“God Is Faithful – Man Is Not!”
01/12/14 AM, Sharon OPC
Dr. Jeffrey K. Boer
[See Herman Hoeksema, Sermon 14, “The Faith of God”]
Paul asks, “What if some do not have faith?” That’s a very pertinent and extremely practical question. What if some of God’s covenant people, the Jews, do not come to faith, then what? What will we say about God’s faithfulness to His covenant people if some of the Jews do not believe?
Of course, you probably don’t feel how cutting, and how practical that question is as long as you think of it only in terms of the Jews of Paul’s day.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “What if some of those Jews didn’t believe? So what?”
So let’s put the question a little differently. “What if some of us do not
believe? What if some of the members of Sharon Church do not believe?”
Putting the question in that form becomes a little more real to you and
to me. “What if some of the children of the covenant do not believe? What if some of the children of our own church do not believe?”
Or, if you want to feel the question even more intensely, “What if some of these who don’t believe are of your own flesh and blood? What if some of them are your own babies which you brought up, and which you instructed in the fear and admonition of the Lord, and for whom you’ve prayed, and for whom, perhaps, you’ve even pleaded and said, ‘Lord save them.’ What if some of them do not believe? What will you say then?” That’s precisely the
question Paul is asking in our text.
Yes, it’s true that he’s speaking of the Jews of his day. In v. 1, he says, “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision?”
That question arises in his mind because he realized that the Jews would be thinking these things because of what he’d just said. He knew that the Jews would ask, “If it’s true what you’ve just written – if all are to be judged according to their works, the Jew first and also the Gentile – and if circumcision has no value whatsoever in making us righteous before God – and if the Jews have no advantage whatsoever in the way of being God’s “favorites” – if there’s no difference between Jews and Gentiles with regard to their acceptability to God – and if there’s no respect of persons with God – well then, “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew?”
But we could ask the same question in our terms today: “If a person can be without faith, even though he’s a member of the church, even though he performs many religious observances, even though he comes from a fine,
Christian family, then what advantage is there to belonging to the church? What advantage is there in being a member of the covenant and having the covenant signs and seals?”
And the Apostle Paul answers, “Much in every way!”
But Paul also makes the point that the advantages of the Jew, and the value of circumcision must not be seen in anything that the Jews were or did, but only in the special gifts of God to the Jews. The advantages of the Jews were not in their own religious observances. The advantages of the Jews were not in their being Jewish or being circumcised. The advantages of the Jews were seen in the fact that they were given the very Words of God – that they were given God’s Word of revelation. And that Word of revelation was also
accompanied by the sacraments, the signs and seals of God’s promises.
These are, indeed, great gifts. These are great advantages. “Much in every way!” says Paul.
But that causes another question to arise:
“If the Jews have been given the Words of God and the promises of God, and the signs and seals of those promises, then what if some of them don’t believe? How do you respond to that? Does their lack of faith prove that God is not faithful to His promises?”
The apostle Paul puts it this way: “What if some did not have faith? Will
their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?”
In other words, “Do you then start to think like an Arminian? Do you say, ‘Yes, they have the promises of God offered to them, but then, through their own unbelief they make these promises of God to have no value’? Does the fact that some members of the covenant don’t have faith – does that make God out to be a liar? Does that make God unfaithful to His promises in the covenant?
And the Apostle answers, “Not at all! [or, “God forbid!”] Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: ‘So that you may be proved
right in your words and prevail in your judging.’”
In other words, the exact opposite is true! The reason why some don’t believe, even though they have the Word of God and the promises of God, is so that God may be proved right in His words and prevail in His judging!
Paul’s theme here is this: “God is faithful even though man is not.”
Paul is talking about the faithfulness of God. “Will their lack of faith
nullify God’s faithfulness?”
In other words, “Does the unbelief of those who don’t believe, mean that God is not faithful to His promises?”
Faithfulness is constancy. Faithfulness doesn’t change over time. Faithfulness means that in a certain relationship one remains unchangeable. When a man gets married he promises to love his wife, “until death do us part.” Faithfulness means that he’ll keep that promise. Faithfulness means that He’ll do what he said he’d do. And in that respect, God is certainly faithful.
God always does what He says He’ll do.
