The Bad News, Part Two: the Nature of God’s Judgment
© C. O. Bishop 8/14/15 THCF 8/23/15
Last time we met, we discussed the reality of Sin, and God’s reason for hating sin, while still loving the sinner. We saw that the “list” of sins, at one level or another, covers all of us. But we all seem to find reasons to point a finger and think, “Well, I’m not as bad as those other folks.” Last time we addressed the “Immoral Sinner”. But the fact is that the “bad news” of Sin reaches to every human in history. The Moral sinner still thinks he is somehow above the rest of the “unwashed heathen”, just because he doesn’t run to the same degree of excess as they do. So, God addresses the “moral sinners” as a group:
God’s Judgment is Upon the Moral Sinner
1Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.
Paul resumes his dissertation on the utter lostness of Man’s condition by challenging the moralists: He states that whoever they are, when they look down their noses at others, because of perceived sin in the other person’s life, they condemn themselves as well, as co-sinners. The “list”, above, in chapter one, was all-inclusive. (Know anyone who never disobeyed his parents? Never was covetous, or envious, etc.?) Not only does it cover everyone, the things on the list are all condemned under verse 18 as the stuff regarding which God’s wrath is revealed from heaven. (Remember, it says that the Wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness.)
So, maybe you have never committed adultery, but you have thought about it. You never have stolen anything, but you have envied someone else for what they had…etc. He is demonstrating that all the listed items are just symptoms of the same fatal disease. There is no such thing as a “little bit” sinful. We are all infected with the same disease. That’s why Paul can confidently state in verse one that “…thou that judgest doest the same things.” You have the same disease!
God’s Judgment is According to Truth
2 But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things.
Paul states that the judgment of God is according to truth. That is good to know, in the sense that I know God will never accuse me of something I didn’t do. On the other hand it means that nothing I have ever done or thought or imagined has been hidden from him. He knows my deepest secrets, and my most twisted, ugly passions. He knows it all. And, apart from the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ (as we will see in chapter 3), I will be judged according to truth for all of it. I shudder to imagine such a calamity. My condition would truly be hopeless.
3 And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?
4 Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
5 But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;
In light of my own guilt before God, Paul says that, especially as a moralist, condemning others, I should expect the judgment of God. He says “do you think (you who judge another and do the same things) that you will escape the judgment of God”? The implied answer: “Absolutely not!”
In fact, he suggests that anyone so inclined, confident in their own goodness, is, in fact, despising the goodness and tolerance and patience of God by ignoring the call of God for repentance. He goes on to say (verse 5) that it is directly due to their own hardness of heart and absolute lack of repentance that, far from impressing God with their “morality”, they are treasuring up for themselves more wrath from God. That is a sobering thought, isn’t it?
God’s Judgment is also According to Works
6 Who will render to every man according to his deeds:
Verse 6 makes it clear that God will give every sinner exactly what he deserves. There will be no exceptions. (What he hasn’t said yet is that there is an escape, and that God will no longer see as sinners those who appropriate that promise! But we are getting ahead of ourselves here.)
7 To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:
8 But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,
9 Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;
10 But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:
11 For there is no respect of persons with God.
12 For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;
13 (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
14 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:
15 Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)
God says that those who “earn” eternal life will get it…and that those who don’t will receive utter damnation. (What???) Wow! How do you earn eternal life? Actually, it can’t be done. No one can earn Grace. The definition of Grace, in fact, is “Unearned merit”—undeserved favor.
There are people who cling to this passage as proving that it is possible to earn salvation. But, in the first place, he says “…those who by patient continuance in well-doing, etc….” he doesn’t say, “…those who decide at some point they had better clean up their act and fly right!” No one but Jesus has ever lived a sinless life. God is not “grading on a curve!” He says all who “have sinned” will be judged…and perish.
In the second place, if we look ahead just a little, at chapter 3, we see that Paul concludes that the whole world is condemned under sin, and that every mouth is stopped…no one has a defense or an argument against the judgment of God. It is complete. And he clearly states the reason why: Romans 3:23: “…for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Perfection is the standard, and no one measures up.
God’s Judgment is According to the Law
Twice in this passage (v.7-15) the phrase appears, “to the Jew first and also to the Gentile”. It is clear that national or ethnic origin is no safety net. If you fall from the “high-wire” of God’s perfection, there is no humanly accessible “safety net”. Apart from the Grace of God, we are truly lost, regardless of who we are, or where we came from. We are truly fallen creatures. The Jews, who have the Law, and believe they have an “in” with God through it, will be judged by the Law, according to verse 12…and condemned for breaking it.
So, what about Gentiles who seem to do, by instinct, the things the law calls for? Doesn’t it say right here that they have become “a law unto themselves?” It surely does! A broken law! No one has a perfectly sinless life. The fact is, I can’t obey the rules even when I make the rules. I am a lawbreaker by nature and by choice. It says here that they (the Jews) who have the Law are judged by the Law, and those who sin without the law shall perish without the law: “Perish!” Not “be saved!” But, over in John 3:16 it says, “…that whosoever believeth in him should not perish…” Aha! So, when it comes to salvation, the issue is not behavior, but belief! Romans 2:7-15, far from providing a loophole in the judgment of God, solidly closes the last loophole. In fact, later on, in Romans 8:7, he states not only that my sin nature is not subject to the Law of God, but that it cannot be. It is corrupt and lawless by nature.
