Grace For The Journey
One of the more common attacks made by non-Christians against the God of the Bible is that He cannot be good if He condemns those that have never heard the gospel. They view such people as innocent, and that any God who would condemn such people as evil is not worthy of their worship.
While it is true that there are many people
Who have never seen a Bible or heard any
Message from it including a clear presentation
Of the Gospel, that does not mean
That such people are innocent.
As we have already seen in our study of Romans 1, there are no innocent people. God has left a witness of Himself that leaves all people, whether they have access to the Bible or not, without excuse.
We have already seen from our study of Romans 1:18-20 that creation itself is the witness to God’s existence and certain aspects of what He is like. It is a witness with a broad and clear presentation that reaches all men. There is a Creator which they need to seek out and worship.
The reality is that men willingly and purposely
Reject the witness of creation because they do not
Want to be responsible to the Creator God that it proclaims.
They suppress the truth in unrighteousness in order to follow the leading of their own thoughts. Men distort the truth of the true God to create a deity or deities that are according to their own thoughts.
Apart from divine intervention to bring a person
To the knowledge of the truth and faith
In the Lord Jesus Christ, this suppression
Of the truth that God has revealed will
Lead to one of three different paths.
They can begin the slide into utter depravity, or they can turn to moral hypocrisy, or they can become self-righteous in their religion. We have already studied the slide into utter depravity that Paul charts out in Romans 1:21-32. Though men knew God, they refuse to glorify Him and give Him thanks as their Creator. The result being that they become futile in their speculations and their foolish hearts were darkened. Thinking themselves to be wise according to the standard of their vain theories, they become Biblical fools, because they turn away from the truth of God to that which is false. God then judges them by removing His restraining hand and letting them follow their own foolishness. This results in idolatry in all its various forms and their yielding themselves to their desires. Self-control and thoughtfulness start to give way to blind emotion resulting in impurity and shameful behavior.
The slide downward continues as God judges again by removing His restraining hand even farther back and letting them be controlled by their shameful passions. Paul presents homosexuality as an example of people given over to their degrading passions. Sin has its own penalty and homosexuality brings about a horrendous “due penalty of their error.” You would think that the medical consequences alone would be enough to scare people away from such degrading sin, but their passion drives them on.
The final step into depravity is when people no longer see fit to give God consideration resulting in His judgement of pulling His restraining hand back even farther and giving them over to depraved minds which then lead them into all sorts of improper and immoral behavior including, “unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; [they are] gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful.” The bottom of this pit of depravity is when those who practice these things have seared their conscience to the point that they give hearty approval to others who do the same evil things they are practicing.
It is right at this point that Paul turns to the second group which would see themselves as morally superior since they still condemn such practices. They are, relatively speaking, morally superior, but just because you are not at the bottom of the pit and as bad as you could be does not mean that you are good. That would be like the boys that went and played in the mud puddle and then came in and claimed that only the filthiest one among them needed a bath. Everyone knows that claim will not get by mom and she will give all of them baths.
There may be levels of being dirty,
Being dirty at any level is not being clean.
Paul destroys the argument of the moral unrighteous in Romans 2:1-10, “Therefore you are without excuse, every man [of you] who passes judgment, for in that you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. And do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment upon those who practice such things and do the same [yourself,] that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. [There will be] tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to every man who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
The Hypocrite’s Self Condemnation.
Paul repeats the same charge here in 2:1 as he did back in 1:20. They are “without excuse.” Regardless of their effort to justify themselves, the truth is that they have no excuse for their unrighteous behavior. God has revealed Himself and they have suppressed the truth of His revelation. There can be no claim of ignorance. But now Paul takes up the claim of those who thinks themselves to be moral, and he destroys their argument by showing that they are not moral people. They are hypocrites who do the very same things for which they criticize immoral people.
Paul points out in verse one that these people were judging the actions of others even while doing the very same thing themselves. While this is not as bad as the bottom of the pit described in the previous verse in which people doing sinful things give hearty approval to others doing those sinful things, the actions are still sinful and the action of judging others not only reveals the hypocrisy involved, but is also self-condemning.