Faithfulness among men, on the other hand, is rare. Men, by nature, are liars. Look at the apostles. Even Jesus’ apostles all deserted Him when they found out that He was going to be crucified. They weren’t faithful to Him. Peter, the strongest and bravest of the apostles, even lied through his teeth, cursing and swearing, as He denied His Lord. So we certainly wouldn’t do any better, apart from the grace of God!
By nature, people are fickle in their relationships. I remember my dating relationships in college, how fickle I was. I’d get a crush on a girl and ask her out. Then, after I got to know her a little bit, reality would set in and I’d discover that she had some faults. So I’d lose interest in her and dump her (in a nice way, of course!). I was told, years later, that some of the girls in the dormitory nicknamed me, “The Heartbreak Kid.” I was looking for true love but I didn’t know the meaning of the word, “love,” while I was in college. I equated love with infatuation. Infatuations are fickle. They’re unstable and unreliable. They come and go. True love is unchanging. It’s stable and faithful, through thick and thin. Men are fickle. God is faithful.
When you think about it, however, God can’t be anything but faithful. The root of God’s faithfulness is in the fact that He’s unchangeable. God is always faithful because God never changes from one day to the next. He’s the same,
yesterday, today, and forever. Men change, but God is always the same.
The faithfulness of God means that He’s constant, that He’s unchangeable in His relationship to His elect, chosen people. In respect to His own beloved children, God always stands in a relationship of perfect, covenant friendship.
God always gives His people what He promises: life, forgiveness of sins, righteousness, and eternal glory. And our text is calling attention especially to that faithfulness of God.
Perhaps we could paraphrase these verses in this way: “Does the unbelief of some that don’t believe cause God to break His covenant relationship with
His people so that He doesn’t save them – so that He doesn’t forgive their sins – so that He doesn’t deliver them from the power of death – and so that He doesn’t give them eternal life and glorify them? Does the faithfulness of God depend upon the faithfulness of man?” That’s the question.
Now the Arminian will answer, “Yes it does.” The Arminian says, “No matter how faithful God is, if man is unfaithful, man can undo the faithfulness of God
and be lost. So man’s lack of faith can nullify the promises of God by man’s rebellion.”
But Paul is saying in our text that the Arminians are wrong in this belief. Paul is saying that he’s a Calvinist! Now I know that John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius hadn’t even been born yet. But we need to understand that Calvin and Arminius didn’t invent the doctrines they taught. Calvin merely picked up on and promoted the doctrines of the apostle Paul (so Calvin was actually a Paulinist), and Arminius merely picked up on and promoted the doctrines of those mixed up Jews and Pharisees that Paul is addressing in our text (so Arminius was actually a Pharisee). And Paul is saying that in no way can man’s unfaithfulness nullify the faithful promises of God!
Paul also makes it clear that the Jews had many advantages. They had the very Words of God. They had the OT Scriptures. Those Scriptures were,
and are, really and truly the Word of God, along with the NT Scriptures.
The Greek word used for the “very words” of God is the word, “logía,” referring to all the words, oracles, promises, utterances, sayings, and any other direct revelations from God. The Jews had all of these!
God gave His Words to His covenant people in many different times and in
many different places in the OT. He spoke His words to Adam, to Enoch, to Noah, to Abraham, to Israel, and to many others. And it’s all of those Words that the Apostle refers to here when he says that these Words were “entrusted” to the Jews. In the same way, God’s Words, His oracles, and promises, and sayings, have all been written down in the whole Bible and have now been entrusted to us, who belong to Christ’s body, the church.
To have the very Words of God is a trust. These words have been entrusted
to us. To have the Words of God is a terrible thing for sinful men, however. That’s because these Words are not just given to these men. They’re also entrusted to these men. Since these men fail to hear the Word of God, they violate that trust.
Well, the Apostle says that the Jews were entrusted with the Word of God, just as the members of Christ’s church today have been entrusted with that Word of God. We’ve been entrusted, then, with all the promises of God.
So Paul asks, “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision?”
Or we could say, “What advantage, then, is there to being a member of the church, or what value is there in baptism?”
And Paul’s answer is, “Much in every way!”
The primary advantage to the church is that we’ve been entrusted with the very Words of God. The advantage of having those very Words of God is that those Words reveal to us God’s promise, “I will establish My covenant with you.”
That’s the content of that Word of God. That’s the content of the Gospel. God’s Word says, “I will establish My covenant with you. I will redeem
you from sin. I will deliver you from corruption. I will lift you up unto glory.” That’s the advantage of having the very words of God – that we may have God’s promises – that we may have the Gospel!
