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Nov 17, 2019

But It Does Matter

Passage: Romans 3:1-8

Preacher: Eric Stapleton

Series: Romans

Keywords: church, romans, jew, gentile, savior, secularism, diaspora, roman culture, sin death effect


This masterful and energetic message takes us back to the real cultural dynamics in play for the church in Rome, a church in a cultural context very similar to the paganism we are moving into in America. Eric does a great job of showing us the advantage of the Jews in Paul's day and the role of the Law for new believers.


But It Does Matter!

Romans 3:1–8 

Eric Stapleton

3   What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? 2 Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.

3 What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? 4 Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written:

“So that you may be proved right when you speak

and prevail when you judge.”

5 But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) 6 Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? 7 Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” 8 Why not say—as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say—“Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is deserved.

I read this passage and my first instinct is, really? There’s not a lot of depth here. Maybe it’s a joke and the staff is taking bets to see how long it takes me to rabbit trail back to the Book of Genesis. My point is that the point of these verses was not readily available to me upon a cursory glance. So, I read before and after these verses to get a grasp on the context. The first issue is in the first verse., the first words ‘what then?’ Well, the word ‘then’ is part of what we call a cause and effect relationship. IF this THEN that. IF is a cause and THEN is the effect. IF you touch a hot stove THEN you will burn yourself. IF you jump in the water, THEN you will get wet. IF you play Christmas music before Thanksgiving, THEN I will complain.  So, the IF for this set of verses must be in the previous chapter. I looked it up in a commentary. That’s how I know. The when the Bible was originally recorded, the chapter and verse headings weren’t part of the deal.


John 3:16–17 (NASB95)

  16      “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

  17      “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

See, the red letters are what Jesus said. Notice something? I saw it, too. The numbers are in black. So, Jesus didn’t say “Sixteen For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoeve believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. Seventeen, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

That would be distracting and off topic. My point is that the numbers are someone’s interpretation of where certain topics, stories, or concepts begin and end. I think those numbers are normally very helpful but not completely accurate in determining the beginning of a thought process because God’s Word is living, active and its meaning is going to connect with many different people and cultural understandings in different ways. The numbers are great bookmarks.

So, let’s go back to a bookmark that could also be a reasonable starting point for this concept, except I can’t. The thing about the Book of Romans, that a more skilled theologian than I pointed out, when Paul wrote this letter he was constantly building concept upon concept linking them with cause and effect relationships (IF this THEN that), contrasting relationships (NOT this BUT that) and/conditional relationships (IF this THEN that UNLESS this over here).  My point is you have to read the whole thing and then it read it again. But I’m going to take a stab at it. So if this was a TV series you’d have a recap: Previously in the Book of Romans.  In chapter two, Paul starts talking about the law, the rules that the Jews had and the laws that Gentiles (non-Jews, most of us) had and then he starts evaluating the worth of the Jewish system of law (rules), the ten commandments, the rite of circumcision, all that and the worth of being a biological and cultural Jew.: Picking it up in Chapter 2:28

Romans 2:28–29 (NASB95)

  28      For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh.

  29      But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.

IF you are a Jew, THEN what is the value? And then he goes on to explain the value: entrusted with the oracles of God. I know, it’s says “first” meaning there’s more but we only got 45 minutes up this rig…less now. Besides ‘entrusted with the oracles of God’ is plenty for today.

But my question is WHY? Why is Paul so obsessed with the Jews and their laws? If you read the whole book of Romans you see he sometimes he seems like he talking out of both sides of his mouth. To be Jew is important, but you really are in the same boat with the non-Jews. He spends three chapters later in the book talking about the non believing Jews and their fate. Why, I asked. Is this about Paul because he is a Jew and was a Jew who didn’t believe in Jesus? Like maybe he is still reconciling that with himself. No, I think it is about who he is writing to. The book of Romans is a letter not to “the Romans” like all the people who lived in Rome but to
Romans 1:7 (NASB95)

    7      to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The saints are the Christians, the church. So, my next question: how was there a church in Rome? How did that get there? Paul hadn’t even been there yet. How were there enough people to start a church in pagan Rome? They didn’t even have Chic Filet or Hobby Lobby there yet, how’d they get a church?

