Do you really believe the masses will be Christian again? Nonsense! Never again. That tale is finished. No one will listen to it again. But we can hasten matters. The parsons will dig their own graves. They will betray their God to us. They will betray anything for the sake of their miserable jobs and incomes.
It is not an unusual thing for societies to imagine that they can become judges of Christianity. Totalitarian systems can outlaw the Faith and free systems can ridicule it. Nietzsche called Christianity “Platonism for the people,”2 and Voltaire referred to Christianity as “the infamous thing.”3 But they are dead and Christianity is living. G.K. Chesterton said, “Christianity even when watered down is hot enough to boil all modern society to rags.”4
In the first three chapters of the book of Romans Paul makes the case for the necessity of the Christian message. Whether Pagan, Jew or Gentile, “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” “There is none righteous, no, not one.” It is interesting to find that the excuses people gave in his day are the same we hear today. The Roman world was a relatively free society (at least for its citizens) that gave the Apostles the ability to speak the gospel, organize Christian churches and evangelize. Opposition was strong from the Jewish community and eventually from Rome as well. When Paul wrote the great epistle to the Romans, common questions were arising from Jewish and Gentile minds as to the validity and worth of the Christian message. In 3:1-8, Paul anticipates three questions to which he gives answers that are still foundational for today.
The first question is . . .
“If Christianity is the only way to God, then you are saying there is no truth in any other religion.”
3:1 has it: What advantage then hath the Jew? Or what profit is there of circumcision? “If Paul is preaching salvation by grace through faith, then the Jewish Law and religion is of no profit to anyone.” But Paul answers (vs 2) that the Jews have a great advantage! They have the Old Testament Scriptures! They have the greatest light of the gospel outside of Christianity itself. They are not saved simply because they possess it but they are much better off with that knowledge than without it.
Our multicultural and diverse world today often accuses Christians of being hateful and narrow because we preach that Jesus is the only way to God. Well, that is true. He is the only way to God. But that doesn’t mean that no other religion contains any truth about God. Judaism contains much truth; Romanism contains a lot of truth; Mormonism contains some truth; Buddhism contains a little truth. Paul had already argued that a man should be thankful for whatever amount of truth he has, because God will hold him accountable for how he uses it. Ron Mayers writes, “There are elements of truth in most religions due to the universality of general revelation.” But, “Christianity is more than the best among many. It is the only.”5
The fact that Christianity demands exclusivity ought to commend it to a seeking person. How could a religion-made-to-order satisfy our need for truth? Bruce Shelley writes, “So far as I know, Islam has no Mohammedology and Buddhism has no Buddhology. The debate in the history of Christianity is a monument to the uniqueness of the One Christians call the Son of God.”6
The second question is . . .
If God’s revelation doesn’t bring those people to Christianity, hasn’t God’s revelation failed?
In 3:3 Paul puts it, “For what if some did not believe? Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?” “Maybe the Christian plan has failed because it is obvious that not everyone is going to accept it.” We hear the same today: “If God’s plan is so great, why is there pain and suffering? Why do people die at all? Why would God even allow this thing you call sin to enter His creation?” The most common retort against God has been that either He doesn’t care that people are suffering (or will suffer in hell), or He is unable to do anything about it.
Paul answers the objection by saying, “God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar.” The problem is not with God’s message that has been revealed, but the problem is that man has a basic problem—he will not face his own sinful situation! Chesterton’s famous reply to this accusation was, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”7
The third question becomes a little more complex . . .
If man’s sin highlights how great God’s mercy is (since God must forgive sin), then isn’t sin good and God is bad if He condemns us?
3:5 has it, “But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance?” Paul, it seems, blushes even to write such a thought that he adds, “(I speak as a man).” Yet that is exactly where man in his sinful thoughts always ends up. Sin is not only excused because God has failed to sufficiently reach out to us, sin is good because it exalts love and forgiveness. The only bad part of sin can be the refusal to excuse it out of love and forgiveness.
Paul deals at length with the implications of this thought. Though the statement of such thinking may appear shocking, it is the root of much of the world’s thinking even today.
1. The problem of naturalism. Paul answers in vs 6, “God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?” By that reasoning, Paul says, nothing in the world could be called sin or wrong, and it would be impossible for even God to judge the world—but of course we know He will. If no action has a moral connotation that can be punished, then we are in a natural world, one in which there is no “ought” and there probably is no God. William Bennett wrote, “The thought that God’s grace, given to us through Christ’s death at Golgotha, would justify licentiousness has long been considered contemptible by saints and scholars throughout the ages. And rightfully so.”8
2. The problem of nihilism. Paul again answers in vs 7, “For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?” If there is no moral right and wrong, then there is no meaning in this world. The terms “lie” and “God” and “sinner” are no more relevant to anything than a dog’s bark. They are all just sounds that we have learned to make but they carry no real meaning behind the sounds. Someone said consistent nihilism is an oxymoron. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Most people, if they had really learned to look into their hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world.”9
3. The problem of hedonism. The final outcome of the sinner’s outrageous statement is answered by Paul in vs 8, “And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? Whose damnation is just.” If there is no moral obligation in the world, and if there is no eternal purpose to which we should strive, the only thing that seems to be worthwhile is our own pleasure. This is what lost man has wanted all along, to give himself permission to do as he pleases. The Christian message (of real sin and real forgiveness) must be ignored if this goal is to be accomplished.
The world will always put the Christian message on trial. And the Christian message will continue to be the only key that opens the door to life’s fulfillment. Pascal put it this way, “There are only three sorts of people: those who have found God and serve him; those who are busy seeking him and have not found him; those who live without either seeking or finding him. The first are reasonable and happy, the last are foolish and unhappy, those in the middle are unhappy and reasonable.”10
Notes: 1. Erwin Lutzer, Hitler’s Cross (Chicago: Moody, 1995) 104. 2. Friedrich Nietzsche: Quoted by Paul Rahe in The Intercollegiate Review—Fall 1997, p. 30. 3. Quoted by Bruce Shelley, Church History In Plain Language, ( Dallas: Word, 1995) 317. 4. G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Wheaton: Harold Shaw, 1994) 126. 5. Ronald Mayers, Balanced Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1984) 82. 6. Shelley, 109. 7. G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong With The World (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994) 37. 8. William Bennett, The Death Of Outrage (New York: The Free Press, 1998) 118. 9. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1984) 119. 10. Blaise Pascal, Pensees (New York: Penguin, 1966) (160) 82.