In our culture the notion of sin is out of vogue. Why do you think this is?
3 What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? 2 Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God.
3 What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? 4 Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar. As it is written:
‘So that you may be proved right when you speak
and prevail when you judge.’
5 But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) 6 Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? 7 Someone might argue, ‘If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?’ 8 Why not say – as some slanderously claim that we say – ‘Let us do evil that good may result’? Their condemnation is just!
This passage is tricky, particularly since Paul is using a rhetorical question-and-answer style, touching on themes he will expand on at greater length in later chapters (particularly chapters 9 to 11). While Paul acknowledges the special relationship the Jewish people had as God’s chosen people (vs 1,2), in essence he is looking at how absurd it is for anyone to take advantage of God’s faithfulness (v 8). Paul reminds Jewish believers in Rome not to assume that an ethnic identity guarantees salvation, because all are guilty before God and are in need of his grace.
Our culture struggles with the justice of God, but it is important to take our sin seriously (vs 5–8). Rebecca Manley Pippert writes, ‘People around us today often scoff at the notion of sin. Our world has new names for what ails us: poor self-esteem, neurosis, addiction, anxiety, psychological wounding, and so forth. It isn’t that these issues aren’t a reality; it’s that such analysis doesn’t go deep enough to reveal the root cause.’*
In the book of Romans, Paul is always building his argument towards the same conclusion: whether Jew or Gentile, all are in desperate need of salvation. God’s special promises to Abraham were always intended to bring into being a multi-ethnic family of God, saved by Jesus and transformed by God’s Spirit.
Ask God to save you from a smugness or a self-righteousness and thank him for his continuing faithfulness to you.
Deeper Bible study
Approach God today by humbling yourself in his presence; ask him to help you truly to let God be God in your life.
Paul has just written things that relativised Jewish practices like circumcision. To relativise, however, is not to denigrate, and here he clarifies that this is not his intention. He has guarded against a Jewish tendency to look down on Gentile believers; here he is defending Jewish heritage against possible Gentile dismissal. His aim is unity and concord.
Paul was proud to be Jewish. When he says there is value in circumcision he means more than it appears. ‘The circumcision’ can be a reference to the whole Jewish people.1 This people has been singled out to receive and transmit ‘the very words of God’ (v 2) as contained in the Law, the Prophets and writings.2 Israel has been called to be a pioneer people, to experience God’s salvation at the Red Sea and then to live as exemplars of God’s ways. This is a massive responsibility and, despite all Israel’s failings (about which the Hebrew Scriptures are astonishingly frank), God has not made a mistake.
Indeed, there has been repeated unfaithfulness in Israel, as there has been in the church, but Israel’s God is faithful, purposeful and persistent and will in the fullness of time win through. Even the unfaithfulness of God’s people does not defeat God. Quite the opposite: God is sovereign and creative and can find ways of turning human failures to good, of redeeming them. Israel’s failures have resulted, against the odds, in ‘riches for the Gentiles’.3 When we consider God’s omnipotence perhaps we should understand it as ‘omnicompetence’: God is able to work out the divine purpose through whatever means he chooses, taking what we give him and, by means of grace and goodness, integrating it into a larger plan and purpose. To use such confidence as an excuse for sin, of course, is wholly to be rejected.
Ask God somehow to redeem your failures.
Bible in a year
Read the Bible in a year: Leviticus 21,22; Acts 11
Pray for Scripture Union
Thank God for Christian Trusts and Foundations who have continued to support the movement giving all they can to help at this time with funding, in some cases knowing they are facing a decrease in income due to COVID-19.