SERMON: God on Trial
TEXT: Romans 3:1-8 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
It’s good to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And one thing I want you to know — and it doesn’t matter if it’s your first time with us or if you’re worshipping at our North Main campus — one thing I want you to know is that God loves you and I love you too.
And we’re starting a new series today — actually — returning to an old series is more like it. We’re jumping back into the book of Romans this weekend. So if you have your Bible with you, go ahead and open it up to Romans chapter 3.
And, if you’re a guest with us, something we like to do at Gateway is let you ask questions. So if you have a question during the sermon, you can text your question in to the number printed on the bulletin or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
Now since we’re jumping back into the book of Romans, let me catch all of us up in case you weren’t with us a year ago when we started this book.
The book of Romans is written by the apostle Paul. And at this point in his life, he’s been preaching the gospel for over 20 years. And — to summarize the first two chapters of Romans — God has offered a gift to all of us — the gift of salvation. And this is incredibly Good News — that’s why we call it the gospel — the word gospel means Good News. That no matter what kind of sin you’ve brought in with you, no matter how bad you’ve been or how good you think you are — any of us can have a right standing with God because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Now in this letter, Paul’s talking to Jews and Gentiles — Gentiles are non-Jewish people. And he says, “If you’re a Jew — Jesus loves you. And if you’re a Gentile — Jesus loves you too. If you’re a Jew — you need to believe the gospel. And if you’re a Gentile — you need to believe the gospel.” He’s saying that the gospel doesn’t discriminate based on your ethnicity or color or gender or background — so the gospel is to be proclaimed to all people because the gospel is for all people.
This is how Paul says it in chapter 1. He writes, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."” (Romans 1:16-17 ESV)
In the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed — that God is doing everything right — perfectly — He’s doing things the way it should be done — and all of this is made known to us in the gospel.
Paul then goes on to list all of the ways we rebel against this Good News. The ways we try to justify our disobedience and unbelief. The ways we try to make substitutes for God because we’re afraid of Him. Wait — what? We’re afraid of God? Why are we afraid of Him?
We’re afraid of Him because He’s unbelievably loving and gracious — which sounds great — until you realize that to be loved by Him and to receive His grace means that you respond by joyfully submitting yourself to Him. And all of us are scared of doing that. Because we’re so used to abuse of power and people having ulterior motives and dishonest leaders that we project all of that junk on to God. And so instead of embracing His love and grace — we run from Him because His love and grace will cost us too much — it’ll cost us our submission.
And in our running from Him, there are even times in our lives when we put God on trial. Where we say, “OK. I’ve responded to You. I’ve tried doing what You asked me to do. And what have I got to show for it?” We play judge and jury as we put God on trial.
READ THE TEXT
And the best way to think of our passage — is to think of this as Paul’s conversation with an imaginary heckler who’s arguing against all that Paul’s said about grace and the gospel and us running from God — and this heckler is accusing God of being unfair and unjust. This heckler is putting God on trial. He asks...
“Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision?” 2 Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 “What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?” 4 By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, "That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.” 5 “But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us?” (I speak in a human way.) 6 By no means! For then how could God judge the world? 7 “But if through my lie God's truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner?” 8 And why not do evil that good may come? — as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.” (Romans 3:1-8 ESV)
Now we’re going to look at these accusations being made against God — but I want to pause and ask you: What kind of accusations do you make against God?
Now you may be quick to say, “Why I’d never do that” — and maybe that’s true for you — but maybe not. I’m sure you’ve heard of Plato — not Play Do — every dad’s second worst nightmare — the first is fingerpainting — not Play Do — but Plato. He lived 400ish years before Jesus was born.
Well he wrote a story where the gods were put on trial. And in the story, a young man is asked, “Is something good because the gods love it or do the gods love it because something is good?”
And this stumps the young man for awhile. But he answers the question in a way that — nearly 2,500 years later — we still answer the question. He says that, “Doing good is to do something the gods approve of in hopes that they’ll do something good for you.” You obey the gods to get something from the gods — that’s the young man’s answer.
But what happens when the gods — or in our case — God — what happens when God doesn’t return the favor? What happens when you do this or that with the expectation that God will do something in return — and nothing happens?
