GRACE VS. RELIGION 1 of 2
God’s Invitation to Grace ❧ Part 17
Romans 3:1-8 ❧ Pastor, Dr. John Denney
This morning we’re going to return to the book of Romans. It has long been understood people are a complicated lot. We’re not nearly as consistent as we’d like to be. One moment we’re like the respectable character Dr. Jekyll in Robert Lewis Stevenson’s classic novel: Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the next we’re his dark alter ego Mr. Hyde. One of the reasons Stevenson’s novel is considered great literature is because it reflects a great and disturbing truth about all of us – lurking in the shadows of all of us is a dark side. Mark Twain phrased it this way, “Everyone is a moon and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.”
I think had the Apostle Paul read Stevenson’s novel, he would have smiled in agreement. Paul was well aware of the dark side of humanity. That is why, in part, he penned the book of Romans. The prominent theme of Romans is what Paul calls the gospel of God (v.1), God’s invitation to grace – that is the doctrine of justification by grace through faith in Christ. But he doesn’t begin there. Instead, he begins with the bad news, the dark side of humanity. Why does Paul begin here? You will never understand your need for a Savior and His grace until you first acknowledge the Mr. Hyde lurking in the closet of your public self. Charles Spurgeon understood this well saying, “Beware of no man more than yourself; we carry our worst enemies within us.” Romans answers the question: How can sin-fallen man have a right relationship with a holy God? Answer: Understanding and embracing God’s invitation to grace. We are justified by grace (made right with God) through our faith in Jesus Christ.
It’s been a while since we’ve been in the book of Romans. Let me give you a bird’s eye Overview of Romans. Aside from Paul’s introduction and conclusion, there are five major divisions of Romans:Introduction 1:1 -17 (Sin 1:18 – 3:20), (Salvation 3:21 – 5:21), (Sanctification 6:1-8:39), (Sovereignty 9:1-11:36), (Service 12:1- 15:13), (Conclusion 15:13 -16:27).
In the first section, Sin, Paul shows us why we need Jesus Christ, why we need to be saved. Paul exposes the fact that all of us have a Mr. Hyde lurking within us. He graphically describes the dark side of our humanity, unveiling our sin-broken depravity that runs through our veins like the sewage lines under a city. Paul makes it inescapably clear, all of us have a Mr. Hyde lurking within us. We can’t say we’re unaware. We are. We can’t say we do not know any better. We do. Paul says we’re without excuse (v.20). God has clearly revealed Himself to all of us through nature and our conscious. As a result all of us are responsible, no one is without excuse. Because God has revealed Himself, we are accountable to Him. That’s chapter one.
Then in chapter two, Paul shifts his attention from the outright immoral to the more respectable Dr. Jekyll side of humanity. This is the religious or self-righteous person. This is the person who looks down their nose at those in chapter one and says, “I’m not nearly as bad as they are!” Paul says, “That’s what you want to think. But in your heart, you know otherwise and so does God. He sees what really going on inside of you.” God is saying in this passage the self-righteous person of chapter two is just as guilty as the immoral person of chapter one. Everyone is guilty. The answer is not more religion; trying harder to gain God’s acceptances through our own performance. The answer is accepting God’s invitation to grace.
Today, we’re going to look at 3:1-8. For years Paul had shared this message of grace with the Jews as he went from synagogue to synagogue. Along the way he encountered a number of objections. Read 3:1-8. Count how many question marks you see as I read this passage. How many did count? I counted nine altogether. These nine questions can be boiled down to four major objections or questions. In each question, Paul gives a defense. 1) The advantage of being a Jew, 2) The faithfulness of God, 3) The righteousness of God, and 4) The truthfulness of God. This morning we’re going to look at just the first two questions.
- Question #1 points to the advantage of being a Jew. Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God (Romans 3:1-2). What advantage did the Jews have? Paul has already shown that simply being a Jew is no guarantee your entrance into Heaven. Nor was the covenant sign of circumcision a guarantee. What was the advantage then of being Jewish if didn’t get you into Heaven?
They had the singular privilege of being first in line to receive God’s Word. When Paul says, “First of all,” he means of primary importance. He doesn’t say, “And second…” and so on. He doesn’t give a list, only one (He’ll do this later in 9:4-5). The question is why? Why did God choose to give His Word to the Jews first? For the same reason He chose them to be His people. Answer: Grace. The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). To say they were “the fewest of all peoples” was really a kind thing for God to say. He could have easily listed some pretty embarrassing truths about them. They were stubborn and rebellious from day one. No matter how God provided for them, they grumbled and complained. Nonetheless, it was to the Jews God first gave His Word. We have a great deal to be thankful He did! God gave them His Word for to reasons: 1) To protect and preserve it, and 2) To personify and proclaim it.
First, God gave the Jews His Word to protect and preserve. He knew, despite whatever their faults, they would maintain God’s word with meticulous integrity. Let me give you nine of the strict rules they used in their writing process. 1. Every word and every letter was counted. 2. If a letter or word was omitted, the manuscript was condemned. 3. If a sheet of parchment had one mistake on it, the sheet was condemned. 4. If there were three mistakes found on any page, the whole manuscript was condemned. 5. They must verbalize each word aloud while they were writing. 6. No word or letter could ever be written from memory; the scribe must always look first at the original before writing his copy.7. A space of a hair or thread must intervene between each consonant. 8. Should a king address the scribe while writing that name he must take no notice of him. 9.The documents could be stored only in sacred places (synagogues, etc.).
