This is our ninth study of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. In the first chapter of Romans we learned that we are “without excuse.” Paul says that God has revealed His eternal power and divine nature to us through what He has made. We can see the magnitude, beauty, and intricate design of creation and know in our hearts that they point beyond themselves to their Maker.
In Romans 2 we will learn that we are without excuse for a second reason. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today in Romans 2:1-4 and we will begin our study.
1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2 Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3 So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? (Romans 2:1-4 NIV)
Why are we without excuse? Because we know better. We can easily point out the short-comings, sins, and bad behavior of others. We point out the character flaws and sins of others while we excuse ourselves for the same behaviors. Deep in our hearts we know that we are no better than those that we condemn for their sin and yet we try to defend the indefensible; we try to justify the unjustifiable.
Through the ages Bible teachers have discussed who Paul was addressing in Romans 2. Most Bible teachers agree that he had Gentiles on his mind when he penned Romans 1, but there is disagreement about exactly who he had in mind when he wrote Romans 2. John Mac Arthur writes,
As becomes clear in verse 17, he was speaking primarily to Jews, who characteristically passed judgment on Gentiles, thinking them to be spiritually inferior and even beyond the interest of God’s mercy and care. But “every man of you” encompasses all moralists, including professing Christians, who think they are exempt from God’s judgment because they have not sunk into the pagan, immoral extremes Paul has just mentioned. (MacArthur, John. MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary: Romans 1-8, Moody Press, Chicago, IL.)
I believe John Mac Arthur makes a great point in telling us that these passages go beyond simply addressing the Jews. The human predicament affects all of humanity. The issue that we are going to study this morning certainly applies to the Jews as they were prone to look down upon the Gentiles for their idolatry and loose morals. Throughout the Old Testament we find God raising up prophets to denounce the Jews for their idolatry and loose morals. They were guilty of the very things they were condemning the Gentiles for doing.
S. Lewis Johnson makes the same point in his sermon, “The Judgment of God.” Dr. Johnson envisions the Jewish moralist listening in on Paul as he lays out the list of sins in Romans 1. If you will remember, Paul said that those who suppress the truth of God are filled with sexual immorality, depravity, murder, and every kind of evil, greed, and wickedness. Dr. Johnson says the Jewish moralist would have agreed with everything the Apostle had to say. Dr. Johnson goes on to say,
The Apostle has spoken about the sin and unrighteousness of men. He has spoken about the revelation of the wrath of God. These are things that all Jewish men believed in. He has said, ‘Amen,’ to that. What he has done in effect, is to agree with what the Bible teaches, but he has not applied it to himself. But it is the same principle that we see needing application in the evangelical Church today. There are many people sitting in our congregation, like this congregation, that have had generally orthodox teaching through the years. They affirm the truth of what is going forth from the pulpit, but will not apply it to themselves. So the Apostle will now do what every teacher of the Word of God must try to do, but which can only ultimately be done by the Holy Spirit of God. He would like to the see the listeners respond by applying the truth, not simply to others, but also to themselves. (Johnson, S. Lewis, The Judgment of God.)
Isn’t it easy for us to point out the sin of others, while dismissing ourselves? The Jews of Paul’s day painted the Gentiles with a broad brushstroke–they were all pagans. They were immoral, godless, and low-life dogs. That was not an accurate assessment of all Gentiles. Not all Gentiles were immoral, loose living, pagans. There were some Gentiles who sought to live a moral life. F. F. Bruce, in his excellent commentary on Romans points out that one of Paul’s contemporaries was a Stoic philosopher named, Seneca. Seneca was known for preaching morality. He exposed hypocrisy, railed against the growing tide of evil in society, and taught about the value of all human beings. Seneca was very introspective and had a great desire to live an upright moral life, but he was not a Christian, neither was he a Jew.
Seneca reminds me of many people in our own society who want to argue against Christianity by talking about how “honest, giving, and moral” they are, even though they are not followers of Jesus. Living a “moral” life is really a relative argument. Do you live a moral life? According to whose morality? That’s a great question. We can take the list that Paul included in Romans 1 and check our morality. Remember those “evil deeds” Paul listed? Read along with me in Romans 1:29-31.