What I’m getting at — is a commonly held view — where Christianity is all about “what makes God work for me?” Where your beliefs — your religion — is nothing more than, “What do I need to do in order to make God do what I want Him to do?” And that’s a way we put God on trial. Because when He doesn’t do what we expect of Him — what we may even demand of Him — well the accusations we throw His way are nearly never-ending.
And that’s what we find in our verses. We find four questions that reveal the motivations of our heart and why we put God on trial — and what these motivations reveal — is that many of us have adopted a “what makes God work for me” mindset. So let’s look at these four questions and also at two obligations that are found in our verses.
Here’s the first question. “What’s the advantage?” What’s the advantage? If that doesn’t scream — “how does this work for me” — I don’t know what does. Look with me in verse 1.
“Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? 2 Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.” (Romans 3:1-2 ESV)
Now imagine someone — our imaginary heckler — interrupting Paul. Well what did Paul say that’s caused this interruption? In chapter 2, Paul says that being a physical Jew isn’t what matters — something the people have believed for thousands of years. Paul says that what matters is being a Jew on the inside. It’s not being physically circumcised that matters — again a practice going on for thousands of years — it’s a circumcision of the heart that matters.
Basically, Paul has argued for a complete rethinking of what it means to be in a good standing with God. Are you in a good standing because you’re Jewish or because of something else? And Paul argues that just because you’re a Jew doesn’t mean you’re in a good standing with God. And it’s hard to convey how radical — how shocking — this would’ve been for Jewish people to hear.
So Paul’s imaginary opponent asks, “So what’s the advantage of being a Jew then?” And what’s the expected answer? “Well, if it’s being a Jew on the inside that matters — whatever that means — and not being a physically Jewish person — Paul — what’s the advantage of being a Jew?” And the expected answer is “Nothing”, right? But that’s not Paul’s answer. He surprises us by saying, “Much in every way.” “So what’s the advantage Paul?” He says, “Here’s an advantage — you’ve been given God’s Word.”
Now, in verse 2, Paul says “To begin with…” which is kind of like saying, “Well, the first advantage is...”. And if someone says, “The first advantage is...” what do you expect to come next? A second and maybe a third or fourth advantage, right?
It’s as if Paul starts to make a list of advantages, but gets distracted. But thankfully, Paul picks his list back up again — six chapters later — in chapter 9. Now we won’t be in Romans chapter 9 for another 3 or 4 years, but let’s go ahead and finish his list. Here are some of the other advantages of being a Jew.
Paul says, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” (Romans 9:4-5 ESV)
Paul does a mic drop at the end. “If you think there’s no advantage of being a Jew, how about this one? Jesus was a Jew — the Savior of the world comes from your people.”
Think of how we get excited — here in Findlay — when Ben Roethlisberger or Aaron Craft come to town — they’re our hometown heroes — and let’s be real — they throw or shoot a ball for a living. But they give our community a connection to the world — “we’ve got some guys who’ve done some things in sports.” Well Paul’s like, “Is there an advantage to being a Jew? OK — how about this, “When the Savior of the world wants to participate in his hometown parade, He doesn’t head to Findlay, Ohio — he heads to Israel. Advantage Israel.”
But isn’t this a question we ask? What’s the advantage of being a Christian? Or what’s the advantage of going to church? What’s the advantage of being in a Life Group? Or of serving in the church? We’re always asking “what’s the advantage...for me?” And instead of looking for the advantage — we should focus on our obligation.
Because here we find our first obligation — something’s required of us. What is it? This. We’ve been entrusted with God’s Word — to share God’s Word. We’ve been entrusted with God’s Word — to share God’s Word.
The Jewish people had been entrusted with God’s Word — the Old Testament — that was their advantage. And throughout the Old Testament they’re told to be a witness to the nations — they were supposed to be a visible testimony of what it means to live in submission to the God who created everything. But get this — they were to not only be obedient to God’s Word — they had an obligation to share it with others. And the Jews had failed — they were entrusted with God’s Word, but they had failed to share it. And the question for us — who follow Jesus — is this: What will we do with God’s Word that’s been entrusted to us?