But again the question arises, “What if some don’t have faith? What if some of those that have those Words – some of those who are entrusted with those very Words and promises of God – what if some of them do not believe? How do you explain that?”
I hope you understand that the apostle is speaking of an awful situation here when he says, “What if some did not have faith?”
Think about it. What did they do by their lack of faith? Since they didn’t believe, they made God out to be a liar. Apparently, it made no difference to them that the very Word of God had come to them. They still didn’t believe. And when those oracles and Words of God came to them, they said to the bearers of those words, “Go away. I don’t want to hear it.” That’s what they did in the desert and that’s what they did with the prophets and that’s what they did with Christ. And the essence of that attitude with respect to the Word of God is that they were calling God a liar.
As sinful men, that’s what we always do, by nature. As it was in the OT, so it is in the NT. When God entrusts His very Words to His covenant people, there are always going to be some who don’t have faith. And that’s an awful thing, so awful that one of those who brought these oracles to the people of God in the OT, one named Moses, said this in Exodus 32:32, “But now, please
forgive their sin – but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”
And this thing was so awful that one of those who brought these very words of God to the people of God in the NT, Paul himself, said later in this same letter, in Romans 9:1-4, “I speak the truth in Christ – I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit – I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers,
those of my own race, the people of Israel.”
That was the reaction of Moses and Paul when they saw that some did not have faith.
Now, I’m not sure that Paul and Moses were implying that they’d rather go
to Hell than to see their own people, their fellow Jews, perish. But at the very least I think they were talking about being willing to die, to give their own lives, if that would enable these lost ones to believe.
But regardless of what they meant, isn’t it an awful grief when you see children who all receive these same words of God, preached to them Sunday after Sunday, and then, when they come to years of discretion, some of them still go astray? No matter how you plead with them, there’s going to be a number of them that say, regarding these words of God, “God is a liar.” Isn’t it an awful grief when in the congregation of God’s people, after hearing these very Words of God, Sunday after Sunday, that some of them simply do not believe? And the elders may go after them and seek to bring them back, but still they say, “God is a liar.” That’s such a grief that it sometimes does bring people to their graves.
“What if some did not have faith? What do you say in cases like that?” That’s the question.
Shall we say that the faithfulness of God is made of no effect? Shall we question the faithfulness of God?
Some would question the faithfulness of God in this way:
Some say that God gives His promises to all men, indiscriminately. He gives His promises to the Jews, and also to the church. And when He does so, He says to each one of them and to all of them together, “I promise to give you
eternal life. I promise to forgive your sins, to deliver you from corruption, to glorify you.”
Now, if that were the case, then God would be obligated, by His faithfulness, to save each and every one of those Jews and each and every one of those church members. And if that were the case, then if some didn’t believe, their unbelief would somehow bring the faithfulness of God into question, wouldn’t it? If God promised to give them eternal life, and He doesn’t give them eternal life, and He doesn’t forgive them, and He doesn’t glorify them, then perhaps He’s not faithful to His promise?
So this false explanation implies that those church members who don’t have faith can actually nullify the faithfulness of God by their lack of faith. They can make God into a liar.
But is that a proper explanation? Is there a general offer of salvation that’s given to everyone, head for head, but then, if some don’t believe, if some
don’t have faith, if some don’t accept this “offer,” then they somehow make the faithfulness of God of no effect?
God forbid! If that were the case, then a man’s unbelief would make it impossible for God to save him! Then man’s unbelief would be stronger than God’s saving power. Yet that’s what the Arminians teach!
They say that God freely offers His promise of salvation to all men in the Gospel. But then, if those men refuse to “accept” this offer, God’s promise of
salvation is nullified for them.
This is a foolish and stupid argument. Paul is very clearly implying in our
text that God is faithful, and that God’s faithfulness cannot be nullified. Paul says, “Let God be true, and every man a liar.”
So if that method of explaining the situation just doesn’t cut it, then how do we explain the situation when we see church members who have the very Words of God, yet who still don’t believe? How can these people have the very Words and promises of God, and yet still not be saved?
Or let’s ask the question this way: When parents appear before the throne of grace and say, “Please save my child because we have the covenant promise,” what do we say if some of those children never come to believe?
What do we say if God doesn’t answer those parents’ prayers by giving all of their children faith? (And as we all know, sometimes God doesn’t give faith to all the children of believers.) What then is your answer? Paul asks, “Will
their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?”
