God does is right--period. Is that your baseline? There is such deep peace in your soul when you know that--

Samuel and Eli--

Ø      1SA 3:14 "And therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever."

Ø      1SA 3:18 So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. And he said, "It is the Lord; let Him do what seems good to Him."

II. “Don’t I do God a favor by sinning?”

Back to the table with Paul and his Jewish friend, now this man lets his true colors show when he says,

Ø      ROM 3:5 But if our unrighteousness (the disobedience of the Jews) demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say?

He is saying, “Paul, if God shows off His righteousness when He judges us for our sins, then we are really instruments of God’s glory when we sin--and He can hardly judge us for something that is ultimately a good thing--right?”

Now this brings up a tough theological issue, if God is sovereign over everything that happens, and God is working all things, even bad things for His glory, then how can he hold people responsible for the bad things they do? How do we reconcile God’s sovereignty with human responsibility?

Ø      Well, Paul doesn’t deny the fact that God is able to make our sins exhibit His own goodness. If you have ever been to a jewelry store to look at diamonds, often what the salesperson does is to pour the diamonds out on black velvet so that the diamonds sparkle more brilliantly against the black backdrop. . . but so does cubic zirconium . . . sorry honey.

Ø      Human sin is like that black velvet, and against that dark backdrop, we see the brilliance of God’s justice, His wrath, and we see His mercy and grace and love in forgiving sinners. God does show off His goodness through our sin, but that in no way excuses our sin or makes God somehow guilty for our sin.

We have to come back to our baseline--our a priori assumption: what God does is right. Maybe it seems strange that God can use our sin for His glory, and then still hold us responsible for our sin--but that’s what Scripture tells us, and if we have a problem with that, it’s our problem, not God’s! We have no right to insinuate that God might be unfair or unjust. And I’ll tell you, it’s the same objection that pops up in ch.9--maybe Paul is imagining his same spin-doctor friend--who, by the way, is an Arminian--at the table: (turn to Rom.9)

He has just said, “This is the way God’s election works, it’s like Jacob and Esau, God loved Jacob, He hated Esau,”

Ø      ROM 9:14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!

Ø      ROM 9:15 For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." [God does what He wants, and what He does is right.]

Ø      ROM 9:16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.

Ø      ROM 9:17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth." [Now the guy at the table would be protesting: “God, can’t predestine Pharaoh to serve His purposes, and then judge him for what He predestined him to do!” But Paul says--]

Ø      ROM 9:18 . . .  He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

Ø      ROM 9:19 You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" [Same Arminian argument: “If people are just living out what they were predestined by God to do, then God has no business holding them responsible! How mean, how unfair!” Haven’t you heard this over and over? But look at what Paul would say to these friends of yours--]

Ø      ROM 9:20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it?

Ø      ROM 9:21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?

What is Paul’s baseline? What God does is good and right and just. If you and I can’t untangle the dilemma of God being sovereign, and us being responsible, we need to put our hand over our mouth and live with the tension rather than complain against God or deny His sovereignty, which is how our Arminian friends resolve the conflict: “The solution is easy: “God isn’t completely sovereign--at least over our salvation. We have the free will when it comes to salvation--not God.” And if they keep thinking, they say, “And this means that God can’t know what humans with free will will choose until after they have chosen it.” Which means that God is not omniscient, which is called open theism--which is blasphemy. But this is where finding fault with God will lead.

Friends, don’t put a spin on God’s Word to make it fit your thinking. Don’t judge God’s Word, just let it judge you.

And the final question that Paul’s friend raises goes over the line--Over the top! He is trying to be cute, trying to make Paul look stupid: “Well, according to your gospel, Paul, God gets the glory when He forgives sin, so, you have convinced me! I’m going to do God a favor, and go sin my brains out so that God will get a lot of glory! Hey, I love to sin, He loves to forgive, everyone is happy!”

And some people were actually slandering Paul by saying that this is what he was preaching. “Paul’s “good news” is, “Go ahead and sin all you want, it doesn’t matter, grace covers it!” He hears this same charge in--

Ø      ROM 5:20 The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,

Ø      ROM 6:1 What shall we say then? [Here is the false charge:] Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?

Ø      ROM 6:2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? [It’s absurd that any true Christian would deliberately sin just to generate more grace and forgiveness!]

But you’ve heard this very accusation, haven’t you? And maybe it’s come from a Roman Catholic, or a Mormon: “We believe that you have to keep God’s commandments to go to heaven, but you Protestants [or Evangelicals, or whatever] you say that you can go out and murder someone and still go to heaven.” Well, yes, we do say that. Don’t you think you are going to see David--a murderer, adulterer--in heaven? And beloved, if you are getting the gospel right, you will hear this objection, over and over from unbelievers who can only think in terms of earning their way to heaven by their own goodness.

But we would never, ever condone sin or excuse it--never! We have died to it, how can we live in it? More when we get to ch.6. Just remember that the natural mind cannot comprehend grace, so when you tell people that God justifies the ungodly, you are going to be accused of saying, “Let us do evil that good may come.”

If they said it about Paul, then I can handle people saying it about me!

But back to the Spin Doctor. He might think he is being logical and cute, but what he is doing is rejecting the Word of God. He is a mocker and a scoffer. “Hey Paul, if God enjoys forgiving sin so much, I think I’ll go into full-time ministry by committing all the sin I can!”

Paul isn’t amused. This person has twisted the gospel which is the power of God for salvation into a message which is the power of the devil for damnation! He would say he is just ridiculing Paul, but he is ridiculing God. And Paul says, “Their condemnation is just.” God will be just in sending people like this to hell.

So what do we learn here?

Theologically:

We learn that the Jews had a great spiritual advantage over the Gentiles. They had many privileges, but that alone never granted them the promises of God. God never promised to save anyone apart from personal faith. So the fact that the Jews were set aside for a time and Gentiles were brought into the covenant was no evidence that God was unfaithful. God will receive glory from His treatment of both Jews and Gentiles. And we will see much more on this in chs.9-11.

Personally:

What do we learn? Whatever God does is right, and just, and fair. This is where we start. This is the rock we stand on. Never question this fact. When you are struggling with understand the deep truths in this Book, let this be your hermeneutical starting point: God is right and just and fair. God is good. “If it sounds like He is some other way, then I need to keep studying.” When you put away a challenging, fault-finding attitude, and replace it with humility and submission, God’s Word will be opened up to you because God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.

And when you are struggling with circumstances: Assume the goodness of God. Deliberately, consciously, say it to your soul: "It is the Lord; let Him do what seems good to Him." And peace like a river will attendeth your way.

You know that Jonathan Edwards is one of my heroes. He died of smallpox, after volunteering to test a new experimental vaccine. Sarah, his wife, was not with him when he died, and when she heard the news, she was suffering from rheumatism so badly that she could hardly hold a pen, but she wrote this in her journal:

Ø      “What shall I say? A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands on our mouths! The Lord has done it. He has made me adore His goodness that we had my husband so long. But my God lives, and He has made my heart glad. We are all given to God; and there I am, and love to be.”

"It is the Lord; let Him do what seems good to Him."

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