Preached by Pastor Jeff Owen at Cornerstone Church in Cascade on October 29, 2017.
Before we begin to look at our text for today, it is important for us to remember where we started in Romans. After Paul’s greeting in verses 1-7 and his personal remarks to Christians in Rome in chapter 1. Which may be similar to some of his other letters, but then Paul begins his “treatise” or “tractate” letter to Christians in Rome. It may be because Paul has yet to visit Rome and while he does know people from the Christian church in Rome there is no specific problem or problems that he is addressing, but rather, he is taking a systematic approach to the theology of the Gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ. We saw in our Sunday school lesson this morning, in Acts chapter 2, that there were visitors from Rome in Jerusalem at Pentecost, perhaps some of those visitors were who Paul is now writing to.
Paul has provided Christians in Rome and those who have read it or will read it, the most in depth look at what the Gospel means for both the Jew and the Gentile reader.
It is fitting that we start where Paul begins in his defense of the Gospel in Romans 1:16-17, our memory verses for October. Stand and read with me, or close your eyes, if you have it committed to memory.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
It is important that we not just memorize these words, but that we understand what they mean as Paul continues to unpack the depth of the Gospel through the book of Romans – so that when we are in conversations with family, friends, co-workers or strangers at Walmart - we are prepared to witness to the power of God for salvation. That the righteousness of God is revealed in Jesus Christ – for those who have faith in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
To help us get back into the logical flow of today’s text I will do just a brief overview of the last three weeks.
The last three weeks we have seen Paul present his evidence in the defense of the Gospel. He starts with the problem, in its most obvious sense, beginning in v. 18 we see the - Wrath of God is Revealed - present tense.
This wrath is being poured out against all ungodly and unrighteous men who suppress the obvious truth about God, who he is and what he has shown them.
In v. 24 we saw -Therefore, God gave them up to the lusts of their hearts.
Because of what they did – unnatural relations contrary to nature, both women and men, and then he gives us a more detailed list of things that ought not be done that included everything from murder to gossip.
And then he points out what they did not do – v. 28 they did not see fit to acknowledge God.
Last week we saw that those who are self-righteous, who make judgements on others, have no excuse because they practice the same things. They see easily in others what they can’t see in themselves. They fail to take the log out of their own eye before helping someone else with the speck in theirs.
The problem with the self-righteous is: they presume their innocence because of their own self-righteousness. Paul begins to transition his defense of the Gospel from the current wrath being revealed that is obvious - to focusing at the end of Romans 2:5 on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgement will be revealed.
The self-righteous also fail to see the kindness God displays by giving them time to repent before the day of judgement and eternal wrath.
Now to this point Paul has cast a pretty wide net in describing man’s ungodliness and unrighteous works that God’s righteous judgement will reveal on the day of wrath with no partiality. That brings us to our text for today.
12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” 25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
So up to this point, Paul has complied evidence that convicts all people of their unrighteousness. Remember Paul’s audience is made up of Christians in Rome, both Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians.
So far, if you are a Gentile who hears this evidence - it is convicting, Paul leaves no wiggle room in his list of unrighteous things people do even for a self-righteous Gentile, the evidence we saw from last week is convicting.
Our text today starts with – For all have sinned – let’s stop there. The For here tells us there is connection to something. Either we look back, or we look forward or we look both ways to find the connection. I believe in this case the text is pointed both back and forward. Let’s start by looking back.
I want you to focus on two verses in particular v. 6 He will render each according to his works and v. 11 For God shows no partially. What is the point here? Paul wants audience to understand that God will judge their works and God is impartial in his judgement. It is important to remember here that Paul is systematically convicting all here. He needs to highlight the problem to everyone before he can show them the answer.
Now let’s look at the at what comes immediately after v. 12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. Simply stated – It is not the law that is the problem, it is all who have sinned that are the problem. Whether a Gentile who did not have the law or a Jew who did. Here Paul is bringing his Jewish audience into the picture by way of example with the law.
Now Paul goes on to say in v. 13 - For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. Paul is not talking about a works based salvation, his thought process is still logical. In his systematic explanation of the Gospel his focus is on – all who have sinned – and he is pointing them towards their judgement before God, an impartial God, who is already revealing his wrath.
Paul has not flip flopped from chapter 1:16-17, our memory verses. Paul has not yet gotten to the point of detailing salvation by faith in Jesus in his systematic approach to breaking down the Gospel, but he will do that in greater detail later in Romans. Here in chapter 2 he is concerned with leveling the playing field, so to speak, in regards to all who have sinned. All sinners must first see who God is, who they are and here he is making sure all know that they can’t escape judgement.
