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In Romans 3 v 1-20 Paul begins a diatribe to set his argument about God’s faithfulness to his plan of salvation. Although it looks like Paul is sweet talking the Jews his focus is completely on God’s goodness. Our unfaithfulness to God does not null and void his covenant promise of salvation.

Moving on Paul then addresses humanity’s condition. No single one of us is good or righteous. Our sins will be judged by God, the impartial judge. But there is hope. Paul details our problem so that we can find peace and assurance in the righteousness that comes from God.

Romans – The heart of the Gospel is a teaching series from Annalong Presbyterian Church. Find our more at

David McCullagh:

I don't know if So, my reading of Romans 3 was the first time you've come across that passage recently. But I'm going to be honest with you, whenever I first read it again, uh, at the end of last week, um, I was petrified, petrified in the English, never mind anything else. And if I'm honest, it takes you three or four times to read this passage to actually even try and figure out what, what Paul is trying to do with the language here. And we'll come to think about that in a moment of what he's trying to do. But we need to understand chapters 1 and 2 to fully understand chapter 3. And I do call you back to last week. Do you remember that question about the Jews? There was an arrogance with them. In fact, their arrogance had led people to call them hypocrites. And so he wants to, he wants to level the playing field a little bit this evening. And he does that through a series of questions and a series of answers. And if we were to kind of take a stop at verse 20 of Romans 3, as perhaps we've read it over these past number of weeks, I imagine that you would agree with me, I'm forcing you to agree with me, that it's been pretty hard going. Hard going in that, yes, Paul doesn't write the way we would like him to write. He's hard in his writing, he is. We were talking about this in the prayer meeting before the service. Paul's an old man. Everything he is saying is, yes, divinely given. But through that divinely given word, He has a lifetime of experience, both as a Pharisee, a zealous Jew, the most faithful of all, to that moment of meeting Christ and planting churches around the Mediterranean. And so we have really the full knowledge and wisdom and divine word from Paul and from God as we read Romans 3 and these, certainly these first number of chapters together. And what chapter 1 did for us was to give us an introduction of Paul. What Paul says, who he is, and the gospel that it is he proclaims. Because remember, this is a church that doesn't know him. He's introducing himself, and in introducing himself, he wants to make sure that they understand where he's coming from with the gospel. And so he makes it very clear of the gospel that he proclaims. And he may not give them a textbook answer of, you know, three points of what the gospel is. He actually displays his heart of the gospel. And as we will go through to June next year, these verses will come up again and again because they are the verses of Paul's heart. Because in Romans 1 and verses 16 to 17, he says, For I am not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. To the Jew first, and also to the Greek, for in the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, the righteous shall live by faith. He tells them here, opening up his very heart. His heart is crying out for what the gospel is, not the textbook three points. He says, I'm not ashamed of it. If you're not ashamed of something, you know it to be true. You know it to be right, and you know it to be the conviction of your life. Paul says all he needs to say in saying that he is not ashamed of the gospel, but he gives us more because he says it's not his power, it's not his eloquence of words, it's not his cleverness of turn of phrase. By the way, Romans 3, I do not particularly think is a cleverness of turn of phrase. It's, it's difficult, it's hard, but he says that it is God's power that is at work. That it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. And he makes no distinction to the Jew first and also to the Greek. And now that we've gone through to the end of chapter 2, we understand why he says that. Because right there at the end of chapter 1, he said God shows no partiality. Or, sorry, halfway through chapter 2, God shows no partiality. And so neither does Paul. He says the gospel's for everyone. For Jew and for Gentile. Or Jew and Greek. And so the very reason why he is writing is because the gospel message is so powerful that it's actually changed his life. If you remember back last year, whenever we were looking at the Acts of the Apostles, and whenever we were thinking of Paul's conversion, people were afraid of him. They knew him. He had a reputation. And it wasn't a good one in the eyes of the church. But now, a much older Paul isn't arguing to begin with. What he's saying is the gospel is all we need. And ultimately the gospel is all we have. That is what he places his confidence in. But it's also a gospel that is to be shared with the whole world so that they too will come to a living faith in Jesus Christ. And he does that because the world needs the gospel message. Paul knew that in his day as much as we know that our world today needs it as well. And it's because human beings have turned their backs on their creator who made them in his image and are already living under his judgment, as we looked at in, in the last couple of, uh, chapter, or in the last chapter, that actually God has given them over to that. Paul's saying this is the consequence of the fall. We've actually been given over to our sinful ways because none of us, not any single one of us, is naturally inclined to love. God. That's why no one's born a Christian. That's why baptism as an infant doesn't make you a Christian. Because we are not naturally inclined. We have to