The particular sins being committed could be any defined by the Scripture, but in that Paul is striving to deal with the case of those who do not have the Bible, then it would be best to understand that Paul is referring to sins that all normal people recognize. This would include the list that he just gave in 1:29-31, for as Paul comments in verse 32, these were all things these people knew were against the ordinance of God and that the practice of them would bring judgement. Such is still true around the world. Except among those people who are so morally depraved that they give hearty approval of those who sin, all people recognize certain things to be wrong.
For example, all societies recognize that things such as stealing, lying, slander, and murder are wrong. Even in those depraved societies in which these things are commonly practiced there are still penalties set against them, even if it is only to allow the victims or their families to seek revenge. A mafia family might murder with little conscience, but if one of their own is murdered, they seek revenge. A band of thieves might steal from you without a second thought about it, but woe to the thief that steals from one of his partners in crime. A gossip may pass on information without compassion for the one being slandered, but it is a different story if she is the one being gossiped about.
God has placed in the hearts of people
An innate knowledge that certain things
Are wrong and the very fact that a person
Will judge someone else who does them
Is proof positive that they do
Understand that it is wrong.
These people have a higher standard of morality than those who are obviously immoral, but since
their standard is not God’s standard, they are still unrighteous. In addition, the fact that they judge the immoral while practicing similar things condemns them. People often claim to be good because they do not murder, which is good, but it is not God’s standard. 1 John 3:15 tells us that“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” Others think they are good because they have not divorced and managed to stay married, and certainly that is a good thing. However, any extra-marital affairs they have had, and that includes “looking on a woman to lust after her” (Matthew 5:28), condemns them.
People do not want to think of themselves as thieves, but you don’t have to steal a $1,000 to be a thief. Stealing is stealing regardless of the value you place on the item, and taking something that does not belong to you without permission is stealing, and that includes someone’s time. Any lie can make you a liar. You don’t have to achieve the expertise of any of several well-known politicians to be one.
The point Paul is making is that when someone judges another person, they condemn themselves if they are doing the same thing. They point the finger at another person, but there are three other fingers pointing back at themselves. Is Paul saying that it is wrong for them to point out the sin of someone else? No. As we shall see later in this passage, even if you fail to recognize the wrong that other people do, you will still have to deal with your own sin.
The point here is simply no one will be able
To excuse their sin before God because
Their judgement of others demonstrates that
They do know right from wrong and their
Own actions therefore condemn them.
God’s Judgement by Truth.
Men judge one another by the standards they make up for themselves. These standards are usually inconsistent in the effort to excuse their own sinfulness. The hypocrisy of it is often fairly obvious to everyone but themselves. For example, a common idea among those entrapped in legalism is that it is sinful to go to a movie theater – unless it is in a different town where people do not know you. They would strongly condemn people for seeing a certain film in the theater, yet they will rent the same film on video to see in their own home. Let’s be honest, if the movie glorifies evil, or blasphemes God, or contains immorality, or entices to evil, and you believe it should not be seen in the theater, then it should not be seen at home either. But men prefer standards they can manipulate so that they can think of themselves as moral and upright even while doing things that are immoral and unrighteous. They may be able to fool themselves, but they do not fool God.
Paul points out in verse 2 that it is will not come as a surprise to people that God will judge those that commit such evil as described in 1:29-31. God is consistent with His own standard and judges by truth. There is no manipulation in God’s court. There will be no plea bargaining. There are no lawyers that can circumvent His law.
No Excuse, No Escape.
There is no excuse by which man can justify his sinful deeds and there is no escape from God’s
justice. In verse 3 Paul asks the rhetorical question whether the supposed moral man really thinks they could pass judgement on others and yet somehow escape God’s judgement on them for doing the same thing? As ridiculous as it sounds when exposed like this, many people live with that very mindset. They think that somehow God will overlook in them what even they recognize is sinful in other people. They do not think that God sees as clearly as they do. They think that what is inexcusable in other people is excusable in them. The truth of it is that God sees and understands better than we do so that nothing gets by Him. The reality is, as already pointed out, that God judges according to truth and not partiality (verse 11). The only escape from God’s judgement is the salvation offered through faith in Jesus Christ.