There are people all around our world who don’t have God’s Word. Over one billion people don’t have the whole Bible translated in their native language. One hundred and sixty-five million people don’t have a single verse of the Bible in their language. The numbers are staggering — the number of people who have no access to God’s Word that we’ve been entrusted with. And we have a responsibility — we have an obligation — to get God’s Word to them.
This is why we value supporting Bible translation ministries here at Gateway. One area that we’ve stepped up our involvement in — is in the translation of the Bible into languages it’s yet to be translated in. Both in written and oral forms, print and digital, audio and even in picture format. We recently made a $7,500 commitment to IllumiNations — an organization working to get the whole Bible in the languages of 95% of the world’s population, the New Testament in 99.9% of the world’s population, and some portion of the Bible in 100% of the world’s population — all by the year 2033. When you give to Gateway — you’re helping to get God’s Word translated and into the hands of all people.
To be entrusted with God’s Word is a high honor — but it comes with a responsibility. We’ve been entrusted with God’s Word — to share God’s Word.
Here’s the second question. “Is God unfaithful?” Is God unfaithful? Look with me in verse 3.
“What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, "That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.”” (Romans 3:3-4 ESV)
I like one translation that reads, “God keeps his word even when the whole world is lying through its teeth.” And another that says, “You (God) will be proved right in what you say, and you will win your case in court.”
Here’s the question being asked: If God’s people are unfaithful, does that mean that God’s unfaithful?
Just so we’re clear — our unfaithfulness never alters God’s faithfulness. We learned this when we looked at the book of Lamentations — we learned that God is faithful — always. We saw this in the book of Jeremiah — that though we’re promise-breakers — God is a promise-keeper. Just because we break our promises doesn’t give us the right to question God’s promise-keeping.
Imagine a young man enrolled in college. He comes from a rich family, so paying room and board, tuition — all that stuff — is no problem. He has excellent health and above average intelligence. The college he attends is one of the best in the nation — his teachers are all top quality.
So — would you agree that he’s been set up for success? He doesn’t have to worry about money or his health. He’s smart and in one of the best colleges — with the best teachers one could hope to study under — so he’s set up for success, right?
So what if I told you that he never graduated. “Well why not,” you may wonder. What if I told you that he didn’t graduate because he decided to party away his college years. He didn’t take his classes seriously. And he ended up getting kicked out of school.
Now — him flunking out of school — does that mean his family failed him? Or that his teachers were at fault? No way. Does his unfaithfulness mean that everyone else was unfaithful? Not at all.
Well many of us are like that college student. God’s given you all kinds of advantages to succeed. From ordinary things like the country you live in to the skills and talents He’s blessed you with. And then there are the extraordinary advantages God’s given you — like His Word — the Bible — and His people — the church. Yet in spite of all of these advantages — we’re often unfaithful — neglecting these gifts — and then we blame God when something goes wrong in our lives. We put God on trial — accusing Him of not being faithful — when we’re the ones who’ve been unfaithful. How sick is that?
But then there’s this truth as well: Our unfaithfulness doesn’t frustrate God’s plans. Our unfaithfulness doesn’t disrupt His will from being accomplished. God’s purpose will be done regardless if we’re faithful or unfaithful.
“Well — Hanson — what’s the point of being faithful then?”
- Being faithful is an opportunity for us to fulfill God’s purpose. If we’re unfaithful we’ll see God’s purpose fulfilled through others.
- When we’re faithful, we see God’s will done in and through us. If we’re unfaithful we see God’s will done in and through others.
- Being faithful is an opportunity for us to see God glorified as friends and family members come to faith, coworkers find hope and peace, and the nations find joy in Christ — through us. Being unfaithful is an opportunity for all of that to be accomplished through others.
- Which opportunity sounds better to you?
The third question. “Is God unrighteous?” Is God unrighteous? Look with me in verse 5.
“But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) 6 By no means! For then how could God judge the world?” (Romans 3:5-6 ESV)
If “our sinfulness serves a good purpose, for it helps people see how righteous God is. Isn’t it unfair, then, for him to punish us?” This is what the heckler is asking — is it right for God to punish the Jewish people?
