When I taught high school in a state prison, one of my colleagues related to me an incident of his teaching days in prison. There was a rule in the prison high school that no one could sleep in class. As he walked about the room one day, he discovered one of his students sleeping and gently nudged the young man to awaken him. The student continued to sleep. My colleague made a second pass and nudged the young man once again. Still the slumbering student did not awaken. On the third try, the teacher nudged him even more vigorously, and this time it worked! The young fellow jumped to his feet, exclaiming to the teacher, “If you ever do that again, you’re going to get it!”
Such discipline problems had a ready solution. His name was Mr. Look, a very husky, unthreatened guard, who stood outside in the hall. Mr. Look came into the class and escorted the student to the “hole” (solitary confinement, more delicately referred to today as “administrative segregation”). The student spent 30 days in the hole before being allowed to return to his classes. On the day of his return, he lingered after class to talk to my colleague. “I didn’t really mean to say, ‘You’re going to get it,’” he explained, “What I really meant to say was, ‘If you ever do that again, you might get it!’”
This was surely something less than an apology, and it certainly was not genuine repentance. The self-righteous Jews’ response to Paul’s indictment as recorded in Romans 1:18–2:29 was hardly repentance either. Indeed, it was a rebuttal which served as even further evidence of the willful rebellion of God’s people, the Jews. Instead of admitting their sin and repenting of it, they seem to admit their sin and to question God’s righteous judgment.
The Jews have already been condemned by Paul in chapters 1 and 2. Paul taught that all mankind is worthy of God’s righteous wrath, because all men have seen irrefutable evidence of God’s “eternal power and divine nature,” through His creation. This revelation they have rejected and perverted. As a result, God gave men over to various forms of sin (1:18-32). The Jews were even more guilty than the Gentiles, because they had been given the Law, the revelation of God’s character and of His standards for man’s conduct. They professed to adhere to this Law, teaching and judging others by it, but they did not practice it themselves (2:1-24). Paul taught that the Law does not profit the Jew if he does not practice it, and neither does God penalize the Gentile who lives by it (even though he does not possess it). Circumcision too is of no benefit to the Jew unless he keeps the Law, just as uncircumcision is no liability to the Law-abiding Gentile (1:25-29).
In Romans 3:1-8, Paul shows that instead of acknowledging their sin and repenting, the Jews acknowledged their sin but protested against God’s way of dealing with it. This section is a series of questions and answers, all of which arise out of Paul’s indictment in the previous verses. The questions are those which Paul articulates, but they are clearly the questions which his Jewish readers would have raised. No doubt these are questions which Paul heard many times as he taught in the synagogues of his day. But in this epistle, his readers cannot respond as they would if Paul were speaking to them in person. Consequently, Paul raises their questions for them. These “condemning questions” reveal the depth of the unbelief and rebellion of many of the Jews and serve as further evidence that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” including the Jews.
Paul’s purpose in writing these verses is to add a third “knockout punch” to his two previous indictments of the self-righteous Jews as sinners, along with the Gentiles. There is, however, a much broader application of these verses. Paul’s words in our text provide us with principles which are vital to our Christian walk, principles which should cause us to rejoice in God’s grace and in the certainty that He will accomplish what He has purposed and promised to do. The questions which Paul has raised here, and the attitudes which underlie them, expose some very dangerous and detrimental perspectives. False teachers seek to convince saints to hold and to practice these perverted perspectives. Some saints actually believe these perspectives to be both true and biblical. Thus, this text contains both encouragement and admonition.
We will begin our study by making overall observations about our text which lead to some conclusions concerning the structure of the passage. Next we will consider our text verse-by-verse and then the interpretation of the text in its context. Finally, we will seek to discern the application of this text to Paul’s original audience and to us as well.
(1) The context of our passage is God’s condemnation of all men as sinners. Paul has already demonstrated that mankind in general (1:18-32), and the Jews in particular (2:1-29), are sinners, guilty before God and deserving of His wrath. In the verses which follow our text (3:9-20), Paul will further document man’s universal fallenness and then sum up his indictment. In Paul’s own words, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Paul’s words in our text are not a digression; they are an intensification of his indictment of the self-righteous, especially of the Jews. The principle subject of Romans 3:1-8 is sin and divine condemnation.
