Paul was not taking a different tack than that which His Master had taken. For example, in Mark 5, Christ Jesus left Galilee saying to His disciples, “Let us pass over unto the other side” of the lake. And there on the opposite shore, in the country of Gadarenes he ministered to a group of demon-possessed men – probably Gentiles. From there they traveled down the Lake and began to teach and preach along the Jordan River in “Decapolis” – the region of ten cities, occupied by both Jews and Arabs just as they are today. Then in Mark 6:1 – “He went out from thence, and came into his own country; and his disciples follow him. And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house. And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. And he MARVELLED because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages, teaching.”
The thing that I’d like you to consider is that the omniscient and all-wise Son of God expressed “surprise.” He marveled – He wondered – at the unbelief of those people – both Gentiles, but more particularly Jews. These were His earthly neighbors; they attended the same synagogue that He had during his youth. And they possessed the same scriptures that He possessed. “What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.” And yet these people, Jews, neighbors and witnesses of His holiness and majesty, were still unbelievers.
Romans 3:3-8 teaches us several things about something which astounds Christ Jesus.
Let’s begin with A VERY SAD TRUTH – there are unbelievers in this world.
If you stop and think about it, that is an incomplete thought. – there are unbelievers in this world. I don’t believe that there are a races of extraterrestrial creatures called Klingons and Cardassians. To a Trekie I might be considered to be an unbeliever. And what does a Muslim think when he calls me an infidel? When we talk about unbelief, if there isn’t an object, then there isn’t a complete thought.
But here in Romans, Paul has already given us an object – the oracles of God. The Gentile without a copy of the Bible, has the innate knowledge of God that all men possess. But the Jews had been given the supreme blessing of the direct and subsequent revelation of God. They had Moses’ account of the creation, not just the intuitive knowledge that all men possess. They had the law of God written on the tables of stone as well as those laws written in human conscience. They had the histories of God’s manifestation and power. But the sad truth is – some did not believe. Despite being blunt and direct, Paul actually softened the blow more than some of us might. “SOME did not believe” – “Some” Paul? – Don’t you mean, millions and millions of those people?
There have always been unbelievers. Adam and Eve were unbelievers – to some degree – at least momentarily. And their first son Cain was an unbeliever – through and through. At least one of the sons of Noah was an unbeliever, as were nearly everyone in the world before the flood. The people of Ur in Abraham’s day, and the people of Canaan in Isaac’s day were unbelievers. Why did 99% of the people of Israel die before reaching the promised land? Because of unbelief. Why did Israel pass into captivity? Unbelief. Why was the Saviour rejected and crucified? For the same reason.
Paul’s use of the word “unbelief” – just as it was for the Lord Jesus – was in regard to the revelation of God. Would it surprise you to know that the word “unbelief” cannot be found in the Old Testament? It surprised me, because the fact of people’s unbelief is seen in every one of those 39 books. And here’s a little incidental word study that might interest some of you: Paul uses the word “apistia” (ap-is-tee’-ah) here in Romans 3:3. “Apistia” is always translated “unbelief.” But there is another word sometimes translated the same way: “apeitheia” (ap-i’-thi-ah). If you’re listening carefully you’ll hear our English word “apathy.” This word is translated one other way besides “unbelief” – “disobedience.” As far as God is concerned unbelief is actually a spiritual form of disobedience. And so is apathy as far as that goes. Unbelief is a refusal to accept or obey the revelation of God.
The general population of man has chosen not to believe what their hearts declare about God. They look at the creation around them and refuse to believe that there is a Creator. And then to some of those people, God has further revealed Himself through prophets and revelation. Then finally God “hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.” And this revelation has been discarded as well. Not only has the Word of God been ignored and not believed, but it hasn’t been obeyed either – “apistia.”
Out of this sad fact of unbelief has come an incredibly WICKED IMPLICATION – God has been untrue.
“Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?” This is an admittedly confusing statement when we read it with our modern English minds. It seems to say that God has faith in the sense that God believes things or trusts things as we should do. I’m not sure that faith is one of the attributes of God in that sort of way. But I’ll have to leave that with some of you who are deeper theologians than I am. If we make a couple of small substitutions the statement makes a little more sense: “Shall their unbelief make OUR faith in God null and void.” If someone doesn’t want to believe that the earth is round, it doesn’t change the fact that it is. That could be the meaning of the Apostle here – however I don’t think so. The context suggests that God is the subject of the thought – “let GOD be true.” And the context also suggests that the word “faith” should be considered as “faithfulness.” Shall some people’s unbelief make God unfaithful?”
