Sermon on Romans 3:1-8, preached on Sunday 2 Dec 2018.
Sermon Recording: Click HERE to Listen
Bible Readings: (OT) Psalm 62:1-12 / (NT) Romans 3:1-8
Q. 1: “Will God save the repentant only, not the whole world?”
Q. 2: “I don’t offend God, then, why should I still go to hell?”
Q. 3: “I do many religious things, then, why wouldn’t God save me?”
All Christians are keen to share God’s word with others whenever possible and let them have the same joy of salvation we enjoy. I believe many of you have been carrying out evangelism in various forms and ways. Yet, most of the times, we don’t have much chance to tell people about Jesus’ free grace. Whenever an opportunity comes, we do our best, praying to God and seeking His guidance, and explain what this hope we have in Jesus is all about.
In case we’re engaged in a conversation with someone, explaining the gospel of Jesus, we often hear their questions. Some of them are in good and positive intention, wanting to know more about Christianity. But some other questions are not so positive – they’re argumentative, if not malicious. Such questions make us feel uneasy or sometimes frustrated because we sense the ill intention of such sceptics.
That is the situation the Apostle Paul pictures in our text passage. Although he hasn’t heard any question from his opponents – in this case, the Jews – he brings up a few questions they would’ve surely raised. By asking these questions on their behalf and answering to them, Paul proves his point and strengthens the gospel message he delivers, which is, all people are sinful and in need of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus to be saved. He did explain it earlier in Rom. 1 and 2.
The questions Paul introduces here on behalf of the Jews are three. The first appears in v. 3, saying in this sense: ‘What if some Jews were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify God’s faithfulness?’ This question’s point is something like this (I’m paraphrasing this question to accommodate our experiences): ‘You say that the Bible teaches all people are sinful and in need of repentance and faith in Jesus. Then, how would you explain that God says in the Bible that He loves the world, wishing no one to perish? Are you saying, then, that God is lying and He would save the repentant only rather than all people?’ Have you heard this from any person you’ve ever spoken to? I believe you have. So, this is the first question and we’ll deal with this in a minute together with two other questions Paul introduces.
The second question is in v. 5, ‘If our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, then, how could God remain just with infliction of His wrath upon us?’ In other words, ‘If my disbelief in God doesn’t give any harm to God or Christians because I don’t offend God, then, how could God condemn me and send me to hell?’
The third and last question is found in v. 7, saying, ‘If I lie to draw glory to God’s name, how could I still be condemned as a sinner?’ This question is trickier one than the previous two, meaning this: ‘What if I don’t fully submit my life to God, but I do many things He requires of me? Wouldn’t that be good enough for me to be regarded as a good Christian and saved?’
I pray that the Lord helps us with His wisdom as we think through these typical questions we often hear from people we speak to and want to share the Lord’s gospel with. Doing it will also help us to clear any unanswered question in our mind. So, let us think about these one by one.
Q. 1: “WILL GOD SAVE THE REPENTANT ONLY, NOT THE WHOLE WORLD?”
We begin with the first one, that is, ‘Will God save the repentant only, not the whole world?’ This is the first question the Jews in Paul’s time would’ve most probably raised in opposition to Paul’s teaching. They were the members of Israel, the nation with God’s covenant and promise. They had the word of God, and were proud of their possession of it. To them, the law of God was the undeniable evidence of God’s eternal favour upon them. So, in their thoughts, being a member of that blessed nation meant an irrevocable reservation for heaven. But the apostle preached, telling them that that was a false assurance. Membership to that ethnic group was not the prerequisite for being saved, thus, entering into God’s eternal kingdom requires something that is different. Being a Jew would never be an automatic admission to that blessing of God. Instead, everyone who desires the Lord’s salvation must repent and trust God through His Son, Jesus.
We hear no Jew’s complaint such as this nowadays at least in Peppermint Grove and surrounding region in Perth. But, we hear a question that is sprouted from the same root as the Jew’s objection to the apostle. That is, ‘Will God save the repentant only, not the whole world?’ This question our contemporaries would ask and the Jews’ question in Paul’s time share the same root – the root of distorting God’s word to support and justify people’s thoughts and wishes. The Jews proudly showed their ‘Bible’ and claimed that that was their ticket to salvation and the Lord’s eternal kingdom. People in our time argue and say that the ‘Bible’ says that ‘God loves the world’ (Jn. 3:16) and ‘He doesn’t wish anyone to perish’ (2 Pet. 3:9). Both groups of people not only twist God’s word, but also disregard the true teaching of the word of God on salvation. To both groups of people, the apostle’s voice is clear, delivering God’s message of repentance and faith in Jesus as the only way for salvation. It is the narrow and only road; there’s no side-road or byway. Without repentance from sin and faith in the Son of God, no one walks this path and reaches the city called ‘the heavenly Jerusalem.’