Now you may not wrestle with this question. Maybe you’re not a Christian and you think it’s wrong for God to punish anyone — regardless if they’re a Jew or not. Or maybe you’re a Christian and you dismiss this question — because — of course it’s right for God to punish the Jews — they killed Jesus. Two different reasons to quickly skip this question.
What Paul’s actually trying to get at is a belief — held by the Jews — that because they were God’s covenant people — people to whom God had made promises — that they were immune from being punished by God.
Now if you were here during the Finding Jesus series — you may be thinking, “But they were being punished all of the time in the Old Testament. How could they possibly think they’re immune from God’s punishment?” Well all of that’s history now. And for a few hundred years things have been going good for the Jews. A Jew in Paul’s day would think, “Sure, our ancestors did some things that deserved God’s punishment, but surely He won’t punish us — we’re much more sophisticated than our ancestors were.”
You see, they had a false sense of security. They thought that “because I’m a Jew — God’s punishment can’t possible be for me.” And there are many people today who fall for this same lie. Maybe you’ve got reasons why God can’t punish you.
I’m a good person. I pay my taxes. I haven’t cheated on my spouse. I go to church. I give to Red Cross. I walked down the church aisle or raised my hand to accept Jesus or was baptized or prayed the sinner’s prayer. Do any of those things make you immune to God’s punishment?
Now some of you may be confused because I just said some things you’d quickly dismiss, but there were other things — in that list — that you’re certain do make you immune from God’s punishment. But let me say, that list didn’t contain anything that makes a person immune from God’s punishment.
So what makes a person immune from God’s punishment? It begins with repentance — which means turning from your sin — and faith — which means turning to Jesus and trusting in what He’s done for you. But faith in Jesus is much more than saying, “I believe in Him” or walking down an aisle or praying the sinner’s prayer. It may start in one of those places, but really believing in Jesus means you believe what He’s said in the Bible about submitting your life to Him. And then you begin the journey of making sure that how you live aligns with what you believe. Does what you believe — when you say that Jesus is my Savior and my Lord — does that align with how you’re living?
Is Jesus Lord of your time? Lord of your relationships? Lord of your money? Lord of all that you are? Is your life submitted to Him?
For the Jews in Paul’s day, what they said they believed and how they were living didn’t line up. And though there was misalignment, the Jews thought there was no way that God would punish them. And they couldn’t have been more wrong.
The final question. “Is God a just Judge?” Is God a just Judge? Look with me in verse 7.
“But if through my lie God's truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? 8 And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.” (Romans 3:7-8 ESV)
“How can God condemn me as a sinner if my dishonesty highlights his truthfulness and brings him more glory?” Now we’re getting into the depths of craziness. Here’s what’s being said.
“OK. We get it — God’s perfect and we’re not. We sin — He doesn’t — we get it. But what we hear you saying — Paul — is that God ultimately uses our sin and our imperfection to show off how great and perfect He is. But how about this, Paul? God wouldn’t look all that great — would He — if we were perfect right along with Him? So in a way, He needs our imperfection — He needs our sin — in order to show off how great He is. And if that’s the case — Paul — the more we sin — the more amazing He looks.”
Now before you’re quick to dismiss this thinking — let me take it a step further.
Judas Iscariot — the man who betrayed Jesus. Does Judas have a right to say, “Come on God, Your whole salvation plan needed me to betray Jesus. No betrayal — no cross. No cross — no resurrection. No resurrection — no salvation. Can’t you see — God — how I’ve done the kindest act in all of history? Look at all of the people who’ve been saved because I betrayed Jesus. How can You possible be just in judging me?”
Is it right for God to judge Judas for betraying Jesus? Is God just to judge us — even though our sin — in a way — shows off His sinlessness? You bet God is just. Paul says, “Their condemnation is just.” Paul doesn’t even defend God — he just says, “Anyone who thinks that God’s an unjust Judge deserves what’s coming their way.”
And it took us awhile, but now we find our second obligation. “We’re to obey God’s Word.” We’re obligated to obey God’s Word.
Earlier we saw that having God’s Word is no guarantee of eternal life. Having a Bible in your home or a Bible app on your phone is useless if you don’t open it up and read it. The Bible isn’t a lucky charm — where having a Bible in the house will keep bad things from happening to you — even going to a church that faithfully preaches the Bible is no guarantee that you have eternal life — you have to obey God’s Word.
