Read Chapter 2
Last week, we covered the last section of chapter 1 in which Paul zeroed in on Gentiles. We saw how that they were without excuse for their rebellion against God. God had put his truth in their hearts, yet they suppressed the truth in unrighteousness. As they rebelled against God, they went down a road to wickedness that kept spiraling down farther and farther into absolute chaos and complete moral decadence.
Just imagine the church members in Rome as they received this letter. Even better, imagine Roman society at large as they procured copies of this. I don’t think that this was read only by Christians, but eventually by large parts of Rome, both Jews and Gentiles. I can imagine the Jews both in and out of the Christian community hearing these words in chapter 1 read. They were probably almost gleeful at Paul’s devastating critique of Gentile society...Then comes chapter 2...Paul turns the tables on these proud Jews...and probably also on the Gentile moralists as well (The Roman Stoics were probably just as appalled as the Roman Jews at the decadent society around them).
Paul in this section will use a commonly-used rhetorical device in his day...the Greek “diatribe.” This was where one would engage in a dialogue an imaginary person. Scholars are divided about whether this first part of the second chapter is addressed to Jews or to Gentile moralists...that is, Gentiles who practiced their own form of law and lived what we would think of as generally moral lives. The Stoics were one of these groups. Personally, I think that Paul is primarily thinking of the Jews throughout this chapter. He comes out in the open in verse 17 and calls them Jews, but I think these are the two categories he had in mind all along...although he had to know that he was touching the “moralistic Gentiles” as well. (One of the reasons I think this is because in both verses 9 and 10 he describes two categories...Jew and Greek. He probably, however, is referring to the moralistic Greeks in verse 14 when he talks about Gentiles who do not have the law but do instinctively the things in the law.)
In this chapter, we’re not going to be going verse by verse as we normally do. That is a good way to study scripture, but the problem with it is that we can “lose the forest for the trees” sometimes when we study at the “micro” level (verse by verse) than at the “macro” level (big picture). We want to really try to understand what Paul was saying to his audience, but then, before we’re done tonight, we want to try to understand how this applies to us in the society in which we live in 2019.
Paul opens up this section by telling those who have been feeling superior to these awful Gentiles that he just finished describing by telling them that when they judge those who have less light than them they are actually condemning themselves. (This sense of “judging” is not talking about only being able to judge between right from wrong, but condemning those who are practicing wrong.) How is it they these people are condemning themselves when they are judging others? When any of us find ourselves feeling morally superior because of what we know, we are saying that we want to be judged at a higher standard. I don’t think that Paul in these opening verses is saying that these Jews were practicing the exact same sins as the Gentiles, but that they were guilty of many sins that they were “sweeping under the rug.” Let’s read some of what Jesus said to some of these same type of people. In this case, he was talking primarily to the Pharisees in Jerusalem, who thought themselves morally superior to everyone else…
Read Matthew 23:2-7;13-15;23-28
What is a hypocrite? It originally referred to Greek actors, who would wear masks and pretend to be someone that they weren’t. Jesus was saying that you have a “righteous mask” that you put on, but underneath that mask is nothing but unrighteousness. Although Paul doesn’t use the word in Romans 2, the idea is there just the same. Here are people who pretend to be morally superior but inside are full of sin. Remember, it was these “morally superior” Pharisees and their accomplices the Saducees who condemned Jesus to a Roman cross. And the scriptures said that they did it because of envy.
Paul says in verse 4 of Romans 2 that the only reasons that you “morally superior” Jews have escaped judgment so far is because of the kindness, tolerance (some versions have forbearance here which I think is better), and patience of God. i.e. if you got what you deserved, you would already be in hell! God’s kindness should be leading you to repent, not to feel smugly safe from God’s wrath.
(I’m going to hold off on talking about verses 5-10 for now. We’ll look at these verses at the end of our talk.)
