What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? 2 Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God. 3 For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? 4 Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written:
“That You may be justified in Your words,
And may overcome when You are judged.
I was recently emailed a question about Romans 3:3-4 about God being faithful, God being Just, and yet God being Merciful at the same time. Also I had the privilege of watching a video by Josh McDowell yesterday in which he stated people always ask the question, “If God is benevolent and all loving, how can he send people to Hell?” In response he said, he had never heard anyone ask the question, “How can God let sinners into his presence?” Two completely different attitudes, one is Man-centered, and the other is God-centered. Paul addresses this very issue when addressing the topic of the unbelief of many Jews through asking several rhetorical questions, “For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect?” After establishing in Romans 1 and 2, that Jew and Gentile alike have all embraced the flesh and sinned. Because of this, Jews have no right to judge people for they like non-Jews are all guilty of doing the same things. (Romans 2:1) He rebukes unbelieving Jews and says they aren’t circumcised for what God desires is them to be circumcised inwardly by the Holy Spirit. (Romans 2:29)
Now Paul quotes King David from Psalm 51:4 in Romans 3:4 as his answer to the rhetorical question, ”Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written: “That You may be justified in Your words, And may overcome when You are judged.” I was quite confused by this passage because I had Psalm 51:4 opened as well which states, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.” I know that the OT is written in Hebrew while the NT was primarily written in Greek. I wondered where Paul was quoting from because although part of the verse seems to match word for word, a lot of it doesn’t seem to convey the same thought, which led me to go do some research on the Hebrew and Greek languages. The simple answer that made the most sense was that the Greek translation of the Book of Psalms from which Paul was quoting from conveys the cultural and spiritual significance of the verse which is similar to the liberty that some modern translations also employ. In this case, the main point of what David is saying in Psalm 51:4 is that God is the just judge, his word is final, he is justified when he judges. Paul in Romans 3:4 is taking the same stance as King David as he recognizes that God is true, just, and faithful, and he can never lie. This is the answer to the original question that Josh McDowell proposed that people always ask. The correct attitude/prospective is the God-centered one, in which a person approaches God, with King David’s attitude in recognition of who he is in light of who God is, he doesn’t say, I reserve the right to judge who should go to Heaven and Hell, but he acknowledges that right belongs only to God and God alone. Man’s view of God is corrupt, he like the unbelieving Jewish person in Romans 2 believes he deserves the right to judge people.
Now moving onward to the second part of the question, how can God be merciful, just and faithful, and loving? Josh McDowell presented this illustration in which I agree with him is the best illustration of the Gospel I’ve heard. He stated that a girl was pulled over in the state of Nevada where you are immediately taken into court and forced to pay the ticket or spend a night in jail to pay off the debt. The girl appeared in court before the judge, he read the charges against her, and she pleaded guilty. She was charged with the violation and ordered to pay 100 dollars and as the judge laid the anvil down and finalized the verdict. However, the judge did something unexpected, he took off his judicial robes, walked over and stood next to the girl, and pulled out his wallet and paid the 100 dollar fine. The judge was the girl’s father, he loved her more than anything in the whole world, but yet he could not let her off the hook especially as a judge because that would be unjust, and so he paid the fine for her and satisfied the debt that she owed. She was redeemed.
Likewise, this is the Gospel, God the Father sent his son Jesus into the world in the form of man but without his sinful nature, was tempted in every way like us but yet without sin. We who by nature rebelled against God and owe a debt for our sins which is death as Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We deserve death, physical and spiritual, we are separated from God, but yet here is Jesus, he offers his life a sacrifice for our sins to satisfy (propitiate) God’s righteous standard that sin be paid for, and what a great price it was on that cross. God the Just, laid down the verdict upon his Son whom he loved more than anything in the whole world, and in doing so, he demonstrated that he was both Just and Merciful. In doing so, he redeemed us, he purchased us by his blood, and when he rose from the grave victorious, he conquered sin and death once and for all, for all that would believe in Him.