Many of you probably saw the movie Forrest Gump. Essentially, the movie shows the life of one man whose actions weave in and out through the course of history in the 50s through the 90s. One of the other major characters is Lt. Dan, who was Gump’s CO in Vietnam. Lt. Dan lost his legs in the war, but he and Forrest connect a few more times including when Forrest is trying to start a shrimping business. Shortly after Dan arrives, a major storm hits them while in the gulf. Dan challenges God (quite the opposite of Jonah) and the scene sets us up well for our topic today. The clip does have one bit of language in it. Here’s the clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjcK-LGgtLA
Can you relate? Maybe the events in your life are not quite as dramatic, but we all question God? We may question His will. We may question His goodness. We may question His faithfulness. Again, Lt. Dan went further than that, but the basic premise is the same.
Ultimately, we ask God questions because we don’t trust Him. We question His motives, His purposes, His will. Why? Because for most all of us, life is about me. Not them, not us. ME. And, if God doesn’t conform to my will, well, then He needs to answer for it. Or, at least, we think He does. But, of course, such an attitude is our misunderstanding. We may even know that, but it doesn’t stop us from asking, and sometimes even, challenging God (even if we do so with less vigor than Lt. Dan.)
We are not the first to have such questions. We can see the questions during the time the Israelites roamed in the wilderness. We can see it in their disobedience during the time of the judges, the kings, and the prophets. We can see it in Jesus’ day. And we see the same idea in Paul’s day as well. As we move deeper into Romans today (beginning Chapter 3), we will see some of these questions (even if perceived by Paul), and if you have been tracking with this series so far, we can understand a little bit of the reason why.
But even if we can only understand the reason in part, it should be clear by now that God is impartial in His judgment. We have seen that already in a few places (e.g. Romans 2.11, 16), and we will see it more clearly today, and in the weeks to come. Thus, as our series title suggests, And Justice for All is not just a part of an American ideal, it is fully realized in the wisdom of God.
We do not need to prove God faithful. We need to prove ourselves faithful to God.
If the Jewish people were chosen by God, why did He punish them? Does He do the same today to Christians? Let’s see what Paul has to say.
Romans 3.1-8 is somewhat straightforward in some ways, and rather complex in others. One concept that is before us in the text, is a study in contrasts. Both sides of the contrasts are mostly listed, but a couple need to be inferred. You can find a couple more which are implied, but just notice the following contrasts:
- Value in Circumcision vs. No Value in Circumcision (the latter is implied) (v. 1).
- Being Faithful vs. Faithlessness (v. 3).
- Being Unrighteous vs. Being Righteous (vv. 5-6).
The problem is that the Jews thought they were faithful and righteousness, especially compared to the Gentiles, in part because, as Jews, they were circumcised. But Paul refuted that notion in Romans 2.25. Circumcision matters, but only if you keep the Law.
But even if they did keep the Law, their faithfulness and unrighteousness compared to God was the real issue for them.
And it is the real issue for us as well.
We compare ourselves to others. We want justice for others. But, like the Jews would discover, true justice is equally administered to everyone.
As I mentioned last week, Paul’s words at the end of Romans 2 would have been rather offensive to the Jew. So, Paul considered some of the objections that they might have. Again, Paul is still having this “discussion” with an unnamed Jew (through a diatribe).
Based upon Paul’s previous words, this Jew “asks” if being a Jew has any real advantage. And let’s face it, after studying Romans 2, our expectation is that Paul would answer NO. Remember, God is impartial, so “Of course, no benefit exists.”
But Paul answered “Yes.” And he did so emphatically. Notice the words beginning verse 2. “Much in every way.” He then lists only one because he wants to focus on only one thing here (you can find a longer list in Romans 9.4-5).
Because the Bible came through the Jews. That isn’t what the words say, but it is what the text says. The words are that “the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3.2). Now, not all of those oracles (or revelations) have been preserved, but the Old Testament certainly contains more than a few.
So, Paul is saying that God chose the Jewish people to show Himself and to speak to humanity through that group of people. So, YES!, being a Jew has its advantages, but it does not guarantee salvation.
Let me put this in today’s context.
I have heard some people in the past say that they like the idea of Christianity, but they want to live their lives first. Well, first, Christianity isn’t an idea to be liked, it is a life to embrace. But that’s the issue. And I know because for a good amount of time, I was one of those people. I remember driving to work one day and seeing a bumper sticker which said something like, “In Case of Rapture, This Car Will Be Unmanned.” I thought, YEAH! That’s cool. But then I thought, that is pretty arrogant. Because if I am reading that bumper sticker without someone in it, then I have either just wrecked or am about to. And what if I die in that wreck? Before I repent.
Being a Jew had its advantages. So does being a Christian. It is not something to wait for, it is worth complete devotion. And, yes, some will enter into eternity with God having made a last-minute decision, but I get a chance to know Him more personally, thank Him, and serve Him now. That is worth it. Don’t get me wrong, I am not completely devoted (Paul will say more about that to us in next week’s text), but I can move in that direction.
So, yes, the Jew has an advantage because if God was going to reveal Himself through His Word (and He did), then He had to do so through some group of people – and He chose the Jews (ancient Israelites).
