Take a moment to think about someone whom you know well. What are some things that you really like about that person? Without writing down their name, write down a few of these good characteristics. Now, what is one thing about this person that drives you crazy? That is, what is something, or maybe a couple of things that you cannot stand that this person does? Write this thought (or these thoughts) down as well.
Now, think about the few items you wrote down. Why did you choose the positive items? Why do the negative items bother you? Many times the positives we see in others are what we wish were more true of ourselves. And the negatives…well, oftentimes what we find most troublesome in others are the very items with which we struggle ourselves.
But when we struggle to accept others for their quirks and idiosyncrasies we are not accepting how God made them. But when we condemn them for the actions we do not like, we are truly condemning ourselves.
The danger of today’s message is that some may have interpreted what I have already said to mean that we are not to judge. I am not saying that – at least not as most people think. We are to make judgments, but we are not to condemn. In fact, we could not live life without making judgments, but we must learn to live life without condemning, because, as I have already mentioned a few times in this series, we can never have all of the facts.
But God does. And thus, He is able to be just in His judgments. And that is why this series is entitled, “And Justice for All.” In fact, a clear example of that premise is found in the verses we will review this week.
The truth is, from God’s perspective, we get what we deserve. And the flip side of that is that most of us do not get what we think we deserve.
So, if we are going to get what we deserve, then why doesn’t God give us our wages right away? Well, Paul provides an answer for us in our text today. So, let’s look at Romans 2.1-11.
The Sinner in All of Us (Romans 2.1-5)
We have to think back a few weeks to reset our position in Romans, so let me take just a moment to do so. Paul has introduced himself to the church at Rome through this letter. He desires to travel to Rome so that He can proclaim the gospel which He reveals to them is the power of salvation to all who believe – the Jew first and then the Gentile. He includes both groups because the church of Rome is made up of both Jewish and Gentiles who have placed their faith in Jesus. That faith leads to righteousness and that righteousness enables faithful living. But those who choose idolatry and a host of other sins will receive the wrath of God.
As we turn to Romans 2, Paul now says that those who judge have no excuse. Paul is using the form of communication known as a diatribe to “argue” with someone who is not really there. It is difficult to know if this person is Jewish (my belief) or Gentile, or if it is the church in general, but regardless, Paul refers to this “man” (v. 1 and v. 3) who is judging others.
In Romans 1.18-32, Paul starts by identifying sins that the Gentile was more likely to commit in that day (vv. 20-27) before turning to more general sins that we call commit (vv. 29-31). Now, in Romans 2, he is saying that none of us are innocent. Read 2.1-3.
But not only are we guilty of sin, we become blind to our sins. Read 2.5.
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Romans 1.18-3.20 is about Paul making the argument that all of us are guilty of sin. Again, in the first few verses of today’s passage, Paul makes this abundantly clear by stating that this man (which could effectively be us):
- Practice(s) the very same things (v. 1)
- Practice(s) such things (v. 2)
- Do(es) them yourself (v. 3, the “them” referring to the things we judge others for doing
But doing such things is only part of the problem. If that was the entire problem, then Paul could skip much of this section. The real problem is that not only are we all sinners, but we are also, in a sense, all Pharisees.
The Pharisee in All of Us (Romans 2.5)
Now, before we misunderstand the idea of judgment in general, let me be clear that in this very passage Paul makes a statement about the need for judging. Read verse 2. Notice the word rightly. Paul agrees with those who know that God’s judgment is right. The Greek is actually much more clear. Instead of saying God judges rightly, it says, “the judgment of God is according to truth.” That statement itself is one of judgment. Paul declares that some things are truthful and some are not. That is a form of judgment. So, judgment itself is not condemned.
The problem then is that we do not judge according to truth. We judge according to preferences and partiality. We saw an example of this in the sports world this week. Blacks have been protesting for justice against racism, and yet an African American football player made an anti-semitic statement (which he says was misunderstood and has since apologized). Even if the quote was intentional, it does not mean that black lives do not matter. Nor does it mean that all people, regardless of color, use hate speech. But it does reveal that we all have biases and are partial. I may agree that equality is important, but I cannot say that I am entirely impartial – towards all whites, blacks, or any color.
But God is. And that is why He can judge rightly.
As one commentary said, “The Pharisee is always present in each one of us” (Leenhardt). Even when we try to help people, we do not start with the premise that we as well as they are sinners needing God’s forgiveness; we simply try to improve their moral conduct. Paul’s point is that we are all involved in a solidarity of sin that embraces the whole human race. He is concerned with the gospel as God’s way for the whole person and for the whole of mankind (not with self-justification or minor moral improvements). (1)
That is, we judge based upon not only what we know, but what we think about what we know. And the starting point for our thinking is that other people need to be improved – more than we do. We want morality from others more than we want salvation for others. We want salvation for ourselves, and are thankful for God’s grace to grant it, but God’s grace is not enough for others – we must fix them, but balk at their attempts to fix us.
And that is the Pharisee that exists in us all.
But a hope exists. And that hope is found in Jesus.
