1Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? 2 Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 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.”
5 But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) 6 By no means! For then how could God judge the world? 7 But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? 8 And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.
9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
19 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. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
Last week we noted that the Bible’s central message, the gospel, is constantly in danger of being confused or lost or at least gravely misunderstood. That’s not because it is particularly complicated. In fact the gospel, at its most fundamental level, is quite easy to understand and articulate. It is not, however, easily accepted. There is an offensive element to the gospel that we would all much rather reject.
It is this offensive part of the gospel that we are tempted to minimize or soften. Perhaps we can make the good news even better by not bringing any bad news into the conversation. But this tendency to ignore the bad news has the reverse effect. It makes the good news not so good, certainly not as good as the Bible says that it is.
So in order for us to understand the gospel we must embrace the offense of the gospel. What is it about the gospel that causes it to be rejected by some and redefined by others? We can think about it in three sets of couplets. The offense of the gospel is seen in the themes of judgment and wrath, creation and accountability, and sin and God’s righteousness.
Here in our text we are told that God will judge the world (Rom 3:6). We cannot escape the reality that according to the Bible there will be a day of reckoning and that it is to God that we will have to give an account.
The Bible repeatedly affirms this. In Genesis 18:25 God is referred to as “the Judge of all the earth.” The Psalmist says that the heavens declare the righteousness of God, “for God himself is judge!” (Psa 50:6). According to Ecclesiastes 12:14, “God will bring every deed into judgment with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Second Corinthians 5:10 states that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ,” and Hebrews 9:27 declares that “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”
What would it be like to stand before God as your judge? What kind of a judge will God be? Will he be like Randy Jackson or Simon Cowell? The Psalmist answers the question this way: “God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day” (Psa 7:11).
God is not a judge of talent, looking for the best of the best among us. He is a judge of criminals, and his punishment of them is severe. Just as often as we read that God is the judge of the world, we read that God judges the world in wrath. This is not a picture of God that we like to dwell on, but it is nevertheless the picture of God that the Bible gives us. Here in verse 5 we read that God “inflicts wrath” when he judges.
So when we talk about salvation we ought to ask ourselves what it is we need to be saved from. We might answer with Matthew 1:21 and say that Jesus came to save his people from their sins. Or we might cite from James 5:20 and say that we need to be saved from death to new life. But we should say more. Sin is the reason why we need to be saved and death is the consequence from which we need to be saved, but the real danger we face and the threat from which we need to be saved is stated bluntly in Romans 5:9: “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”
We need to be saved from God and the hell with which he punishes the guilty. Now it is true that God can punish in this life, but the emphasis is usually on God’s coming wrath. So when we say things like “hell on earth” and we talk about salvation being from a sense of meaninglessness or our own self-inflicted pain, we are missing the crucial point. As the author of Hebrews tells us, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God” (Heb 10:31). The wrath of God that is coming is far more severe than anything that can be experienced in this life. (See Rev 6:15-17.)
But why is God so angry? And what gives him the right to judge the world in the first place? It is important for us to answer these questions, lest we get the wrong impression about God’s wrath. You see, God is not capriciously angry. He did not wake up on the wrong side of the bed. His anger is not like that of pagan deities whose anger often looks like that of a spoiled child being denied their wishes in a candy store.
In order to understand the source of God’s anger, we have to go back to the beginning. All the way back to the beginning. The Bible opens this way, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). It’s one of the most controversial verses in the Bible to this day because the Bible presupposes both the existence of God and his agency in bringing about the material universe.
We are also not told precisely when God created nor do we know exactly how he did so, though we do know it was all done “by the word of the LORD” (Psa 33:6) meaning that the world was created by the decree of God. It was his plan. He is fully responsible for its existence.
And this is where the gospel begins. If we miss this we will struggle to understand the good news. In the beginning God created.
And creation implies purpose, so we are invited to ask, “Why did God create? It was not to fulfill a need for himself. God is not “served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). So why did God create?
We find the answer in Isaiah 43 where God says,
Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made. (Isa 43:5-7)
There it is. God created for his own glory which means he created in order to show how wonderful he is. If that sounds arrogant and egotistical remember this: God really is wonderful, more wonderful than anything or anyone else. And if that is true then creation was one of God’s loving acts to his creatures. God created us so that we might be able to enjoy him. By creating God was giving himself to us, and nothing could possibly be more satisfying.