29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (Romans 1:29-31 NIV)
There could be someone who could go through that list and conclude in their own mind that it doesn’t apply. They aren’t gossips, they have never murdered anyone, they don’t hate God, they don’t deceive others, they honor their parents, etc. They could argue that they are moral because they don’t do any of those things. I could argue that in saying that they have proven that they do find themselves in the list–they are arrogant. But for the sake of the argument, let them have their say.
Another morality we could use to measure ourselves would be a much higher morality–the perfection of Almighty God. James Montgomery Boice writes,
It would be perfectly proper if Paul had answered such an objection by pointing out that the important question is not whether he or she has done the specific blameworthy things mentioned, but whether the person measures up to the perfect standard of God. God, being perfect, cannot be satisfied with anything less than perfection. (Boice, J.M., Romans: Volume 1. Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI. 1991. pg. 204)
What’s interesting about Paul’s argument in Romans 2 is that he doesn’t use the perfect standard of God to point out the sin and hypocrisy of those to whom he was writing. Paul says,
1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. (Romans 2:1 NIV)
We condemn ourselves because we point out in others the very same failures and sin that are present in our own lives.
I had lunch with my son Dan shortly after he had started Law School. I asked Dan, “If there were no written laws would there still be ‘law?’ An idea of what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong?'” Of course there would be. There is an inherent morality in the universe, a sense of what is right and wrong. How would the thief who is willing to break into your home and steal your belongings respond to someone who breaks into his home and steals his stuff? He would be indignant wouldn’t he? Of course he would. Why? Because stealing is wrong. The person who lies, when it is convenient to lie in order to protect themselves, becomes so self-righteous when someone lies to him to protect himself. He says, “I can’t believe you would lie to me. How can I ever trust you again?” The truth of the matter is that he has lied as well. There is an inherent sense of what we should do, but we cannot seem to consistently do it.
One of the ways that people have tried to wiggle out of this predicament is to claim that there is no inherent sense of right and wrong. Bertrand Russell was born on May 18, 1872 and died on February 2, 1970. He was a genius as far as IQ’s go, but he rejected God. Russell was a philosopher, mathematician, historian, and rationalist. In 1950 he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Bertrand Russell’s private life was an absolute mess, he was an immoral man. It isn’t any wonder that he wrote,
I am not for the moment concerned with whether there is a difference between right and wrong, or whether there is not. (Bertrand Russell)
That’s it! That is how we can escape this inherent sense that seems to be within us. Just pretend that it is unimportant and it will go away, right? Wrong. What Russell said was not what he practiced. Years later his daughter, Katharine Tait, wrote a book about her dad and in her book she said that even though her dad may have spoken publicly about his indifference to right and wrong, he taught his family that they ought to live unselfishly so as to make others happy, etc. She said that his public arguments about his indifference didn’t convince her or him. (Reported in The Christian Courier, Bertrand Russell and Christianity, Part 1. November 1, 1998.)
We cannot escape it can we? There is an inherent sense of what we ought to do. C.S. Lewis wrote in his book, Mere Christianity.
These, then, are the two points I wanted to make. First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of [Human] Nature; [and] they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in. (Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity)
C.S. Lewis says that we have two pieces of evidence about God. First, we have the created order which testifies to His power and divine nature. Secondly, we have this moral law, which he says is even greater evidence about who God is because it is “inside information.” C.S. Lewis goes on to say,
Now from this second bit of evidence we conclude that the Being behind the universe is intensely interested in right conduct, in fair play, unselfishness, courage, good faith, honesty and truthfulness–[but the Moral Law is not] indulgent, or soft, or sympathetic: It is hard as nails. It tells you to do the straight thing and it does not seem to care how painful, or dangerous, or difficult it is to do. If God is like the Moral Law, then He is not soft. (Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity)
What a powerful thought! God calls us to walk “uprightly,” to do justice, to live humbly, to walk righteously, and to be “holy as He is holy.” (1 Peter 1:16) God always acts in His righteousness, even when it is costly. Stop and think about it. Remember Jesus in the garden? God’s will was for His Son to give His life for sinners so that we could be put in right relationship with God. Jesus prayed, “Take this cup from Me. Yet, not what I will, but what You will.” (Mark 14:36) Since Jesus was God in the flesh, He exhibited the same holy and righteous character as God the Father. Jesus also said,
29 The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him. (John 8:29 NIV)
Jesus said, “I always do what pleases Him.” Think about it. Scripture tells us that Jesus was tempted just as we are, yet He was without sin. What if Jesus would have sinned one time? What if Scripture testified that on one occasion Jesus blew it and sinned. Would that change our understanding of who He was and is? You better believe it would! God’s righteousness is never to be compromised, not even once.
