Sermon preached on Romans 2:1-11 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 5/6/2012 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“Glory, Honor, and Peace”
The last passage ended in chapter 1 with quite a list of man’s depravity. It especially highlighted the sin of homosexuality. It then went through a long list of sins humans tend to commit. But chapter 1 highlighted this depravity by more than just listing out sins. Paul in chapter 1 was talking about how God can hand people over to their sins, with the result that inwardly they become all the more enamored with sinful lusts, and don’t even think there is anything wrong with their wicked behaviors. He ended the chapter saying that such people not only glory in their own sinful behaviors, but approve of others who do the same. People handed over by God in such a way to their sin, surely have reached a very dark place in their spiritual estate.
And yet Paul immediately turns to address a different group of people here. Commentators tend to see last chapter addressing more the wickedness of the Gentiles, and now this chapter switching to address the wickedness among the Jews. That’s possible. Surely by very 17, he begins to address the Jews by name. I think in general, it’s safe to understand that he probably has the Jews in mind at least in part at the start of chapter 2, but I wouldn’t press that point too much. Rather, he’s addressing the natural contrast between the wicked in chapter 1, with others. You see, someone could hear the description of chapter 1, and say, “that’s not me.” They could here that list of sins, and say, “Yes, that’s a sin. And no, I don’t approve of others who do this. In fact, I look down upon anyone who does do that.” Someone might find that they have not been handed over by God to this degree of depravity. And yet are such people safe from the revealed wrath of God? That was the whole point of last chapter’s description of this depravity. That such people were under the wrath of God. And so if someone finds themselves not so handed over to sin as those in chapter 1, are they okay? Are the free from God’s wrath? Will their relatively better perspective toward sin save them? No, is the simple answer. This is such a helpful chapter after last chapter. It challenges any who would react to that description of depravity and judge in comparison that they are so much better based on their record before God. It challenges any who have that false hope. The point Paul is continuing to make here, is that all men are guilty before God based on their own works. That’s why we all need justification by faith. We all need to be saved from the wrath of God by the work of Jesus Christ. That’s what we’ll see as we dig into this passage further.
So, I’d like to begin then by thinking first of God’s righteous Judgment. Then we’ll contrast that with man’s condemning judgment. The simple observation is that God will judge all men, and his judgment is right. As we continue to work through the book of Romans, and see Paul developing the idea of how humans can be declared right before God, this is an important topic. We have to realize the justice of God. That God will rightly judge all mankind. The point Paul will come to by chapter 3 is that no man can be declared righteous before God on his own. Here he’s setting up for that conclusion by talking about God’s righteous judgment.
So, let’s observe a few things then from this passage about the nature of this judgment. First notice that God’s judgment is according to truth, verse 2. That’s the difficulty in our court trials today. We want to get at the truth. That’s not always easy to do. That is no problem, however, for God who sees all things and knows all things. Nothing is hidden from him. His judgment is right because it is in accordance with all truth. Next, notice that God’s judgment is impartial. This is stated explicitly in verse 11. For there is no partiality with God. The concept comes out a lot in this passage. For example, the point is that whether you are Jew or Greek, or whether you fit the description of depravity given in chapter 1, or the description of depravity given here, both will be under judgment. There is no favoritism with God in how he judges. This also is part of what make his judgment right.
Notice then that God’s judgment takes into consideration people’s works. Verse 6 says that God will render to each one according to his deeds. Verses 7-10 then flush out two clear groups of people. One group it says are those who patiently endure in doing good, verses 7 and 10. The other group it says are those who reject truth, live unrighteously, and do evil deeds. God’s judgment is different for the evil doers compared to the good doers. Now, it’s at this point that a question comes up for Christians. How will a Christian fare in this judgment if we are judged by our works, and our works are imperfect? Well, two answers are often given. One, it’s noted that God works good works in Christians, and that this judgment will recognize these God worked works done by a true believer. A second answer is that this reminds us of our ultimate guilt before God, and why we need the forgiveness that comes in Jesus. Well, both are true, and it’s hard to say if Paul had one or other in his mind at this point. What I can say for sure is that by chapter 3 he’s developed the point that no man can be declared righteous on their own, and that’s why we need to be declared righteous through faith in Christ and his work. I do think that’s important to keep in mind as we think about the righteous judgment of God today.
Next as we look at this righteous judgment of God, notice that it comes to a climactic focus on a final day. This is what we refer to the final Day of Judgment, what will happen at the end when Christ comes back. Verse 5 addresses this, and specifically there described it in two ways. It talks about it being a day of wrath. And it talks about it being the revelation of the righteous judgment of God. Then God’s righteousness will be made known through this final judgment. Already God’s righteous judgment and wrath have been revealed. Paul said that in last chapter even. But the terminus of it all comes on this final day. This word for righteous-judgment is especially thematic in the Greek for us. It’s a compound word, using the root word from judgment and the root word from righteous. And I had already mentioned that the root word for righteous is the same as the word for justification. You see, this is all an interrelated subject. Man’s judgment is intimately connected with their justification. Humans are either going to be declared right before God, or condemned as guilty before God. But the point here is that on that final day, the way God judges humanity will be in accordance with his perfect righteousness.