Contempt Instead of Repentance.
In verse 4 . . .
Paul exposes the failure of these supposedly moral people.
They have treated with contempt the riches,
Kindness, forbearance, and patience of God.
This goodness of God toward them should lead
Them to repentance, instead they take it for granted
And conclude that God will not judge them.
God’s riches and kindness spoken of here refer to the common grace God supplies all His creatures in providing for their needs. It is God that provides rain, makes the grass grow, and gives food to His creatures (Psalm 104:13-14 147:8-9; Matthew 5:45).
God’s forbearance and patience here refer to
His delay in bringing about the full weight
Of His wrath against the ungodly.
God is patient because He desires that all
Would come to repentance and not perish
(1 Peter 3:9).
Paul used this same argument on Mars Hill in Acts 17 when he pointed out to the Athenian philosophers that it was God who created them in which, “they lived and moved and had their being” and that though in the past God had overlooked the times of ignorance, that He was now declaring that all men everywhere should repent (Acts 17:28-30).
This still applies. God’s goodness towards them should cause even moral hypocrites to turn from their sin. Instead, they treat God’s goodness with contempt and fail to believe that He will judge them, but as Paul points out in verse 5, they will reap the harvest of their hard hearts.
The Harvest of a Hard Heart.
Verse 5 states, “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” The word translated “stubbornness” here is also translated as “hardness” for it comes from the Greek word from which we get our word “sclerosis,” as in “arterial sclerosis,” also known as “hardening of the arteries.” Paul is not talking about
this physical medical condition here, but something spiritual that is much more dangerous. Remember that “heart” as used in the Bible does not refer to the seat of emotion as we use it, but rather to the seat of the mind and will.
This is a mind that is no
Longer open to the truth.
It has become hard in its
Own beliefs and therefore
“Unrepentant” or unwilling to change.
It is not hard to find people like this. You may find they agree with you on many of the moral issues being debated in our society today. They will work alongside us to restrain such societal evils as abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, pornography, public immorality, etc., but when the conversation turns their own need for salvation from sin through faith in Jesus Christ, they become hard and unrepentant. They claim that they are not really bad because they have not committed what Roman Catholics call the “mortal sins.” They are as good as anyone else since they have only committed the lesser sins common to everyone, therefore they conclude that God will not punish them. Their hearts are not tender toward the seriousness of all sin in God’s eyes. They will not consider the holiness of God or the hypocrisy of their position, and so they will not turn.
The tragic truth is that they are storing up God’s wrath upon themselves and there will be a day in which His righteous judgement of them will break forth upon them. When will that day be? It will not be in their lifetime on this earth. God is patient toward them and their contempt for that continues to increase His wrath upon them. They may well experience God’s wrath exhibited in the natural consequences of their sin, as is explained in Romans 1. However, “the day of wrath and revelation of God’s righteous judgment” will be the day they stand before the Great White Throne and are condemned
for eternity for their sins against God (Revelation 20:11-15). And, as verse six points out, the very thing which they think will prevent them from being judged is what will condemns them.
According to Your Deeds.
Verse 6 says, “Who will render to every man according to his deeds.” This is a common theme throughout the Bible and one to which most people do not pay much attention or give much serious thought. The immoral person does not give much consideration to his coming judgement because he has already spiraled so far down into depravity that he has either fashioned for himself a god of his own design that will either accept his immoral deeds or whatever efforts he makes to compensate for them; or the
immoral person has rejected the idea that he has any accountability to God so his deeds, whether good or bad, do not matter. The moral hypocrite described here in chapter two does not pay much attention to his coming judgment because he thinks his deeds are not as bad as those of other people and therefore God will accept him.
