In life, there are things we know we should do, but sometimes what we should do can conflict with what we would prefer to do. I should eat more steamed vegetables, but I prefer to eat them dipped in batter and fried. I should go to bed at 10:30pm, but I prefer to fall asleep in the family room, wake myself up with a surprise snore, then go to bed while waking up the rest of the house with the noise I'm making. And while these are entertaining examples of how this works in my life, the truth is, there are many things that we all do that force us to compromise with that we know to be right. But because we sometimes want to do what we want to do, regardless of the consequences, we can invent creative excuses to justify all kinds of behaviors.
This, by the way, isn't new to us. Mankind has excelled at this practice from our earliest days and it always gets us in trouble while also impacting the nature of our fellowship with God. What are you currently excusing in your life that really needs to be rooted out? What are your favorite excuses for doing whatever you want?
In Romans 3:1-20, Paul confronts this kind of mindset and he illustrates its absurdity. He also makes it abundantly clear that in spite of our attempts to excuse our unrighteous, God remains perfectly righteous. What else does this portion of Scripture reveal?
I. God is faithful in spite of our failures
In the previous two chapters of the book of Romans, Paul illustrated the sinful nature of the human heart. He did so by pointing out that the Gentile nations have excelled at rejecting, and suppressing the knowledge of God, and he also pointed out that the Jewish people have done the very same thing even though they had been blessed with additional forms of divine revelation.
Paul anticipated the kind of questions that might arise from his teaching on this subject, particularly among potential Jewish readers. He knew that they might ask the question, "Then what advantage has the Jew?" So he answered this hypothetical question with a clear example. He pointed out that the Jewish people had been entrusted with divine revelation that God had cleared and specifically communicated to them through prophets He raised up in their midst. Many of these prophesies had been written down, and passed down from one generation to another. And among the things taught in God's word, it was revealed to the Jewish people that the day was soon coming when the Savior, Jesus Christ, would be sent to rescue and redeem them. They were prophetically told details that pointed to where, when, and how this would happen, but many rejected this revelation (and many still do).
God was faithful to them, but sadly, history showed them to be unfaithful to God. But does their lack of faith nullify God's faithfulness? Not in the least. God still has a plan for the Jewish people, and when we read the prophetic portions of His word that have yet to be fulfilled, we can see a great harvest of faith in Jesus that will one day be reaped among the Jewish people. They will finally receive and recognize their long-promised Messiah. In the meantime, since the Jewish people have rejected Jesus, the Lord is focusing on the Gentile nations during this era of history and rescuing and redeeming them.
So, it seems that God has a great knack for turning the unfaithfulness and sinfulness of man around so that good can come from it. There are countless examples in Scripture of Him doing that, and if we're honest, we can admit that this makes God look pretty good too. He cleans up our messes and shows Himself to be faithful, righteous, and true. That being the case, it appears that some people were possibly willing to say that we might as well keep on sinning since it makes God look so good, and gives Him even more opportunities to display His power by cleaning up our messes and righting our wrongs. Look at how Paul addressed that...
So why not do evil so that good may come from it? Is that a logical question, or is that the kind of question that fails to grasp the painful price God paid to redeem us? Isn't that the kind of question that flows from a heart that still nurtures and idolizes the presence and false promises of sin? God is completely just when He judges the world. He is completely just when He inflicts His wrath on mankind. The Father was also completely just when He made His sinless Son, Jesus Christ, the recipient of His wrath in our place so that we can escape eternal condemnation through faith in Jesus.
And if we're people who are no longer under the condemnation of sin, why would we elect to live like we're still condemned by embracing the chains Christ broke for us? Ironically, there's a part of us that seems to want to run from God instead of running toward Him. But even though we might try to live independently of Him, we still need Him.
II. God is needed in spite of our desire for independence from Him
Can you remember what shopping with your parents was like when you were a child? As a small child, they probably sat you in a cart. Then, as you grew older, they let you walk near them while they held your hand. In time, they let you walk around the store by yourself, then they just dropped you off at the mall and picked you up a few hours later. Each of those seasons had their highlights, but I'm guessing you were most excited when they granted you your independence and let you shop (or loiter) by yourself. But even after we gained our independence, there were times when we probably realized we still needed them. Those seasons usually occurred when we needed a new pair of shoes, but didn't want to be the one who paid for them.
The desire for independence is a natural part of maturity, but it can drift into unhealthy territory if it starts to resemble isolation or avoidance. I think Paul illustrates that struggle on a spiritual level in these verses. We can come to a place where we seek independence from God that's really a form of avoidance, even though we desperately need Him in all areas of our lives.
Giving us a synopsis of multiple Scriptures, Paul described man's avoidance of God. Apart from God, no one is righteous. No one naturally understands the heart and mind of God. No one is naturally seeking a close relationship with Him. Instead, we run from Him. We turn aside from Him in our thinking, speaking, and living. As we embrace unrighteousness, we eventually find ourselves stuck in a pit of ruin and misery. We trade the peace we could have had through faith in Christ for a humanistic lifestyle that lives without fear of God's intervention.
Every single one of us is in that same boat. Every one of us has tried to "do life" without God. Every one of us, at some point, has embraced avoidance of God and attempted to live our days independent of His counsel, direction, and love. But thankfully, many of us can also testify to the lack of contentment we experienced during those seasons. Many of us can joyfully confirm that the Lord didn't give up on us, even after we gave up on Him. He drew us back to Himself and helped us to see just how much we really need Him. This is evidence of His grace in our lives, and for this, we can be thankful.
As we wrap up our look at the first half of Romans 3, let's notice one additional aspect of what's taught here. Paul explains that in spite of our attempts to justify ourselves, God is the only one who can truly justify us.
III. God is the one who justifies in spite of our attempts to justify ourselves
I don't know how much of the Bible you've taken the time to read, but I hope that over the course of your life you'll take the time to read the entire thing, maybe even multiple times. If you read the Bible cover-to-cover, you'll notice something interesting. The Old Testament Law which is given in the first five books of the Bible, includes many moral, legal, and ceremonial laws. The Ten Commandments can be found in that section of Scripture, along with many other regulations and precepts. There isn't a single thing wrong with any one of these laws, and God's people were required to keep them in their entirety. Unfortunately, they couldn't do so. Our sin natures get in the way of doing that.
Because mankind failed to keep the Law of God, He was fully correct in declaring us unrighteous and condemned. We are all accountable to Him, and without exception, we all failed. For that reason, Jesus was sent into this world. He kept the law for us. He fulfilled all righteousness on our behalf. He lived the sinless life we were incapable of living.
We will not be justified or "declared righteous" in the eyes of God through keeping the Law because that's something we couldn't do. Jesus had to do that for us, but now through faith in Him, the work He accomplished on our behalf is attributed to our account. The Law was used by God to make us conscious of our sin and aware of our need to be saved from it. We could never justify ourselves through our works or merits, but we can receive justification as a gift through faith in Jesus who did the work for us while keeping and fulfilling the Law of God.
While we wait for Christ's return and our eventual glorification in His presence, let's stop making unhealthy excuses. Let's stop giving ourselves permission to do whatever we want, regardless of God's will for our lives. Rather, let's praise our God who is faithful in spite of our failures. Let's seek the intervention of God whom we need, particularly when we're tempted to avoid Him. And let's remember that justification is a work that God alone can accomplish, not through trying to earn His approval through the works of our hands, but through trusting in His Son who alone has secured our access to eternal life.
© John Stange, 2018