In Romans 2:1-29, Paul had indicted the Jews for their sinfulness and destroyed their unreliable indicators that gave them a false assurance of salvation. After having demolished the false assurances on which most of the Jews relied, Paul anticipated through the Holy Spirit some strong objections that some of his Jewish readers would make based on their false conclusions about the Gospel.
Paul did not teach that Jewish heritage and their possession of the Law were not important. Because these things were God-given they had significant and tremendous importance. But these things were not, never had been, nor ever would be the means of satisfying God’s divine standard of righteousness. These things offered the Jews great spiritual advantages but they did not provide any spiritual assurances.
No outward realities have any saving benefits that will cause a person to become right with God. And when these outward realities are shown to be just a form of godliness without the power of godliness as an inner reality of faith in Jesus Christ, then the people who are holding firmly to these unreliable indicators that give them a false assurance, will accuse the man who is setting them straight of preaching against God’s people and against God’s Law and against God (Acts 21:27-28).
It is these three objections that the apostle Paul refutes from his would be Jewish debaters in Romans 3:1-8. These three objections by the Jewish debaters were based on what Paul said in Romans 2:17.
First, the objection that the Gospel Paul preached was against God’s people (3:1-2).
The Jews were offended by Paul’s preaching that their heritage couldn’t save them and so they believed that he was preaching against the people. In attempting to take Paul’s message to what they believed to be its logical conclusion, the Jews wrongly concluded that if religious heritage cannot save then Paul is preaching against the people by saying that there is no advantage to being Jewish and no benefit of circumcision.
Most Jews wrongly believed and wrongly assumed that the Scriptures taught that simply because they were Jewish, physical descendants of Abraham, that they were saved. And for Paul to come along and preach that salvation is by faith in Christ alone and that heritage cannot save, they were sure that Paul was preaching against the people if he held to and continued to preach such a message contrary to what they believed.
So for the Jews, the Gospel couldn’t be from God because it was seen as message against God’s people. If the Gospel was true then being Jewish had no advantages and therefore Paul was preaching against the people. However, Paul answered and showed them that the Gospel did not remove the advantage of having God’s Word and therefore having one of the greatest advantages ever for coming to the saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Jews wanted all the promises and all the privileges without any of the responsibilities that come with it. For example, in Amos 3:2 the Word of God says, “You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth [this is the part that all Jews wanted to claim]; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities [this is the part that the Jews didn’t want to claim].” It is a very dangerous thing to only want the positive side of God’s Word and ignore the negative side of it as though it is for someone else and not oneself.
Having the Word of God was a great advantage that the Jewish people (Deuteronomy 4:8) had over the rest of the world to such an extent that the Gospel was to the Jew first and then to the Greek. Because they had God’s Word the Jews were near – not all the way there but near (Deuteronomy 4:7) – and the rest of the world was far off. It is the Word of God that is able to give the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. It is the Word of God that testifies about Jesus and therefore those who have it do indeed have an advantage – although with that advantage and privilege comes responsibility.
Second, the objection that the Gospel Paul preached was against God’s Law/promises (3:3-4).
Because the Jews believed that Paul was preaching against God’s people, they also believed that Paul was preaching against God’s promises as found in God’s Law. This however was due to the fact that the Jews were quick to claim God’s promises and quick to deny God’s punishment.
God’s promises to His chosen people are numerous and found all throughout God’s Word. How then could Paul possibly be in keeping with God’s Word when the Gospel he preached showed that it was possible for a Jew not to be secure in those promises? Will God not be true to His promises because some did not believe?
In other words, the Jews were saying that if any Jew went to hell then God was a liar and wasn’t true to His promises. However, God had never promised that any individual Jew could claim security in God’s promises just because He was a Jew. On the contrary, only those who had the faith of Abraham and therefore the works of Abraham were secure in the promises of God for Abraham and his believing descendants.
Most of Israel denied their Christ and were therefore denying God’s promise as found in both the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants as found in God’s Law. So the Jews would maintain that if the Gospel Paul was preaching was true then God’s Word had failed and was false. But the problem was not that the Gospel was false and not that it contradicted the Word of God, the problem was the Jews didn’t understand what God was saying either in His Word or in the Gospel. Paul went on in Romans 9:6-8 to further establish this truth – “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: ‘through Isaac your descendants will be named.’ That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.’”
So the unfaithfulness and unbelief of some of the nation would not nullify the faithfulness of God to the faithful and believing part of the nation – which was the only part that God ever made any promises to. The Jews misinterpreted God’s promises as guaranteed salvation for every single Jew when God was only promising salvation for the believing remnant.
God will never fail to keep His promises and He will never lie. So to the accusation that the Gospel Paul preached was against God’s Law and promises and made God into a liar, Paul said, “May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, ‘That you may be justified in Your words, and prevail when You are judged’” (Romans 3:4). Here Paul was saying that God’s Word would be found true and that when others accused Him of being unfaithful to His promises, God would prevail and would be shown to be absolutely true. Therefore the unbelieving Jew cannot stand in God’s presence and accuse Him of not fulfilling His promises when He sends him to hell but will see and know for sure that God hasn’t lied but has done only what He has always said.
Third, the objection that the Gospel Paul preached was against God/His purity (3:5-8).
Through Paul’s preaching of the Gospel the Jews interpreted him as saying that since salvation is by grace through faith and not by works of the Law then man’s unrighteousness demonstrates God’s righteousness. And so they reasoned that if it was their sin that highlighted God’s righteousness and made it dazzle as a diamond against a dark backdrop then their sin had served a good purpose and if their sin served a good purpose and brought about a good result, then how could God inflict wrath on something good (5).
This is the fallacy that the end justifies the means and that methods don’t matter. In other words, the Jews thought that since the apostle Paul was teaching that man’s sin magnified God’s grace that God couldn’t hold them accountable for their sin because it had produced something good – namely the magnifying of God’s grace. However, the end never justifies the means. This would be the same as saying that because of the crucifixion of Jesus for the salvation of sinners, those who crucified Him did a good thing because of the end result – hogwash! They did an evil thing and God is right to inflict wrath because He is a righteous judge.
Also the Jews came to the wrong conclusion about the Gospel by believing that since the end (bringing about something good) justifies the means (the bad done to bring about the good) that more bad should be done to bring about more good (7-8). This is a very severe illogical conclusion to the Gospel. The Jews were accusing Paul of licentiousness for preaching the Gospel and accusing him of preaching against God’s purity. Their condemnation is just!