So, God chose the Jews. More specifically, however, God made a covenant with the Jews. And a covenant can be conditional; in fact, it often was. A covenant involved two parties entering into an agreement with one party generally being superior. (A couple of the daily videos this week go a little deeper into this issue.)
As a part of the covenant promises are made. Now, we all like promises that are favorable, but not all are good. For instance, “If you fail this test, you will fail the class” would be a promise that does not have a good result (although the alternative might be positive). Additionally, some promises have known conditions attached, but any promise that is made has a condition to it. For instance, a parent might say, “If you eat your dinner, you can have ice cream.” That is a promise with a known condition. It is a basic if-then statement. But a parent might promise something without a known condition, but some condition still exists. For instance, how many people promised an extravagant vacation this year, but COVID cancelled those plans. Again, the condition was not known, but it still existed.
The problem is that even when the condition is known, we tend to only remember the benefit. That is particularly true when the promises are two-fold: If you do this, then something good will happen; if not, then something bad will happen.
Such was the case for Israel. The people of Israel stood on two mountains and made a promise to God as He made a promise to them. The promise was: If you keep my commandments, you will be blessed. If not, you will be cursed. Two promises based upon the actions of the Israelites. You can guess which one they remembered.
Thus, in Romans 3.3-4, the Jews wonder where God’s promise is. Why are they still a people in suffering? Why are they still in exile? Well, they did not and have not kept His commandments (i.e. the Law), and so they are experiencing the curse part of the promise.
To change their fate, they needed to repent the way David did in Psalm 51, which Paul quotes here (v. 4). David was punished for His sin (the child died, and he had massive family issues as a father), but God was still faithful to David. The same possibility existed for the Jewish people if, like David, they would repent. That was God’s promise. And He was faithful to that promise. The people needed to be faithful to theirs as well. And that same is true for us today. We must repent when we have failed to be faithful to God, so that He can forgive us, even if that forgiveness includes correction. And that leads us to…
Again, the Jews were not keeping their end of the bargain, so they were being punished. But their thought process was that if God was holy, why would He punish them. Rick said something similar in one of his daily devotions this week. People ask him how he can arrest someone if he is a Christian?
A part of Rick’s answer is bound to his duty; but all of God’s answer is bound to His character.
But the Jews took it a step further. Notice verse 5 and verse 7. The Jew is effectively saying, “If my sin shows God to be holy, then He should thank me for sinning, not punish me. How can people know God is holy if they don’t have someone like me, and my sins, to show the difference? So, if that is true, why should He judge me for my sin…I am making Him look good.”
That is called false reasoning. Ultimately, it shows that God can benefit from our actions (especially our negative ones) rather than us benefiting from God’s actions. The truth is that God does not judge people because He wants to judge them (as some believe) or to make Himself appear more holy (as the Jew was saying). God judges people – and MUST punish them – Jew, Christian, everyone, because He IS a good God. It isn’t about what make Him look good, it is BECAUSE HE IS GOOD.
Paul addresses the fallacy of their argument here, but he comes back to it in Romans 6 (as we shall see later) to say that if we are really in Christ, then our goal should not be to show God’s glory by our sin (so that He can extend grace), but to become like Him (because of the grace He has shown).
At one point in Forrest Gump, Lt. Dan asks Gump, “Have you found Jesus yet?” Forrest answered: “I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for Him.”
The line is funny, but it has a sad premise, at least for that part of the movie. More importantly the line is revealing – and very true. Many people think that being a Christian is a title only. And for some, it is a title that has benefits (prosperity gospel preachers promote this). But they want the benefits of the life without looking for Jesus. Well, it certainly has benefits, but not the way many would want, and most of those benefits will wait for the other side of eternity. But having the love of the Father, and having an opportunity to know and serve Jesus through the power of the Spirit is certainly a benefit in the life we live now.
But with the benefit comes a responsibility. With the promise of God regarding our salvation to come, we must respond in our salvation now. The Jews thought it was enough to be the chosen people of God. Many Christians believe the same is true today. But as Paul has repeatedly said already in Romans, having the Law and a knowledge of God is not enough. We must turn that knowledge into obedient action.
What was true for the Jew then is true for the Christian today. The discipline the Jew faced will be faced by the Christian as well. As the writer of Hebrews remind us, “God disciplines the one He loves.”
Our JOURNEY letter for today is O – OBEY.
We do not need to prove God faithful. We need to prove ourselves faithful to God.
That is done through obedience. It is done in faith. But as James told us, faith without works is dead (James 2.26). God’s holiness will be satisfied as He desires. That is true for anyone regardless of the time, their faith, or even their lack of faith. But for those who believe in the saving work of Jesus, that holiness has already been satisfied. So, when we do not obey, or we are not faithful, we repent (like David) and seek God’s forgiveness.
LIVE. What is God asking you to do? A few weeks ago, I encouraged you to do just one thing you know God has been asking you to do. Have you done it? Or at least started it? If not, why not? This is your task He has given you. It is your opportunity to show yourself faithful. Take the opportunity today to do it – to begin it. And as you show yourself faithful, allow God to remind you of His faithfulness as well.