Scholars don’t exactly know BUT we can infer who they probably were from the Bible. The short answer is that they were a combination of Christ-following Jews and Gentiles. By the way, when I say Gentiles I mean anyone who is not a Jew or Hebrew, biological descendant of Abraham’s grandson, Israel. Who here isn’t Jewish? Right. I knew you looked like a Gentile.

How did that happen? How did Jewish believers in Christ end up in Rome?

If you read the Old Testament, you learn that the descendants of Israel didn’t not obey God  and were punished by other nations, they were shipped out of the promised land to other places around the known world. Some of them came back to the land, mostly those of the tribe of Judah, the Jews. The rest were scattered throughout the known world, which at that time was the Persian empire, then Grecian empire, then the Roman empire. This is called the Jewish Diaspora. When they were scattered among the nations and many still retained their cultural identity as much as possible, they still celebrated Passover, circumcision, they knew the Ten Commandments and the writings of the prophets. The still retained the very words of God This is important. Tie a mental ribbon around your finger for that: they retained key aspects of their culture and religion.

But they lived in other countries, adopted their customs, languages etc. But there was a religious festival in Jerusalem called the Feast of Tabernacles also known as the Feast of Ingathering. So, many of those of the Jewish Diaspora (Scattered Jews) made a point to gather back to Jerusalem to celebrate this week long festival. So this had been going on for hundreds of years.

MEANWHILE, Jesus comes on the scene, preaches the gospel for three years, dies on the cross, raises from the dead, comes back from the dead and tells his disciples, he’s going back to heaven but is going to give them the Holy Spirit but not for another 50 days. Why 50 days? Is it a magic number? 7X7+1? What? No. Fifty days from that point was…anyone? We call it Pentecost. What did the Jews call it? The Feast of Tabernacles.

So, all these Jews coming in for the Feast of Tabernacles and this happens.

Acts 2:1–12 (NIV84)

The Holy Spirit Comes at Pentecost

2          When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

And then the disciple Peter preaches the gospel and three thousand Jews became believers in Christ, stuck around and learned from the apostles all about Jesus and went back to the lands they lived in. That’s how believing in Jesus Jews got to pagan Rome and other places.

So, this isn’t like a foreign exchange student coming to America, getting the gospel and going back home with nothing to connect it to. The Pentecost Jews had something to connect their new found faith to—their Jewish heritage, laws and rites. The oracles of God do matter.

When they went back and the following year when they celebrated Passover in their traditional way they’d done it for thousands of years. That part where they have like three pieces matzah called a ‘unity’ and they break one of the three in half, they all of sudden get it….the broken one is Jesus “this is my body”. When they quote the prophet Isaiah and the song of the suffering servant from the Old Testament in their seder:

 Their all like, “OMY, that’s Jesus, too!” They are Jesus people now! They are not nominal Christians. They are filled with the Holy Spirit and fervent and contagious. They have, in effect, become terrorist Kingdom of God sleeper cells in Rome.

They live in a great cloud of witnesses, pagan Rome who don’t know what to make of it but some become believers in Christ. Except, the Roman believers don’t have the cultural connection. They don’t have the ten commandments, the stories and history of God’s faithfulness, the writings of the prophets—the oracles of God.

Some people refer to the Bible as a love letter written by God to us. That can be a useful analogy but this here is letter written by the Apostle Paul to the Church in Rome, a mixture of believing Jews with a heritage of belief in the one true God and Romans with a heritage of belief in many false gods.

I wonder if we can connect to the 1st Century Roman Culture:

The comedian Jeff Foxworthy has routine called “you might be redneck if…” and then he puts about a number of defining scenarios.

You might be a Roman if:

You’re annoyed with referees interfering with violence in a professional sport. “Let ‘em play!”  Romans wore their helmets and struck each other with swords in the gladiatorial games. Or they fed Christians to the lions. No refs needed.

