31/05/15 Romans 3:1-18 “All are unrighteous before a holy God”
In Chapter 2 Paul tells the Jews that it was better to be an uncircumcised yet obedient Gentile than to be a circumcised Jew who disobeyed the law of God! Even Jesus criticized the pharisees for appearing to be good outwardly but like death on the inside. However, Paul goes on to say that the Jew does have an advantage in spite of this. To be born a Jew meant to have access to God’s law, which, while it condemned the sinner, still gave them their basis for belief, a starting point for a relationship with God (Romans 3:1-2).
This passage today (especially Vs 11) is one that the calvinists like to use to demonstrate that man is incapable of choosing God, that he does not have a free will to choose God. They like to use the term ‘Total Depravity’, yet actually mean ‘Total Inability’. Total depravity can be supported scripturally, while Total inability cannot be supported scripturally. As we shall see, this is merely their interpretation of Vs 11, and that consistency of scriptural interpretation actually denies their interpretation.
The calvinists make a lot of being evangelical Christians, and yet their doctrine actually denies evangelism of any but the elect who, if the calvinist is right, will not be swayed one way nor the other by evangelism until after they are ‘saved’! (They prefer the term ‘regenerated’ (= born again) instead of ‘saved’, or, after belief, they prefer ‘justified’ rather than ‘saved’. In this way they attempt to avoid that awkward teaching of being ‘saved’ before you can believe and be ‘saved’! They prefer to say that one is ‘regenerated’ (born again) before one may be ‘justified’! Verbal gymnastics is a required skill for all competent calvinists!)
Calvinists believe that the list of elect people was settled for all eternity before the creation of the world, and that whether you go to heaven or hell depends upon this list. Of course, the election is true; God did make up a list of the elect before time began. But calvinists teach that those on this list were chosen unconditionally without any input whatsoever from those on the list. However, the Bible says that the election is through God’s foreknowledge which has to assume that a choice must be made by each person on that list so that God may use His foreknowledge to determine the election. (See 1 Peter 2:1 and Romans 8:29, both of which state clearly that the election is based upon God’s foreknowledge.)
Calvinists also teach that not one single name can be added or taken away from that list of the elect, ever! This list was written out before the world was created. If you are on that list, God has foreordained you to go to heaven. If you are not on that list, then God has foreordained you to go to hell. You have absolutely no say in the matter! Thus the lost (the vast majority of mankind) have no effective gospel in calvinism, for even if they wanted to be saved, they can’t be, since according to calvinistic belief, Jesus never died for their sins. The calvinist Jesus only died for the sins of those on the list of the elect and no-one else at all. And the elect cannot respond to the gospel of Christ until after they are ‘saved’ by the Holy Spirit (some say they are given a new heart, regenerated, etc). It makes the Biblical gospel absolutely meaningless to the strict calvinist whose evangelism must rely instead upon whether or not the ‘lost’ show the works of salvation, and therefore they are of the ‘elect’ of God!
The calvinist cannot even have assurance of going to heaven, relying instead upon perseverance to demonstrate their entrance into heaven. It’s the life they live, not their spoken testimony, that determines their eternal destiny. If they don’t persevere to the end, then calvinism teaches that they were never on that list of the elect in the first place, ever!
The calvinist gospel is a heresy. Calvinism (reform belief) is a cult, not Christian, their scriptural interpretations are twisted mockeries of the truth, and their teachers are the servants of satan and his demons. No genuine Christian could ever deny the gospel of Jesus Christ so effectively!
Romans 3:1-2 – 1 What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit [is there] of circumcision? 2Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.
After all Paul’s condemnation of the hypocrisy of the Jews, is there any real advantage in being a Jew? Perhaps they might think that it could be better to be born a Gentile for then they could not have been judged according to their knowledge of the law. For those who have the greater knowledge of the law may well be the more greatly condemned! But Paul says here that the fact that the law was committed to Israel is in itself an advantage. As the saying goes, knowledge is power, a saying attributed to Francis Bacon. For the Jew, knowledge was indeed power. When they served God well, they were invincible; if only they had trusted in God more often! When they claimed to serve God yet went after the false gods of other nations, God forsook them and sent them into captivity.
Romans 3:3-4 – 3 For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? 4God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.
Could the unbelief of some Jews deny God His truth, His faithfulness? It’s a bit like: “God says it, I believe it, that proves it”. But can my belief actually prove it?
In fact, it is irrelevant whether or not I believe it! God’s truth is proven in spite of my belief or unbelief. God will always be true, even if all the world should deny it. In fact, this is what Paul means in Vs 4, that even every man being a liar cannot deny God’s truth. God’s truth is absolute. Leave out my belief; “God says it, that settles it”!