So then the last thing to note about this righteous judgment is that it has two basic outcomes. Those judged as being right before God, will have a good reward. Those judged as the wicked before God, will have a horrible reward. For the righteous, it’s eternal life, according to verse 7. And it’s glory, honor, and peace, according to verse 10. For the wicked, it’s wrath. That revealed wrath mentioned in last chapter, is going to be poured out in full measure on that day of wrath. And so verse 8 states that the wicked will receive indignation and wrath. Verse 9 says that they’ll receive tribulation and anguish. These are not good things. But the point is that this is what God’s righteous judgment will mean for those who works are not good. For those God judges as unrighteous. They will face this horrible punishment which the Bible describes elsewhere as the eternal hell fire and the undying worm. Many today don’t want to believe in a God with wrath and judgment. But, we believe it because its’ right here in God’s Word.
And that then transitions us nicely to consider man’s condemning judgment. This is at the heart of this passage, as Paul looks to confront those who thought themselves better than others. Draw your attention now back to verse 1. Here he gets pretty close to home now. He switches from talking in last chapter in the third person, to now he talks in the 2nd person, while addressing some anonymous “O man”. But you can’t help but feel he’s starting to address people closer to home here. So the picture he paints is that there are people who look down upon others. We just talked about God’s righteous judgment. Well, here it’s humans now that are doing the judging. Verse 1 addresses, “Whoever you are who judge.” A lot can be said about our need to make judgments. Christians elsewhere are told that they have to make judgments about certain things. But that’s not what’s being addressed here. What’s being addressed is that when a man judges someone else for their sin, the result is condemnation on himself. Why? Because verse 1 says that they all practice the same things. This might not mean that they practice the exact same things as the person they are condemning, but nonetheless they are still practicing some kind of sin. Sin that warrants God’s righteous judgment, even in the same way of the person that they are accusing. Their outward actions serve to condemn them.
So their outward actions have a similarity with those from last chapter. But their inward state also has a similarity with those from chapter 1. In last chapter, we saw how such people had become blinded to their own sin. In God handing them over, they became all the more darkened in their understanding and hearts sick with shameful lusts. But it’s not like the people addressed in this chapter are without internal problems of the heart. No, quite the contrary. The fact that they see sin in others, but don’t see sin in themselves, represents a similar spiritual blindness. Just like last chapter we saw how the people with depraved hearts lived out their depravity in various sins. Here in verse 5 we see that the people addressed in this chapter also have clear heart problems. Problems that affect their actions. Verse 5 says that their hearts are hard and impenitent. Take that in context of verse 4 which had implied that they had not lived a life of repentance. Why did they not live such a life? Because they had heart problems. Spiritually, their inner selves had become hardened against the things of God. They were impenitent at the core! That’s why in verse 4 it said they had despised God’s goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering. They had taken these things lightly and not understood how gracious they were. This perspective as well shows the condition of their hearts. If this has in mind the Jews, you can think of all God’s many blessings to them, and how patient God had been with them, even when they were so stiff-necked as a people; so slow to live God’s way. So slow to turn from their sins.
The heart issue is seen as well by what they have and have not treasured. We see this also in verses 4 and 5. Verse 4 says they have despised the “riches” of these blessings from God. In other words, Paul says that God’s goodness and patience should be seen as riches from God. That’s how they should have valued them; as divine treasure. But they had treated them lightly. Like if someone gave you a diamond ring, or a bar of gold, and you acted like it was no special gift. Instead, verse 5 says what they had truly valued. It says they had “treasured up” wrath! Wrath from God! The sense here is that they had set their hearts on bad things and in turn were effectively stockpiling judgment from God. And yet they had evidently ignored this reality, not wanting to admit that what they had set their hearts on, came along with these terrible consequences. And so the people addressed in chapter 1 have a sinful nature, but so do the people addressed in this chapter too.
The result in all of this is that they are left without excuse, verse 1. In other words, their guilt is manifested in part by their own accusations. They judge others as guilty, and since in substance they are the same as these other people, then their condemnation applies back at themselves. Ironic, but true. And so don’t miss the point. The people described as so depraved in last chapter, were said to be without excuse, 1:20. Just like this group here in chapter 2. Both without excuse. Even those people who thought themselves better, by their very judging, are condemning themselves. They can’t even make the argument that they didn’t know any better. Their accusations show they did. Condemnation is the result. Condemned by God, and even condemned by their own accusations on others.