Talking about this path, there’s a movement among churches, called ecumenism, which is to seek a unity under the name of Jesus. The idea is superb, but its reality in our days is regretful, if not shameful. The WCC (World Council of Churches) is the most advancing organisation in this area with 293 member denominations worldwide. But this organisation’s new and recent vision is for the unity of ‘all religions’ and, from there to reach unity of ‘all mankind.’ This is the driving force for their recent approach to many churches and religions, including not only Roman Catholics and Jews, but also others like Muslims, Buddhists, Hinduists, Humanists and Communists, seeking to achieve an interfaith harmony, thus, unity among all humanity. It is the way that is often described with this motto, ‘many paths but one God.’
This WCC is a visible voice for the exact question that is under our consideration this morning – ‘Will God save the repentant only, not all in the world?’ What is the answer? A definite ‘no!’ The apostle explains in v. 4 why ‘no’ is the only and definite answer to that question, saying this: “Let God be true though every one were a liar.” He means that no matter what man says, God speaks truth; no matter how man twists God’s word, God means what He says in His word. Verses like Jn. 3:16 and 2 Pet. 3:9 quoted in that question of ‘universal salvation’ never mean God’s intention to save all men, disregarding their faith. Jn. 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son,” but this is followed by these words, “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” So, a belief in the Son is the condition for salvation of a sinner. 2 Pet. 3:9 again teaches that God is slow to fulfil His promise for judging the world so that “all should reach repentance.” Again, people claim that this ‘all’ is for all men. But there are numerous proof texts that point out this ‘all’ to mean ‘all who are given to the Son by the Father,’ in other word, ‘God’s elect,’ as Jesus prayed in Jn. 17.
So, all men and women are sinners, and nothing saves sinners other than repentance and faith in the Son Jesus. By the way, what is repentance and faith? Repentance is sinner’s turning away from his/her sins, recognising God who is righteous and realising the great offense he/she makes against God, the righteous God, through every form of sin. Faith is knowing the only true God and, realising the inability of man to save him-/herself, trusting Jesus, the Son of God, who washes away the sins of all who come to Him and bestows His righteousness upon them. In a word, repentance and faith is to admit to the fact that God alone is true and righteous, then, to seek His mercy. So, God saves the penitent alone.
Q. 2: “I DON’T OFFEND GOD, THEN WHY SHOULD I STILL GO TO HELL?”
Another question we often hear from people around us or see from their attitude is in this sense, ‘I don’t offend God; I don’t mess with Christians or their churches; then, why am I still be classified as a sinner?’ Its original question which the Jews of Paul’s time might’ve raised is exactly in this sense – ‘I’m neutral, simply having nothing to do with God; so, as long as I keep myself free from God and religion, I should be left free, without interference.’ This is the point of the question we read from v. 5, “If our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us?”
The answer for this is, again, ‘No!’ “By no means!” says the apostle. God is more than righteous to inflict His wrath on anyone who claims an autonomous, independent status from God. Why? Because claiming one’s freedom from God means his independence and autonomy from God which is to claim his own sovereignty which is, in other words, to reject and nullify God’s sovereignty, God’s being only God in His created world! That claim of autonomous man is the source and core of sin. Every form of sin stem from this denial of God as the Creator King over all things, including every human being! So, anyone says, ‘I have nothing to do with God’ or ‘I don’t offend Him’ or ‘I don’t mess with Christians or their churches, so leave me alone,’ does not make sense at all, but fits perfectly to receiving God’s wrath.
We might hear some variations of this question and this is one of them: ‘I haven’t inflicted anyone any harm, so, I should be alright even with God. And I’ll keep this way in my life, then, why would I need to go to church and believe in Jesus?’ Another question that is a typical one the sceptics to Christianity ask is this: ‘Why should those people who never hear of Jesus be condemned? Nobody has told them to believe Him.’ Whatever question people might ask, the answer is the same – no matter how ‘righteous’ and ‘sinless’ and ‘innocent’ one might be to his/her own eyes, as long as that person denies and, by denying, rejects the only true God who made the heavens and the earth, made every man and woman and granted a breath to their nostrils, he/she is guilty of sin, deserving God’s wrath.
