If you were to randomly ask people the question, "do you believe in God?," most will say that they do. This is one of the most common questions asked by those who are engaged in theological research, and there is no contention concerning the conclusion that most people do believe in God or "a God." Most also believe in an afterlife that is characterized by a heaven and a hell. Asked where they think they will spend eternity, most will answer with a statement similar to, "I hope I have been good enough to go to heaven." Most believe correctly that there will be a judgment that will determine their eternal fate, but most feel that this judgment is similar to man's judgment: a comparison of good works versus bad. They hope that their good works will outweigh their bad, and God will "let them in." Making judgments is a part of the normal human interaction with this environment. One of the many sins that we commit in our own lives is the application of judgment on the evaluation of ourselves and upon one another. This form of judgment misleads our understanding of God's purpose, and serves to divide us as we condemn ourselves and one another for our "bad" works. All people produce "bad" works, and to judge one another for them is to fall into a deepening spiral of sin and condemnation.
One truth is simple: All people sin. Consequently we cannot even logically defend our propensity to judge someone else when we are also guilty. A second truth is also simple: God is a Holy and Just God, and does not allow any sin into His presence. Consequently, if all people sin, there is no hope for anyone. We cannot come to God based upon our good works, because ALL of our works are not good. There has to be another way, and God provided it.
As Paul opens his letter to the Romans, he quickly addresses the sinful state of man. In the first chapter he notes that all people are responsible for their rebellion against God who has made His presence known to them. Instead of choosing obedience to God, all people rebel against Him, and follow their own choices. Paul describes the depth of depravity that man finds when he turns from God, and notes that God "gave them up" to those choices. God is not going to seize control of your mind, but rather, allows you to make your own choices, and we all choose to sin.
Romans 2:1. Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.
"Therefore" implies that this sentence is a conclusion of something already presented. Paul has stated that all people have no excuse for their sinful behavior; that God has given us the knowledge of Him and His righteousness. We know the difference between good and evil, yet we choose evil. Paul continues, noting that in addition to our propensity to sin, we also tend to judge one another for one another's sin. Often God's logic is far beyond human logic, but in this case human logic follows God's statement: If all people sin, no person is in a position to judge another's sin, for we all are guilty. Paul's charge against human judgment is stern: when we judge someone else, we condemn ourselves. Consider the hypocrisy we demonstrate when we do this. We may find ourselves in a worship service and see someone who we know is engaged in some sinful behavior. Our human response is to judge that individual. Instead of worshipping God our focus is on this other individual as we condemn that person for their behavior while, like that other person, we need to turn to God in repentance for our own sins. We condemn ourselves by failing to acknowledge our own need for repentance and forgiveness. We think this other person's sins are greater than our own, when God does not consider one sin over another, but rather separates from Himself all sin. Period. Rather than condemn one another, we need to come together and worship Him, seeking His forgiveness, even for our sin of judging one another.
Why is this so serious that Paul addresses this so firmly, and so soon? Apparently, members of the church in Rome were acting much like people do today: by judging one another they reduce the gospel of grace to a gospel of works, a gospel through which no person can be saved. Our gospel of condemnation reinforces the error as we judge our own works and the works of others as we decide who is good and who is bad, taking for ourselves God's task of judging. A church so characterized is immersed in its own hypocrisy and its ability to worship God and grow in Christian maturity is compromised by that sin. Apparently, this was a characterization of the Christian church in Rome, as it is also true of many in the church today.
Romans 2:2. But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things.
Who are we to judge? Is God not able to do His job? Do we have to do this for Him? When we judge, we base our judgment on criteria of our own choosing. We "evaluate" sin on a scale of "little" sins to "great" sins. We look at a drug dealer or prostitute with condemnation as we lift up our own abstinence from their form of sin. Somehow we think we are "better" than they are, and are more worthy of God's acceptance. Such judgments are not based upon the truth of God’s Word that states that we all are sinners. When God fulfills His task of judgment, He does so based upon truth. That truth exposes us all. We need not be concerned with the judgment of the sin of that drug dealer or prostitute: God is quite capable of handling that task. His judgment is based upon truth, and our judgment is based upon hypocrisy and our own sin. De we need any more evidence to convince us to take our eyes off of one another's sin and focus on our own?