Paul then quotes David in his Psalm after he had sinned with Bathsheba:-
Psalm 51:4 – Against thee (that is, God), thee only, have I sinned, and done [this] evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified (or righteous) when thou speakest, [and] be clear (just; blameless) when thou judgest.
When God speaks, His words are always just and righteous, and when God judges, His judgements are always just and righteous. Vs 4 talks about God being judged, but in the original quote from Psalm 51:4, the Hebrew actually means that God is just when He does the judging; thus God being the judge appears to be the proper interpretation of this verse.
However, why did Paul quote it as he did? (He has quoted from the LXX – the Greek Septuagint OT – which makes the last part passive instead of active.) Is he trying to say that even when man wrongly accuses God (through lies), God will even then overcome; that no-one may judge God with the truth, but only through lies which God will then overcome by His truth?
Romans 3:5 – But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? [Is] God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man)
our unrighteousness – our sin, which Paul has defined as unbelief in Vs 3, but may be generalized to include all sin. The Jews had sinned, but God remained truth and righteousness, absolutely holy. Thus their sin conflicted with God’s righteousness. God’s righteous character was defined by their sin against His holy nature. A tree stands out, not in a forest of trees, but as a lone tree on an otherwise treeless plain. God’s holiness stands out more when it is contrasted with man’s sin. So the question really is:- If God’s righteousness stood out because of sin, then is God unjust if He punishes sin when it demonstrated His righteousness? Or, as Barnes says, “if his glory resulted from it; if the effect of all was to show that his character was pure, how could he punish that sin from which his own glory resulted?...... how he could consistently punish that which tended to promote his own glory?..... The meaning of this would be better expressed thus: “Is not God unrighteous in punishing? Does it not follow, that if God is honoured by sin, that it would be wrong for him to inflict punishment?”
Paul asks: If sin made God’s righteousness seem greater, then isn’t God unrighteous when He punishes that sin which promotes His glory? And the next Vs gives Paul’s answer.
But, how can evil promote the glory of God? In fact, evil itself doesn’t promote God’s glory, but the opposite. Sin opposes God’s glory, but God overrules that opposition and in this way obtains His glory by remaining sovereign and in complete authority and control over all circumstances, even over evil. Sin cannot overcome God’s glory; rather, God’s glory overcomes sin.
Romans 3:6 – God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?
Paul here answers his question in Vs 5 – Certainly not. If God cannot condemn the sinner for his sin, then how can He, being holy, judge the world? The fact remained that God would surely judge the world, which would be condemned for its sin. How can a man be judged when he isn’t responsible for his guilt, for if it were not right to condemn him, judgement would be a farce. In order to be judge of the world, God must be able to condemn all sin as an affront to His holy nature. God doesn’t condemn sin because it makes Him look good; God condemns sin because it is in opposition to His holiness. Note that sin was dealt with on the cross; judgement for all sin was laid upon Jesus on the cross, and the judgement will now rest upon belief or unbelief in that finished work. We’ll learn more about this in Romans 4.
Romans 3:7-8 – 7 For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner? 8And not [rather], (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.
God’s truth increases as a result of my sin, my lie against His truth. God condemns my sin, and the strength of His condemnation rests upon the amount of judgement God can bring to bear upon my guilt. Does God have the right to utterly condemn me? That He does utterly condemn me clearly indicates the level of authority His truth has over me. As Barnes says, “Every lost sinner will be, therefore, an eternal monument of the truth of God.”
my lie – the lie, the unbelief of Israel to their covenant with God was their denial of His glory in their midst. He would be their God but would they be His people? Not all, it seems.
why yet am I also judged as a sinner? – as seen in Vs 5, if this denial of God should give God more glory in contrast to them, how could they be judged as sinners for a lie which brought more glory to God as a result? If by Israel’s sin God would gain more glory, wasn’t that good rather than bad? As Paul says, “why yet am I also being judged as a sinner?” especially if God’s glory is increased as a result.
Paul then goes on in Vs 8 to note the question that some have asked, whether perhaps it might actually be good to do evil in order to increase God’s glory further! Paul notes that some have accused them (obviously Paul and other Christians) of this very thing, of wanting to use the increase of God’s glory as an excuse to do more sin. Pink (a calvinist) says that it is good that evil should exist, seemingly so that God may be the more sovereign, but this teaching is condemned by Paul’s denial in Vs 8 that we should do evil that good may come, by noting that God is just to condemn those who think that they can do good by sinning.
Likewise, Piper says that evil exists to increase the glory of Christ, which is in conflict with Vs 8.