understand who God is so that we can believe and trust and know salvation. Chapter two moved us on to think of judgment. The moralist, those who judge others according to their own standards, will ultimately face God's judgment. And he tells a few things about what this judgment will be like. And he concludes the chapter by showing how being religious won't save you from God's judgment. It won't. It can't. No matter who we are, we will be judged. Remember? God shows no impartial, or God is impartial. He shows no partiality. And I think it's fair to say that in these first two chapters, and indeed the first half of chapter 3, without giving too much away of what's coming up, Paul is painting for us a picture of what true humanity is. We are fallen and we need a Savior. But let me give you a glimmer of hope, because the next time we come back to Romans on the 29th of October, the picture looks a lot brighter for what is the hope. It gets better. But for one more time tonight, let's think about what is the human condition. And let's think of how sinful and fallen we are. And we're going to look at this in two parts. We're going to look at verses 1 to 8 of chapter 3 first and then we're going to look from chapter 9 through to, or sorry, verse 9 through to verse 20. And I do encourage you to have your Bibles open as we make our way through this. And Paul starts with a question. in verse 1. He asks the question, then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Now remember where he's come from. He's just been speaking about the Jews. He's been talking about how, how they think they're better because they, it was revealed to them God's plan of salvation. And what, why is he mentioning circumcision? Because circumcision was the sign and the seal of the covenant. It's like a handshake. That's what it signifies. God makes a covenant and, and that covenant has to have a visible, a visible agreement. And so circumcision, in the Old Testament, for the children of Israel, and then for the Jews, that is the sign and the seal of the covenant promises of God. And so Paul's already told us, from his perspective, what it means to be a Jew. We're thinking then just now about what it means to practice circumcision all the things that they were supposed to do And you know, we would expect Paul now to answer having asked the question then what advantage is it to be a Jew? We would expect him to say none at all. We think that should be his answer because is there any value? He's just told us that they shouldn't rely on their tradition. They shouldn't rely on their heritage But Paul gives us a very different answer. He tells us And the passage records to us that there is great advantage in being a Jew and in being circumcised because these people, the Jews, have been entrusted with the very words, with the very oracles of God. Now, Paul is not saying that this saves them. We'll come to that in a moment. Paul's not saying that Jews are automatically saved. They're not. But what he is saying is there is advantage to them for the knowledge that has been entrusted to them. Israel, out of all the nations of the world, were God's chosen nation, not to be set apart and special in a way that alienated them from everyone else or set them above everyone else in their own minds, but they were to be the carriers, the hosts of what God's message was. And this message was not just for them. The message of salvation was to always be for the whole world. Whenever eventually we'll get into what it says in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, we will see that God made clear that they were to welcome the alien and the stranger. That anyone who had living faith in the one true God could become a member of the covenant family. God's message and good news has always been for the whole world, even in the Old Testament. The problem wasn't with the message. The problem wasn't with God. The problem was with those to whom the message. had been entrusted. They had been entrusted with this precious message of the gospel that we know throughout all of scripture, but they did not honour it as they should. You see, they were entrusted to deliver this precious gift, but they failed miserably in the task. They were entrusted with carrying on this message of proclaiming to the nations the good news that God was bringing salvation for the whole world. But instead, they kept it for themselves. They didn't want to share it. They thought that it was for them and them only. They were so privileged to be God's chosen people that no one but a true born Jew was entitled to this. That's what they thought because only God had chosen them. They had missed what the purpose was to be carriers. of that entrusted message. The messengers had failed to carry out the task that they had been given. And this is the story of Israel. This is the reality of Israel. But Paul quickly moves on as to how this looks. Because from the outside looking in, well, what does God look like then if this is how the people have treated this message that they've been entrusted with? You see, from the outside, as people look in on the Jews and, and what they've been entrusted with this word and the oracles of God that they've been going for centuries of living and proclaiming to be God's people. Well, the view of the outside world isn't a very positive one of them. The Jews, verse 5 tells us, portrayed God as a cruel and exclusive God rather than a God who was loving and who was embracing. It was they who excluded everyone else, not God. They were the ones who took what was God's pure law and added to it the extra mile to make sure that everyone was kept safe and well within the law because they believed that the law would save them. But the law could never save them. The truth is they missed completely what the law was all about and Paul will reveal that to us towards the end of our passage. But the question has to come, because of their failure to carry the message, does this nullify God's