Covenant Advantages

Covenant Advantages

Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans
by Bob Burridge ©2011

Lesson 12: Romans 3:1-2

In the first two chapters of his letter to the Romans, Paul showed that all people, Jews and non-Jews, stand guilty before the judgment throne of God. There are no advantages or exceptions when it comes to God’s moral justice.

Those untaught by Scripture, are nevertheless exposed to God’s truth. Creation and their own human conscience confront them with enough information about God. In failing to honor him as their Sovereign Creator they are without excuse.

Those who had been taught the Scriptures, are even more without excuse before God. They will be judged by the law which God had mercifully gave them. Since it demands perfect obedience and condemns eternally for even the least moral violation, no one has ever been, nor could ever be, justified by his personal deeds or choices.

Our fallen nature cannot admit that things can be that bad for us. Many of the Jews in the first century had corrupted God’s promises, and reasoned that since God made a covenant with their ancestors; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and since God gave them his word and marked them out as special by circumcision, therefore they thought they would be exempted from God’s final judgment. God had not promised them anything of the sort.

Many today also rely upon promises God has never made. A fantasy faith not only fails to produce what people expect, it also leads to wrong ways of living. It obscures the truth God has made known, and confuses people when the imagined promises fail.

Jesus, and Paul here in Romans, often confronted the corrupted Jewish leaders about this issue. Contrary to what many had come to believe, there is no special privilege or exemption when it comes to being restored to fellowship with God. No one is above or beyond the law of God. There is no promise, no assurance, no good deed, no heritage, that has ever excused anyone from sin. Nothing can escape the fact that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The religion God had mercifully given them had been turned into something superficial and false.

There is only one way in all of Scripture to be made right with God. God promised to send a Messiah who would die in the place of his people. On that basis God would grant forgiveness and infuse spiritual life into individual dead souls. Their faith in him and obedience to his word are a result of, not the cause of, that new life.

Paul raised the questions the Jews were asking in order to give his answer.

Romans 3:1, “What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision?”

If, as Paul had been teaching, neither circumcision nor being born a Jew involved a promise of eternal salvation, then what advantage is there in being marked out as a covenant child? Was Paul discounting all of these wonderful blessings of God upon the Jews? Was he teaching that there is no advantage to being a member of the covenant community?

He gave them a dramatic answer about their advantage in verse two.

Romans 3:2, “Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God.”

He had listed some of the privileges of being one of God’s covenant children in 2:17-20. What’s more, God delivered them many times during their history from enemies and oppressors, even when they had been wicked. He had promised to bring the Messiah into the world through them. He used them to be a foreshadowing of the gospel community of the church after the coming of Christ, and to reveal his electing grace.

He doesn’t say their greatest advantages were miracles, victories in battle, heritage, or culture. Their primary advantage was being entrusted with the word of God. Here Paul calls it the “oracles of God.” Paul used a term the people in Rome would know well. Their culture was filled with visits to the oracles of the gods of Rome. They came seeking messages from these imagined supernatural beings. Paul applied that heathen terminology more correctly to God’s word which alone is true. God has spoken! He made himself known by his prophets, and preserved what he said in the written Scriptures.

This prophetic word had been specially entrusted to Israel. They were to preserve that word, love and obey it, and promote it to the whole world. God’s family, all of its members in every period of time including our own, ought to love, obey, and promote God’s word.

How is having the word of God an advantage for the covenant people,
if it doesn’t assure salvation to each person who possesses it?

First, there is an outward benefit to any society where God’s word is respected.
God reveals himself not only by redeeming an elect family, He also makes his truth known much more broadly by moral principles to which all of created humanity is held accountable. By the pledge of his word God instituted a community of covenant people to live in the midst of an openly rebellious world.

There are three basic groups to whom God reveals himself to promote his glory.

The first group includes all of mankind. All people in all ages see God’s power and glory displayed in Creation. They all have a moral conscience that brings inner conflict when they do wrong. However, in their fallen condition, aside from a special work of saving grace, they will not honor God as revealed. They will pervert his truth to serve themselves, and heap well deserved judgment upon themselves.

The next group is smaller. It includes all those who submit at last outwardly to God’s covenant. They are the visible, or outward church, the “covenant people of God.” From the time of God’s promise to Abraham up to the Apostolic era after the resurrection of Jesus they were the people of Israel. After that time, they are those who make up the Christian church at large, both Jews and Gentiles.

Finally, there is a still smaller group, those God actually redeems by the Messiah. These are the ones the Bible calls the Elect of God (Ephesians 1:4-6). They are commanded to join and identify themselves with the outward or visible church to be part of the covenant community. Not all who are in the covenant community are actually redeemed as individuals, but all the redeemed ought to become part of the covenant community.

The Jews should not assume they are redeemed or immune to judgment just because God entrusted them with his word, and marked them out as a special people by circumcision.

Though these advantages do not redeem them, God’s word and membership in the covenant community are a benefit to all who are united together as the church outwardly in each era. Having the oracles of God makes for a better society and a healthier and happier people in a temporal sense. By identifying sin and commanding punishments, it holds back the free expansion of sin. Living among restrained hypocrites is better than living among unrestrained haters of God. It is less dangerous to have a neighbor who goes to church and refrains from sin in selfish ignorance, than one who is openly profane, violent, and criminal.

This provides a more godly setting for the benefit of God’s redeemed children. Not that keeping the law redeems the good neighbor in God’s judgment day — it does not. But it helps his redeemed neighbor to live in more outward peace. Those who enjoy God’s temporal restraint of evil, but who fail to give him the glory for it through Christ, only condemn themselves all the more.

All who claim to be Christians but who are not actually redeemed by Christ, have temporal advantages by growing up in a godly home, a sound church, or a law abiding community where God’s word is known and respected.

