Romans 3:5-7, “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?”
One fundamental axiom of biblical religion is God’s freedom to display His glory and righteousness no matter how mankind responds to Him. In other words, the acts of human beings do not make God more or less glorious or righteous. Every knee will bow to Christ and glorify the Father—some willingly because their hearts have been changed, and some because they are compelled to recognize Him despite their impenitence (Phil. 2:5–11). As we will see in Romans 3:21–26, our Creator remains righteous when He justifies sinners, that is, declares them righteous. But He also remains righteous when He judges other sinners, and that is what Paul teaches us in today’s passage.
Recall that Paul has just said that the old covenant community’s failure to serve the Lord does not make Him unfaithful; rather, it gives Him the opportunity to demonstrate His faithfulness and righteousness in the condemnation of sinners (vv. 3–4). To Jews who looked for the Messiah and served God to thank Him for His salvation and not to earn their own righteousness, He showed Himself faithful to His promises to forgive their sins (2 Chron. 7:14). To Jews who rejected Him, He showed Himself faithful to His promises to hand them over to their enemies as His righteous punishment (Deut. 28). In both cases, the Lord was faithful and righteous even though the response of His people was different.
The Almighty’s faithfulness and righteousness in condemning people for their impenitence raises issues of theodicy (the defense of God’s justice). Paul knows that some will question whether God is actually righteous if He visits wrath upon the unrighteous. How can the Lord justly be angry with the unrighteous, when their very unrighteousness allows Him to show forth His righteousness? Why is it fair for our Creator to condemn the unrighteous when their unrighteousness lets Him magnify His own righteousness? (Rom. 3:5a).
Paul does not fully answer the question except to assert the Lord’s righteousness and to implicitly label as irrational and blasphemous any doubt as to whether God is just. Hence his fear and trepidation to raise the issue “in a human way” (v. 5b). If there is one thing that we can never question, it is our Creator’s justice. He always judges righteously (Ps. 9:8; Jer. 11:20). God could never judge the world if there was any possible way for Him to be unrighteous in so doing (Rom. 3:6). To even suggest the Lord is ever unrighteous is to show how sin has clouded the mind. The creature does not judge the Creator.
At the root of all sin is the arrogant attempt of creatures to judge their Creator, to believe that we know better than He does and to go our own way or to deny what He has said about Himself. True faith believes what the Lord has revealed about Himself and seeks to please Him in all things. If we find ourselves questioning fundamental truths about God—such as the fact that He is perfectly just—let us repent immediately for such blasphemous thinking.
Is God Unrighteous?, Copyright (2021), Ligonier Ministries.