In verse 12, Paul begins to explain that those who have no law (and here he seems to be referring to the law of Moses) are judged by what we’ll call the law of the conscience. We mentioned this inward law that God has put in all men last week. He describes it in more detail here in chapter 2. Verses 14 and 15 in many versions are in parenthesis. He takes a break from his thought process to tell about this law of the conscience. What he describes sounds a lot like the “New Covenant” law which is written in the hearts of believers. However, this is something different. This is another law written on the heart of every man and woman. It is the “law of the conscience.” It is the law that tells even people who know nothing about the Bible, may have never even heard of the law of Moses, that some things are right and some things are wrong. Every society that has ever been (as far as I know) values selflessness over selfishness. We know instinctively that there is something wrong about living only for ourselves, and something noble about sacrificing ourselves for others. Think of our Medal of Honor winners. Most of the recipients of this honor received it posthumously, as, until recently, about the only way you could receive it was for giving your life for protecting others. Paul in verse 15 tells that this moral law works in even Gentile’s hearts, “alternately accusing or else defending them.” No one, by the way, is saved by this law anymore than anyone is saved by the Jewish law.
Verse 11 is a great summary of this first part of the chapter…”For there is no partiality with God.” Jews and Gentiles are both “without excuse”, as Paul has already said of Gentiles in chapter 1.
In vs. 17-24, Paul comes out in the open and condemns these judgmental Jews, much the same way that Jesus did in Matthew 22. They feel morally superior to these awful Gentiles, but he begins to grill them on the witness stand, layer by layer tearing apart their moral smugness. He winds it up in verse 24 by quoting Isaiah, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” In essence, he’s saying…”you make the Gentiles look good!” You can just see them withering under these accusations.
Vs, 25-29, Paul drills down even deeper, accusing these Jews of taking refuge in their circumcision, that symbol of Judaism giving by God to Abraham. He says to them that if they don’t keep the law, their circumcision is totally worthless. A uncircumcised Gentile who keeps the law is more of a Jew than a circumcised Jew who doesn’t keep the law! Verses 28-29 is a summary of the last half of this chapter. Paul says that there is such a thing as a circumcision of the heart. Physical circumcision is a cutting away of the flesh, but it is only a symbol of spiritual circumcision. This is when through the Holy Spirit our carnal nature is cut away. Those who receive this spiritual circumcision are true Jews, whether physically circumcised or not.
Now, I want to re-read vs. 10-15 and talk about these verses a bit…
Does it seem to you that Paul in this section contradicts the whole message of Romans? Remember in 1:16 he proclaims that the gospel message is that salvation is for those who believe. Later in Romans, we will see Paul emphatically declaring that we are not saved by works. Yet, here it says that in the day of judgment he will “render to each person according to His deeds.” What gives?
Let’s talk about the final judgment. First of all, who is judge at the final judgment? Look at John 5:22, where we were a few months ago. Who will be the judge? Jesus Christ. Jump down to vs. 27. Let’s look at one more place...Acts 10. Read vs. 40-42. Who is appointed as judge of the living and the dead? Jesus. Now...who is left out of that judgment? None
There is a very popular idea among evangelicals about the last judgment. I’ve heard a number of Christian songs that popularizes this idea. One of them is a Third Day song from a few years ago called “Trust In Jesus.”
One of these days we all will stand in judgment for
Every single word that we have spoken
One of these days we all will stand before the Lord
Give a reason for everything we've done
And what I've done is...
Trust in Jesus
My great Deliverer
My strong Defender
The Son of God
I trust in Jesus
My Lord forever
The Holy One, the Holy One
What are you going to do when your time has come
And your life is done and there's nothing you can stand on
What will you have to say at the judgment throne
I already know the only thing that I can say I...
We’ve sung this song here before, but I’ve actually come to believe that it’s unbiblical...though it really sounds good. The idea is that when we get to judgment and the books are open to judge us for what we’ve done, we’ve got a trump card...We’ll say, We’ve trusted in Jesus. And God will say...oh, so you’re exempt! Come on in! A similar image and one that I’ve used myself is that God the Father is the judge and is about to sentence us to hell, but Jesus steps in and says, I’ve paid for this one with my blood. So then, God let’s us into heaven solely based on faith in Christ without respect to anything we’ve ever done.
Let me be clear. There is a certain sense in which this is true. We’re going to be spending a lot of time in the next few weeks talking about salvation by faith. We won’t be saved by what we’ve done. We can’t earn salvation. It’s only through the blood of Jesus.