But some might say, is it fair for God to judge those who did not have the law? Paul already dealt with that in chapter one, but to make sure there is no misunderstanding he uses the law here to show that even those who do not have the law, show the work of the law is written on their hearts. Now what does he mean? Paul is not trying to say the Gentiles who do have the law can be saved by the fact show that the work of the law is written on their hearts.
So what does he mean that the work of the law is written on their hearts? To get the basis for this we need to go back to the beginning in Genesis 2:16-17 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Here we see that the tree that Adam and Eve ate from gave them the knowledge of good and evil. Have you ever wondered why every culture around the world has upheld the general idea of marriage? Granted the idea of marriage has been marred since the fall, but none the less, most cultures over history have held marriage to be a good thing. What about murder or theft, most every culture recognizes those to be bad things. Why is that? That understanding came with the fall, but has been and continues to be marred by sin, as evidenced by God’s wrath that has been and is being revealed.
What about this conscience that bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts that accuse or even excuse them at the end of v. 15. Now most everyone here can relate to this. These basic truths of right and wrong, good and evil have been handed down in every culture from the garden of Eden in Genesis. As a young child I can remember my parents passing down to me the knowledge of right and wrong, things like - telling a lie is wrong - but I also remember telling a lie, and then having my conscience bear witness to what I had done. I think you all know how this has played out in your own lives whether it is lying, stealing or any other sin.
You may not remember the first time your conscience played out a conversation about something you knew was wrong – Excusing: “How can I get away with this, no one will find out or who I am hurting” And also Accusing: “I know I lied and I know it is right to tell the truth and take whatever punishment is coming”.
Have you ever wondered why, out of all creation, man is the only creature that has a conscience that ponders what is right and what is wrong? Again, we could go back to Genesis to find the answer, Genesis 1:26 Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."
Our desire for things to be right vs wrong and the judgement is not something we came up with. As image bearers, we were given authority to rule over creation by God in Genesis 1:26, but we have failed. Again, this is evident by the current wrath revealed and the fact that we do not see fit to acknowledge God. It is also evidenced by our own self-righteous judgement of others, even without the law, people know what is right and wrong in their hearts and their conscience continues to bear witness to it.
If you notice Paul has been moving from the external evidence of wrath in Chapter 1 of Romans to the internal evidence of man’s guilt now in chapter 2 and it leaves no room for any sinner to stand innocent and Paul has now moved it to its logical conclusion, in v. 16 on that day when, according to my Gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
Paul makes clear there is a day, on that day, when, according to my Gospel, the same Gospel he is not ashamed of, God judges, the creator, not the marred image bearers, the highest court, the highest authority. But what is he judging? The secrets of men, not just their actions, but their thoughts and their hearts by Christ Jesus. When we feel the weight of that, it should bring a conviction of guilt that gives deeper meaning to the question in Rev 6:17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
Paul has effectively made his case, no one can stand, all stand guilty. But in verse 17 Paul turns his attention squarely to the Jews. He is going to hit them where it hurts. He is going to fully level the field and put the Jews on equal footing with the Gentiles and their guilt according to the Gospel.
Paul addresses Jews in 2 basic ways: 1) Who they are and 2) what they were doing with what they knew.
We will start where Paul starts - Who are they? That seems like an obvious answer to a Jew, they are the children of Abraham, who God called out of his home and made a Covenant with in Genesis 12:1-2 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 and I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.
This covenant was reaffirmed to Abraham’s descendants and has been fulfilled in Christ, who Paul has now brought into the argument in regards to judgement. Again, salvation by faith in Jesus will be detailed later in Romans.
If we look at Paul’s first specific words to the Jews. He does not say, now for you who are Jews in v. 17. He starts with – but if you call yourself a Jew. What does he mean by that? It would be like if I said to a young man, you call yourself a man? Paul is about to put into question who a Jew is at their very core, not just their physical birth to Jewish parents.
Paul then goes on to question their reliance on the law and boasting in God. He brings the law back into his case, this time not using it to expose the Gentiles, but to expose the Jews. To make them see that they can’t use the law as a defense. They had come to believe that their keeping of the law would save them from God’s wrath and judgment. They had grown to see themselves as having some special exemption because of who they were and that they had the law on their side. They even boasted of it. Now it is right that we should boast in God, but Paul is pointing out their boasting is misplaced. If their boasting is misplaced then where is it focused?
Paul goes on to convict them that by pointing out their knowledge of God and God’s will and their approval of what is excellent. Now that sounds like a good thing to boast in, right? But Paul is setting the stage for their problem. Think of a child who has disobeyed his father, before a good father disciplines his child, he reminds them of what the command or expectation was, before he disciplines the child for their disobedience.
Now Paul proceeds laying out the evidence - that they have failed to do what they knew of, approved of and were instructed from. While knowledge of God, his will and his law was given to them, they had turned it into a works based system that they boasted in wrongly.