(2) Paul uses questions as his primary tool for exposing the sin of the Jews in these verses. As I understand Paul’s words here, the questions86 he asks are more prominent than the answers he gives. It is the questions which reveal the rebellious and distorted thinking of Paul’s opponents. His answers are very brief and to the point. The questions Paul articulates in verses 1-8 are those which are raised in the minds of his Jewish readers by his teaching in chapters 1 and 2.
(3) There is a very distinct “flow” to the questions as Paul has arranged them. These are not randomly chosen questions. Paul has arranged them to “flow” so as to make a very strong point.
(4) The questions are also arranged in such a way as to indicate the structure of the passage. The text falls into two sections, verses 1-4 and verses 5-8. There are several indications of this arrangement in our text itself. In verses 1-4, the verbs tend to be in the past tense; in verses 5-8, they are predominantly in the present tense. In verses 1-4, Paul speaks of the Jews in the third person (“they,” “them”); in verses 5-8, Paul switches to the first person (“we,” “our”). In verses 1-4, Paul asks “acceptable” questions, and the outcome is the statement of biblical principles. In verses 5-8, Paul asks questions which are really inappropriate and which reveal the sin of those who ask them. Paul finds it necessary to qualify his question (“I am speaking in human terms,” verse 5). The outcome of verses 5-8 is the realization of how evil, in attitude and application, the Jews have become, as evidenced by the perversions of God’s truth in their thinking and practice.
1 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? 2 Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? 4 May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, “THAT THOU MIGHTEST BE JUSTIFIED IN THY WORDS, AND MIGHTEST PREVAIL WHEN THOU ART JUDGED.”87
While there are technically two questions asked in verse 1, it is really the same question restated. Both questions arise from what Paul has just said in Romans 2:25-29. Circumcision is of value only to the Law-abiding Jew, and non-circumcision has no liabilities for the Law-abiding Gentile. “Jewishness” is, in the final analysis, not an external matter but a matter of the heart. Because of their conduct, the Jews were no better than the Gentiles. Indeed, their guilt seems greater, because the revelation which they received from God was much more complete—that which came through the Law.
It is not difficult to imagine the response of a Jew to Paul’s words in Romans 2. “What good does it do me to be a Jew?” “If circumcision is of no value and a Gentile can be looked upon by God as a ‘Jew in heart,’ why should a Jew feel blessed to be a Jew?” It is a legitimate question. It is surprising that a Jew would not already know the answer, but the question appears to be appropriate. Paul makes no apologies for asking it (as he does in verse 5). Paul’s first response, “Great in every respect” (verse 1), indicates that there are many benefits of being a Jew. Here he will indicate but one blessing.88 His words give the Jew pause for further thought and consideration. Let them think of some of the other privileges which are theirs as Jews.
Their being entrusted with the “oracles of God”89 was the privilege to which Paul wished to draw the Jews’ attention. The Old Testament Scriptures were given through the Jews and to them. These Scriptures were God’s very words. They reveal the perfections of God’s character. They reveal God’s unique relationship to the Jews. They contain God’s purposes and promises of His blessing for His people. They define sin and its consequences, as well as righteousness and its rewards.
The privilege of the Jews went much further than simply having this revelation from God. They did not just possess the Scriptures, they were entrusted with them. The truth of God was not given to the Jews to keep for themselves as though they exclusively possessed it. The truth was given to be used, to be shared. The Jews were privileged to be used of God so that His blessings might be poured out on all nations, not just upon Israel. Abraham was to be the source of blessing to all the nations (Genesis 12:1-3). What a privilege it was to share a part in God’s program! The Jews were granted the privilege of receiving God’s Word, of practicing it, and of proclaiming it to the nations.
Here is where the sin of the Jews begins to become evident. They did not see their stewardship of the Scriptures as a privilege but as a punishment. They did not want to share the blessings of God but wished to hoard them only for themselves. Like Jonah of old, they strenuously resisted God, trying to escape their duty as stewards of God’s revelation. If at all possible, they would keep the “unworthy” Gentiles from enjoying the benefits and blessings of the “deserving” Jews.
