It's difficult to talk about Romans 3:1-8 as an isolated passage of Paul's letter because Paul, it seems, didn't write his letter to the Romans with the intent that it would be a week between Romans 2:12-29 and Romans 3:1-8 and another week before they heard Romans 3:9-20. The letter to the Romans is a letter with ideas that run from start to finish.
That being said, few people in modern America are willing to give up the necessary time to listen to the entire 16 chapters read in a single setting (which is likely what happened when the Romans received Paul's letter).
In Romans 3:1-8 Paul offers up some of the objections he suspects he'd hear from his letter and then asks some challenging rhetorical questions. Without dealing with a broader scope of the letter, we are left to dwell on these questions for weeks until we get to the section of the letter that relieves us with the answers.
In your House Fellowships next week, I'd like you to read the text a couple times and discuss what stands out. But rather than your leader guiding you in a discussion of the entire section, I'd like you to focus like a laser on Romans 3:5-7.
Here Paul introduces what his readers were about to ask anyway. And the question is one still asked often today. Essentially Paul inquires, "If my sinful behavior brings God glory, how can I be punished for it?" I suspect this was the questions of hard-hearted Pharaoh of the book of Exodus when he stood before his Creator. Surely Judas may have asked the same thing of God. How about the guys who drove the nails through Christ's hands (which metaphorically is all of us)? What about Nero who persecuted Christians, unexpectedly causing the Church to grow by the blood of the martyrs?
Paul will deal with remarkable answers the next few chapters, but before he does, there is something we need to get our minds around.
"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). All have violated God's Holy Law, every one of us. And Romans 6:23 says in part, "the wages of sin is death." The sentence for violating the Law is a death sentence. The punishment is hell. Every one of us is under the death sentence that we were born into. We inherited it. So in light of this condition, it seems silly that we think God is unjust for punishing us for our sin when in reality he gave us one in whom we can appeal -- Jesus Christ, his son.
You see, people will not be sent to hell for this sin or that sin. They will be in hell because they rejected Jesus Christ. They determined to believe a lie rather than the truth (which we've discussed a great deal on Sunday nights and in your House Fellowships).
So rather than arguing about the justness of God, we should be asking ourselves, What am I going to do with Jesus Christ? Am I willing to believe Jesus is who he says he is? Is Jesus my savior; and more importantly, is Jesus my Lord? Am I submitting myself to his teachings? When he says I am to die to myself and live for him, am I really willing to do such a thing? What areas of 'me' have I not yet mortified? What am I holding back and why? Is my identity truly informed, identified, and entirely rooted in Christ Jesus? Do I absolutely desire to open myself up to act as he has taught me to act, repent as he shows me any and all manner of my my sin, and serve as he has called me to do so?
If we ask ourselves these big questions, we should have no need to question if God is just for punishing Judas. And as we seek to believe and live as Jesus is calling us to believe and live, we will know God is just and at the same time he is merciful. It becomes so clear when we frame the question in the reality of God's Truth.
Saints, it's my prayer that we become, are, and remain a church with our identity found entirely in Jesus. I hope you will join me in this prayer.
Soli Deo gloria!
*Photo by Petri Damsten is registered under a creative commons license.