The Possibility for All of Us (Romans 2.6-11)
The last verses of this sub-section help us understand that Jews (and Gentiles) fall short of God’s righteousness. Verse 6 says that God will reward those who do good works. I will talk more about this in the daily videos this week, but Paul does not mean we can earn salvation by our works. It says we are paid according to our works. And as Romans 6 makes clear, the wages of sin is death. And, even our best works mean nothing because we are sinful people. Let me remove the plural. Your (singular) best work and my best work are insufficient to receive the payment we desire.
Any and all of us could earn eternal life with God if we did good works AND kept the law perfectly. But we don’t. And thus, we deserve the judgment of God – a judgment according to truth. So, what is our hope and our purpose? Our hope is Jesus and our purpose is to serve Him – by faith (1.17), because of the salvation God has made available (1.16), which Paul desires to proclaim (1.15). That is, if we profess Jesus as Savior, we should serve Him as Lord.
Our service to God is not only for God; it also serves as a witness to others. As one commentator said, “profession without practice does not please God. Nor does it convince those who observe the lifestyles of religious people.” (2)
We are to keep the law through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is by the Spirit that we ultimately have the eternal life Paul mentions in v. 7. In contrast, those without the Spirit (that is, those who are not born-again), will receive the payment due them – and that is eternal separation from God.
I mentioned earlier that I believed that this portion of the letter was addressed primarily to the Jew. A part of my rationale is verses 9 and 10. But first, let me remind you that in Romans 1.20-27, the Jew would have been happy to hear the exhortation of Paul to the Gentile. The Jewish “judge” would have read (or listened) to the letter and been expressing agreement by saying, “Amen. Amen. Amen.” But then the tables are turned in the final verses. Likewise, in the passage today, the Jew might have felt superior as one of God’s chosen, but in Romans 2.9-10, Paul uses the same language he used about salvation in 1.16 – the Jew first, then the Gentile, to talk about those who receive wrath and those who receive honor. That is, the Jew had the first opportunity for salvation, but an equal opportunity exists for the Gentile. And the Jew will receive punishment first (because they are to know the things of God), before the Gentile.
God’s righteousness and his wrath are real. His righteousness will be realized by all who choose to live by faith. God’s wrath will be realize by all who choose to live in rebellion.
Jew or Gentile, it does not matter. We all sin.
Jew or Gentile, it does not matter. The blood of Jesus will cover that sin.
Jew or Gentile, it does not matter. “For God shows no partiality” (Romans 2.11).
In my proposition for this message, I said, “The truth is, we get what we deserve. And the flip side of that is that most of us do not get what we think we deserve.”
Is that true? I believe so. Let me explain.
According to this passage, we do get what we deserve.
- If we choose to live in opposition to God, then we deserve the wrath of God. And because God judges according to truth, we receive the wrath we deserve.
- If we choose to live in obedience to God (by faith), then we get what we deserve, which is His righteousness because of the blood of Jesus.
But the second part of my statement was this: Most of us do not get what we think we deserve. Again, I think that is true.
- If we live in defiance of God, or do not believe in the one true God, then we think that when we die, everything will be fine. But that is not the truth. What we think will happen is not what really happens.
- If we live by faith in God, we know what will happen (life eternal with God), but it is not what we think should happen. To live by faith in God means that we have repented of our sins which requires some realization that we know we deserve to be punished for that sin. Thus, we think we deserve punishment, but that is not what happens because of the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf.
And that leads me to answer the question I posed above. Why does God wait to give us what we deserve? The answer is found in Romans 2.4. God is kind and patience with us so that we might repent of what we are doing in order to turn to Him. If we do, we avoid His wrath and receive His righteousness. So, it is for our benefit that He waits. It is because of His love that He waits.
But we must understand that God’s holiness must be satisfied. The wrath of God will be fully realized. That is, his wrath will be paid in full. For those who do not believe in the atoning work of Jesus, they will receive the bill when their life on earth is through. For those who have embraced the gospel – the power of God for salvation to all who believe – the bill has already been paid by the blood of Jesus.
And that is why,…
Our JOURNEY letter for today is J – JESUS.
Just because we may be saved, does not mean that we do not have work to do. Again, I will cover more of this in a video this week, but that is what Paul is saying in verses 6-10 of this passage (and particularly verse 7). Jesus did not save us just to save us. His call is to, “Follow Me,” which means we still have work to be done. That is why the idea of JOURNEY is so appropriate. When we choose Jesus, we choose a different path. We choose a different journey. And that path requires us to follow Jesus in order to reach the end faithfully.
LOVE. Again, this message is not telling us not to judge; it is a call not to condemn. Loving others does require us to care for others. Caring will require helping others, and sometimes that help means we must help them overcome some problem in their life. But before we do that, we must first make sure we are right with God – checking the plank in our own eye before pulling the speck from the eye of another (Matthew 7.1-5).
Think about that person you thought of at the beginning of the message. Does their issue(s) require you to help them get right with God or is it just about not annoying you? If they need to get right with God, will you help them? If so, what do you need to do to get right with God first so you can see clearly to help another?
(1) Morris, L. (1988). The Epistle to the Romans (p. 107). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press.
(2) Pate, C. Marvin. (2013). Romans (p. 47), Teach the Text Commentary Series (Mark L. Strauss and John H. Walton, General Editors). Grand Rapids, MI; Baker Publishing.