The point in all of this, is that Jew or Gentile, has the same fundamental problem. We are all in a state of condemnation. A state deserving God’s wrath and punishment. Maybe you identify more with those in chapter 1 who have been handed over to a very extreme form of gross depravity. Or, maybe you identify more with those in this chapter who think you live a fairly ethical life and look down upon the people of chapter 1; people who seem to be so overtly living in ways hostile God. It’s easy for people to look down on the murderers and homosexuals. But just because you don’t have their exact struggles, doesn’t mean you don’t have a sinful nature. Nor does it mean you are not under God’s condemnation if you seek to be right with God by your own record. Paul in these two chapters wants to bring all people into confrontation with their sin. Sin that will leave us condemned.
This is again Paul presenting the problem for us all. The bad news. You see, probably most of us are here today, because we seek something. We seek what’s listed in verse 7: glory, honor, and immortality. Those are said as good things to seek after. But if everyone is under condemnation, how can someone ever obtain those things? Does this passage present a solution? How can someone have the eternal life, and the glory, and honor, and peace held out here for the righteous? What application does this passage give, to this end?
We might think the solution is to stop this judging. Stop judging others and that will solve the problem. Well, certainly there is an application here that we ought not to have this judgmental attitude. But that doesn’t solve the problem. If a non-Christian stops judging others, they’d still have the same underlying problem here. The sins that stands against their record. That even if they don’t condemn themselves, they still stand under condemnation by God’s judgment, because of their sin.
We might also think that the solution is stop doing the bad things. To repent from those bad things and try to start living right from now on. Repentance is mentioned in verse 4. Well, repentance is certainly a good thing. That certainly is something that someone must seek to do. And yet there is nonetheless a more fundamental need still. See, the problem here is that someone with an impenitent heart isn’t going to be repentant. And so such a person needs a heart change. They need to have their spiritual blindness removed, so that they recognize their sinful estate before God. They need their hardened hearts to be softened. Then they will begin to value God’s goodness and patience toward them. They’ll value this, and appreciate that this is something meant to lead us to repentance. They will then in fact, repent, and turn to Jesus Christ. They’ll put their faith in Christ as freely offered in the gospel. And as we’ll see as we study further in Romans, this means their justification. That in God’s righteous judgment, he will declare them righteous in his sight. They will be declared as right before God at the very day of their turning to Christ in faith. Very appropriate is to quote Romans 8:1 today then in light of this passage. As Paul goes on to say in this letter in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”
And so do you see the reversal of what we discussed today? On our own, we are left judged and in condemnation. If we try to be right before God on our own record, we are in trouble. If we just go around looking down on the faults of others, even if those faults seem to us so far worse, we are only confirming our similar estate. What we need is the work of the Spirit to change our hearts. And then we need to turn and trust in the work of Jesus Christ to save us from our sins. Then we will be right before God. Then we will begin to live out our repentance in a way that is looking to grow in serving God.
I hope we all see how this exalts and honors Christ and his Spirit. Jesus Christ saves us. He works this by his Spirit: as the gospel is proclaimed, hearts are changed. We turn in faith to Jesus and are saved. This is the amazing work of God that we want to highlight today. And so then if you are here today and have not known this salvation, then this especially is urgent for you today. The Spirit works through his Word. If today you find your heart pricked by your sin, then turn to Jesus. If today you recognize how you have been judging others and overlooking your own sin, then turn to Jesus. If you have been living according to your own standards, and not according to God’s, realize that path is not right. Turn from it, unto Jesus. And as you do that, praise God, because you realize that God has been at work in your heart.
Today we will have the opportunity to visibly see and acknowledge this work of God. I’m talking about the baptism of Thong Dam. Today we will visibly be reminded of how God does this as we see Thong baptized. The washing of the water shows visibly what God has done on the inside of Thong’s heart. And as he’s baptized today in the name of Christ, it is one of the ways God encourages Thong. He’s putting his stamp on Thong to tell him and us what faith in Christ gives us. It’s the same thing told to us in verses 7 and 10. Eternal life. Glory. Honor. Peace. Thong is to be encouraged in this today. But all of us who are in Christ, should be encouraged today as well. Be encouraged as you witness that baptism and think back on your own. But be encouraged as the Word has proclaimed that this eternal hope is for all who have been declared righteous by God. Through faith in Christ, you have been declared righteous.
So then, as we live as God’s people, we realize again why we don’t go around judging other people. I don’t mean we don’t make judgment calls of right versus wrong. No, we need to. There are even times where we have to lovingly confront our brothers and sisters in Christ when they are blinded to some sin in their life. When they are, that’s inconsistent with their new life. God can use us to awaken them to that particular sin. But the kind of judging we stay away from is to look at people who struggle with sin, and justify ourselves and condemn them. We instead should see that sin in others, and be reminded how we have been saved by grace. That we have been saved by our sins being washed away by the blood of Christ. Then our attitude is not to look down upon them in passing judgment on them. Rather, we but point people to Jesus Christ and the gospel. There is forgiveness in him, even for all the sins mentioned in these last two chapters. Christ changes hearts and lives. See the need around you. Instead of looking to pass judgment on them, may we look to pass along Christ to them. Amen.
Copyright (c) 2012 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.