Brothers and sisters in our Lord Jesus,
Let me start with a statement: We live in an era of DIY … in so many aspects of our lives. We self medicate; self analyse, we fix the leaking tap ourselves, we tile and paint and renovate DIY! But most important for this evening, I want to suggest that when it comes to our faith…we DIY!
Let me explain: As I have said…Many of us believe ourselves to be DIY exponents, and we try our hand at fixing things that really, often, we should be leaving it to a qualified professional.
That is where this sermon will head towards…
My earliest memories of DIY attempts always brings a smile to my face …well actually, more often it results in hysterical laughter, especially when my brother and I sit around a camp fire remembering some of the things my dad would get up to as he tried to fix things himself, rather than pay some good money to get an expert to fix it properly.
I remember particularly well when my dad tried to fix a gas leak in our gas oven,
in those days quite a novelty for farmers…
The story starts of with my dad saying … “it’s just a little leak.
“It can’t be too hard to find … and then I’ll just solder the hole, or replace the pipe…”
…you can tell where this is going to....
My dad did not have a clue, did he?
And that became apparent when he argued that to find the leak,
he would use a cigarette lighter to figure out where the leak was. …
And so he opened the gas valve, sniffed around a bit, declared it safe, and he put his complete upper body inside the oven and flicked the lighter.
The picture is still clear in my mind, complete with my brothers unsuccessful attempts to hide the smirk on his face…
When my dad flicked that lighter, there was a loud boom, and he was expelled from the oven, much like the human cannon ball in some circuses, only back to front,
his eyebrows and hair enveloped in a momentous flame –
and a really surprised look on his face!
The next day he bought a new wood fire stove again, and he gave the gas stove to the first person who said … he believed he would be able to repair it…
I would love to know how many people that gas stove blew up!
In our text, in the case of the Jews, they believe they are deserving of special considerations due to their heritage….and because of it, because they have the law, that because the have the law, they have the DIY part all in place. The law, for them, is like a DIY manual which, if they follow the instructions, will get them back into God’s grace.
How often do we do the same? We design our lives to include some minimal requirements, based on our preferred understanding of what God asks of us, like going to church at least once on a Sunday; participating in a small group every second week; being kind to people in need … and so on – this list of course will differ depending on our circumstances, and we believe this will get us into heaven, as the popular saying goes.
And let it be said now…all of these things are important, but it is not them that makes us good and therefore right for heaven…that is what Paul will say!
And not only that, but also that if we do good, in our minds, like the Jews believe they are doing in keeping the Law, God has no other choice but to reserve our spot in His kingdom one day. And we follow suite: we don’t steal, we don’t murder; we don’t commit adultery …
Well, that makes us DIY Christians!
Because ultimately, as you will see, we are simply not qualified to get ourselves into God’s presence, no matter how well we think keep to the letter of God’s requirements for us as stated in His law and in the Bible…on the contrary! For the truth is we are not truthful; we are not faithful; we are not justified in ourselves to lay claim to God’s goodness…
Only a righteous God, a faithful God, can save us!
Here in Romans 3, in a section that really starts at Chapter 2:17, Paul is speaking directly to the Jew, who relied on the Law and “brags about your relationship to God” as if it was the fact that they were God’s chosen people, the fact that they had a special relationship with God.
And that much is true. The Jews do have a special relationship with God. They are God’s chosen people, but, for one, they misunderstand the significance of what this means…
And…God, through Jesus, has now inaugurated a new Covenant which goes beyond the Covenant with Israel, and now, Jew as well as Gentile have been included in the Covenant!
Does that mean that the Jews have lost their special relationship with God? Paul is about to answer!
In this section, Paul asks three questions, which he will answer himself to explain how the Jews have got it wrong when they claim this special relationship that they have with God, and the absurd deductions they make from it, to be their guarantee, or worse, their right, for salvation.
//////////////He does so by seemingly refuting what he has said in Romans up to now.
That Jew as well as gentile now have a special relationship with God, a covenant relationship with God.
1. What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision?
As is typical of Paul, this question (3:1) arises logically out of the preceding section, which had it that:
if it is religious integrity that really counts before God and it has no connection with religious distinctions, what is the point of being a Jew?
The answer, Paul says, is that the Jew does have a so called “advantage” but it consists in the initiative and faithfulness of God. Not on the faithfulness – or indeed unfaithfulness, of the Jews, who, although they were chosen by God to lead all nations to Him, they failed miserably.