Romans 2:3. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?
One of the characteristics of sinful, natural, man is to despise someone else in the effort to somehow form a more positive evaluation of one's self. We come up with this "I'm better than you are" mentality. This allows us to look at someone who professes to be a Christian, observe a sin in their life that we do not admit to, and come up with the conclusion that we are better. Then, we think that God will accept us because we are better than someone else. We think that by being better we will escape the judgment of God: a judgment that is simple: no person will not come before God in heaven with any unforgiven sin. When we look at this world's penchant to express "man's inhumanity to man" we see a world of violence and hatred. We see depravation and poverty midst the rich and powerful. All of this can be traced back to the sin of judgment that Paul is referring to. People despise others, thinking themselves as the only ones who are obedient to God. One glaring example is the murderous practice of jihadist Muslims who advocate the annihilation of all infidels: those who are not Muslims, believing their own sacrifice will allow them to escape God's judgment. However, we all express this same sin when we think less of someone else because of their choices and lifestyle.
We may easily observe that Jesus made no such qualifications on people. He loved all people, and brought to Himself those who were the most depraved. He broke the "law" by touching the sick and infirmed. He associated with, cared for, and ministered to, those who were the rejects of this pagan society: the prostitutes, the "tax collectors and sinners."
We can see that when we come before God, none will come with a pure heart and a life that is free of sin. We will all be found lacking.
Romans 2:4. Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
When we think of ourselves better than we are, when we think of ourselves as somehow deserving anything from God, or when we think of ourselves as worthy of heaven, we are demonstrating our hatred of God's true purpose and plan. When we feel no need for repentance (the need to change or sinful attitudes and behaviors), we are despising God. Somehow we think our definition of goodness and worthiness is better than God's, and we replace God's truth with a lie of our own making. Such a position of self-justification leads us away from repentance, and in our adamancy we are choosing to reject God's demand for repentance. The only winner in this game is Satan who has succeeded in keeping another soul immersed in their sin and its consequences.
Romans 2:5-6. But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; 6Who will render to every man according to his deeds:
How difficult is it for the self-righteous to see their own hard and "impenitent" heart? Jesus found Himself up against hardened hearts when He confronted the Jewish religious leadership. As Paul describes, God "gave them up" to their iniquity. God offers salvation to all who will accept His purpose of grace. However, God will not force Himself on the heart of any man. Satan is engaged in a battle of the mind and soul as his plan of evil unfolds in the rationalities of pagan man. We naturally become convinced of the accepted cultural “truths” of this world's pagan philosophies and reject God's truth. Standing on the philosophies of this world, our heart is hardened against the gentle Spirit of Truth. We hold to (treasure) what the world teaches and will ultimately come to God unprepared. We think we are somehow more good than bad, and our relative goodness makes God our friend, forgetting (or choosing to ignore or disbelieve) that any sin condemns us. Every man will be judged according to his own deeds, not in a comparison with others. As we fall into the pattern of comparing ourselves against one another we fail to compare our own lives against the plumb line of God’s Word that simply exposes our sin and describes God's plan to save us from its consequences. Satan wins when we hold to our hard and impenitent heart and never choose to follow God's plan for salvation, and instead hold to our own.
Romans 2:7-10. To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: 8But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, 9Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; 10But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:
Up to this point, it would seem that the state of man is hopeless, and for those whose heart is hardened against God's plan for the salvation of mankind, it is. The society that Paul experienced was divided into two distinct groups: Jews, and non-Jews. There is certainly no shortage of those who also have a two-dimensional world where the individual associates with a singular religious or secular group whom they refer to as “us,” and judges everyone outside of that group to be "them". Paul does create a distinction between two groups, but clearly states that this separation is not between Jew and Greek. This is quite a statement for Paul, who was one of the more zealous Jewish religious leaders. Paul draws that distinction, not between Jew and Gentile, but between those who truly seek to honor God in their life and those who do not. Still, Paul never forgot that God chose to reveal Himself to mankind in a special way through the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David. Paul always felt that the gospel was to be brought first to the Jews who had been waiting for the Messiah, Jesus Christ. When a Jew realizes that Jesus is the Messiah, all of his/her history, culture, and teachings find meaning and purpose. Unlike the Gentile who comes out of ignorance, the Jew comes out of a passionate God-centered religion of laws: laws that condemn one of their sin and point to a need for a Savior. When the Jew finds the Messiah, he finds the Savior, and all of the context of his beliefs is fulfilled.