faithfulness? Does the one who gave them the message now have no foundation to stand on because his people were unfaithful? And verse 3 asks the question, just like that. And Paul comes back in verse 4 to say, By no means let God be true, though every one were a liar, as it is written, that you may be justified in your words and prevail when you are judged. And in case you're thinking that this is a very strange way for Paul to write, now I come to explain why he's writing the way he's writing in these first eight verses. It's what is called a diatribe. This is something, a practice that was written in those days, a legal form of writing. With the miles that would be needed to get people together, and even simply communicating of when to meet, you couldn't quite literally be face to face and have an argument. So it had to be done in writing. And so Paul writes, uh, uh, he, he puts down a question that he believes the person will ask, and then he answers it. But then he, he puts another question immediately after, as he believes the person will ask, and then he'll give the answer. So Paul comes straight back, because it's a to ing and fro ing way of writing, by answering and saying that, not at all. And in the original language, it is a strong not at all, for he's saying here, no, not at all. Because God is truth. God's, God's existence, God's gospel, does not depend on how good or bad. His covenant people are. God's gospel good news, He has said, will go into all the world. And it will, because it is His message to proclaim. And so from the foundation of the world, God has been revealing who He is and bringing about His promises, fulfilling them in every way. And there has been nothing that has caught him off guard, even the unfaithfulness of the Jews in being entrusted with this message. God knew they wouldn't be a people who would live by the way that he wanted them. He knew that. But he was making a commitment to prove that he can be trusted. We don't judge God based on how good or bad the children of Israel are. We trust God for what he tells us about himself. And the full truth of God's message will be heard by every people from every tribe and every language and every nation as Revelation 5 and verse 9 tells us and gives us that wonderful picture. God was never caught off guard by the unfaithfulness of the children of Israel. His plan of salvation, that wonderful message that he entrusted to his people would always be fulfilled. And to understand this argument of the unfaithfulness of the people affecting the testimony of God, the next few verses will help us to see what that means. But it's really verse 8 that we go to, to help us see what he is saying here. Because in verse 8, and he says, Why not do evil that good may come? As some people slanderously charge us with saying, Their condemnation is just. So what are the Christians. Well, in the verses before verse eight, the Christians are being talked about by those around them in their world. And notice the word he uses of how they're being spoken of. Slander. The definition of slander hasn't changed. Slander is speaking bad or ill of someone to their detriment. We slander their name. We don't speak truth, or it may be truth, but we will want to capitalise on it. And so there are people who are out there bringing charges against the Christians in Rome. They're saying wrong things. They're making things up. The charge is that we, that we learn, that we learn is that they have come to believe that they have free reign to do whatever they want. And they can justify it because it all makes God look good. This is what the charge against the Christian Church is, as Paul is writing to it. That they're doing this, and they're doing this with no regard to the law, no regard to the ways of God. I wonder, has anyone ever made you look good? I often think our, our three children make us look good in public. If you were to come to the manse at some time, you might be surprised. They don't make us look just as good, and I think that's the same for any parent. But do you see what they're trying to do? They're trying to make God look good. And they think they can do that by sinning all the more. Did you ever hear anything so ridiculous in all your life? But don't be too quick to judge, because do we treat God likewise? You see, they say that it's all in His name, because it makes Him, that is God, look good. It makes Him all the more loving and gracious and merciful. And whenever we stop and think about it, the essence of what we read in verses 5 to 7, there is truth in there. Because we know and we realize and see in the world that the greater the debt, the greater the act of forgiveness. In other words, the more we sin, the more we show that mercy and that grace of God. And throughout the history of the world, we have seen great acts of forgiveness. Let me give you one case in particular, it's the case of Gordon Wilson, whose daughter, Mary, was killed in the Enniskillen bombing. That very night, that Sunday evening, he was straight onto BBC Radio, saying how much he forgave the people who had killed his daughter that morning. And we all looked at that, and we thought that that was a great act of forgiveness. Look at the greatness in this one action. But that one great act of forgiveness did not make what happened in Enniskillen that morning right. Nothing can ever justify wrong and sin. So our sin is never right. By sinning more, yes, we show the mercy and grace of God, but God hates sin. In John chapter 8, verse 34, Jesus is talking to a group of Jews, believing Jews, people who have trusted in him as the Son of God and the Savior of the world, and he's talking to them about being set free. This, this new faith in Jesus sets them free and they want to, uh, they come back and say to Jesus, Well, how can we be free when we have never been slaves? And it's in verse 34 of John 8 that Jesus answers them, Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. Being a slave to sin means that