It’s a simple logic everyone could easily understand. Suppose that you own a business. You have employees in your company or shop. Everyone knows that you’re their boss; they work for you and, in return, you work for them. That’s how a good business goes. One day, however, you notice one of the employees behaving not only strangely, but also dysfunctionally. He doesn’t recognise you, nor your company’s directions/guidelines set for the position he holds. He questions anyone who points him the right way, saying, ‘Why should I? I’m perfectly fine with what I’m doing now.’ What would be your decision? Tell him to go. And he cannot accuse you of being too harsh or merciless, can he?
The truth is that we all are alike, guilty of this sin of denying and rejecting our Creator God. We altogether deserve His just wrath. But He cancelled our sin by giving His own Son Jesus to die for us, taking upon Himself the wrath of God we deserved. And He gave us a task of sharing and preaching and teaching this message of the Son’s free grace for pardoning sins to all people on earth, telling us to tell them that everyone who hears and receives this gospel and believes in the Son will be forgiven and saved like us! All deserved to die, but God in His grace has given us a way for life! We have no right to argue with Him, questioning His righteousness. It’s as simple as that – all who hear and come will be saved; all who don’t will continue in their way of eternal damnation in hell!
Q. 3: “I DO MANY RELIGIOUS THINGS, THEN, WHY WOULDN’T GOD SAVE ME?”
The third and last question is trickier than the previous two questions: ‘I do many religious things, then, why should I not be right with God? Would He not grant to me His salvation as the reward for my works?’ The question the Apostle Paul raises in v. 7 is exactly in this sense, saying this: “if through my lie God’s truth abounds to His glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner?”
I think many of you know who Dr Albert Schweitzer was. He was a theologian who became a medical doctor-missionary and spent the rest of his life as a medical doctor serving in Africa. For that reason, he received a Nobel Peace Prize. But before serving people in Africa, he was one of the famous theologians of his time. His book on historical Jesus was sensational among many people in the early 1900s. But many people question whether he was actually a Christian because he showed in his books little evidence of possession of biblical faith in Jesus. His quest for Jesus was only on Jesus’ ethics, in other words, he followed Jesus simply as a supreme example for ethics, rather than as the Saviour and Lord. Based on his view on Jesus, he studied medicine and went to Africa, served the natives there for the rest of his life.
In a case like Dr Schweitzer, can he claim Jesus’ salvation as a rightful reward for his deeds? The Bible’s answer is, ‘No!’ Why not? Because the only One who is good and righteous is God and all men are not. Being sinful, men are completely opposite to God. Human beings are not able to initiate any good because of our fallen nature in sin. How can this be true? How can we know that we’re totally in sin? You don’t need a PhD or a brilliant theologian to prove this point; you and I only need a mirror. Examine our human heart, then, anyone will surely know that this verdict is true. The point is that anything that man creates, initiates and continues is tainted with our sinfulness. It begins from sin and grows in sin. So, all works we do with our hands bear fruit of one kind and that’s sin. We produce evil after evil, as John Calvin pointed out that human heart is an idol factory. So, no one can claim a reward from God for his/her works.
Then, what is the point of considering all these? Once again, it leads us to remember the grace of God in Jesus granted to a people like us, sinners! Considering these questions and their only answer reminds us of a stark contrast between the darkness of we used to be and this light of God, Jesus, we’re now in. No matter what argument people use to justify their evil, the fact, the truth of God never changes.
All men are in spiritual darkness, dead darkness. No man can deny it; no man can escape from it. But, God who is light, who shines all things and reveals all things, turned His eyes to us and He still does to many in the world. Although He isn’t obliged to anyone, let alone any man, He shines His light, His marvellous light that saves, to some sinners like you and me. This is the picture; this is the message. He stretches out His gracious hand to us; then, reaching us, He grabs us and moves us from that pitch darkness of sin into His light, into His life! This is, in fact, what our repentance and faith is all about. As God moves us from sin and death to His life, we simply recognise that we used to be in the darkness of sin, and we acknowledge that God in His grace is moving us into His life which we don’t deserve! Jesus the Son enabled this through His death for us, and we appreciate this sheer grace of Him, the Saviour and Lord Jesus! That is faith!
Because of this, denying such a gracious God and rejecting His invitation to free and gracious salvation is more than a foolish act – it’s a deadly sin! Yet, God is still showing His grace to all people, waiting for them to turn away from their ways and seek His Son Jesus! And God is delighted to work with us, with you and me, for this task of calling His elect from the world. What a gracious and amazing God He is! What a great opportunity for all sinners to come and receive His marvellous grace! ***