The Scriptures with which the Jews were entrusted contained God’s promises concerning the restoration and blessing of God’s people, the Jews (which Romans 9-11 will describe in much greater detail). But if Paul is right, and the Jews are “sinners” too, like the Gentiles, then will God’s purposes and promises be nullified by the sins of some? The “advantage” of the Jews (being entrusted with the oracles of God) which Paul has spelled out in verse 2 would be nullified if these blessings were dependent upon the faithfulness of the Jews. And so Paul asks, “If some did not believe, their unbelief90 will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?” (Romans 3:2).
Paul’s response provides us with one of the most encouraging truths in the Bible, which can be summarized as a principle: God’s promises are not dependent upon man’s faithfulness, but on His faithfulness, and thus God’s promises are not thwarted by our unfaithfulness.
The expression, “May it never be,”91 indicates Paul’s strong reaction to the possibility that God’s promises might be nullified by Israel’s unbelief and unfaithfulness. The error of this kind of thinking is several-fold. First, the question supposes that only some men are unfaithful, when, in reality, all men are unfaithful. The assumption on the part of the questioner was that “some” did not believe (or were unfaithful, verse 3). Paul’s assumption is that all men are unfaithful. “Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar” (verse 4).
Paul challenges his readers: “Do you think only some are sinners, that only some men fail? Think again.” He will not be content to show that only some men are sinners. His purpose is to demonstrate that “all” men, without exception, are sinners. Thus he will not allow this limited view of man’s sinfulness to stand.
Second, assurance of the fulfillment of God’s purposes and promises, revealed in His Word, is not dependent upon man’s faithfulness, but upon God’s. God’s faithfulness is independent of man’s unfaithfulness. God’s character is not diminished by man’s sin nor are His purposes set aside by man’s sin.
Third, God’s faithfulness is assured not only in terms of His blessings but also in terms of divine judgment. Paul has assured us that God’s faithfulness is independent of man’s unfaithfulness. He has stated that God is true, although every man is a liar. God’s faithfulness in fulfilling His promises includes not only His promised blessings but also His promised judgment. He demonstrates this from a most interesting text as he cites the words of David recorded in Psalm 51:4: “that thou mightest be justified in thy words, and mightest prevail when thou art judged.”
Paul has not left the subject of divine condemnation. Would the Jew wish to be assured that God’s promised blessings (as found in the “oracles of God”) are true? Let him also be assured that God’s promised judgment is certain. Man’s unfaithfulness will, without a doubt, bring divine judgment.
These words, written by David, are found in the psalm which records his confession and repentance. As the heading to the psalm indicates, the occasion was Nathan’s rebuke of David, due to his adultery with Bathsheba. When confronted by the prophet, David acknowledged his sin and repented. Psalm 51 is David’s poetic account of his repentance. In the midst of his repentance, David acknowledges not only his sin, but God’s righteousness in pronouncing judgment on his sins. David’s confession is a model of repentance, a standard by which true repentance can be measured. His confession is also a dramatic contrast to the rebellion of the self-righteous Jews whom Paul is indicting.
David does not seek to offer any excuses for his actions. He has no word of defense for his sin. His sin only served to highlight the righteousness of God. God was absolutely just and righteous in pronouncing sentence on David’s sin. When God pronounced judgment, His verdict would prevail. The faithfulness of God was David’s only hope. He did not speak of his good works nor did he promise future good works. The Law did not even make a provision for the forgiveness of the sin he had committed. He was worthy of death. But it was God’s faithfulness, combined with His mercy and compassion, which gave David cause for hope. He appealed to Him for forgiveness and restoration, not on the basis of the Law, but on the basis of God’s character.