You might be a Roman if: You think Having an affair or paying for physically intimate relationships is something to celebrate not decry.

You might be a Roman if: You consider yourself an old man at the age of 30.

At the time of Caesar, the life expectancy was about 30 years.

It is TRUE. Caesar died at 55 or 57, which is relatively young compared to our own life expectancy, but quite old for the time. Indeed, the average lifespan of a Roman was 25 to 30 years.

You might be a Roman if: If your social life means taking a bath with your neighbors..

While the extremely wealthy could afford bathing facilities in their homes, most people bathed in the communal baths thermae. In some ways, these resembled modern-day spas. The Romans raised bathing to a high art as they socialized in these communal baths. Communal baths were also available in temples such as The Imperial Fora. Courtship was conducted, as well as sealing business deals, as they built lavish baths on natural hot springs.

I think our sins are pointing us back to pre Christian Rome

Remember when I said these believing Jews were contagious? Christianity did become the culture of whole Roman Empire…laws, traditions and a fair amount of its idolatry. The fact is, whatever we think of Holy Roman Empire under the guise of Catholic Christianity, the church today would have no beginning without it. We would have no springboard, Martin Luther wouldn’t have door to nail his 95 theses to a reason to do it. Just as we grew out of the Roman Church, the Roman Church grew out of the Jewish one. So, even though Paul could be misunderstood as saying that the law no longer mattered because we have grace… but it does matter.

The Romans had a morality, all cultures do, they have law unto themselves. Society doesn’t work without the rule of Law. Things like murder, thievery, and disrespect of authority tear a community apart. The Jews brought something else to the table….the author of morality, purity of morality that went beyond the rituals.

We actually have trouble connecting with that world spiritually because most of us didn’t really come to the Christian Faith new. Unless you’re from another country that doesn’t have as much Christianization in their society as we do, the law or rules by which we live as Christians weren’t new to us. When we were apart from Christ, most of us knew we were sinning. We knew something was wrong and we were unrighteous. These Romans, maybe not so much. The Romans weren’t inclined to believe the Jewish laws were better, more pure or superior…just the opposite, “you only have ONE God and you can’t even see him?”

I’m trying to imagine what a Roman believer was dealing with in coming to faith. We as modern Christians who have access to the law, the prophets, and this book of Romans might find this Roman Christian a little rough around edges. He’s been introduced to Jesus through Jewish believers and for him, he experiences new life. He’s working out though just like we all are. He might be offensive to some. You might ask, how could this guy be considered Christian? That’s part of the tension though I think we should be wrestling with. This is a dramatization. Want you to picture this Roman believer, we’ll call him Antonio. He is currently in a communal chatting with an acquaintance who is NOT a believer.

All these unwritten rules. (dramatic presentation)