Throughout Scripture we are called to be “holy,” to “flee the evil desires of youth,” to “not conform any longer to the pattern of the world,” and to “follow in His steps.” C.S. Lewis says that this puts us in a pickle. Listen to these words.
If the universe is not governed by an absolute goodness, then all our efforts are in the long run hopeless. But if it is, then we are making ourselves enemies of that goodness every day, and are not in the least likely to do any better tomorrow, and so our case is hopeless again. We cannot do without it, and we cannot do with it. God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies–Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger according to the way you react to it. And we have reacted the wrong way. (Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity)
We are without excuse because we have reacted the wrong way. Rather than falling down before the Ultimate Goodness of the universe, Almighty God, and turning from our waywardness, we have tried to suppress the truth, we’ve pointed a finger of condemnation at others. We need something more than evidence for God’s existence, we need to recognize that we are sick, fatally, terminally sin-sick. I want to read you one more quote from Lewis’ Mere Christianity.
When you know you are sick, you will listen to the doctor. When you have realized that our position is nearly desperate you will begin to understand what the Christians are talking about. They offer an explanation of how we got into our present state of both hating goodness and loving it. They offer an explanation of how God can be this impersonal mind at the back of the Moral Law and yet also a Person. They tell you how the demands of this law, which you and I cannot meet, have been met on your behalf, how God Himself becomes a man to save man from the disapproval of God…Of course, I quite agree that the Christian religion is, in the long run, a thing of unspeakable comfort. But it does not begin with comfort; it begins in the dismay I have been describing, and it is no use at all trying to go on to that comfort without first going through the dismay. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.)
Our only hope is to recognize how sick we are and to turn to the Lord to bring His healing comfort to us. Paul hasn’t gotten to this point yet so let’s continue with the thought he began in verse 1 by taking a look at verse 2. Paul writes,
2 Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. (Romans 2:2 NIV)
What is truth? Truth originates with God. The Greek word that is used for “truth” in Romans 2:2 is the word, “???????” (aletheia) and it means, “What is true in things pertaining to God and the duties of man.” It also refers to “moral and religious truth.” Jesus told the Jews of His day,
31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32 NIV)
A little later in the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks to the people and tells them that the Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of Truth” who will guide them into all truth. Read along with me from John 16:13.
13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (John 16:13 NIV)
The New Testament idea of “truth” really has its origination in the Old Testament word, “?????” (’emeth). The word is used 126 times in the Old Testament. The word paints a picture for us of what is firm, solid, binding, and true. With reference to people it characterizes their action, speech, or thought, and suggests integrity. You can get an idea of the variety of ways the word is used by taking a look at a few Old Testament passages where the word is used. In Nehemiah 7:2, after the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem, we read,
2 I put in charge of Jerusalem my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel, because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most men do. (Nehemiah 7:2 NIV)
Hanani was a man of integrity, but the Greek word that is used in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, is the same word that Paul uses for “truth” in Romans 2:2. Take a look at Psalm 51:6 with me.
6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. (Psalm 51:6 NIV)
This Psalm was written by King David after he was confronted with his sin against God by sleeping with Bathsheba, killing her husband, and then lying to everyone in the city. David confesses his sin and writes this powerful Psalm in which he hits the nail on the head, God desires truth in the deepest parts of our lives. God requires nothing more for us than He already possesses within Himself.