And yet, (and this is where the advantage lays, it is from the Jewish nation that Jesus came, by the faithfulness of God, the Jesus who would indeed become the Son of man for the Salvation of those who believe.)
Brothers and sisters, this section and the last bit of verse 2 especially, namely “they have been entrusted with the very words of God,” is crucial to the understanding of this section in general - and Paul’s theology specifically.
And it ties on to two verses that may be seen to be the central idea of Paul’s theology, namely, chapter 1 verse 16, 17. (Read)
You see, the Jews are the special people of God, the chosen people of God, but He did not choose them because they are so special … they are special because God chose them to be the People from whom the only truly special person would come – Jesus, the Saviour who would become flesh, who would become sin, so that God’s punishment would not fall on puny humans, but would fall on Jesus, the only, most special person, at once man and God at the same time, fully human and fully God, the only one who would be able to bear the wrath of God for the sins of mankind!
This puts Jesus central in Paul’s understanding of the gospel – an understanding that he only came to after he was converted on his way to Damascus!
But, importantly, it is in this that Israel have a special place in God’s plan for His world. And this is what Paul refers to when in answering the question, when he says…What advantage is there in being a Jew? Much in every way!
Very much, he might add, the whole world depends on it! Because Jesus, because of God’s faithfulness, who promised that he would one day send a saviour, from the line of Israel for all who believe, has remained faithful and has sent Jesus …And Jesus has become the one true, faithful Israelite, the Chosen one for all, Jew and gentile alike.
When God makes a promise, he keeps to it, faithfully!
From the beginning of time, God has made a covenant with His people, and now, in the coming and the death and resurrection of Jesus, God can be seen to be faithful. In fact, the salvation of all of humankind, of the Jew as well as the Gentile, rests on this faithfulness of God. To be a jew, is to be a chosen one; through the Jews, in the coming of our Lord Jesus, all who believe in Him, are chosen. What advantage is there in this?
(This, of course, is a theme that Paul will expand on significantly in chapters 9-11).
But here, now, in verse 3, Paul anticipates another question that might be in the minds of his protagonists:
“If some then do not have faith, will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?
With other words, if some do not believe, and with Jesus having come for the salvation of all, does that mean that sinners will now go unpunished, making God unfaithful to His covenant in that He promised that he would save His people, but punish those who did not believe? Will God then be unfaithful to his promise to Abraham, that He would bless His people, the Jews, the covenant people? Would he also bless the unfaithful?
What Paul is refuting here is that the unfaithfulness of some, will surely not force God’s hand to be unfaithful.
GOD WILL PUNISH THOSE WHO WILL NOT BELIEVE IN JESUS, WHO WILL NOT BELIEVE IN HIM!
And his answer indeed puts God’s faithfulness, into sharper focus. God will remain faithful no matter what. In fact, it is exactly because the Jews, who were unfaithful, unwilling, unable to keep the Law, that God’s saving grace comes into manifestation!
To put it another way, when we - or the Jew – believes that it is by something he does, or by keeping the law, that we may come to be found worthy to be in the presence of God, he is sorely mistaken. It is by God’s justification – God remaining ever faithful to His promises – it is through that alone that we are saved – not our religious DIY attempts at obedience.
Not by our faith, or lack of it. In spite of it, God remains faithful – His plan for the world, as spelled out in God’s word, in God’s interaction with mankind, will be as God has promised it!
And for this, Jesus is the ultimate solution to God’s plan for the world.
Which begs the question of course: in verse 5; if God is vindicated, if God is unchangingly righteous, no matter what the shortcomings of human beings, what grounds are there for condemnation or wrath at all? Is God not compelled to forgive us, because He is all good?
And now Paul answers in a frightening manner: No, God is righteous! God is without a shadow of a doubt the judge of the world. Don’t ever forget it, he says! He will judge the world. He has judged the world, and no-one was found to be righteous, not even one.
Because we have sinned…because God , who is supremely justified and ever faithful, He has to punish the sin – that was part of the covenant promise!
But because God is faithful, that punishment has fallen on God’s only Son, our only redeemer …as fulfillment of God’s covenant promises. So Jesus’ death, becomes our salvation!
Does that then mean that we should “do evil that good may come”?
The answer to this question really only comes in chapter 6:1-7:6, when Paul will explain in greater detail what he means by justification by grace through faith (and as we will hopefully discuss this when we get to that section in this current sermon series). But for now, there is only a rough dismissal: people who talk like that… deserve what they get.