Jehovah as made promises and pronouncements, revelations and prophecies. And just because the majority of mankind refuses to believe them, or respond to them in obedience, that doesn’t mean that God is going to be unfaithful to a single one of them. Paul replies with all the indignance that he can muster: “Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? “GOD FORBID.” “Away with such a thought” – “This is an impossibility.”
As I have said a hundred times – the most rudimentary attribute of Jehovah… That which is at His very core – His most essential Heart – is His holiness – God is RIGHTEOUSNESS. “He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and WITHOUT INIQUITY, just and right is he.” He keepeth truth for ever, and every one of His words are true. It is impossible for God to lie. And as far as God incarnate is concerned, we might just as well confess – He is Truth incarnate as well. “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. Jesus said to Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Even if every man on earth is a liar, they cannot undo what is the Truth. Even if every man on earth is untrue, they cannot make God be untrue. Every Christian should begin with the presumption that God is always true and truthful.
Let’s say that God ordains that the wickedness of this world should extend another two hundred years. Let’s say that the lies about evolution are honed and reiterated over, and over ,and over again until 85% of the people of the world believe them. And let’s say that persecution against God’s saints becomes so strong that the people of God are being universally slandered and even slaughtered, so that 90% of the people remaining accept atheistic evolution as the truth, and then 95% and 99%. That nearly-universal rejection of the Bible isn’t going to change the truth even in its smallest detail. They may kill the Son of God – the Creator – but that doesn’t change the fact that He is the Son God and our Creator.
And then some wicked unbeliever, because he IS an unbeliever, might suggest that God is made to look better than he really is because he is compared to us. “If our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man) God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world? For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?” Sir, you are judged as a sinner, because that is what you are, not simply because God is holy. You are judged a liar and unbeliever because that is what you are, not just because God is true. If you begin to think that God is made more true because you are untrue, you are a fool. And if you think that God is made more glorious because of your wickedness, and therefore your wickedness is a good thing, then you are worse than a fool. Don’t even think to yourself, “Let us do evil, that good may come.” Your damnation in such a case is completely just – your judgment and condemnation is correct and appropriate.
Please notice once again, that Paul has not moved on and forsaken the theme of the judgment of God. That is the message all the Old Testament prophets, including Moses. That was the reason that John the Baptist so diligently preached “repentance toward God.” That is the background to the gospel message of the Apostle Paul. The righteousness of God makes the judgment of man’s unrighteousness unavoidable. And don’t think for a moment that God is in any way pleased with or made more glorious by your wickedness. “Repent ye therefore and be converted that your sins may be blotted out when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.”
And that is the OBVIOUS APPLICATION of what Paul is saying.
You’ll notice that in verse 4 he makes the comment: “as it is written.” Let’s use that “as it is written” to bring our message toward a conclusion.
First, he might be making a reference to Psalm 116:11, although that might only be a coincidence. The Psalmist was thanking God for His intervention and salvation. The wicked were besieging the poor man, so he called on the Lord and was heard. And in the process he confessed that in his haste he said that all men are liars.
There is a sense in which that is true, and in another sense it is not always true. Just as our Saviour has said, we are of our father the devil and the lusts of our father we imbibe and imitate. “He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” Every human being on earth is a liar and prone to falsify the truth at any point, because we are who we are. But … that doesn’t mean that every statement that we, or our lost neighbors make, are lies. Every word and utterance needs to be compared to God’s standard of truth. Was Paul referring to Psalm 116? Many commentators think so.
But at the same time, he appears to be paraphrasing the Greek, Septuagint version of Psalm 51. David said, “I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.” The Psalmist was acknowledging that God was right in His condemnation of him. God was justified – He was correct – in condemning David for his sin. And when the Lord condemned him – “damned” him, as Paul put it – it was absolutely appropriate. Just as it is still appropriate for God to damn the wicked in Paul’s day and ours.
You see, David had slipped into unbelief and sin for a while. God had forbidden adultery and had pronounced judgment against it. But David had disregarded – not believed God – and committed sin with Bathsheba. Immediately the Holy Spirit began the process of breaking the heart of that man. Psalm 51 is an expression of David’s grief and repentance. “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.”
This the place to which Paul wants to bring all of his readers. Jehovah your sentence against us is just and right – we deserve your eternal wrath. “I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” I was born a sinner and a liar; I was conceived as an unbeliever. “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.”
The application is this: Come and see whether or not the promises have failed or that God’s faithfulness is without effect. Cast yourself down before the throne as David did so publicly so many years ago. “Be merciful unto me, O God.” “I believe, help thou my unbelief.” I think that you’ll find – I know that you’ll find that God is true to His promise. When unbelievers repent and begin to accept and believe Christ and His promises, God forgives those sinners and cleanses those wicked hearts. I know it to be true, because I was one of those unbelievers. Repent of your sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.