Now, these two things seem contradictory but they are not. Salvation comes through the blood of Christ, but the scripture clearly teaches that we will be judged according to what we’ve done with that salvation. Read Matthew 25...the whole chapter when you get a chance. It has two parables and a prophecy. The parable of the ten virgins, the parable of the talents, and the prophecy of the final judgment. The virgins, the men that were given talents, and finally both the sheep and the goats that stand before God, are all judged according to what they have done with what they’ve been given. (Read Matt. 25:31-40 if time) I’ve looked at every scripture in the Bible about the final judgment. Every one of them says that we will be judged according to our works. Some have tried to find two final judgments in all this, but I can’t find them. (BTW, how can you have two final judgments. One of them can’t be final!) If you can show me, I will publicly apologize.
John Stott may shed some light on all of this for us...
(Referring to this section of Romans 2…)
(Referring to this section of Romans 2…)
"Some Christians, however, are immediately up in arms. Has the apostle taken leave of his senses? Does he begin by declaring that salvation is by faith alone (e.g. 1:16f.), and then destroy his own gospel by saying that it is by good works after all? No, Paul is not contradicting himself. What he is affirming is that, although justification is indeed by faith, judgment will be according to works. The reason for this is not hard to find. It is that the day of judgment will be a public occasion. Its purpose will be less to determine God’s judgment than to announce it and to vindicate it. The divine judgment, which is a process of sifting and separating, is going on secretly all the time, as people range themselves for or against Christ, but on the last day its results will be made public. The day of God’s wrath will also be the time when his righteous judgment will be revealed (5b). Such a public occasion, on which a public verdict will be given and a public sentence passed, will require public and verifiable evidence to support them. And the only public evidence available will be our works, what we have done and have been seen to do. The presence or absence of saving faith in our hearts will be disclosed.
Another way of saying this is that Jesus Christ will inspect that fruit of our salvation to see whether we really have received Him as our Lord and Savior. The goats in the parable simply showed no evidence in their lives of saving faith. The sheep did, even though they were quite unconscious of it.
Now, what does all of this have to do with us today? After all, we’re not under the law of Moses now. In this country, we’re not divided by Jews and Gentiles like they were in Paul’s day. Even though we have a large Jewish community (and there certainly is anti-Semitism around), the chief division among Americans is not between we Gentiles and those Jews, is it? But, are we divided today in 2019? We certainly are! How are we divided? Mainly between liberals and conservatives. It’s interesting to me that very few people who describe themselves as liberal or progressive believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God. Many of them attend church, although many describe themselves as atheist or agnostic. On the other hand, most people (though certainly not all) who are conservative political are Bible-believing Christians. How well do these two groups get along? Can you see this split in Romans 1 and 2? Look at the section we studied last week. We’ve got people that have no problem sleeping with whoever they want to sleep with. Multiple partners? No problem. Which side of the divide is what is now called LGTBQ community? Liberal/left-wing
Look at chapter 2. Who would you say in our country has “the law of God”? Or a better way to put it, has the greater understanding of the word of God, the Bible. Bible-believing Christians who are overwhelmingly conservative...including me.
What am I getting at? There are many people in our country who are culturally Christian. Many of them hardly ever attend church anymore, but still consider themselves Christian. Some may attend church regularly out of habit, tradition, or because they think it is good for them. They may even give a lot to the church. But they’ve never come to saving faith in Christ. They may have had an experience early in life that they are trusting in now, but there is not any real fruit in their lives. (We each need to examine ourselves frequently and just ask ourselves. At this point in my life, am I trusting in Christ...daily? Remember, we are each held accountable for the light that we’ve been given.) These folks are much like those who Paul was addressing in Romans 2. They hold their nose up at those who are living in darkness and practicing all manner of evil.
What’s the difference in these cultural Christians and those who are the real deal? It’s the condition of the heart. These cultural Christians are every bit as hard-hearted as the Phariseeacal Jews of the 1st century ever were. Bottom line is we will not be judged by what we know but by what we do with what we know.
1 Cor. 8:1 “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies (or builds up).” Religious knowledge without love only makes us arrogant. Religious knowledge without love is one of the most dangerous things there is. Again, we will be made accountable for the amount of light that we have. How do you get love? By getting Jesus! By being circumcised in the heart...that love is what produces the fruit. And that is what we will be judged by.