I was there, I’m telling ya. I was there at the games. I thought Bruno and that Scythian, that was a hades of battle. Well no, I didn’t stay for the end when Bruno, you know (line across neck). I must have had too much to eat I and I had to you know (puking mime) get rid of some. Yeah, it’s true I don’t stick around for the killing part that much anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I think those kids have a lot talent and I enjoy  watching the fight but you know this new religion that I’m trying out, watching the kill scene is just  a little over the top. This guy Jesus…yeah, the Jewish guy who died and rose from the dead…he said, what’d said, do unto others before they do unto you, no, no that’s not it…do unto other as you would have them do to you. And I’m thinking, if I was the Scythian in the arena, would I want people cheering when I got killed? The answer has to be an emphatic no. This guy in the arena he has a family maybe. Well, yeah there’s that. I mean, they’re just slaves after all, so maybe they count for much or maybe they do. If Jesus died for my sins, didn’t he also die for the slaves? Sins? I explained this to you. Sins are those we do that shouldn’t do. Yeah, like cannabilism. Oh, I get it. Ha ha Funny. We’re not cannibals. I told you about passover. Anyway, the funny thing is I was trying to explain this to Priscilla how we can turn from our sins and become a new person like um, Jesus raising from dead. I try to explain to her but she doesn’t get it or see the need for it. Priscilla, you know. No, she’s not my wife. She’s my side chick. Yeah, Agnes knows about her, I think she does. We don’t talk about it. That would be wrong, you know, bringing her round to the house. Yeah, that would be one of those sin things. But now that you mention it, there’s this guy, one of the Jew guys in our little ekklesia fellowship group, he says to me, “thou shalt not commit adultery” I adultery is, it’s when have a side chick or when you pay for it or when you’re not married. He says that is a sin. As if..It’s one of their ten rules. Yeah, God carved them into stone a few thousand years ago. I don’t know, they keep it in box somewhere. Anyway, now that is spinning around my head so when I start talking religion to Phyllis…wait, did I say Phyllis, I meant to say Priscilla…Phyllis was the other one, last year…yeah, she got, you know….oh, got rid of it. Anyway when I talk to Priscilla about religion and I start feeling bad, I get that burning in the bosom. Don’t ask. Look I got to towel off and go home. We’re having an ekklesia meeting tonight. That Jew guy bringing some guy called a Moyl. We’re supposed to clipped. No, I don’t think it’s haircut, what’d they call that? Circumspection, circumvention…what was that? That’s the word, circumcision! You’ve heard of it? What is it? Naw dog, that’s where I draw the line in the sand. The line in the sand. You know. It’s something Jesus did. I wish someone would write this stuff down.

(sermon continues)

That’s a different perspective but I don’t think it is so far from what we as modern Christians are going to be increasingly faced with as we share our faith with unbelievers and as we mentor new Christians in this day and age. Think about trying to tell a third generation non-Christian millennial how infanticide and ‘reproductive rights’ are connected. Good luck on that!

That’s also part of the reason Paul wrote this letter to the Roman believers, to address that tension between Jewish and Gentile believers…but I think mainly for the Jewish ones.

Ok, there’s two verses down.

Romans 3:3–4 (NIV84)

3 What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? 4 Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written:

Paul is asking a rhetorical question. Basically, does the fact that the Jews were unfaithful make unfaithful? No. God knew were going to be unfaithful and He told them about it in the Old Testament before Jesus and gospels, before King David and days of Israel’s peak of power: Deuteronomy 30:1–5 (NIV84)

Deuteronomy 30:1–6 (NIV84)

Prosperity After Turning to the Lord

30       When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, 2 and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, 3 then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. 4 Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back.

6 The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.

The Jews were unfaithful, God knew it and made the promises anyway. I hope that gives you hope for yourself. Maybe there is someone who feels they have let God down. This God we serve was faithful to the unfaithful Jews, He’ll be faithful to you. He wasn’t finished with them, He’s not finished with you.

Back to our text:

5 But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) 6 Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? 7 Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” 8 Why not say—as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say—“Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is deserved.

Paul is again presenting a rhetorical argument. Do you know anyone who reasons like?  There is a certain logic to it. But it’s like this: I had this little 2nd grade guy in class who was having a day. He was a second grader spinning around on the floor. I told him to get off the floor as we were heading out of the class. This little guy gets up on the table instead. I’m like, you don’t stand on the table. “Well you told me to get off the floor. I was just doing what you said.” I just wasn’t having it. Well, I’m pretty slow about this stuff buddy, maybe we can just go to the office together and the principal can explain it to me. “No. You’re not supposed to that. You’re supposed write my name down and then talk to the teacher. Aw man. Every time I go there I have to stay for like 15 hours and I miss the bus and I have to walk home and I don’t even know the way home.” Needless to say, I dropped him off at the office and enjoyed the rest of my day—his condemnation was deserved. He is frequent flyer in that principal’s office. What my point?

I think Paul is saying that if you think you should sin so that God looks better, you’re thinking like a child. Or maybe I’m saying that. No, what Paul is doing here is providing a false cause and effect relationship between our sin and God’s goodness. If us being bad, makes God look good THEN lets do bad because the law the doesn’t matter. BUT IT DOES MATTER.

