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Summary: Do religious people have an advantage over non-religious people? Are relgious people more likely than non-religious people to get to heaven? This sermon answers these questions.

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Scripture

Let’s read Romans 3:1:

"What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision?" (Romans 3:1)

Introduction

Every profession has its favorite stories, and the legal profession is no exception.

A beginner attorney was defending a man accused of biting another man’s ear off during a barroom brawl. A witness to the fight was on the stand, and the young attorney was cross-examining him: “Did you actually see the defendant bite off this man’s ear?”

“No, sir,” the witness replied.

That was the answer the young attorney wanted to hear, but he made a common mistake among novice lawyers. Instead of ending his cross-examination when he was ahead and on the winning track, he continued with another question.

“What exactly did you see?” he asked.

The witness replied: “I saw him spit it out!”

The point is that going too far or failing to quit when you’re ahead is a mistake in legal disputations.

Lesson

It is a similar charge—that he has gone too far—that the Apostle Paul seems to hear an opponent raise as he comes to the end of Romans 2 and begins Romans 3.

We know what Paul has been trying to prove: that all people, Jews as well as Gentiles, religious as well as non-religious, are guilty of breaking God’s law and therefore need a Savior.

But Paul has argued this case so forcefully that he has virtually equated the Jew, who was thought to have great religious advantages, with the Gentile, who had none. In Romans 2:11 Paul says that “God does not show favoritism” to either Jew or Gentile. Then, when he reaches the end of the chapter, in Romans 2:29, he defines Jewishness in a way that has virtually nothing whatever to do with a person’s religious or ethnic heritage: “No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.”

“But doesn’t that prove too much?” an opponent might argue. If God treats Jews and Gentiles alike, not showing favoritism, and if the only thing that makes a person truly Jewish is an inward transformation by the Holy Spirit, then what advantage is there in being a Jew?

Or, to put it in contemporary terms, what advantage is there in being religious? What value is there in baptism, church membership, communion, or any other religious activity if we are all under condemnation anyway?

If religious people have no advantage over non-religious people, then why should we bother with religion at all? Let’s enjoy ourselves and sin right along with everyone else. But, if religious people do have an advantage, then isn’t it possible to please God by our religious practices and be saved by them after all? These are the questions I want to answer today.

I. The Jewish Person’s Advantages Then

First, let me tell you about the Jewish person’s advantages then.

Paul says that being Jewish and circumcised are true advantages, although they are not the kind of advantages that can save one.

To do justice to Paul’s thinking, we need to look ahead to the list of Jewish advantages appearing not here in Romans 3 but in Romans 9. The present text encourages us to do this, because after Paul asks, “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision?” he answers, “Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God” (Romans 3:1-2, italics mine). The very fact that Paul says “first of all” leads us to look for what is also second and third and so on.

Paul lists only one advantage in Romans 3:2, and that is that the Jews have been entrusted with “the very words of God.” I will come back to this advantage in just a moment.

Let’s look now though at the list of advantages mentioned in Romans 9. Speaking of the Jews, Paul says in Romans 9:4-5:

"Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen."

These ideas are worth looking at individually. First, the adoption as sons. This first term embraces what follows, for it speaks of a sovereign act of God, who—for his own good reasons and according to his own good pleasure—drew the Jewish people into a special family relationship with himself.

Second, the divine glory. In the context of Jewish history, this phrase refers to God’s revelation of himself in glory on Mount Sinai at the time of the giving of the law, in the Most Holy Place of the Jewish temple, and in a few other places. No other nation had this privilege.

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