The last passage that I want us to take a look in which the Greek word for “truth” is used in the Septuagint is found in Psalm 57:9-10. Read along with me.
9 I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. 10 For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. (Psalm 57:9-10 NIV)
Here the word is translated, “faithfulness,” but once again, it is the same Greek word. I wanted to show you these examples because they are representative of the broad understanding of the truth of God. God can judge us, He can hand down His decision that we do not live according to the standard we hold up for others much less His perfect standard of righteousness. He is always right in His judgments because He is perfectly holy. We can’t rightly judge others because we are as tainted by sin and hypocrisy as those around us. Jesus makes this very plain to us in Matthew 7:1-5 when He says,
1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5 NIV)
Let’s take a look at the next section of our Scripture for this morning as Paul writes,
3 So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? (Romans 2:1-4 NIV)
It is interesting to listen to people who have been the victims of injustice. Whether they have ever been to church or not, regardless of whether they have ever read the Bible or not, they have a sense that justice will serve them at some point. Some call it “karma,” others call it, “what-goes-around-comes-around,” and others call it, “the judgment of God.” We have a sense that those who mess us over will get theirs some day. Paul wonders out loud, “If you think they are going to get theirs, what makes you think that you aren’t going to get what’s coming to you also?” S. Lewis Johnson said, “If men cannot escape your judgment, what makes you think that you will escape the judgment of God?”
In verse 4 there is a beautiful phrase that Paul uses to describe God’s character. Paul writes, “Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience?” David Darnell writes,
The beautiful phrase, ‘the wealth of his kindness,’ repays meditation. (Chrestotes) means, ‘goodness,’ ‘kindness,’ or ‘generosity.’ That is the nature of God’s character and it is not in any way limited or small. There is a ‘wealth of kindness and goodness and generosity’ with our God. If there is some biblical teaching, or something in our experience, that causes us to think that God is tainted with evil, or ‘badness,’ or ‘meanness,’ then we must question that teaching, or reinterpret our experience. The truth about God is that God is ‘good’ and ‘kind,’ and his judgment is a judgment of goodness and kindness. (Darnell, David. Romans 2:1-4. pg. 75)
God’s kindness has been demonstrated to you and me throughout our lives has it not? Romans 6:23 says that the “wages of sin is death.” Death should be our only paycheck. It is what we have earned because we have labored long and hard in the fields of sin. Instead of giving us what we have earned, God offers us life, abundant, eternal life. How can we be so numb to the kindness of God? How can we learn about the kindness of God and think that it is a license to sin all the more? How can we arrive at the conclusion that, because of God’s kindness, He does not take offense to our sin? Do we not see what the Apostle Paul is so clearly stating for you and me? God’s kindness, His patience with us and our wayward ways, is designed to lead us to repentance. When we consider how we have consistently turned away from God and how patient He has been with us, it should lead us to turn away from our sin and fall into His arms of grace and mercy in humble repentance.
I know that apart from the prompting of the Holy Spirit none of this makes sense to those of you who have refused to recognize God’s kindness in your life, in not giving us what we deserve, which is death and eternal separation from Himself. Our grid of understanding is constructed based upon our relationships with one another. If you were a child and you messed up, you would expect to be punished would you not? Of course you would. If this pattern persisted then you could easily conclude that your mom or dad just didn’t care or you could assume that the rule they set really wasn’t that important to them.
In Ezekiel 18:4 we read, 4 The soul who sins is the one who will die. (Ezekiel 18:4 NIV) We know that we sin, but we haven’t died yet, so we conclude that God isn’t really too concerned with how we live or that He isn’t really that committed to holiness and righteousness. Oh, my friend, you have assumed too much. You have been deceived, misled, God is absolutely holy and righteous and He will not tolerate our sin forever. His kindness and love for you are the only reason why we remain to this day. Peter wrote,
9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 NIV)
There it is again–“He is patient with you.” That is why He has sent His Son to give His life for you and me. God has delayed His judgment and shown us His patience and kindness so that we might recognize this and repent of the way that we have been living. Won’t you hear His voice calling you this morning and turn from your sin into His arms of grace and mercy?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
May 21, 2013