Let’s define our terms. The law is anything in the Bible that dictates what we should or should not do.

It’s true there were some laws that JUST applied to the Hebrews in the Old Testament as a nomadic people living in the bronze age without Blue Cross Health Insurance BUT I digress.

We’re not just talking about the Ten Commandments here. The Ten Commandments say don’t commit adultery. Jesus says, “don’t commit adultery? If you even lust after a person, you’ve committed adultery in your heart!” Jesus raised the stakes. That’s law, if you’ve lusted, you’ve broken the law which means you need forgiveness. Jesus says be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect. If you fail in being perfect, you’ve broken the law, you need forgiveness. That’s the law, meant to judge our hearts. Think of it as a mirror. The religious leaders of Jesus day thought they could attain righteousness by fulfilling the requirements of the law and Jesus came along and said, “By the way, you’re not doing it, you’re failing miserably….I am the way , the truth, and the life, no one comes to the father but through me.” Which brings us to the gospel.

Gospel. When we say gospel, we’re not merely referring to the stories of Jesus in the Bible, or a style of music. Gospel means ‘good news’. What good news?

3 What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? 4 Not at all!

That’s the good news! You can be forgiven and have a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

But you don’t know that you need it, unless you have the law as the constant reminder that you fall short.

The law matters because it points us to the Gospel, Jesus good news of salvation because of his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. Whoever believes in the Jesus and what He did on the cross receives forgiveness for their sins and is made righteous in God’s sight. The details of how that works will be explained by someone who is better at explaining theology than I am.

I’m mainly just talking about why the law matters so much.

There is another reason the law matters. Living how God says to live, by the law, actually bring about a happier, healthier, more fulfilling life.

There’s verse in Romans 6
Romans 6:23 (NIV84)

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Someone is going to cover this verse in more detail later...especially the second part. I’m focusing on the first part because it is a universal truth that applies to everybody, every culture, believers in Jesus and non-believers in Jesus.

If you sin, break the law, your wages, your earnings are death. When Adam and Eve first sinned in the Garden of Eden, they began to die. They were no longer allowed to eat from the tree of life and live forever.  Everybody dies because everybody sins.

If you sin more, you die more. When we say death, we’re not merely talking about your heart ceasing to beat. We’re talking about everything on continuum to death—pain, suffering, loss, disease. If you abuse drugs and alcohol, will you not experience the death of relationships, loss of finances, and physical suffering? The more you do the more death you experience. If you sin sexually, will you not experience broken relationships, physical illness, and loss of opportunities (unplanned pregnancy)? The more you do, the more you die. If you lie, cheat, steal, etc. do you not experience more loss, suffering, prison time—death in added measure—the more you do?

That’s what the wages of sin are. In contrast, if you live how God says to live, doesn’t it stand to reason that your relationships will improve, your health will not be as compromised. You’re still going die..Jesus affirms that if anyone believes in Him that even though they die, they will yet live.

Deuteronomy 30:15–16 (NIV84)

15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

Sometimes others say things more accurately. This is the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod’s take on the Law  I think it is helpful.

  • Curb- Through fear of punishment, the Law keeps the sinful nature of both Christians and non-Christians under check. This does not stop sin, since the sin is already committed when the heart desires to do what is wrong, yet it does stop the open outbreak of sin that will do even further damage.
  • Mirror- The Law serves as a perfect reflection of what God created the human heart and life to be. It shows anyone who compares his/her life to God's requirement for perfection that he/she is sinful.
  • Guide- This use of the law that applies only to Christians. The law becomes the believer's helper. Empowered by the gospel truth of forgiveness and righteousness in Christ, the believer's new self eagerly desires to live to please the Triune Go 

Why does the law matter?

What the law does:

Points to our need for a savior.

Provides a way for us to live healthy—relationally, physically, spiritually.

What the law doesn’t do:

Make us righteous before God.

Save us.