“So when I say that everything that exists — including evil — is ordained by an infinitely holy and all-wise God to make the glory of Christ shine more brightly, I mean that, one way or the other, God sees to it that all things serve to glorify his Son.” (Piper, John. Spectacular Sins: And Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 44)
Note Romans 6:1 – What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? Shall we continue in sin that God’s forgiveness toward us might be the greater? Should we sin simply because God’s grace is sufficient for all? Should we sin just to obtain an abundance of God’s grace? “God forbid! How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Romans 6:2) The increase of God’s grace is not an excuse to sin more.
whose damnation is just – Those who think that committing evil will lead to a greater good will rightfully be condemned for such thinking. Paul is admitting that Israel has to accept this criticism. Those who sin, thinking it will produce good, will be justly condemned.
Romans 3:9 – What then? are we better [than they]? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;
In Vs 1, Paul states that the Jews did have an advantage in having the law committed to them as a nation. But now comes the end of this stage of the Romans debate, that even having the law made them no better than the Gentiles who didn’t have the advantage of knowing the law of God. The bottom line of this point that Paul is making is that all are under the domination of sin. Having the law might help the Jew to know what sin was, but the law itself defines sin whether done by a Jew or a Gentile. All, both Jew and Gentile, are under sin! All the law did was to better define their sin!
Now we get to the passage that is so often quoted by evangelists to demonstrate that man’s sin is so obnoxious to God that we cannot do anything about it ourselves. Yes, it does define man as so sinful that he needs help to return to God – this fact cannot be denied, that God must intervene somehow before man can return to Him. Some teach that man is inherently good, that some good exists in all men, sufficient to allow them to improve enough to reach out for God in order to find Him in their hour of need. However, no scripture consistently supports this interpretation.
The question then is not whether man is so sinful that he needs intervention from God in order to re-establish a proper relationship with his Creator, but whether man has some measure of free will to accept what God offers, or whether he completely lacks all measure of free will and must be ‘saved’ (as the calvinists would have it) before he is enabled (that is, reprogrammed) to seek after God. Is it a matter of the will, or is man foreordained by God to never be able to seek after God? The following verses at no time demonstrate that man is incapable of seeking after God.
Romans 3:10-12 – 10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 11There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. 12They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
This is quoted from the following passage in Psalm 14.
Psalm 14:1-3 – 1 The fool hath said in his heart, [There is] no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, [there is] none that doeth good. 2The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, [and] seek God. 3They are all gone aside, they are [all] together become filthy: [there is] none that doeth good, no, not one.
It is this passage from Romans that the calvinists love to quote to support their heresies. Vs 11 - there is none that seeketh after God. According to them, this supposedly demonstrates the utter depravity of mankind, a depravity so intense that he lacks any free will at all under any circumstance to seek after God. That is, he is unable to seek after God, ever.
Thus, to calvinism, the unregenerate man cannot seek after God. However, note that it can be read as either “cannot seek after God”, or “will not seek after God”. The verse actually says that not one person seeks after God. It doesn’t say that the person cannot seek, for not seeking after God can be an act of the will.
The question is – for what reason are there none who seek after God? Is it an act of the will or merely an incapacity to be able to do such a thing? While it might be possible for the calvinist to interpret it as mankind being unable to seek after God, this is not consistent with other Scripture where man’s will is questioned, not his capability. Note that when Jesus, who was in Jerusalem just before His crucifixion, cried out over Jerusalem. He desired that they would come, but they were not willing.
Matthew 23:37 – O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, [thou] that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under [her] wings, and ye would not!
Observe that the 2 occurrences of ‘would’ in this verse are the same Greek word (with the 2nd occurrence being merely in the negative – ‘not’). It was Jesus’ will that they come, but it was their negative will that they not come.
‘would’ = to will, have in mind, intend, to be resolved or determined, to purpose.
Note well that it doesn’t say they couldn’t come, or were in some way incapable of coming. They didn’t have a capability problem; they had a problem of the will! They didn’t want to come. They were not willing. If, as the calvinists would have it, that man cannot seek after God, then to be consistent, wouldn’t Matthew 23:37 say they were not able to come? (And if these didn’t come because God hadn’t chosen them (as the elect) then why would Jesus, who, according to calvinists, was clearly part of this calvinist election process of choosing a remnant of mankind, why would Jesus cry out over Jerusalem mourning for those who were unable to come because He’d never chosen them for salvation in the first place?
Why also is God not willing that any should perish, yet the calvinist teaches that He should condemn the vast majority of mankind to hell without the slightest opportunity to receive His salvation?
2 Peter 3:9b – not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
And in case the calvinist should proclaim that Peter was only talking to Christians, the elect, Paul made it clear that scriptural consistency definitely favours God desiring that all men be saved.
1 Timothy 2:3-4 – 3 For this [is] good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; 4Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
So to be scripturally consistent, Romans 3:11 must be read as saying, “There is none who understands; there is none who has any desire to seek after God.” Thus, total depravity, not total inability!