So here is a summary of this first point of the gospel. The entire summary can be found on our website. In order to understand the gospel we need to see God’s purpose in creation.
The Scriptures tell us that there is one God who has eternally existed in three distinct Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God, who always does what is good and right and perfect, created the world and everything in it as a display of his own glory. God took great delight in his creation. His special creation, mankind, was made to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.
So now back to our question regarding the wrath of God. What is it that sparks God’s anger and brings about his judgment? The answer is the next major point in the gospel story.
But something went terribly wrong. The human beings that God created chose to rebel against God by disobeying him rather than glorifying him, and thereby plunged all creation into chaos and destruction. The consequences of the first humans’ sin affected and infected all of their descendents as well, leaving the entire human race in hostility to their Creator.
God’s anger is fueled by sin because sin is a violation of purpose. God made us to bring him glory, but instead we rebelled against him. Sin is the reason God is angry, and another reason why we struggle to believe the gospel is because we do not see and respond to sin the way God does.
For example, we do not see the extent of sin in our world. The Bible tells us that sin has affected everyone in the world without exception. In other words, we live in a fallen world, and that is not that hard to believe. Everyone believes that things are not the way they are supposed to be, so we all work to improve our world. We all agree with the Bible’s basic premise here. Something is wrong with the world. The Bible says the problem is sin.
But the Bible also says more. Sin has also infected everyone. This is the claim being made in our text today, in verses 10-18. These verses are a series of quotes from different Old Testament passages intended to demonstrate the extent of sin in the world. “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (vv. 10-12). If Genesis 1:1 is the most controversial verse in the Bible, these are possibly the most outrageous verses. You see, verses 10-11 are cited from Psalm 14:1 (and Psalm 53:1) which begins this way, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Paul now applies this blasphemy to the Jews in Romans 3:9. He is saying that the religious Jew is no more righteous before God than the blasphemous atheist. There is not a single person in the world who can stand on their own and be “right” before God.
So what is wrong with the world? The Bible’s answer is that we are what’s wrong with the world. Every single one of us. If you or I were the only ones alive on the planet right now God would still be angry because of your sin and mine. This is why I say that we do not see sin the way God does. We do not think our sin is that bad. “I’m not perfect,” we admit. But how many of us readily agree with the Scripture that we are not “good” at all?
Now this does not mean we are good for nothing or else we would not be worth saving. It also does not mean we are as bad as we could possibly be. But what it does mean is that we all are severely infected by sin, making us enemies of God and subject to his divine wrath.
But isn’t God a God of love? Yes, and abundantly so. We must not make the mistake of thinking that God cannot be fierce in his wrath and simultaneously faithful in his love. How the two go together does raise questions, and our text today is concerned with addressing some of those questions.
Here’s the first question. “What advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision?” (v. 1). In other words, if being a part of God’s covenant people under the old covenant does not spare one from God’s wrath, then what was the point of God choosing a people for himself in the first place? What benefit is there for the Jew?
And Paul’s answer is “much in every way.” He only states one of the benefits here; he will share more later (Rom 9:4-5). For starters he reminds them that “the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God” (v. 2). It was to Israel that God chose to reveal himself. He spoke to them and with those words entered into a special relationship with them. The advantage the Jew has begins with the fact that God, by free grace, entered into a covenant with them.
Why is this such a big deal? Because when God makes a covenant, he never breaks it. Ever. He is relentlessly faithful. Even when his people are unfaithful. So Paul addresses the second question, which is, “What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?” (v. 3). The answer is, “By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar.” God’s truthfulness does not mean that he is honest but that he is completely trustworthy, “true” to his word.
Aren’t we glad that God is like that? Aren’t we glad that he can be counted on to keep his promises, even when we are faithless and unbelieving? Yes, God is like that. But his faithfulness has serious implications for sinners as Paul points out in verse 4. God remains true to his word even in our unfaithfulness so that he “may be justified” in his words and so that he may “prevail when” he is judged.