Verses 1-4 provide the humble sinner with heart-warming truth. God’s Word is His gracious gift, a very great privilege, but a privilege which brings added responsibility. The promises of God’s Word are not dependent upon our perfect obedience but upon His faithfulness. God can be trusted to be true to His Word, even though every man is a liar. David’s repentance in Psalm 51:4 is both instructive and encouraging. David saw God’s judgment as just, and God as completely vindicated in His indictment through the prophet Nathan. But more than this, David saw God’s judgment as the occasion and opportunity for his repentance. In simple faith, and without dependence on any good works, David called upon His God to forgive him and to save him. This should be the response of every true Israelite. But sadly, this was not the case. The questions Paul raises in verses 5-8 reveal a rebellious response to Paul’s indictment of sin and his condemnation of the self-righteous. These verses demonstrate how just God’s condemnation on unbelieving and rebellious Jews is.
5 But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) 6 May it never be! For otherwise how will God judge the world? 7 But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner? 8 And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come”? Their condemnation is just.
In verse 5, Paul turns from the sublime to the ridiculous. He changes from the past tense to the present tense and from the impersonal (“they”) to the personal (“we,” “us”). He moves from those principles which are the ground for rejoicing to the perversions of God’s truth which demonstrate the justice of God’s judgment. He turns from those questions which are legitimate to those which he reluctantly asks for those who would question the character of God. He leaves behind the confession and repentance of David and moves on to the rebellious response of the self-righteous Jews to God’s judgment.
The evils of verses 5-8 are those advocated on the basis of the truths of verses 1-4. While the attitude of the objector in verses 5-8 is completely different from that of David (verse 4), the doctrinal or theological foundation of both is the same. If the “heathen” have rejected God’s truth and exchanged it for a lie, the “self-righteous” have received God’s truth and perverted its perspective and practice to the point where sin is advocated and God is indicted for wrong-doing. What an incredible thing to behold.
Paul’s words in verses 3 and 4 assure us that God’s purposes and promises will be fulfilled, because He is faithful even though men fail. God’s promises for Israel are thus assured, whether the Jews obey Him or not. David’s words seem to go even further. They suggest that when men sin (as David did) God’s words are justified, and His judgment prevails. God comes out the Victor. God gains when men obey, and God gains when men disbelieve and disobey. I believe this premise is true. Due to His sovereignty, God is just as able to profit from man’s obstinateness as He is to gain from his obedience. Satan’s opposition will, in the end, further God’s program. The same can be said of the actions of men. God can “use” the rebellion of a Jonah or the treachery of a Judas so that His purposes and promises are fulfilled. God has determined to use both “vessels of mercy” and “vessels of wrath” to His glory (see Romans 9:21-23).
What the self-righteous Jew in our text does with this premise is incredibly evil. Paul begins by stating the premise in the first person: “Our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God” (verse 5). He then asks a question, hardly daring to ask because of its irreverence and blasphemy. He clearly qualifies the question as one which he asks in behalf of others and not for himself. The question93 is this: “How can a righteous God punish men for their sin if He benefits from their unrighteousness?”
Paul begins his response with an indication of his own revulsion and dismay that such a question should ever be raised (“May it never be!,” verse 6). His rebuttal is simple and short. It plays out the logical implications of the heresy which has been suggested. If God could not righteously judge men for their sin because He benefited from it, then He could not judge anyone. He gains from the unbelief and disobedience of all men. No one has, or ever will, sin with the result that God has to “cut back” on His program or promises. No sin has ever diminished the character of God. From an eternal perspective, no sin ever tarnishes God’s reputation.94 Thus, if God only judged those whose sins did Him damage, He would judge no one.
This goes much further than the self-righteous Jew intended. These Jews delighted in judging and condemning the Gentiles as sinners. They would also delight in seeing God execute His divine wrath upon them.95 They wanted God to judge the (Gentile) world and to overlook their own sins. By pointing out that the premise of his questioners would eliminate all judgment, Paul took the wind out of their sails.
In verses 7 and 8, the same question is restated96 so that the goodness of God’s judgment is questioned and the practice of sin is promoted. The objector says, in effect, “Grant the fact that all men are liars, as Paul has suggested (verse 4). If my lie does demonstrate the truthfulness of God, then God has gained and (it would seem) my sin has been beneficial to Him.” This is nothing other than situational ethics. To the evil mind, the end justifies the means. The questioner seems to be saying, “Why does God (as you represent Him, Paul) have the nerve to judge me, after all the good I have done Him?” Imagine it, the sinner seems to be expecting a pat on the back and a word of thanks, rather than the death penalty!