Do we explain the situation this way?: God wants to save them? God wants
to answer those parents’ prayers, but those children’s lack of faith nullifies
“Not at all!” says Paul. God forbid! God forbid that our unbelief should make the faithfulness of God impossible! And God forbid that our unbelief should prove that God is not faithful to His Word!
So what does Paul say in answer to his own question? What’s the true explanation of the facts when some of those people who have the Word of God don’t believe it?
Well, before Paul even gets into the true explanation of the matter, he
immediately throws out the possibility that God could ever be unfaithful. That’s preposterous! “Not at all!” says Paul. “God forbid!”
Here’s Paul’s explanation; here’s why some who have the promises of God don’t believe: Paul says, “Let God be true and every man a liar.”
The reason why some, even in the church of God, don’t have faith is so that every man may be seen to be a liar, and that God may be seen to be true.
Paul then quotes from Psalm 51:4, a Psalm of David in the OT, which David wrote after he fell into sin with Bathsheba. Paul says, “As it is written: ‘So that you may be proved right in your words and prevail in your judging.’”
The fact that men can still fail to believe, in spite of being handed the very Words of God on a silver platter – that only goes to show that man is a liar by nature and cannot, of his own free will, choose to believe. Man always lies about God, by nature. This Word of God, from which there is no hiding – this Word which speaks to you and me directly – comes to us and says to us, “Listen to Me, listen to the Word that can bring you near to God.” But, unless God changes our lying hearts, we’ll all say, “I don’t want it!”
That’s why they killed the prophets. It’s the lying, sinful nature of man that becomes evident when some, even some in the church, refuse to believe in Jesus Christ.
The reason that some don’t believe, even though they have the Word of God, is so that it may become evident that sinful man is a liar, and that sinful man always lies about God, even in spite of the fact that he has the very Words of God spoken to him. That truth becomes evident for all to see. And it also becomes evident, then, that only God is true and faithful in all He does.
Only God is the faithful One. Only God, through His Son, Jesus Christ, was faithful in all things, even unto death, so that we sinful, depraved liars might have salvation.
You see, even though some don’t believe – even though even some church members never come to faith – God still always fulfills His promise to everyone to whom He’s given it.
You see, just because you have a promise written on a piece of paper in your hand, that doesn’t mean that that promise has been made to you. And just because you hear about the promise of God preached in the Gospel, that doesn’t mean that that promise of God is a promise to you. If it were a promise to you, and then God failed to fulfill His promise to you, then, indeed, God’s faithfulness would be nullified. But Paul makes it very clear: man can’t nullify the promises of God!
Of course, that implies that God’s promise is not for everyone who hears that promise of God preached from His Word. God’s promise of salvation is not given to all those who hear the Gospel of God preached to them. Just
because it’s preached that Jesus Christ died for the sins of His people, that
doesn’t mean you’re automatically one of those for whom He died. God’s promise is not to all those who merely hear the Word. God’s promise is not even to all those who, by their own power, choose to accept the Word of God, for there are no such people who choose, by their own power to accept the Word of God!
By nature, all men are spiritually dead in their trespasses and sins!
Spiritually dead men can’t make themselves alive! They can’t suddenly choose to make themselves born again and come to life!
No. God’s promise is to all those who, in spite of their sinful, lying, depraved natures, are given the gift of faith by God’s gracious choosing. God is always
faithful to those whom He has elected and whom He has chosen to be His own. And the perfected church in glory shall be an everlasting testimony that God is forever true to His promise, just as the eternal outer darkness shall be a testimony that man is forever a liar.
That’s the answer to Paul’s question!
And if we can accept that answer – that God is faithful to all of His elect and chosen people, even though some who are church members may never come to faith – then we can have peace, for we believe that God does all things well.
Paul asks, “What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every
man a liar. As it is written: ‘So that you may be proved right in your words and prevail in your judging.’”
God is faithful. Man is not. That’s what becomes clear to us when we see long-time church members who never come to faith in Jesus Christ. God is
faithful. Man is not. “Let God be true, and every man a liar.”
There, in a nutshell, you have the essence of the Gospel of grace! God is always true to His promises. But His promises are only given to those He chooses to save, and those He chooses to give the gift of faith to believe. Salvation is all of God’s choosing and all of God’s doing because God is faithful and man is not!