So how does mankind come to God? In other words, if God has to intervene in some way to change man’s response, then how is it achieved? Romans 10 discusses the gospel and makes it clear that this intervention is through the preaching of the word of the gospel, that man may choose to respond (or not to respond as the case may be) to the gospel of Jesus Christ as preached by faithful Christians.
Also ask yourself why satan (the god of this world) has to blind the minds of mankind lest the light of the gospel should shine upon them (2 Corinthians 4:3) if the gospel cannot be used as God’s intervention to mankind.
The calvinist also believes, as per his heresy that man cannot choose to seek God, that God therefore has to call that person before he can come, and that such people who are called will come. See MacArthur’s church doctrine as follows:-
All whom the Father calls to Himself will come in faith and all who come in faith the Father will receive.
Put simply, MacArthur believes that only those who are called by God will come, and all of those called by God will come.
Contrast this with the following parable taught by Jesus, where the first ones invited actually refused the calling. If all who are called by God come, then how can these refuse?
(Note that ‘would’ in Matthew 22:3 is that same ‘would’ as used twice in Matthew 23:37 above, clearly an act of the will.)
Matthew 22:1-14 – 1 And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said, 2The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, 3And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not (were not willing to) come. 4Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and [my] fatlings [are] killed, and all things [are] ready: come unto the marriage. 5But they made light of [it], and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: 6And the remnant took his servants, and entreated [them] spitefully, and slew [them]. 7But when the king heard [thereof], he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. 8Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. 9Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. 10So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. 11And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: 12And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. 13Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast [him] into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 14For many are called, but few [are] chosen.
Now MacArthur would probably say that because this refers to Israel being rejected in favour of the Gentiles, that the calling (referring to the election of God) doesn’t apply in this case. He does try to define this calling as a general call, while other occurrences may be termed effectual calls. But there appears to be no scriptural reasoning as to which is which, other than that which is necessary to fit in with MacArthur’s heresies.
However, further on in Romans 9, we’ll find that the choosing (or election) of the nation of Israel is conveniently allowed to be an example of individual election, so one way or the other the calvinists lack consistency. After all, Israel, after being chosen by God, was then rejected in favour of the Church!
Keep in mind, therefore, that to discourage Christians from testing all things is to go against the clear teachings of the Bible which notes that the Bereans were more noble than the Thessalonians in that they checked the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul said were indeed so. (Acts 17:10-15) We must always encourage people to be Bereans, while such as MacArthur desire that we should be Thessalonians!
The rest of our passage today is self-explanatory in that it continues to demonstrate the depravity to which mankind has gone down into, and their ultimate opposition toward God, which is the basic reason for the rejection of God’s gospel throughout the ages. I have included cross-references from where these quotes are taken. Note that not one of these passages can exclude the free will of man to reject God.
Romans 3:13 – Their throat [is] an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps [is] under their lips:
Psalm 5:9b – their throat [is] an open sepulchre; they flatter with their tongue.
Jeremiah 9:5-6 – 5 And they will deceive every one his neighbour, and will not speak the truth: they have taught their tongue to speak lies, [and] weary themselves to commit iniquity. 6Thine habitation [is] in the midst of deceit; through deceit they refuse to know me, saith the Lord.
Psalm 140:3 – They have sharpened their tongues like a serpent; adders’ poison [is] under their lips.
Romans 3:14 – Whose mouth [is] full of cursing and bitterness:
Psalm 10:4, 7 – 4 The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek [after God]: God [is] not in all his thoughts.
7 His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and fraud: under his tongue [is] mischief and vanity.
Romans 3:15-17 – 15 Their feet [are] swift to shed blood: 16Destruction and misery [are] in their ways: 17And the way of peace have they not known:
Isaiah 59:7-8 – 7 Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts [are] thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction [are] in their paths. 8The way of peace they know not; and [there is] no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace.
Romans 3:18 – There is no fear of God before their eyes.
Psalm 36:1 – The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, [that there is] no fear of God before his eyes.
It is important when interpreting Scripture that all passages be taken in their proper context, and in proper consistency with the rest of the Bible. Any inconsistency is likely to indicate an incorrect interpretation; thus, testing all things is absolutely important to best determine the truth of God’s word.
Also, never take the word of any preacher/teacher at face value, as no one single person can possibly have the whole truth, a complete understanding of all Biblical doctrines. Always check out everything for yourself. What you cannot understand yourself, refuse to accept it on the basis that someone else has told you to believe it. Don’t believe on someone else’s word; always seek your own understanding on a scriptural matter or else hold that belief to one side to chew over and meditate upon until you have reasoned it out for yourself sufficiently to take a stand on it.
Note that your own understanding here is dependent upon God’s leading.
Proverbs 3:5-7 – 5 Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. 6In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. 7Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil.
There will always be something new to learn in this life.
1 Corinthians 13:12 – For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.