Men set their own standards of righteousness and by them think themselves to be better than they are, but God will judge only by the standards He Himself sets. The judgement itself will be on the actual deeds the person has done. That is why the very thing the moral hypocrite thinks will justify him will actually condemn him. Revelation 20:12-15 should cause all those who are trusting in their own work to shudder, “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were
opened; and another book was opened, which is [the book] of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, everyone [of them] according to their deeds. And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
God will render to each one according to the kinds of deeds he has done in life. There will not be a scale to balance good deeds with bad deeds, for any deed that is done contrary to God’s standards makes the person guilty (James 2:10).
One evil deed out-weighs all the
Good deeds a person has ever done.
The better analogy here is that God demands a clean white robe of holiness in order to enter heaven, and it only takes one stain to make your robe dirty and disqualify you.
Eternal Life for the Godly.
There is also cause here for those who are counting on Jesus Christ to save them from their sins to take pause and consider what their relationship to Him is really like. Jesus was very clear that there would be those that would profess a false relationship to Him.
An important aspect of our salvation in Jesus
Is that it breaks the power of sin and transfers
Us from Satan’s dominion to Christ’s kingdom.
The true and false followers of Jesus would be
Distinguished from one another by the fruit
Of their lives (Matthew 7:16f; Luke 6:43ff).
The evidence of our faith in Jesus Christ
Will manifest itself in how we live.
That is one reason Paul warned the Corinthians to examine themselves to see if they really were of the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). This is not to say or suggest in any way that people can be saved by their good works, for all the good works of man are filthy before the holy God who created us (Isiah 64:6). However, it is to say that one of the purposes of our salvation is to work in the good works which God prepared beforehand
(Ephesians 2:20), and if those good works are not present, then there is adequate cause to question the validity of the profession of faith.
Paul states here in verse 7 that what God renders, “To those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, is eternal life.” This verse does not suggest that people can somehow earn their salvation, but it . . .
Does mark the qualities that should be
Expected in the true believer in Jesus Christ.
They are in contrast to the qualities in the next verse that characterize those who are ungodly.
The first quality is perseverance or patient endurance. Becoming a godly person is not instantaneous, but it is a progression of being conformed into the image of Christ through growing in our faith and seeking that which reflects God’s own character. The glory and honor sought here would primarily be God’s glory and honor since all that a Christian does is to be for His glory (1 Corinthians 10:31), but there is also in view
here the glory and honor that the Christian receives from God as he walks in faithfulness to Him (John 5:44; Peter 1:7).
Immortality is the hope that all true Christians have. We look forward to when our perishable body is made imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:53) because of our salvation from sin through faith in Jesus Christ. The idea of eternal life is not so much the length of it, for all humans will exist eternally, but the quality of it because that existence for the Christian will be with God the Father.
Retribution for the Ungodly.
The ungodly, though they may claim themselves to be moral, are actually marked by selfish ambition and a failure to obey the truth. Instead they obey unrighteousness, and instead of seeking God’s glory and serving Him in humility, they seek to get what they want out of things. These people are like the false teachers Jesus spoke of in Matthew 7:20-23. Even if they do many good things in Jesus name, what actually marks their life is disobedience to what He has commanded, and you do not make up for disobedience by doing something else you would like to do in hope that God will like it and accept as a substitute.
The consequence for such people is God’s wrath and indignation. God’s anger burns slowly, but on the day of wrath and His righteous judgement, it will burst out in His indignation against sinners. That will be a day distress for all who do evil, regardless of their heritage. Just as the Jews were given the first priority in receiving the gospel, they are also given the first priority in receiving God’s retribution for sin. They are then followed by the Gentiles.
Glory for the Good.
The contrast to these are the godly who will receive the reward of their good deeds of glory, honor, and peace which they had been looking for in Christ. Again, this will come without partiality towards any ethnic heritage other than the order it is received.
There is no excuse for the moral hypocrite. Their judgement of others demonstrates their knowledge of right and wrong which then condemns their own deeds. The only hope of escaping God’s judgement is faith in Jesus Christ as the One Who was your substitute in receiving the penalty of your sin. Are you trusting and following Him? Or are you trusting yourself and your own abilities. The former saves, the later condemns.
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!