We may observe such reasoning by this illustration. An employee is fired by the owner of the company for stealing some of its funds. In anger, the employee burns down the plant. He is arrested and about to stand trial for his crime. The employee then hears that the owner had insured his business for one million dollars more than it was worth. The employer gains from the employee’s crime. And so the employee contacts the employer, expecting all charges to be dropped, and asks for a share of the “profits”! So too the Jewish sinner thinks he has done God a favor and expects God to drop all charges against him. For God to do otherwise, he proposes, would be unjust.
But wait, there’s more. Once again, Paul takes their proposal to its illogical conclusion. It was effective because Paul took their position to a conclusion which they had already rejected, evident by their accusing him of this very teaching (see verse 8).97 The error of his Jewish opponents would lead them to ask this question, “If a little sin benefits God, why not benefit Him even more with an abundance of sin?” Why not make sin a lifestyle, and why not encourage others to join in? This was precisely where the thinking of Paul’s opponents led.
Paul has but one answer. It was an answer with which his opponent should agree: “The condemnation of those who would advocate this is just indeed.”
Without realizing it until now, Paul has brought his Jewish opponents full circle. The Jews were quick and eager to judge the Gentiles and to condemn them as sinners. In so doing, they condemned themselves, because they failed to live according to the standard by which they had judged and condemned others (2:1-29). When it became evident that they too were condemned as sinners, they (unlike David) refused to repent. Rather than seek to deny their sin, they chose to attempt to defend it. And rather than be judged by God, they set themselves out to put God on trial for judging them. Is it any wonder that “their condemnation is just”? Is there any doubt that the Jews, like the Gentiles, are sinners under divine condemnation?
This text does much more than vindicate Paul’s indictment of the Jews as sinners. While it does prove the Jews are sinners, it also lights the way to their salvation and restoration. And these truths, which point the way to the Jews, also point the way for those of us who are Gentiles. Let us consider some of the universal truths of this passage as we conclude.
(1) The Word of God is both a great privilege and a great responsibility. For the Jew who wanted to know what benefit there was to being a Jew, Paul would have him know that the benefits were many. But the one benefit which Paul chose to mention as the premier privilege was the gift of divine revelation. To the Jews and through the Jews, the “oracles of God” were given.
Our perception of the blessedness of this gift depends upon the value we place upon God’s Word, and ultimately upon our estimation of God Himself. What good is the revelation of a God whom we dislike, whom we have rejected? What good is the revelation of His character and of His standards for our conduct if we esteem God little, and we loathe godliness? God’s Word is a blessing to those who yearn to know more of God and who wish for His Word to search them and to reveal their sins. God’s Word is a privilege to those who would desire to know Him and to be like Him.
The Jews had the added privilege of stewardship. The Law was given to the Jews to reveal God to them, and as the means by which they might know and serve Him acceptably. But in addition to this privilege, they were given the Law, not only to possess and to practice, but to proclaim to the world. They were to be a “light to the Gentiles.” They were to use the truth, not to usurp it. The Jews chose to condemn the Gentiles but not to deliver them from judgment. Herein was one of their great failures.
If the Old Testament Scriptures were such a privilege and a responsibility for the Jews of that day, how much greater is our privilege and responsibility today? We have God’s full and final revelation (cf. Hebrews 1:1-3; 1 Peter 1:10-13; 2 Peter 1:16-21); they had only a partial and incomplete revelation. If we would know the measure of our own appreciation for the privilege of possessing the Scriptures, let us consider how well-worn the pages of our Bibles are. Do we look at the Bible only as a set of do’s and don’ts, or do we look at the Scriptures as the source and sustenance of our lives? Do we study them to know our God better so that we may serve Him more faithfully? I fear that for many of us, the Bible is viewed no differently than the Jews looked at the Scriptures in Paul’s day.
We too have been given the Scriptures as a stewardship. We are not only to possess and to practice His Word, but we are to proclaim it to those who are in bondage to sin. The paradox is this: the more we seek to hoard the Scriptures, and the blessings they offer, the more we forfeit them. The more we seek to share the grace of God with others, the more we experience it ourselves. It is not what we keep that matters so much as what we use and what we give away. The truth of God is a personal blessing, but it brings added responsibility, for “to whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48).
