I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and praying this past week. As I study God’s Word it leads me to think and pray about what I am learning in the context of what I am living. Does that make sense to you? It does us little good if we read and meditate on God’s Word if we do not think and pray about it as it applies to where we are in life at the moment.
I don’t think this is the usual way that we Americans read God’s Word. Let me first say that studies show that most American Christians do not read the Bible. That is a sad and tragic reality. There are some American Christians who read God’s Word so that we can check the box on our “to do” list that says, “Quiet Time with God.” There are others who read God’s Word looking for help in their own life or for someone they love. For the most part most of us don’t read God’s Word as if it were a doctor giving us a thorough examination. I would suggest to you that each day that you take out God’s Word you should envision putting on that little gown you get when the doctor is going to give you a good going over. We should pray with the Psalmist, before we ever open God’s Word, so that God might teach us about our life in the light of His Word and His will. The Psalmist wrote,
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24 NIV)
I’ve been questioning myself this past week. How open am I to God’s tender, but scrutinizing gaze? How pliable is my heart when its hardness and darkness is exposed by God? How teachable am I, not on Sunday morning, but each moment that I spend time with the Lord in prayer, in His Word? Those are tough questions aren’t they? They have been tough on me this past week.
You may ask, “What prompted these kinds of questions for you, Mike?” I’d be glad to let you in on a little secret. The Scripture this week is really rooted in the Jewish idea that they were special people, not because they were living especially godly lives, but because they had received “special revelation.” The Jews believed that because they had received the Law of Moses, which was summarized in the Ten Commandments, they were good with God. The Gentiles hadn’t received “special revelation,” they weren’t called God’s “chosen people.” The light had shone upon the Jews and the Jews alone. That was their mindset as Paul wrote this letter to the Romans.
Do you want to know the truth? The Jews were, and still are, God’s “chosen people,” they did receive a “special revelation,” but these great and glorious things didn’t change them in the least. The Law of Moses, the Ten Commandments, and God’s Holy Scripture didn’t change their wayward, selfish hearts in the least, but that didn’t trouble them because they were the “chosen people of God.”
Not all of the people were unaffected by God’s special revelation. There were men and women who were deeply humbled, radically transformed by the Word of God. There were people like Moses, Joshua, Deborah, Ruth, Josiah, Gideon, Nehemiah, and others who met the LORD and were changed; their lives took a whole new direction. These were exceptions to the rule. Most of those who received this special revelation from God, the Law of Moses, went their own way, unchanged.
As I was studying this Scripture this past week, the Lord took my thoughts off the Jews and directed them to the Church, especially the American Church, specifically to my own heart. Think about it. We who live in America have more opportunities to hear the Word of God, to study the Word of God, to meditate on the Word of God, and to apply the Word of God than any other people on the face of the planet. There are Christian bookstores in town where you can get more Bibles and Bible study tools than you could ever use in ten lifetimes. There are radio stations that broadcast teaching from God’s Word around the clock. There are a multitude of churches in every city of every state in our nation. Online you can find millions of sermons, hundreds of study tools, and what have we done with all of this?
We spend our money on the latest book produced by a larger than life preacher who has the answers we’re looking for. We attend conference after conference looking for someone to give us the key to having an intimate relationship with the Father. We make New Year’s resolutions to read through God’s Word during the year. We go to Bible study after Bible study. We go to church on Sunday to listen to the preacher teach God’s Word. We, like the Pharisees, “do” all of these things and yet do we see any change? Are we really that different than those around us? Is Jesus really any more visible through our lives than those we work with or live around who do not claim to be followers of Jesus?
There was nobody in Jesus’ day who poured over the Scriptures more than the Scribes and Pharisees and yet Jesus had harsh words for them. Read along with me in Matthew 23:23-28.
23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices– mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law– justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. 25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. 27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matthew 23:23-28 NIV)
If you take a look at the landscape of America today and survey the problems that plague us, and those we know, are the vast majority of them not alleviated from our lives if we would simply live out the faith that we profess? Would most of what ails us, and our communities and nation, not vanish if we would seek the Lord passionately with all of our hearts and turn our backs to those temptations that plague us? Would our lives and the lives of those around us be different if we sought the Lord above all else?
Paul’s word for the Romans and his word for us today is this, “It is not the possession of the Mosaic Law or the abundance of opportunities to study the Word of God, but it is the doing of God’s will that God desires.” Let’s take a look at Romans 2:12-16.
12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15 since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. (Romans 2:12-16 NIV)
As I mentioned earlier the Jews viewed themselves as a “special” people, and they are, but not in the sense that many Jews came to understand. Their being the chosen people of God wasn’t a pass for them; it was instead a position of greater responsibility. In verse 12, Paul places all people on level ground when he says,
12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Romans 2:12-13 NIV)
Did you notice the commonality among Jew and Gentile alike? Paul writes, “all who sin.” Some sin “apart from the law” and others sin “under the law,” but all sin. It is our sin that has earned us the judgment of God and nothing else. James wrote, 22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22 NIV)
James is saying the same thing Paul is saying in verse 13, it is not enough to own a Bible, live out what you read in God’s Word. Live the life. Don’t gather information, assimilate God’s truth. Move beyond hearing the Word of God, put God’s Word into practice in your life.