we are not God's children. That's how serious sin is. We're not free to have a relationship with Him because there is this barrier between us. So there's no way that we can justify sinning. Sin does not make God look good, because God hates sin. And if we are His people, we will desire to do what is right, to do what He wants us to do, and live in relationship with Him and His people. In these first eight verses, we have thought that our unfaithfulness does not nullify God's faithfulness and that greater sinning is never right. And we would be very quick and could be very quick to say that we have free pardon. That we can do whatever we want and God's way will still come through for us. That God's grace is greater than any act we carry out. But that's not the way of God's people. That is not the way that God has set for us. Let me say it again. God hates sin. God desires of us a relationship that will want us to reveal who he is as we are in communion and relationship and fellowship with him. Not to go the way of the evil one and do as much sinning as we can so that we think God looks good in his forgiveness. God desires us to be his people, people of truth, of integrity, of honesty, so that he can use us as his vessels to show to this world and to reveal to it what he is like. Even though the Jews were unfaithful in many ways, God still found a way to be true to his promises. Jesus, as Israel's representative. has offered the faithful obedience which Israel should have offered but did not. The Messiah is the messenger who finally delivers the message, the message that we so need to hear. And there are two reflections from these first eight verses for us. First, we have been entrusted with a message that needs to be shared. This is what we call covenant. We know that God made a covenant with Abraham and this is what brought about the people, the children of Israel, the Jews being entrusted with the message to bring to the nations. God would make them his people for that purpose of revealing to the world who he is. And in Jesus Christ, we have the New Covenant, where the covenant is extended, not just to the little group of Jewish people, but to everyone in all this world, so that we should share the gospel that we have been entrusted with. And how do we do that? What does it look like tomorrow morning? Well, where will you be tomorrow morning? Who will you be with? And what opportunity will you have to share the good news of the Gospel? Rather than sitting back and waiting for something to happen, can you be proactive? Can you think through an opening sentence tonight and tomorrow morning, and then have the opportunity to share the goodness of Christ? We have a message that we cannot keep to ourselves. It is a message that needs to go beyond these walls. It's a message that needs to go beyond our homes. It is a message that needs to go into our community, so that they, like us, can say, I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation. And the second thing from these verses is that all of God's promises will be fulfilled, and with that comes hope. And it also brings something that we feel uncomfortable with because God has also promised judgment. That's what Paul has started with at the end of chapter 2, leading us into chapter 3. God has said that sin must be punished. And he has promised that the judge will rule. Whether we are found guilty or not, we will receive what we are due. And if we are guilty, as the judge finds us in sin for not having received Jesus Christ, we will be punished eternally for that. And if we are found guilty for having sinned, but trusting in Jesus Christ, then the punishment will be put on Him, and we will go into the eternity of His presence. God has promised much, and it will be fulfilled. We have the testimony and the witness of that in His Word. We can see it in history. And his day will come to fulfill the salvation plan when he will come to judge the living and the dead. And so these first eight verses of chapter 3 leave us with these two thoughts. We have a message that we need to share and God will fulfill all his promises. But let's move on and look at those last verses from 9 to 20. It sounds a lot, but it's not the way that it's written. And these verses address the issue of righteousness. Once again, Paul addresses the human condition verses 10 to 18. Say, none is righteous. No not one. No one understands. No one seeks God. All have turned aside. Together they have become worthless. No one does good. Not even one. Their throat is an open grave. They use their tongues to deceive The venom of ASPs is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood in their paths, are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes. Paul's gathering a lot of Old Testament, uh, passages here from the Psalms. And what he's doing is he's summing up the human condition and it isn't a pretty picture. And in these verses we see three things. The first thing we see is the ungodliness of sin. Because these quotes from the Old Testament start and finish with people not seeking God. People don't care about the glory of God. They don't care about giving their lives to him. They have so little regard for him. That's why we say that sin is ungodly, the ungodliness of sin. There's no fear of God before their eyes. There's no recognition that God is the judge. So from these verses we do realize the ungodliness of sin. Second, we see the pervasiveness of sin. Sin affects every part of our bodies. Bodies that were made for the glory of God. And this passage mentions throats, tongues, lips, mouths, feet. All instruments given to humanity, so that we can bring glory to God through our actions and how we live. But yet as we read here, they're marked. Sin affects every part of our bodies. And thirdly, the universality of sin. Sin affects everyone, no matter who you are, no matter your status in society, no matter your education, no matter your wealth, sin is universal. Every human being is affected