This morning’s message is the fifth in our series through the book of Romans titled “The Study of Salvation”. After identifying the gospel as the message of salvation in his opening statements, the apostle Paul launched into an extended teaching on the necessity of salvation. We have explored this topic for the past month.
Who needs to hear the gospel message and why? The unrighteous, because their state of being is not “right” with God. Their relationship with Him is disconnected or severed. As such, they are subject to God’s wrath and judgment; they are in need of the salvation that comes only through the gospel. These include all who suppress the truth, pervert the truth, self-righteously pursue the truth, and presume upon the truth.
In our passage today, Paul presents his final arguments regarding the necessity of salvation for the unrighteous. He does so by asking and answering a series of questions which logically lead him to a final conclusion. So, have we identified all of the types of unrighteous people yet? Let’s find out...
I. IS THERE ANY ADVANTAGE? (Romans 3:1-2)
Over the past couple of weeks we have studied 2 issues that seemed to be prevalent among Jews during the infancy of the New Testament church. The first was self-righteousness, a condition in which Jews sought to earn their own righteousness before God through strict obedience to the Law of Moses. The second was presumptuous thinking, a condition in which the Jews considered themselves to be exempt from obedience to the Law because they were “chosen by God”. We learned that both of these approaches are flawed and neither leads to salvation. Thus, the Jew might ask themselves, is there any benefit at all to being Jewish?
Paul answers this question with an emphatic “yes”. Of all the people on the earth, God chose Israel and entrusted them with His divine “oracles”. This is referring to the LORD’s revelation of Himself to the Jewish people. In direct encounters with the patriarchs, through the written law, through messages to the prophets, and in numerous other ways God had spoken specifically to Israel. They benefited from an intimate knowledge of God and a rich history with Him that other nations simply did not possess. Such an advantage should have been evident in the lifestyles of the people, but all too often it was not.
In the modern American church we have many advantages and luxuries. Almost every person who wants one has a Bible. There are an abundance of Christian churches in every city. Compared to many parts of the world, we can worship God freely and without much persecution. We are truly blessed. But, as it pertains to salvation, we as Americans have no greater claim on righteousness than any other nation or people. All of us are equally guilty before a holy God.
II. WILL GOD REMAIN FAITHFUL? (Romans 3:3-4)
Though they had been given a special knowledge of God, some of the Jews chose not to believe it. Such disbelief on their part led to the next question, “Would their unfaithfulness to God undo His faithfulness to Israel?” This time Paul answers with an emphatic “no”. Even though every person is found to be a liar, even still God remains both faithful and true.
The underlying message is that God’s character and nature is not changed by our behavior. Though we might reject, scorn, and “run around on” God, His love for us and devotion to us remains constant. The LORD is good, and His mercies endure forever. Because of this, He graciously offers salvation to us even though we are stubbornly unrighteous.
III. HOW DOES UNRIGHTEOUSNESS DEMONSTRATE RIGHTEOUSNESS? (Romans 3:5-6)
The purpose of unrighteousness is to demonstrate righteousness. In other words, our human nature (which is completely corrupted and sinful) is intended to illustrate the divine nature of God. That said, one might wonder, “Since people are so unrighteous and yet taught to be a demonstration of God, does this mean that God is unrighteous too?”
To this question Paul answers with a firm “no”. Again, he is teaching that God’s incorruptible righteousness is not tainted by the fallenness of mankind. God is not like us - He is holy and perfect and pure. So we might refine the question to ask, “How does the unrighteousness of men demonstrate the righteousness of God?”
The answer lies not in a comparison of man to God, but rather in a contrast of man with God. The extent of our depravity creates a hopelessly dark backdrop upon which the glory of the LORD shines brightly. It is not our likeness to Him, but rather our vast difference from Him, that reveals His righteousness and goodness.
IV. WHY NOT MAKE THE DARKNESS DARKER? (Romans 3:7-8)
The sinful nature of man unveils that glory of God. Into the abject darkness of the human condition the light of God’s glory abounds. Thus, some might consider, “If my sin actually serves to make God shine brighter, why am I being condemned?” Others might propose, “Should we continue to practice evil deeds in order to further demonstrate the goodness of God?”
Apparently some were reporting that Paul was teaching such things. Paul flatly denies this and again says “no”. Although our imperfection makes a strong and vivid contrast to God’s perfection, this is no excuse to go on sinning as a way of promoting God. Even the idea of it seems ludicrous, does it not?
God did not intend for us to demonstrate Him to the world by living in opposition to His nature. While it may have helped to expose our sinfulness, the LORD’s true desire is for us to be like Him as much as possible, so that others might see God is us. For this reason, we are being made into the likeness of Christ. Those who dismiss their sinfulness as a way of advancing the grace of God deserve the condemnation that they will receive.
V. WHAT'S THE BOTTOM LINE? (Romans 3:9-18)
In these verses, Paul extends the scope of the unrighteous to include all people. There is no one who is any better off than another, for “all are under sin”. No person escapes this expanse. As it pertains to salvation, the Jew might ask, “Am I in a better position than the Gentile?” God’s answer is a resounding “No!” The bottom line is clear - all of us are unrighteous and in desperate need of salvation.
Numerous references to various Old Testament passages are given to support the final conclusion - that all people are unrighteous. Each describes the depraved nature of humanity. Each reveals the moral guilt of mankind. Each serves as a reason for the condemnation of all men.
With this Paul concludes his teaching on the “Necessity of Salvation”. He has argued that all men are separated from God by their sin. Every person is unrighteous; they are not right in their relationship with God. In this perilous condition, all people are subject to God’s wrath and eternal condemnation.
Those who have “suppressed the truth” are equally as guilty as those who have perverted it. Those who have tried to self-righteously pursue God are just as guilty as those who have presumed upon His grace. Those who are circumcised are just as guilty as those who are not. Whether Jew or Gentile, pagan or pious, all have sinned and are guilty before God. No one is excused. Their punishment is just and their need for salvation urgent.
In the remainder of this book we we discuss what salvation is, from Whom it can received, and how it works in our lives. But for now we must simply understand that it is something we all need, and something we cannot attain on our own. We are hopelessly and helplessly lost, and in great want of a Savior.