He says that the righteousness pertaining to Law depends completely upon obedience to the law (complete obedience). And that the only thing guaranteed by having the law available is that it will judge the hearers who do not obey!
God’s Judgment is According to the Gospel
16 In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.
Notice that here, he states another standard of judgment—or, more specifically, WHO will be the Judge. In verse 2, he said they will be judged according to truth. In verse 6 he says they are judged according to works. In verse 12 he states that the possessors of the law will be judged by the Law. But in verse 16 he says that the secrets of men will be judged by Jesus Christ. He also states that the standard will be “my gospel”. The judgment will be in accordance with the Gospel of God’s Grace, as laid out in this epistle. How so? Everyone who has heard it will be responsible for what they did with the message. A certain ruler (Pontius Pilate) in Matthew 27:22, asked “What shall I do with Jesus, who is called the Christ?” That is going to be the ultimate question for everyone who has heard the Gospel: “What did you do with Jesus Christ?” It doesn’t matter who the sinner is, the question will be the same. That is why Jesus said in John 3:18, “He that believeth not is condemned already because he has not believed on the only begotten Son of God.”
God’s Judgment is Upon the Religious Sinner:
(There is no “Get out of Jail Free” card for the Jews…or for any other religion.)
17 Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God,
18 And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law;
19 And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness,
20 An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.
21 Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?
22 Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?
23 Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?
24 For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.
25 For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.
26 Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?
27 And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?
28 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:
29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
So, finally, in verses 17-29, Paul turns and addresses the People of the Covenant—the Jews. They are confident in their superiority because they are the offspring of Jacob. They have the Law, and know what it says. They rest in that confidence. They are proud that, as a Nation, they “hold the patent on God”, so to speak. “We have the one true God, and you do not! Have a nice day!” They knew the will of God, and approved of the wisdom of His Word. They were confident that they themselves were guides to the blind (“international chaplains” as it were), and instructors of fools, a light to those in darkness (all of which was supposed to be true) and a teacher of babes. To these self-righteous Jews, Paul said “you have the “form of knowledge and of the truth in the Law”. (Oops!) So maybe the “form” was all they had? And maybe formalism is insufficient when it comes to our relationship with God? Evidently that is the case. We see that today as well.
So, Paul proceeds to tear down their playhouse: he says that they were hypocrites, not really following the law they advocated, nor practicing what they preached. He suggests that in spite of their teaching righteousness, they were practicing unrighteousness. They may have angrily denied all the things he laid at their feet, but remember, specifically, how Jesus upgraded the interpretation of the Law: He stated that if one “looked upon a woman to lust after her” that he had already committed adultery inwardly. So, all the things Paul was suggesting would at least be an inward reality. But it was evidently generally true outwardly, as well, because he concluded, in verse 24, that the name of God was routinely blasphemed among the Gentiles, specifically because of their bad testimony. What a crying shame! The people of the Living God, who were supposed to be a nation of Priests, and the emissaries of God, were instead his biggest problem. And they were still proud of their claim on “holiness”, though they were just as unholy as those Gentiles they despised. (Does this sound familiar? Do churchgoers still do this today?)
Paul corrected their thinking, by saying that their blood relationship to Abraham did not make them the “children of Abraham” (by the way, Jesus said the same thing), nor did their physical mark of “sanctification” (namely, circumcision) make them truly sanctified. He concludes that being a Jew, in God’s eyes, demanded being one inwardly, and that all these outward trappings of “holiness and piety” were not impressing God one little bit.
Now: I have heard this passage used to teach that the true members of the church (the Body of Christ) because of the inward transformation, have literally become Jews. That is not true: this idea is easily refuted, because, if nothing else, in Acts 15, both Peter and James refer to the Gentile believers as “Gentiles.” This is a matter of practical reality: they were being specifically exempted from the Jewish dietary and Levitical laws, because they were Gentiles.
Perhaps an even more important point is that in Galatians 3:28 Paul says that “…in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile…” Do you see the implication? Even the Jewish believers, in Christ, were no longer “technically” Jews, any more than we are “technically” Gentiles…they are a part of the “new man” described in Ephesians 2:15…a group “called out” for the name of Christ out of every nation, tribe, people and tongue, in whom there is no longer Jew, nor Gentile, bond nor free, etc. Does that mean the Roman slaves who trusted in Jesus were suddenly freed from their masters? Nope…not physically, they weren’t. Does it mean that they were forever made equal in value and standing with God, to every other believer, even if that believer happened to be their owner, physically? Yes! Absolutely, it does. Do we all have the same gifts and tasks in Christ? Nope. Do we all have the same hope of our calling (Ephesians 4)? Absolutely, we do. And the same overall job to do? Yes, we do! Do I have a piece of land waiting for me in Palestine? No! The idea is laughable!
I am a member of the BRIDE of Christ, not one of the guests at the wedding! However noble and exalted their position may be, that of the Bride is far better: we are personally joined to the Bridegroom.
Paul has systematically condemned three categories of sinners: immoral sinners, moral sinners and religious sinners, and has demonstrated that they are all equally lost.
Now, we have jumped ahead in the book, and have seen that God’s answer to the problem of Sin is equally all-encompassing: Jesus’ blood at the Cross, and his physical resurrection from the dead are our only Hope. We will place our faith there, and read on to learn more about it.
God help us to increase in Faith and Love, and the Knowledge of your Word! Fill us with your Spirit and transform us into your likeness!