This is a quote from Psalm 51:4, which is understood to be David’s confession after he committed adultery with Bathsheba. In this psalm, David owns his sin and does not make any excuses. He alone is totally to blame. So God’s judgment against him is completely just and blameless.
Imagine a wife confesses to her husband that she has been unfaithful. But unknown to her, the husband was also involved in an adulterous relationship. The husband’s infidelity would not make the wife’s adultery any more acceptable, but it would make it more difficult for her husband to judge her.
But what if her husband was the epitome of faithfulness to his wife, with eyes for none other. Upon hearing her confession he would be devastated and furious and understandably so. His faithfulness would magnify the gravity of her unfaithfulness. In the same way God’s faithfulness to his word magnifies the seriousness of humanity’s unfaithfulness to him and justifies his wrath toward sinners.
But there is still one more reason to question the justness of God’s wrath, though it is a question we would probably not even think about asking. So let me set the stage by continuing our illustration. Suppose the faithful husband, hurt by his wife’s infidelity, commits adultery himself. How would you think of him now? Imagine you are watching this unfold in a movie. What would you think of his character in the movie? Would you understand even if you wouldn’t excuse it?
But what if the husband, still righteously angry at his wife, stayed true to his marriage vows and fought to preserve the marriage simply because he loved his wife. When the movie is over what would you think of his character? Wouldn’t you view him with admiration? Wouldn’t his faithfulness be all the more virtuous? God is like that. The unfaithfulness of his people, as verse 5 says, “serves to show the righteousness of God.” Our sin is a foil for God’s righteousness. Our “lie” makes God’s truth, according to verse 7, “abound to his glory.”
That gets us back to God’s purpose for creation. He created the world for his glory, and his creation accomplishes that purpose even through human sinfulness. In fact, God’s glory shines brightest because of sin. God ensures that it does because he is not merely an actor in the movie of human history. He is also the writer and director. Sin was part of God’s plan in order to show forth his righteousness. So now imagine you are the adulterous wife at the end of the movie. Your adultery has been the cause of your husband’s admiration from the audience. So you say, “Isn’t it almost good that I sinned in this way?”
Or stated another way in verse 5 the question is, “Is God unrighteous to inflict wrath on us,” seeing that our sin only amplified his glory? How can God get glory because of sin and also justly punish the one who sins? It is a legitimate question from the human perspective, which is why Paul says, “I speak in a human way” (v. 5). But his answer is in verse 6. God is not unrighteous to inflict wrath on sinners, otherwise “how could God judge the world?” God simply must punish sin or we are left without anyone to ensure that true justice will finally be done. But you don’t want God not to judge. You just don’t want him to judge you. We might rejoice that Osama bin Laden met justice, but how would you feel about meeting justice yourself?
This in no way excuses our sin. God will not let his glory be diminished by sin, but he also will not let sin go unpunished. This is where the gospel begins. God created the world for his glory, but we have chosen to rebel against him instead. Creation and fall. And yet, our rebellion will not squelch God’s passion for his glory. Because of the gospel, our rebellion will only serve to magnify the greatness of God’s glory.
So when we preach the gospel we must preach this truth, that God’s glory is not compromised one bit by our rebellion against him. That means that whatever sin you carry into this room today, it is no threat to the magnification of God’s glory. God is abundantly gracious, so we do not have to prove ourselves in any way. In fact, God commands us to not even try to fix ourselves. His glory shines brightest when we let him deal with our sinfulness. He wants to be the savior, not you. And if this sounds like it encourages people to “do evil that good may come,” keep in mind that this was exactly the charge Paul was facing from his adversaries. We are not preaching the gospel if we are not preaching a radical, gracious, freeing one.
But this in no way minimizes the dangers of sin. When we preach the gospel we must also preach this truth, that God is fiercely angry at sin. Those who say we do not have to take sin seriously, that we might as well do evil so that good may come, deserve the condemnation that they will get (v. 8). You see there is more to this gospel story that helps us see deeper into this mystery of how God is glorified the greatest by the way human history has unfolded. And with it comes the call to faith in Jesus Christ, for as Jesus himself said, “the wrath of God remains” on the one who does not believe in him (John 3:36).
 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. F.F. Bruce (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 183.
 Ibid., 185.