by it. Because each one is born in sin and shaping in iniquity. And so in verse 19, Paul addresses the law again. Paul has already stated that the Gentiles are guilty before God, because remember last week, it's imprinted on their hearts, the natural law of God. Now Israel joins the rest of the world standing in the dock. Because to a Jew it would have looked like chapter 2, that it was the Jew who was the judge and everyone else was in the dock. Paul changes it and it's not just the Gentiles who will be judged but he's pulling the Jews straight in beside them. In Paul's day if you were on trial and had nothing to say in your defense you'd simply put your hand up over your mouth as a sign, a sign that there was nothing more to come from you, that there was nothing more to say. In verse 19, Paul says, Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. Standing before God, don't think you can give a defense. That's what this is saying. Don't try and argue with God. Don't think you can justify sin because you can't. You really can't. It doesn't matter whether you think it's a big sin or a little sin. You can't justify it. And by the way, don't look at the sins of anyone else in the building. Look at your own sin, because you're only accountable for your own sin. You will only be judged on your own sin. You can't stand and say to God, Oh, but, but look at them. You can't do that. Whenever we stand in the dock before God, our mouths are automatically covered because we cannot make a defense. We needn't even try. The whole world is guilty and we must face the judgment of God. Everyone will face the judgment of God, and when we think about it, well, that's all rather very sad and depressing. And in this passage, there doesn't seem to be much hope. And unfortunately, I have to stop at verse 20 tonight. It's already 8 o'clock. In fact, it's two minutes past. But let me just be the BBC and ITV for just one moment to give you a quick 15 second glimpse of what's coming up in the next episode. Because in verse 21, Paul shares the news that there is a righteousness from God that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. The news for humankind is that Jesus is the one who takes the punishment instead of us. And so in two weeks time, we will delve into the rest of chapter 3 and receive the hope that God offers us. But for tonight, we pause. We need to think of our human condition. Because throughout the history of Israel the law was in place so that we would become conscious of sin, but the law never saved. And the law never saves. And Paul's point must not be missed. Anyone who imagines that they stand before God and appeal to works of the law as a reason for a final justification, that is, for a favourable verdict at the last judgement, is, in the words of Tom Wright, Barking up the wrong tree. If we think that we can follow a law and that in some way gain us extra favor with God when it comes to that day of certain judgment, we are truly barking up the wrong tree. And I'm going to be honest with you and say that I have reflected on these verses over this past week and I have had to look at my own life and I have had to ask the question, is there anything within me that is law keeping? That in observing something of a good thing to do, something that we're commanded to do, I simply do it because I think it gives me favor with God. And I'm ashamed to say that I came back and said, yes, there is. I don't believe it in a conscious way where I'm living by rules or practices, thinking that they will save me. But it's still a way that affects how I do things. And don't get me wrong, I think habits are good and habits will help us. But for me, the habit of spending time with God because I think that it will do me good in His eyes, rather than doing me good because it's His goodness towards me, can so easily overtake me. Where it's a quick five minute reading of the Bible and then rushing on into the day. I think that's going to be enough because it satisfies what is expected and commanded of the people of God. But whenever you go back to God's Word, it doesn't tell you that. It says meditate. It says, think through what you're reading. That's one example. Please don't think that by doing a particular holy habit, as good as it may be, you can earn brownie points. She can't. Nothing. Nothing but Jesus Christ, the righteousness that that comes through him, that the rest of chapter three will speak about nothing but that will get us to God. No works. No laws, no regulations, but only trusting completely in Jesus Christ. And Paul knows this because he told it to the jailer in Philippi when he said in Acts 16 and verse 31, and they said, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. Paul very clearly in these first chapters of Romans tells us our condition, and it doesn't look good. But we are on the verge of looking at something greater than the human condition, and that is God's righteousness. We trust in that as we desire to move forward with Him, taking His message, His word that He has entrusted to us, and living completely for Him in a relationship with Him without trying to earn a living. our way into eternity. Don't think you can earn it because you can't. Simply come open handed to God, know His forgiveness, His restoration, and His love both now and for all eternity. Let's pray. Our Father God, we thank you for your word, as difficult at times as it may be to understand. Help us to respond well to it, that we will know it to be true, that we will want to actively live well, that we will want to put away the sin that is in our lives. We'll stop trying to justify our actions that are not of you. Lord, you're gracious, you receive us. So help us not to be so pride filled that we won't come to you and seek that forgiveness. Help us to know the joy of salvation and that restoration that can only be found in Jesus. And we ask this in his name and his name alone. Amen.

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