Thanks to their painstakingly meticulous efforts, there are over 10,000 manuscripts (copies) of the OT today! Just how meticulous were they? Most of us of have heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) that date as far back as 200 to 250BC. They are early copies of the OT discovered in 1947. Up to that point, the earliest copy of the OT dated to about 895AD. That’s more than 1,000 years between copies. Some people say you can’t trust the Bible because it has been changed over time. But when the two copies of the OT were placed next to each other with more than a 1,000 years between them, they discovered they both shared the exact same message! One example is the book of Isaiah. Two copies were found in the DSS. When compared to a copy of Isaiah dating a thousand years plus later, respected Bible scholar Gleason Archer observed they “proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95% of the text. The 5% variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations of spelling” (Geisler & Nix, AGITTB, p 367). Even though some of the words were spelled differently or slips of the pen, 100% of the message was there. Nothing had changed! God used the Jews to preserve and protect His Word. God’s promise to rescue us from our sin through faith in His Son has never changed.
Second, God gave the Jews His Word to personify and proclaim it. They were to live it out and share it with the world. In Deuteronomy 4:14 Moses reminds the people God gave them His Word so they would obey them in the land you are about to enter and occupy (Deut. 4:14, NLT). Ezra understood this. It says in Ezra 7:10, Ezra had determined to study and obey the Law of the Lord and to teach those decrees and regulations to the people of Israel(Ezra 7:10). Unfortunately, Ezra was the exception not the norm. Israel failed to let God’s Word characterize their lives and they failed to share it with others.
The Jews did a great job protecting and preserving God’s Word, but they did not do a very good job personifying and proclaiming it.
- Question #2 points to the faithfulness of God. What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? 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 3:3-4). Paul is using human logic here. Here’s how we normally think. If two people make a promise to each other and one of them breaks that promise, the other has the right to back out of the promise. If this is true of humans, wouldn’t the same thing be true of God? Since the Jews did not follow God’s word completely does that mean that God doesn’t have to keep all His promises to them anymore? Paul says, May it never be! (μὴ γένοιτο). This is the strongest possible way of saying, “Absolutely not!” This is one of Paul’s favorite expressions. Of the thirteen times he uses it in the NT, nine of them are found in Romans.
Paul is showing us the difference between God and man. May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar. What may be true of people is completely unthinkable of God. The promise Paul has in mind here is God’s promise of justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. A few verses later Paul asserts: We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are(Romans 3:22, NLT). God made a promise He would send His Son into our world to save us from our sins.
Paul’s answer. Paul illustrates pointing to one of the most shocking examples of God’s faithfulness and mans unfaithfulness in the Bible. He quotes David’s penitent prayer from Psalm 51:4 “That You may be justified in Your words, and prevail when You are judged”. Just about everyone is familiar with the story of King David’s moral failures. After committing adultery with Bathsheba he tries to hide his sin by having Bathsheba’s husband killed in battle. This was a man whom God called a man after His own heart! Yet, David was both an adulterer and a murderer. He deserved to be dethroned as king and put to death. In Psalm 51 David begs God to not deal with him according to God’s justice, but His mercy and lovingkindness. Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge (Ps. 51:1-4, NAS). David knows that God has every right to condemn him, but he asks for God’s forgiveness instead.
Paul is saying, “God did not nullify His promise to David as both the king of Israel and the linage in which the Messiah would come did He?” No! By remaining faithful to His promise to David, God was remaining faithful to the world. It has well been said you can never break God’s promises by leaning on them. David was leaning on the promise of God’s forgiveness even though he knew he deserved God’s judgment. God promised He would send His Son to die for the sins of the world – to you and me.
So there you have it. Paul answers two of major religious questions from the Jews. If being a Jew alone did not save you, then what advantage was there to being a Jew? They were first in line to receive God’s Word – first to be introduced to God’s rescue plan to save mankind from sin. The second question: Since the Jews did not follow God’s word completely does that mean that God doesn’t have to keep all His promises to them anymore? Paul’s answer was an emphatic NO! What may be true of people is completely unthinkable of God.
How does these questions relate to today? What does they tell us about grace vs. religion? Grace wins! Let me give you three brief practical applications from what Paul has shown us.
- Grace frees us from religious control. Grace says God is in control. Religion says man is in control. Religion hates grace. Author Rick Renner spells this out well,“Religion is tolerant as long as it is not threatened. But when it begins to perceive that a foe has entered its territory to convert its followers, religion can become ugly and perverse”(Renner, A Light In Darkness, p. 300). We use religion (church attendance, membership, baptism, etc.) as a form or works to gain God’s forgiveness and acceptance. Religion is about self. Grace is about surrender. He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. . .He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life (Titus 3:5-6, NLT).
- Grace frees us from religious competition. Religion is a highly competitive hobby. For the Jews being of Jewish descendancy made them better than others. Some treat belonging to a denomination the same way. One person proudly says, “I’m Baptist,” while another touts, “Well I’m Methodist.” Grace frees us from this competitive folly. The Bible says there is no partiality with God (Rom. 2:11). It’s true that some are preaching out of and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives (Philippians 1:15). Has the idea of having ill will toward someone to hurt them in some way because of some real or imagined advantage. Grace frees us from competition and strengthens acceptance.