Monday, August 22, 2022

2022.08.22 Hopewell @Home ▫ Romans 3:1–4

Read Romans 3:1–4

Questions from the Scripture text: What question does Romans 3:1 ask about the outward Jew? About outward circumcision? What is the answer in Romans 3:2? What is the greatest advantage/profit that they had? What did some of them not do (Romans 3:3)? But what doesn’t this unbelief do (verse 3)? Who would be true even if every Jew (and church member) turned out to be a liar (Romans 3:4)? Whom would the Lord be justified in judging?

If there are people who receive the covenant sign, but do not receive the thing signified, does this mean that there is no advantage or profit from it? In these four verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that Church members’ unbelief doesn’t negate the goodness of the gift of church membership and covenant sign or the goodness of the Giver of these good gifts. 

Circumcision, the covenant sign, had real advantages (Romans 3:1–2). Jews who suddenly discovered that their membership among God’s people and receiving of God’s sign had to be matched by an inward reality in order to profit them (Romans 3:25–29) might have thought in rebellious reflex, “then it would have been better not to have been members at all, or have received the sign at all!” This idea is behind the question in Romans 3:1.

But the answer to the question directly repudiates their complaint. There is much advantage to membership and sign in every way! So, the apostle follows immediately with the chief advantage: “to them were committed the sayings of God.” Who would say that this is not an advantage? But being a member of God’s assembly means gathering to hear His Word. And as Jesus shows in tying His two commands together, water baptism on earth entitles us to be taught everything that He has commanded (cf. Matthew 28:19–20).

When physical circumcision is not matched by flesh circumcision, man is the liar, not God (Romans 3:3-4a). It’s probably an understatement to say of the circumcised that “some did not believe” (Romans 3:3). Sadly, even in this age of the outpouring of the Spirit, it’s difficult to conclude that it would be an understatement to say also of the baptized that “some did not believe.” But does this mean that God’s faithfulness, in God’s sign, is somehow without effect? 

It's a rhetorical question that expects the answer “no,” but such is our confusion over these things that the apostle answers it: “Certainly not!” The advantage of being a member of God’s assembly and a recipient of God’s sign is great, even if one is self-deceived about his spiritual state, or never comes to faith (cf. Hebrews 6:1–9). God is still true. It is that man who began as a liar, and remained as a liar. God displays to us what faith would receive, but we still must receive that faith entirely by grace! The “every man” in Romans 3:3 is stunning: even if every single church member ever were lost, the mercies of membership and sign would still be true mercies, and God Himself would still be true!

Even in the church, God gives salvation entirely by mercy, not obligation (Romans 3:4b). The point in the first part of verse 4 is supported by a quote from Psalm 51. Who had more membership/sign/promise advantages than David? And yet when he has committed such sin as would call his salvation into question, he comes humbly to God, admitting that if after all he had turned out to be lost, God would be righteous and just to condemn him to hell. How many times had David offered sacrifices that attested to the washing of the blood of Christ? And yet, he knew that we must not presumptuously think that we have been regenerated simply because we were sure that we were at the time when we participated in a covenant sign.

Yet, membership and sign encourage us to look to God for mercy, just as David did! Later in the same Psalm, he admits that without the Spirit-given heart-work (Psalm 51:6, Psalm 51:10, Psalm 51:17), the sacrifices are worthless (Psalm 51:16). But, when that work is in place, the Lord does delight in those sacrifices that assured of the perfection of the coming sacrifice of Christ (Psalm 51:19).

Whether for our children, or for ourselves, when we look to God to fulfill the reality of His signs, we do not do so presumptuously, but looking for mercy from a merciful God, as encouraged to do so because He has given us signs of that mercy.

What covenant membership and signs have you received from the Lord? What advantages do you get by them? To Whom do you look for the inward reality to which the outward signs point? By what means? What further advantage do the signs have for you, when the inward reality is in place?

Sample prayer:  Lord, thank You for giving us that membership and sign which have entitled us to being taught to observe all that You have commanded. Forgive us for when we are presumptuous and think that we can know that we are regenerated because we thought that we were when we participated in a covenant sign. But make us always to look to You for faith and repentance as undeserved mercies of Your grace, for which we ask through Christ, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP51A “God, Be Merciful to Me” or TPH51C “God, Be Merciful to Me”

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