There is also a special inner benefit which God’s word brings to the redeemed.
The Scriptures are God’s means of revealing the work of redemption to his people. When the convicting power of the Holy Spirit opens the heart by redeeming it, the wonderful promise of redemption is understood. The Cross becomes a personal deliverance. This is the intended outcome of the law of God for his children. His oracles, when accompanied by his saving grace, convince and convict of sin, and drive a humbled person to the Savior with a true God-implanted faith in the work of Christ.

Psalm 19:7, “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul…”

2 Timothy 3:15, “… the Holy Scriptures … are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

The power of the word and law is not just to promote a set of behaviors. At its root, and all through it, the word is the revelation of God to his people. It teaches that God is Sovereign and Wonderful. It reveals that man is lost and deserves complete separation from God and eternal suffering. It also explains that God has promised to provide a Messiah to redeem his people and to reveal his grace. Jesus said in John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.”

This is the focus of the oracles of God. They point to Messiah. They display a redemption not by works, but by imputation of holiness by grace. Without this gospel message the law can only condemn.

For the redeemed, the law becomes a light to guide them in how to please the Savior. It informs the conscience by removing the misconceptions of fallen hearts. It helps us to grow to be more holy like our Savior was holy.

Psalm 119:9, “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.”

Psalm 119:11, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You.”

It is not just having or obeying the outward details of God’s word that redeems a person as many of the Jews thought. It is when the Holy Spirit applies the work of Christ to an individual called by God’s grace alone. That is what transforms him wonderfully into a growing child of God.

How is the word of God to be handled by those to whom it is entrusted?

The people of God are to learn what God’s word says.

The primary place for instruction is the Church.
God’s people are to learn under the organized teaching of ordained Elders. This is clearly the case not only in old Israel, but also in the New Testament form of the church.

Elders are given the duty to oversee the instruction of the people in God’s word. They are held responsible for filtering out human ideas which are contrary to what God has said, and for being well studied in the Word so they can guard against the constant flood of errors (Titus 1, 1 Timothy 5:17).

As God ordained, his people are told to go to the Elders for instruction. They are not to seek out teachers just because they are good speakers or writers with a captivating and entertaining style. They must be men who are sound in their beliefs, and who know their Bible’s well. Those who merely entertain may appeal to our still imperfect hearts and mislead those who listen to them.

2 Timothy 4:3-4, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”

This is why it is crucial for the health of God’s people that they be regular in attending all the worship services of a sound church. The worship and primary lessons of the Sabbath Day provide for the Elders to teach all of God’s word in a systematic way. To only attend some of the lessons is like going to school, but skipping some important classes.

The next level of instruction in God’s word is the home.
While the home is the most “basic” unit for instruction, authority, and discipline, the parents are to be in subjection to the Elders of the church as those shepherds God set above them in these matters. Then, as obedient sheep, parents and particularly the male heads of the home are to enforce and practice in their families what they learn under the shepherds of the church.

The Oracles of God made this clear from the beginning. Moses and the Elders of Israel gave and explained the law as those called of God to do so. In the home it is also to be daily studied and exemplified. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 says to the parents of the home, “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Paul commended the home where Timothy grew up saying in 2 Timothy 3:14-17, “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

The obedient Christian family will responsibly honor the Oracles of God in their home by letting God’s word permeate all of its activities. It is not enough to limit this to just “devotional times”. Parents living a reasonable example of what they teach show what holiness looks like in action. The family should pray faithfully for the Holy Spirit to help others and themselves to grow spiritually. Parents should attend and bring their child to church regularly in all its services. Preparations should be made on Saturday to be sure that clothes are all ready, that everyone gets the sleep he needs, and has a plan for getting ready in time. When people go on vacations, attend sports activities, go to work daily, arrive on time for movies, dinners, and for special sales at the malls, but are not be able to get out to church, it betrays what is most important to them. It impresses that distorted order of priority upon their children. How you live teaches more effectively than what you merely say.

We are also to learn the word of God on our own, privately.
Every believer on his own ought to read, study, and think on what God has said. It ought to be our meditation day and night, wherever we are, and in all we do.

Psalm 1:2, “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.”

Psalm 119:97, “Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.”

Paul commended the believers in Berea as more noble because, ” … they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11)

So what is the advantage for us today in being acquainted with God’s word?

All of us ought to honor God as he shows himself in creation, providence, and conscience. Those who call themselves “Christians” ought specially to honor God’s word. Their church membership will not redeem them from guilt as Israel came to think. Many in the church today think that coming forward at an evangelistic meeting, or being baptized, or being a faithful church attender, or having prayed a so called “sinners prayer” will save them. But those things are never mentioned in God’s word as the cause of our being redeemed. The word well taught, condemns such ideas and tells us the wonderful truth of the gospel in its place.

The world in which truly redeemed believers live will be better to the degree that God’s word is obeyed, even if just superficially. This is a great advantage to those who grow up in the church. However, this has nothing to do with those who are lost being made right with God.

For the believer who is redeemed by Christ, the Oracles of God are a greater advantage than gaining mere outward peace and civility. They train up their little ones not only to know and to obey what is right, but they can also lead them to Christ who forgives them and enables them to live rightly. They can appreciate the true meaning of the law as a means of exposing our own helplessness, and showing the gratitude we ought to have toward our Savior for his undeserved favor and blessings. Those transformed by the Savior can and should effectively promote God’s word in their work, in the community, and in their homes. They are to bring all things captive to Christ.

A home or society permeated by and directed by God’s word is a better place to live for God’s people. It openly displays the characteristics of the Creator. When that word is accompanied by the redeeming work of Christ and the application of it by the Holy Spirit, God’s word brings spiritual life and promises a dwelling place in the home of the Lord forever.

(The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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