Paul clearly includes the Gentile among those who find grace as they too seek to honor God. This is a position that the self-righteous Jews would find very difficult to reconcile. We may remember the prophet Jonah, who rather than preach to the Gentiles, tried to run to a far-away place. Even when he relented and proclaimed God's judgment upon the pagan city of Nineveh, Jonah went to a hill overlooking the city, awaiting its destruction. Jonah was extremely upset when Nineveh was spared. Many of the Jews were so self-righteous that they could not consider that God could love anyone but themselves. However, even the Jews had turned from God and replaced His gospel of faith with a religion of works. Like those pagans that Paul describes in this letter, the Jews did not seek the heart of God, and lived lives filled with sinful attitudes and behaviors just like everyone else. The Jew needs salvation just as much as the Gentile. As a Jew, Paul always gave the Jews around himself the first opportunity to respond to the gospel.
Romans 2:11. For there is no respect of persons with God.
We tend to define ourselves by comparing ourselves with others. We deem some worthy of our respect and others worthy of our condemnation. We think of ourselves as "better," and by our goodness we are somehow a friend of God, while others are his enemies. Those who are Christians are not exempt from this pattern of judgment. The church today is divided into mutually exclusive denominations that each sometimes think that they have a special reception in God's kingdom. The judgment of one another in this manner is a sin of arrogance, a sin that separates and condemns us. God draws no such distinction between people. Men are not more worthy or more valuable then women. The denigration of women (or men) is both the cultural norm in many of our pagan societies and religions, and is an example of sinful prejudice. God does not value people of one "religion" as any more worthy then those of another. God simply does not draw such distinctions among people, and for us to do so is to stand against God's purpose and plan for us.
One of the greatest sins of mankind is racial prejudice. God does not consider the members of one human race as more worthy than another. Consequently, there is no excuse for the expression of racial prejudice in the church. I have often been dismayed by the racial hatred I have seen among men and women who consider themselves leaders in a Christian fellowship. Their hatred and ignorance simply exceeds their love for God. Once one respected (and quite self-righteous) Christian leader of our own large church, one who held positions of responsibility, withdrew his membership when he learned of my own heritage as a "Yankee." He included "Yankees" in the long list of those groups of people he hated, and could not tolerate a church that would allow "them" membership.
Because God loves all people, He does not draw such distinctions. Jesus drew no such distinctions. Consequently, it is appropriate that those who love God follow His pattern of loving all people. Love that is selective is not God's love, and one who does not love all people is simply not expressing God's love, but a selfish, ignorant, and evil love.
Romans 2:12-16. For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; 13(For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. 14For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: 15Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) 16In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.
What does it mean to be "good"? As we try to balance our good works with our bad, hoping that the good outweighs the bad, what do we use to measure the "goodness" or "badness" of an attitude or action? The Jews were professionals at defining morality. During the period between the exile of Judah in Babylon and the birth of John the Baptist, a period of about 400 years passed without any new "word from God" via the prophets. During this period of "darkness" the Jews turned back to the Word of God, and determined to use it as the basis for their legislation. As a result, they created a long list of laws that were based upon rabbinical interpretations of the Pentateuch. Many of these were in the form of commentaries, recorded in the Talmuds and the Mizvah, extremely voluminous works that were collected during this period. From these works came a long list of additional oral traditional laws that defined godly behavior. The Jews then defined righteousness as one's adherence to this set of laws.
The Jews are not alone in their attempt to define righteousness by the judgment of one's works. This is the pattern of our natural human nature. Though non-Jews may not recognize the authority of the Talmud, they still construct a world view that defines the works of righteousness. It is from this viewpoint that we are able to define some works as good, and others as bad, and then conclude that those who do good are righteous.
