Paul’s Answer to Antinomians, not the same in Romans 3 as in Romans 6
Romans 3: 3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.” 5 But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) 6 By no means! For then how could God judge the world? 7 But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? 8 And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.
Romans 6: Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
In Romans 3, Paul threatens antinomians with condemnation. I know some Calvinists (I was one of them) who think it is enough to say that God is sovereign and thus the cause of salvation .But the truth of the gospel is not only God’s sovereignty but also God’s righteousness. This means that the gospel is not only about the justification of the elect sinner but also about the justification of God.
I am NOT dismissive of efforts to justify God. To justify God does not of course mean that we make God just. Rather, it means that we declare that God is just. When God justifies an elect sinner, it’s not only God’s sovereignty that declares the sinner just. God is justified in justifying the elect sinner because 1. Christ died because of the imputed guilt of that elect sinner and 2. God declares individual elect sinners to legally share in that death. Because of these two facts of history,
God is justified in justifying elect sinners.
It does nOt seem fair. It does not look just. The elect sinners go free. Christ, who did not sin, “alive to sin”, because of imputed sins, so that Christ must die. This is why we are tempted to say that the whole thing is only about God’s sovereignty and then tell people to shut their mouths and ask no questions. But the Bible itself does not take that attitude. The Bible tells us how God thinks. The Bible justifies God.
Romans 3 and 6 deal with the objection that God justifying sinners will cause sinners to rationalize their sins, so that they not only say that their sins were predestined but also that they say that more sins result in more grace.
The Romans 6 answer is that grace is either grace or not. There is not more or less grace, but either grace or no grace. More sin does not get the elect more grace, because all those God justly justifies have all the grace any other elect person has. If you have grace, then you are justified from sin, and if you don’t have grace, you are a sinner “free from righteousness” (6:20).
While unbelievers trust in “God” to help them to sin less, those who have been delivered to the gospel know that there are only two kind of sinners —guilty sinners and justified sinners .
The theodicy of Romans 3 announces that God is true even if every human is a liar and therefore condemned. We justify God because God has revealed Himself and justified Himself. God has revealed that God is more than sovereign. God is Revealed as Righteous and Just. And God’s word is justified in history by what God did when Christ gave Himself up to death on the cross because of the imputed guilt of the elect.
We were wrong. God was right and God is still right. God prevails, but it is not only a matter of “might makes right” or “sovereignty always wins”. We have no right to make a negative judgment on God, since it is God who will be making a negative judgment on many sinners. But we are called to make a positive rational judgment about God’s justice. As Isaiah 53 explains, the righteous servant will be satisfied. God will be just to Christ. And God is just to justify elect sinners for the sake of Christ.
It is idolatry to only know a God who is sovereign. The true God is also righteous. It is unbelieving rebellion to deny that God is just. Psalm 51:4-6—“Against you have I sinned and done what is evil, so that you are justified in your words and blameless in your judgment..Behold you delight in truth…”
When we try to say, “well at least our lack of orthodoxy is only making God look more gracious”, we need to read Romans 3:5—God is the righteous judge of us. God takes sides with Himself. God takes sides against sinners. And the only sinners that God justifies are the elect who God has placed into the death of Christ.