God's Righteousness towards the Jews
Read Romans 3:1-8
We've travelled through chapter 2 where Paul has been showing us that the Jews and the Gentiles are in the same position before God. This is to say that the Jews and the Gentiles will both experience God's wrath. As a result, Paul now turns his attention to some perceived questions that might be raised against this. With over 20 years of missionary experience by the time he writes this letter, he has heard it all, every challenge and every argument against the Gospel.
Based on what has been presented in chapter 2, the first question is, if Jew and Gentile are in the same position in regards to salvation, what advantage is it to be a Jew? To which we can almost imagine the Gentiles getting behind this thought... if there was conflict and a divide as we've previously mentioned, then this thought would be on everyone's mind. However Paul, instead of confirming that there is no difference, Paul says that there are in fact many advantages to being a Jew. There is a list that he'll cover later in Romans 9:4, but for now, he just mentions one, perhaps the most important. "First of all", meaning chief among the many, is that they have had the privilege of possessing God's Word. A fantastic and great gift, that was given to them. Think of a librarian as the keeper of this heavenly treasure. This is really important, and something that sets the Jews apart.
The next rhetorical question follows on and is based on the idea that now both Jew and Gentile fall under the wrath of God and that there is no immunity for the Jews. The next question is asking if God was therefore wrong? The idea here is that God's work with the Jews was, therefore, futile and wasn't effective. God had to change His plan, therefore how perfect could it have been in the first place? The angle that the Jews are coming from here is that they understood God's righteousness and His covenant faithfulness would always be positive towards the Jews and would lead to their continued blessings. That they would remain immune from His judgement. The issue is, that Paul responds with, is that they should know the Word and that under the covenants God promised blessings for obedience, but also curses for disobedience.
To help explain this we must see God for who He is, not what we want Him to be. God is holy, righteous, faithful and just. This means He must maintain both sides of the covenant. This means God is required to respond to sin with wrath and justice just as He is to obedience.
"The ultimate standard of righteousness is His own Holy character" (Douglas J. Moo)
Verse 7 continues with another objection. And the points or arguments are getting sillier and sillier. Now the question asks what happens if the [bad] actions of the Jews bring glory to God by highlighting His grace and righteousness over them? Paul's response is to close this down straight away, flippantly reframing the question as "let us do evil that good may result".
The main concept here is that the Jews believed God's righteousness and faithfulness would always be in their favour, but God does not change, therefore, it is mankind that has moved away from God. Does this change His faithfulness, His justice or His righteousness? No, He is the same. God demonstrated His character throughout the history of the Jews. Bringing them out of slavery, allowed destruction and exile, but restoration through their return. At the time of writing this letter, the promised land was occupied by the Romans. The Jews wanted a military Messiah, but God's Messiah provided a very different everlasting kingdom, and they rejected Jesus for it. They decided to ignore God's promises and believed instead that God was no longer faithful to them. Instead, they should have realised that God's faithfulness is God's own commitment to always act in accordance with His own character.
The balance of God's covenant with the Jews is very clear:
If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God... (Deuteronomy 28:1-2ff)
However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you... (Deuteronomy 28:15ff)
God is righteous even when He punishes His people for their sins. In fact, this is God being righteous. Through His patience, this is withheld until Christ's coming (2 Peter 3:3-10).
What this does now open up is a question about our own security in God's grace and the concern we have about living under the cloud of "cheap grace". This is a term used to describe those that "accept" Christ but then enjoy His grace without obedience, without following Christ. Paul uses the phrase "obedience of faith" at the beginning and the end of this epistle and it demonstrates our calling rather well. We are to persevere, to focus on Jesus, to follow Jesus and to obey Jesus!
God knows our hearts and while we may stumble and fall sometimes, through repentance, allowing the spirit to fill us, and refocusing on Jesus, we will continue to move towards the finish line - eternal life with Christ! By being better today than we were yesterday and being better tomorrow than we were today. Becoming more and more like Christ every day.