Summary: Some people think that God looks at our lives and balances the good against the bad. If we have more good than bad, we get to heaven. That’s not how it works - to get right with God you’ve got to go around the law and get rightness from another source.
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Advertising is a good thing by itself – it’s simply a way for us to find out about products and services in the marketplace. But today in America each of us is bombarded with at least 3,000 advertising messages each and every day. Many of those messages entice us to buy certain products not by telling us the features and price – but by telling us what it will do to our prestige if we buy it.
If we buy Brut Aftershave we’ll have beautiful women hanging off of us. If we use L’Oreal it will boost our self esteem because "we’re worth it." If we buy a Lexus we’ll – well, we’ll be broke! So we think if we buy the rights products or belong to the right groups then we are better people. Such was the thinking among the Jews of Paul’s day. Being Jewish could kind of make you a super-Christian. It made you a little brighter, a little better, a little more godly, perhaps.
Well, Paul skewers that notion pretty well here in Chapter 3 or Romans – and introduces some key basic concepts to understanding what righteousness is, and how we get it. There is some foundational stuff in here to understanding salvation, the law, and how to be good.
Paul in chapter 2 has just talked about how inward realities, not outward rituals, like circumcision, is what counts. So he anticipates a question from the Jews in his audience.
3:1 What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? 2 Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.
This is literally true – and the Jewish nation took this job very seriously. We owe a great debt to the Jews for keeping God’s Word. Before the days of the printing press – books had to be copied by hand. So the Jews created a whole class of people, known as Scribes, who copied the scrolls of the Old Testament.
They didn’t just sit down and look over at one sentence, then transcribe it to a new scroll – they copied each letter by letter – with someone else checking their work constantly. So careful were they that if they made a mistake they didn’t take out an eraser and fix the mistake – they started over – completely – and not just with that chapter but the entire book. So if you made a mistake with the last letter of the scroll of Isaiah, for instance, you threw the entire thing away and started over.
That might seem extreme, but it’s why the Old Testament, and later the New came down to us with such accuracy. Just to give you an indication – when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the late 1940’s, archeologists brought out a copy of the scroll of Isaiah – a copy that was 600 years older than the oldest copy in existence. They compared the newer version and found no significant changes in the text – not ONE!
But just having the Word doesn’t do much for you if you don’t believe what it says.
Jesus said in John 5:39-40 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
That’s what happened – they became professional scholars of the Word, but none of it went deep into their heart – don’t make that mistake. Don’t let learning about God crowd out God Himself. Look what it did to the Jews:
3 What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? 4 Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written:
"So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge."
Just because the holder of the word lacks faith, doesn’t mean faith in God is nullified or God’s faith means nothing. In fact, it proves God right – our salvation is not dependent on man at all or man’s faith or lack of it.
Paul quotes from a very important Psalm to make his point – let’s turn there, it’s Psalm 51. The background is that David has just been caught in a sin by Nathan the prophet. The key verse here is verse 4: "Against You and You only have I sinned." Once God has convicted us of sin, there is no dealing and no denying: God is holy and we aren’t! So then Paul brings up the next logical question:
5 But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) 6 Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? 7 Someone might argue, "If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?" 8 Why not say-as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say-"Let us do evil that good may result"? Their condemnation is deserved.