by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 3 Paragraph # 1 Study # 2 April 19, 2005 Lincolnton, N.C.
(118)Thesis:God's words continue to be man's greatest "asset".
Introduction:In our studies of Romans, one thing that has continually cropped up is that men universally fail to live up to the expectations of men. In fact, Paul is pretty clear in 3:9-10 that it is completely wrong-headed for men to even expect that they will find any man (let alone many men) who lives up to his professions of "truth". The fact is that men are core-corrupted. This makes it all the more ridiculous for any man, or many men, to attempt to exalt themselves over their fellow-men on the basis of their "superior morality". This makes every theology of men who posit "acceptance by God on the basis of their moral behavior" a complete perversion of Truth and a terrible blinding of both themselves and all who are influenced by them. This is the root of Jesus' characterization of the Jews as "blind guides of the blind".
With this reality as the "umbrella" (3:9 sits as an intention statement--an umbrella--over 1:18-3:8) over Paul's words, it is not difficult to see why and how he has aggressively attacked the theology of the "Jews". What is a bit difficult to see is how he can claim that the greatest advantage of the "Jews" is their possession of the words of God. What is the terrific advantage of possession of the words of God if the nation that had them has proven to be just as core-corrupted as those nations that did not have them? This is the question we face in our study this evening.
I. The "Problem" of the "Ineffectual Word".
A. Paul took great pains to "prove" that the Law of God had not produced a godly nation.
1. There does not seem to be any escape from the conclusion of 2:17-29 that Paul gave NO credence to the Law's production of a godly nation.
a. He does not say it in this text, but it is actually an integral aspect of Paul's theology that the real impact of the Law was to magnify the expression of sin.
b. But he does say in this text that the nation that possessed the Law had become the cause of the blasphemy of the God of Israel among the nations because people "naturally" expect a better example of godliness from people "in contact with God" than they actually see.
2. Nor does there seem to be any escape from the logic of that conclusion: there is no benefit to being "in contact with God".
B. Yet, when faced with the question of whether this "logic" was true, Paul adamantly denied it.
1. On the one hand, he deliberately took the question on in 3:1-2 and answered it with a resounding declaration that being "in contact with God" was such a benefit that no matter how one looked at it, it came out being a HUGE benefit.
2. And, in addition, when he, himself, raised the question of the "logic", he flatly denied it with the strongest possible denial (translated "God forbid").
II. The Answer to the "Problem".
A. First, one must ask what the "objective" is in the hearts and minds of those who chase the "logic" to the conclusion that being "in contact with God" is of no benefit. [How can one determine that the words of God have been "ineffectual" unless one knows what they were supposed to produce?]
1. Clearly, Paul considered the "Jews'" objective to be "self-exaltation on the basis of superior theology". This is what he "attacked" in 2:17-20.
2. Therefore, if the "goal" is to "come off as superior", there is no benefit to being "in contact with God"...
3. But, what if the "goal" is to "experience a greater quality of Life"?
B. Second, one must follow Paul's reasoning as he rejects the "logic".
1. First, Paul anticipated the "objection".
a. Romans 3:3 raises a pointed question.
1) Does man's faithlessness reduce God's faithfulness to unfaithfulness?
2) The issue here is this: is God's commitment to the fulfillment of His words "held hostage" by whether men "believe" Him, or not?
a) On the one hand, it is true that men who do not "believe", do not receive the "benefit" of the words of God, but, rather, come into condemnation.
b) But, on the other hand, it is not true that the words of God bring no benefit to those who do believe.
c) Thus, though "unbelief" does turn the benefit of being "in contact with God" into, not only a non-benefit, but also a HUGE liability for the unbeliever, that says nothing about the ineffectiveness of the Word in respect to the believer.
3) Thus, until it can be demonstrated that no men "believe", it cannot be demonstrated that there is no benefit to being in contact with God.
b. Romans 3:4 actually "anticipates" the response to this conclusion by switching from "unbelief" to "imperfection".
1) Those who are "stung" by the charge of smug self-superiority would naturally react to Paul's claim that it cannot be demonstrated that somedobelieve.
a) The self-righteous are always looking for a way to get out of being charged with "failure".
b) Thus, the natural reaction to Paul's claim that some do believe, would be to argue that all fail to consistently believe, because this gives them an "out" from the necessity for perfection in the pursuit of superiority.
i. There is no "out" here: hypocrisy is not a problem for a "faith" system; it is only a problem for a "superiority" system.
ii. Thus, the desire to blame "all" so that "I" do not come across so badly is denied.
2) So, Paul switches from "unbelief" to "moral failure".
a) He goes from the issue of whether "unbelief" negates God's faithfulness to the declaration that "moral failure" does nothing to God's faithfulness.
b) Interestingly, he goes immediately to David's great "moral failure" with his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba by quoting Psalm 51:4.
c) By doing this, he effectively blunts that claim that God's purpose in giving His words is to create "superior" people: that did not happen with David, nor did it happen with the nation in general.
d) By doing this, he effectively established his thesis that the oracles of God are a huge benefit: because David, in response to the oracle through Nathan, was brought back to the "superior experience of life" -- God's on-going intention.
e) And by doing this he reveals that his theology is not about trying to show that there are men who do not fail (all men are liars); it is, rather, about trying to show that God does not fail (His words will prove to be jot and tittle accurate in history).
i. This is small consolation to those who seek to be superior.
ii. But it is huge encouragement to those who, being significantly flawed, need God's words in order to live well.
III. Our Conclusions...
A. We must understand why God speaks: to impart life on the basis of relationship with Him, not on the basis of superiority to others.
B. We must understand that the "benefit" to us is directly tied to what we are looking for: if smug self-righteousness, there will be only death; but if forgiveness, cleansing, and a freshness of life, there will be life.