I need to remind you that what we are talking about here is not salvation, your salvation and my salvation is purely, solely the grace of God. Paul is still talking about the judgment of God. Paul does say here that God declares “righteous” those who “obey the Law.” Hold on to your horses and don’t draw your conclusions just yet. We are just getting started in our study of Romans. In the very next chapter Paul writes,
9 What shall we conclude then? Are we (Jews) any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. 10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:9-12 NIV)
Paul continues in Romans 3:20 when he writes,
20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (Romans 3:20 NIV)
The reason that no one will be declared righteous by observing the law is because nobody can. Paul wrote in Romans 3:23, 23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23 NIV) We all sin. We have violated God’s righteous standard. You may not like that, you may try to argue against that, but the fact of the matter is that you and I are guilty.
When we talk about the Jews and their culpability, their responsibility for living life on God’s terms, according to the Mosaic Law, we can’t gather too strong of a defense for their innocence. The Law is there in black and white, etched in stone. “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol. You shall not misuse the name of the LORD. You shall remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Honor your father and mother. You shall not commit murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false testimony. You shall not covet.” (Exodus 20) There they are, now obey them. Yet, every single one of the Ten Commandments was broken and is being broken to this day, not just by the Jews, but by people of every tribe, nation, and tongue.
For the Jews there is no wiggle room, there is no pleading their case, they have no defense. The Gentiles on the other hand, those of us who were not given this “special revelation,” can rise up and say, “But we didn’t have all of the privileges of the Jews. How can You judge us, LORD, when we didn’t know any better?” That might have been an argument for Gentiles in the past that didn’t possess the Word of God as you and I have it today. It might be an argument for Gentiles in other places of the world today who do not have access to the abundance of Bibles, biblical teaching, and worship opportunities that you and I have today, but the reality is that it is not a valid argument for any Gentile in any age. Paul goes on to write in verses 14-15.
14 Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15 since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them. (Romans 2:14-15 NIV)
What Paul writes here we really need to understand. Paul is saying that those who were not given the Mosaic Law still had a “law” to follow. Paul speaks of three things in these two passages that testify to our guilt: The Law of Nature, our conscience, and our thoughts accuse us. James Montgomery Boice, in his commentary on Romans, writes,
C.S. Lewis points out that today the law (or laws) of nature usually refer to physical phenomena like gravity, the bonding of elements, combustion, and nuclear energy. But, when the ancient theologians used this term, it meant, as it does here, ‘the law of human nature.’ The law of human nature is like the natural physical law in that it comes from without and is meant to govern the way things operate or function. But there is this difference: In the physical realm an object has no choice as to whether or not it will observe the physical law. Those laws always operate. But in the human or moral realm people do have a choice, and the law is universally violated. (James Montgomery Boice, Romans: Volume 1. pg. 238)
We talked about this in our last study of Romans. There is an objective standard, moral law, that God has created and we agree to it even if we don’t live it out. You can go around the world and learn that murder is wrong without ever reading the Bible. You can travel the globe and learn that stealing is wrong without ever memorizing the Ten Commandments. How? It is God’s standard that He has set in place. It is also written on our conscience. This leads us to the second reason why we have no excuse.
Our conscience also bears witness. Inherent within us is this sense of “oughtness” within us. Our conscience differs from God’s moral law in that God’s moral law is a universal truth, but our conscience is what God has placed within us to convict us and correct us. Robert Haldane says, “Knowledge shows what is right; the conscience approves of it and condemns the contrary.” (Robert Haldane, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans (MacDill AFB: MacDonald Publishing, 1958), p. 91.) John R.W. Stott writes,
Human beings are moral beings by creation. That is to say, not only do we experience an inner urge to do what we believe to be right, but we also have a sense of guilt and remorse when we have done what we know to be wrong. This is an essential feature of our humanness. There is of course such a thing as false guilt. But guilt feelings which are aroused by wrongdoing are healthy. They rebuke us for betraying our humanity, and they impel us to seek forgiveness in Christ. (John R.W. Stott, The Message of Romans, pg. 89)
Our memory differs from our conscience in that our conscience is a guide for the moment, but our memory gives us a hard drive full of evidence from past experiences. When we are presented with temptations, or opportunities to be a blessing, our conscience says, “Do it! Don’t do it!” Our memory is a storehouse full of reminders of the things we have done or failed to do.
So many people are absolutely eaten up with shame over their past failures. I know the feeling. There are things that I have done that my memory brings to the forefront of my mind, that remind me that I am a sinner, that I am in bad shape and desperately in need of God’s forgiveness. I’m not alone in this.