(2) The unfaithfulness of men will never frustrate the faithfulness of God. Though every man is a liar and will fail, God is true, and He will never fail. The certainty of all God’s promises rests on His character, not on our faithfulness. God’s plans and promises are certain, because of the One who promised. No one has put it better than this:
For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29).
If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13).
When the Israelites worshipped the golden calf and were unfaithful to God, Moses did not appeal to God on the basis of Israel’s faithfulness. He appealed to God on the basis of His promises and His character. God cannot deny Himself, and thus when His people fail Him, He will not—indeed, He cannot—fail to do as He has promised. The certainty of the promises of Scripture rests not on the faithfulness of His people, but on the faithfulness of God.
Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23).
Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right (1 Peter 4:19).
And I saw heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; in righteousness He judges and wages war (Revelation 19:11; see also 1:5; 3:14).
And he said to me, “These words are faithful and true” (Revelation 22:6a; cf. 21:5).
These promises and the certainty of their fulfillment are not an excuse for our failure or disobedience but a reason for our obedience. The God who promised to bless us is the same God who promised to chasten us for our sins.
The principle of the reliability and trustworthiness of God’s Word, based upon God’s faithfulness, applies to those who are unsaved. God’s Word promises His judgment upon those who reject His revelation. This is just as certain as His promise to bless those who believe and obey. How many times I have heard people seek to defend their rejection of the gospel by pointing to all the “hypocrites” in the church. Listen carefully, my unsaved friend. This text informs you that God is true though every man be a liar (or a hypocrite). If the steward who possesses the truth fails in his practice or in his proclamation of the truth, the Word of God is still true. We must receive or reject God’s Word, in spite of the failures of those who profess to believe it. The issue is not their unbelief or sin, but ours. If every television preacher were a hypocrite, the Bible would be no less true, you would be no less condemned, and your need for salvation through Jesus would be no less urgent. God is true, “though every man be a liar.”
This should also be an encouragement to those of us who wish to proclaim the gospel but who know that we are hypocrites (as we all are, to some degree). Who among us lives in perfect harmony with what we profess? Satan seeks to remind us of this (and others too), so that we will draw back from speaking to men and women about their need of salvation. Paul’s words are for us. The truth of God’s Word is not reduced by our unfaithfulness to His Word. God’s truth in the gospel is “the power of God for salvation,” whether that is proclaimed by an obedient saint (at the time), a prodigal prophet like Jonah, or a self-seeking preacher (see Philippians 1:15-18). If we wait to proclaim the gospel until we have perfectly obeyed it, we will wait for all eternity.
(3) The rejection of God’s revelation and the practice of sin darkens the mind so that man’s thinking is twisted, resulting in the perversion of the truth in practice. It is amazing to note that those who knew the most about God were those who seemed farthest from the truth. To them the righteousness of God had been revealed, and yet they questioned His righteousness when it came to His judgment of their sins. They did not deny their sins, but defended them, as though sinning was doing God a favor. They did not view God’s Word from His perspective, but from their own. While God acts on the basis of His righteousness (among other things), they viewed life from the perspective of self-interest. They felt that if they gained (by sin) and God gained at the same time, God should be content to let them live in sin, without judgment. Nothing could be further from the truth. When we reject God’s truth, God gives us over, not only to perverted practices but also to perverted thinking. Justifying your own sin and condemning God’s judgment is about as perverted as one can become. There is nothing more dangerous than the logic of the sinner. Sinners can turn the truth inside-out, so that it becomes a mandate for sin, rather than a deliverance from sin.