Paul describes the flaw of this logic. Those who fail to attain eternal life will do so based upon their sin, not upon their failure to keep some moral law. Jews will perish with the law. Gentiles will perish without it. Paul states that "doers of the law will be justified." However, when we take a good look at this statement, we find that one simply cannot stand up to that measure of righteousness. No person can keep every tenet of the law. The failure to adhere to the smallest provision of the law is to break the law, making that individual a law-breaker. To sin in any fashion is to break the law. So, though by keeping the law man could be justified, all have sinned and come short of any form of righteousness defined by it.
When God judges the life of an individual, it is not by the works of the hand, but the "secrets," the true position of the heart, and He makes that judgment in the context of His purpose of salvation through Jesus Christ. Where we judge one another by works, God will judge one only by the gospel of Jesus. Consequently, that gospel becomes of paramount importance. Since I cannot live a sinless life, I cannot be saved by what I do. There is no possibility for the salvation of any man unless God intervenes on our behalf. God did intervene when He, as the eternal Messiah, the creator and judge, stepped down from His eternal state in the form of a man, Jesus Christ, who both communicated God's plan of salvation to us, and paid the penalty for the sin that separates us from Him, that those who would place their faith and trust in Him would be saved.
Paul paints a desperate picture when he exposes the sinful state of man. He illustrates our depravity in Chapter 1, and the folly of our self-righteousness in Chapter 2. However, Paul does not leave us in a state of desperation and sin. As he continues this letter to the Romans, he presents God's solution to this sin problem. We want to apply our own solution, and when we do, we come up with a myriad of religions and practices that we try to use in order to become righteous enough for God. However we may try, we will never be free of the burden of sin in our own hearts, and that sin will always condemn us. There is simply no religion that saves man. The only remedy for sin is sacrifice, and there is no sacrifice that we can make that will pay its penalty. The penalty for sin is death, separation from God, His love, His grace, and His blessings, for eternity. Christianity is not a religion, but a faith. Jesus paid the penalty for all of the sins for all people who put their faith and trust in God. Salvation simply cannot be attained by any work of man.
When I was young I was fortunate enough to be reared in the church. I found that I fully believed in the teaching of the church: I believed in Jesus, and I believed that all scripture was true and reliable. Then someone asked me ... "Satan believes who Jesus is just like you do. What is the difference between you and him?" This question invoked in me a crisis of faith. I needed to understand the answer to that very important question. I knew that, even as a relatively obedient and respectful young boy, there were attitudes in my heart that were evil. I came to realize that there was something I was missing, and that something was faith. I was not saved by being a church member, nor was I saved by believing that all I heard of Jesus was true. I was saved that day when I made a decision. Salvation is not by work, it is the result of a decision in the heart. Salvation is a gift of God given to those who accept Him as their Savior and Lord. This Satan cannot do. Salvation is available to all, because all have sinned. Jesus paid the penalty for that sin when He shed His blood on the cross and experienced death, separation from God, a seeming impossibility for One who is God.
One can find true peace in this wicked world, a peace that comes when one rises above the mire of its sinful character, and one places their faith and trust in God through Jesus Christ. Judgment for true righteousness will come from one question alone: what have you done with the gospel of Jesus Christ? Will you come before God with your trust in your own good works, or will you come before God with your trust in what Jesus has done for you?
The Apostle, John, describes this decision in a simple metaphor: the Lamb's book of life. When one places their faith and trust in Jesus, their name is "written" in that book, and when the judgment comes, the only criteria for salvation is the contents of that book. Though we will still be judged for our works, condemnation for an eternity of separation from God will be declared only upon those who's name is not found in that book. Do not put your faith in the law, nor in your own righteousness. Place your faith in the saving power of Jesus Christ who, as your Savior guarantees your salvation, and as your LORD requires your obedience. Then, safely in the fold, and seeking to obey the LORD Jesus, you will find these worldly prejudices that Paul describes to be irrelevant when your demand for self-righteousness is replaced by His righteousness and your love for God is expressed as your love for all of His creation.