Just this past week I had the opportunity to sit by the bedside of someone who is in their “last days.” I had gotten a phone call letting me know that this person needed to talk to me so I went to their house. As I listened, I heard him say, “Things were going so good for me. I just have to think that all of this has come on me because I’ve done something to offend God.” Of course I jumped in and shared Scripture with him that reassured him of his forgiveness, but it didn’t do much good. He continued to talk about what he had done wrong, but in really general terms. It finally got through my thick head that what he was talking about was something he knew about, and in an intimate way. I asked him, “Do you know who you treated badly?” He named the person and said that he had treated her harshly. I said, “Well, it sounds like God has shown you that you treated her badly. Have you confessed what you’ve done to God?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “God’s Word says that ‘if we confess our sins (which you have done), God is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) That is God’s promise to you. He has forgiven you and cleansed you from your guilt.” We prayed together and I hugged him before I left his room. I have no idea when this experience took place in my friend’s life. It might have been recently, but I imagine that it was from long ago. Our memories will not let us forget will they?
Guilt and shame are real my friends. We can play it off, act like it’s no big deal, but guilt and shame are tools of God to turn us into His gracious arms where our forgiveness, our cleansing, and our healing rests. Oh, by the way, I got an email from Becky the morning after I went to visit my friend. It read,
I just had a phone call thanking you for your visit yesterday. The caretaker said, “it must have worked. He had the best night last night that he has had in a while. He slept well and awoke in much better spirits and seems to feel better today.”
Isn’t God good! Our memories will not let us forget, but God will do more than wipe our minds, He will cleanse our hearts and souls! Let’s take a look at the last section of our Scripture for this morning found in Romans 2:16.
16 This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. (Romans 2:16 NIV)
There will be a final judgment when God will reveal our secrets. We might be able to hide things from people. Some might even be able to hide things from those who are closest to them, but nothing is hidden from God. The writer of Hebrews wrote these words.
13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:13 NIV)
Not only are there no secrets with God, but God has set a day, nobody knows when that day will come. It could be today or it could be a thousand years from now, but the day is coming when we will have to give an account to God for the life He has given us. In Acts 17:30-31, Paul spoke these words,
30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31 NIV)
God has been patient with us, but the day is coming when God’s judgment will come and when it comes there will be no secrets. That is a scary thought isn’t it? What would you do if everyone knew your deepest, darkest secrets? Pastor Spurgeon wrote these words,
By “secrets of men,” the Scripture means those secret crimes which hide themselves away by their own infamy, which are too vile to be spoken of, which cause a shudder to go through a nation if they be but dragged, as they ought to be, into the daylight. Secret offences shall be brought into judgment; the deeds of the night and of the closed room, the acts which require the finger to be laid upon the lip, and a conspiracy of silence to be sworn. Revolting and shameless sins which must never be mentioned lest the man who committed them should be excluded from his fellows as an outcast, abhorred even of other sinners–all those shall be revealed. All that you have done, any of you, or are doing, if you are bearing the Christian name and yet practicing secret sin, shall be laid bare before the universal gaze. Be not deceived, God is not mocked; but he will bring the secrets of men into judgment. (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Coming Judgment of the Secrets of Men. July 12th, 1885)
Spurgeon goes on to say that it is not just our dark, seamy, sordid secrets that will be exposed, but God will also expose our motives. How many times have we done something for someone else because we thought someone else was watching? How many times have we reached out to someone for reasons other than the glory of God? How many times? All of these illegitimate, ungodly motives will be exposed. Boy, is my file thick! I am guilty, guilty as charged! I have no recourse, there will be no appeal, I have no place to hide, no place to run, except into the arms of my Savior who is the Righteous Judge of all people.
Paul says that all of our secrets, all of our sin, will be judged “through Jesus Christ.” Jesus said that the Father has entrusted all judgment to Him. John 5:22 says,
22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son. (John 5:22 NIV)
What a glorious truth to know, to take to heart. God’s grace does not deny God’s judgment, but God has placed what I have earned, what each of us has earned, upon the tender shoulders of His glorious Son. The goodness and glory of God’s grace cannot come into clear focus for you or me until we first come face-to-face with the awful truth of who we are. We are not “OK.” We are not doing fine. We are sinners headed to judgment if it were not for the grace of our Savior. Paul says this is according to “my gospel.”
There are only three places in the entire New Testament where the phrase “my gospel” is found–twice in Romans and once in 2 Timothy. Over and over again we read, “the gospel,” 76 times to be exact, but only three times do we read, “my gospel.” Each time you read that phrase it is coming from the pen of Paul. I think there is a great lesson in this phrase for you and me. The gospel is the truth of God whether you embrace it or not, but when the gospel becomes “my gospel” for you and me then the gospel has us. It is our life, our passion, our longing in the quiet of the night. It possesses our thoughts throughout the day. It orders our day and prioritizes what is important to us. When “the gospel” becomes “my gospel” then our highest aim is God’s glory and His Kingdom. This is why Paul could write in the very last letter he ever penned,
8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. (2 Timothy 2:8-10 NIV)
Can you hear it? Paul is facing death, it is imminent, but it is irrelevant. Paul isn’t worried about life or death, he is willing to endure everything for the sake of God’s people that they might come to know the salvation that is in Christ Jesus.
How about you? Is this your heartbeat? Before “the gospel” can ever become “your gospel” you must first come to know the One behind the Good News. Won’t you surrender your life to Jesus as Lord and Savior today?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
June 25, 2013
But Does The Gospel Have You?