(4) God’s judgment is not only just, it is gracious, for all who will repent and find His forgiveness. The words of David, taken from his confession in Psalm 51, are music to the ears of God and to the sinner. David acknowledged his sin, as God exposed and condemned it through the Law and through Nathan, the prophet. David admitted that God was completely just and justified in condemning his sin and that he had no excuse. But David also knew that God is gracious and compassionate. David knew that God not only judges sin but that He forgives sin as well. Because of this, David cast himself upon God and upon His grace. In so doing, he found mercy and forgiveness. You can find that same forgiveness by confessing your sin, and by trusting Jesus Christ, who died for your sin. How wonderful the justice of God is to those who have been forgiven and to those who would be free from the burden of their sin. This is the forgiveness which many of the Jews of Paul’s day rejected and which all Israel will someday receive, when they first acknowledge their sin and that God’s judgment on them is just.
A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding than a hundred blows into a fool (Proverbs 17:10).
86 Paul uses questions a great deal in his writing. In the Book of Romans, I have counted 84 questions. The distribution of his questions by chapter is interesting. The highest incidence of questions (17) is found here in chapter 3. The second highest use is found in chapters 9 and 10, both of which contain 10 questions. There are two passages in Romans where Paul “clusters” his questions, and both are here in chapter 3 (3:1-8; 3:27-31). Elsewhere, Paul uses questions as transitions to his next point or to make a point of clarification. Here, Paul’s questions help to establish vitally important principles (3:1-4) and to expose some very wicked misapplications (3:5-8).
87 The editors of the NASB have chosen to render the citation from Psalm 5:4 in this way. This suggests that it is God who is being “judged.” In this case, God will be proven righteous when He is “judged” by men. There is another option the translator must consider which would render the citation as it is found in the Old Testament text. This would read, “And blameless when Thou dost judge.” In either case, it is God who will be proven right.
88 In Romans 9:4-5, Paul will cite other privileges granted to the Jews by God.
89 This expression is unusual, found only three times elsewhere in the New Testament (Acts 7:38; Hebrews 5:12; 1 Peter 4:11). It seems to contrast God’s direct, spoken revelation with the more indirect revelation of His creation referred to in Romans 1:20 (see also Psalm 19:1-6).
90 The term rendered “unbelief” here can, as the marginal note in the NASB indicates, also be translated “unfaithfulness.” The term conveys the idea of “unbelief” and/or that of “unfaithfulness.” I think both senses are intended here. The Jews did not believe God nor did they believe in Jesus, the Messiah. And neither were they faithful as stewards of His revelation.
91 The expression rendered, “God forbid,” in the King James Version occurs here for the first time in Romans. It is found ten times in Romans (3:4, 6, 31; 6:2, 15; 7:7, 13; 9:14; 11:1, 11). It is almost always an expression of horror, in response to an improper conclusion, based upon a valid biblical truth or principle. It is the illegitimate extension of a legitimate premise.
93 Satan loves questions. It seems he would almost rather ask a blasphemous question than to make a blasphemous statement. Asking a question which raises doubt concerning one’s character is very effective. Satan first used this approach in the Garden of Eden, and it worked so well he has continued to employ it. It is much easier to ask hard questions than to answer them. Faith is not built upon questions, but doubt is.
94 It is true that Israel’s sins caused the name of God to be blasphemed among the heathen (see Romans 2:24). These blasphemies say much more about the heathen than they do about God. But when all of this is viewed from an eternal perspective, God will only gain. Even the mockery of men will, in time, turn out to His praise.
95 We see a clear illustration of this in Jonah’s actions when he prepared to watch the destruction of Nineveh (Jonah 4:5-11).
96 There is a change here which should be noted. Paul’s first question employed the plural, “our,” speaking of Israel’s sin in a collective way. Now, in verse 7 the focus is individual, singular (“my,” “I”). Verse 8 returns to the plural. The effort is to justify individual sin and then to promote sin among the rest. It is a virtual return to the very charge which Paul expressed in 1:32. They practice sin, knowing God’s ordinances, and knowing that the death penalty is required, and in addition they encourage others to join with them in sin.
97 As I see Paul’s argument, the Jews were willing to go so far as to expect God to overlook their sins, because they believed that God profited from them. They would never dare to say, “Let us do evil, that good may come.” In fact, they accused Paul of teaching this. But by their previous reaction to the charge that Paul did teach this, they had already shown they believed this application to be wicked. If they could not accept such teaching from Paul or others, how could they propose what they did which logically led to the same thing?