What cannot be missed, is that Paul spells it out. You sin at your own peril!
I attended a lecture by Don Carson last year, and he explained it this way:
So from verses 9-20, Paul returns to his main line of thought …
Whatever the “advantage,” that the Jew might think he has, it makes no difference in this:
all human beings, both Jews and Greeks, are “under sin.”
And God, who is ever faithful, says…there is no sinning here!
This is the first time “sin” is mentioned in Romans, and it is described as an oppressing power. And the way Paul goes about verifying this is by quoting from the Psalms and Isaiah: No one, Paul says can be righteous – and then Paul catalogues the symptoms of human evilness.
At the end, Paul makes sure there is no room left for religious self-exemption, for religious DIY.
The Jews especially in this section, may pride themselves that they have the Law, but, Paul says, simply knowing the Law does not make a person superior: one must actually observe the Law.
But is that possible?
The truth is, the power of sin renders the law impotent to produce the obedience it calls for, as we see it in Rom. 8:3-4.
Instead, all that law does is to show us what is sinful, how we are sinful.
The Jews took pride in having the Law, but Jews “dishonor God by breaking the Law.” They bank on their circumcision, but ignored the inner circumcision of the heart accomplished only by God’s Spirit. The Jews had many spiritual advantages (3:1–2). But their unfaithfulness (v. 3) had not shaken God from His commitments. But God is faithful. And God will still judge those who sin. And this applies to Jews as well as gentiles.
How can we apply this section of Romans to our lives?
Brothers and sisters, The first three chapters of Romans carefully argue that all men are guilty before God.
No one who relies on his observance of the Law, or works, will be declared righteous in the heavenly court.
The Law, as a moral display of righteousness, offers no hope; it testifies against us so that “every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God” (3:20).
As one commentator puts it: “By the time Paul has concluded with 3:20 he has taken his readers to the bottom of the pit of human depravity. There is no way out and not a shred of human goodness that could form a rope or ladder of escape. God has vindicated his law but totally condemned the sinner by his rightful and righteous wrath (1:18). The effect of Paul’s diatribe by the end of 3:20 is total and bleak. In the words of 8:20, by the judgment of God, creation has been “subjected to frustration.”.
So what now?
We find our answer in the following section of Paul’s letter.
In the next section, from verse 21, the spirit of Paul’s’ letter changes dramatically.
Verse 21 in fact introduces a new section, and it is possible to see it already in the opening words;
Something is about to follow that will tell us where our salvation lays: Our salvation is in a righteousness apart from the law…apart from our weak, sinful nature.
That is what verse 21 introduces…but that is in the next episode of this sermon series, best left to whoever will preach on that section
For now I would like to conclude with this: Imagine you were Todd Russell or Brant Webb, remember them?. There you are, stuck in that dark, mine hole kilometers under the earth with little more than a couple of Stanley knives (with which they say they decided they would cut of their legs if they got stuck…)
When the rescue workers arrive – if they arrive – with their professional gear, their state of the art tools and explosives and medical supplies …and food… and they tap on that solid granite wall and ask if they can drill or blast a hole into your cell so that they might save you, what will you reply?
No worries mate? We’ll dig ourselves out of here!? We have our Stanley knives?
You see there is a bit of a parallel in that and in the understanding of the Righteousness of God:
No matter how well we believe can do something for ourselves, sometimes we are simply unable to do it! Our salvation, is one such thing, the most important of all things, and we can do nothing about it!
When it comes to our salvation, we are dependent on an expert, a professional (I say it respectfully) we are dependent on our Saviour, a righteous Saviour, a Saviour without sin or human blemishes. _ Jesus!
Jesus alone is that Saviour!
Because Jesus alone is without sin!
And only when we understand our own sinfulness, our complete inability to save ourselves, - AND BELIEVE IT WITH OUR HEARTS AND CONFESS IT WITH OUR MOUTHS –
we are doomed to death, everlasting death.
Brothers and sisters, let our DIY attempts be NOTHING MORE THAN exercises in seeing God’s faithfulness,
not our own goodness.
And let us know that our very faith is a gift from God, because he is ever faithful and he has long ago decided he will choose for Him a people – a people for whom He will send a Saviour.
And let us rejoice that he has chosen us, just like He once chose Israel, to be His people.
To God alone the glory, for ever and ever