And obedience — true, lifelong, obedience — is fueled by faith in Jesus. And faith — along with repentance — faith is always a result of God’s Spirit awakening your spirit to new life. And new life comes from hearing God’s Word proclaimed. So look at that — even though being in a church that faithfully preaches the Bible is no guarantee that you have eternal life — being in a church that faithfully preaches the Bible is still very important. For the Holy Spirit uses God’s preached Word to give new life — which results in faith and repentance — which are always followed by a life of obedience. Always.
And part of obeying God’s Word — going back to our first obligation — is sharing God’s Word with the nations.
I mean, can you even imagine what it’d be like to not have the Bible? We can know what God is like because we have His Word — imagine only being able to guess what God is like — imagine never having heard of Jesus? Do you think — if you had to guess who God is — that you’d come up with a God who sent His Son to pay the penalty for your sins? Let me just tell you — you’d never come up with that. How do I know? Because no other religion even comes close to Christianity. People who don’t have access to the Bible always guess in a god who’s going to accept them or punish them based on what they do.
Where your only source of hope — for what’s coming after you die — is to hope that you’ve done enough good to outweigh the bad. Can you imagine growing up without God’s Word — or not having the opportunity to hear sermon after sermon preached from God’s Word? Not having the Bible study resources we have access to? Some of you come from families where the Bible was an important part of life. Some of you can’t think of a generation in your family that didn’t believe in Jesus — is there any advantage to that? You bet there is. But will you take advantage — of your advantage — will the nations benefit from your advantage?
Here’s the bottom line: If we put God on trial, then He’s accountable to us. But if He’s accountable to us, He’s not really God. But if God puts us on trial, then we’re accountable to Him. And not only can God put you on trial, but He has put you on trial.
God is loving and gracious — but He’s also a just Judge — and you will have your day in His court. And if that sounds frightening to you — it should — but let that fear drive you to the One who took your punishment upon Himself on a cross.
Jesus went to the cross for your advantage — not His — so that you can escape the punishment your sins deserve. And Jesus proves to you that God is faithful — always. When you hated Him, mocked Him, and rebelled against Him — God didn’t return you in kind. He waited patiently for you — giving you unearned mercies every day of your life — things you’ve taken advantage of — often ignored — things you may have even used in your accusations against Him. God’s always been faithful to you even when you were unfaithful.
And Jesus shows us that God always does the right thing — even when it cost Him pain, suffering, and His own death — that’s how committed God is to doing the right thing for you — Jesus died for you. What else could God possibly do to show you both how much He loves you and how far He’s willing to go to do the right thing for you?
And Jesus shows us that God is a just Judge. There’s a wonderful promise in the Bible — if Jesus has taken God’s judgment upon Himself for your sins — then you never have to fear God’s judgment — Jesus paid your sin debt in full.
And the only response to receiving such love and mercy and grace — is the response of obedience. Being faithful with what you’ve been entrusted with — God’s Word — and sharing it with the nations. Being faithful in obeying God’s Word out of love for all that Jesus is and all that He’s done for you. Not putting God on trial — and not doing things for Him in expectation that He’ll do things in return for you — but looking to all that He’s done for you in Jesus and saying, “Here I am, God. Ready to obey. Not ashamed of the gospel. For it is the power of my salvation — and it is the power of salvation for all who believe.” Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, thank you the Good News of Your gospel. What an advantage given to us — an advantage we don’t deserve. What faithfulness You’ve shown us — faithfulness to us even though we’ve been unfaithful. How assuring it is to know that You have — and will always — do the right thing — even when it cost Jesus His life. And what freedom we have in knowing that You are a just Judge — and that for all who have turned from sin and turned to Your Son — You have judged Jesus in our place.
Help us to live our lives in response to this Good News. Sharing Your Word with the nations as we’ve been entrusted with this responsibility. And help us to live — not trying to make Good News happen — not trying to earn Your love or our freedom — but to live in response to the love You have for us — in response of Your love for us as displayed in Jesus. It’s in His name we pray. Amen.