The Jews had become so boastful that they believed they were leading the blind out of the darkness. Jesus also address those blind leaders, the Scribes and Pharisees who sit on Moses’ seat, in Matthew 23 in fact, turn there with me so we can see together how Paul is just going to what Jesus taught,
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it. 23“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
There is so much there to unpack, but I wanted you to see and hear the parallel words from Jesus as he speaks of the Jewish leader’s blindness. Where is the Jewish leader’s focus? On material things and their gifts - they had form of religion but they had turned it into something it wasn’t. Jesus points them to the throne of God and by him who sits upon it. They were bringing their unrighteous works and neglected the things that matter: justice, mercy and faithfulness.
Back to Romans 2:20 Paul addresses them as instructors and teachers because they have the law, if they teach not to steal, not to commit adultery and to abhor idols. Why do they, themselves, steal? commit adultery? and rob temples? I struggled with the best way to explain this, because men who have studied this longer then I have disagree on exactly what Paul means here. I am going to deal with this in a broad general sense based on the point I think Paul is trying to make about their guilt before God. So I will pose the question this way – Have all Jews committed the sin of stealing, adultery, and robbing temples? Some certainly have actually committed those crimes and I can say that because of the evidence that Paul gives to confirm it is true in Romans 2:24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
Even the Gentiles could see the hypocrisy of the Jews. The Jews were not being a light to the nations. Psalm 96:3 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! Not only were they failing to do this - they were making a mockery of the law with the way they themselves broke it, all the while boasting of who they were. They were not leading people whether Gentile or Jew out of darkness. Paul is actually quoting Isaiah 52:5 to show them the evidence that convicts them.
God’s name being blasphemed is evidence that some have outwardly disobeyed the commands to not steal, commit adultery or rob temples. But it is where Paul goes next, that I think he is accusing all Jews of breaking those commandments.
So where does Paul go next, in verse 25 he brings in Circumcision, the sign of the Covenant God made with Abraham. Another symbol of Jewish pride and boasting. But that symbol is meant to represent something, it was a command that God gave Abraham after he believed what God told him. It was the sign of Abraham’s faith.
Circumcision was never about just the outward, expression of following the law. Paul makes a statement about the value of circumcision, if you obey the law. Romans 2:25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. To help understand this I will use an analogy of a stop sign, I could say: A stop sign only has value if you obey the law. In other words, the stop sign is worthless if, no one stops at it. It is just a sign, but if you believe there is an author of that sign who has authority – you stop.
It most is clearly summed up in the book of James 2:17 faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Circumcision was to be a sign of faith.
Paul then goes on to use circumcision and uncircumcision here to show the Jews that they are on equal footing here with the Gentiles. Paul’s intent here is not to show that an uncircumcised Gentile who keeps the law can be saved. Now in his systematic breakdown the Gospel he wants the Jews to see they can’t stand on the symbol of an outward obedience.
That brings us to the matter of the heart. Paul is wanting to strip away everything that the Jews held sacred from the law to circumcision until their heart is revealed. This should be no surprise to a Jew. Being taught, and teaching the law, they would remember the word of God from Moses in Deuteronomy chapter 30 before the people go into the land that God had promised Abraham, they were told of the blessings, if they obeyed, and curses, if they disobeyed and Moses told the people in Deut. 30:6 And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
So why does Paul spend, and will continue to spend, so much time pointing out that Gentiles and Jews are sinners? Because they are. There is no wiggle room, no excuse o man. Paul has stripped away all the excuses and left both Jew and Gentile exposed down to the heart. Nothing is hidden, there is no secret you can hide that isn’t exposed to the God who created you whether Jew or Gentile.
Paul is not ashamed of the Gospel, he is not ashamed to tell men what they already know. So that on that day according to my gospel God judges the secrets of men by Jesus Christ. Paul is not only reminding these Christians who they were, he is preparing them do deal with people who are still in rebellion to a Holy God who judges hearts.
What do we do with this Gospel today? What do we take away from this text today? I don’t think we have anyone here today who was raised a Jew. By definition that would make us all Gentiles, who at one point were, or for some, still are lost and destined for hell. If you have always seen yourself as a good person, your only praise will be here from men, you have bought the lie that Satan wants everyone to believe and someday - your actions and the secrets of your heart, that are already known by God, will be judged by Jesus Christ.
Now for those here who come from a Lutheran, Catholic, Methodist, Calvinist or other denominational background, if you are holding on to your traditions and think because of those traditions you hold some sort of special exemption for your sin. Maybe you think because you were baptized as a baby you were saved or because you take communion you are saved or because you come on Sunday, Wednesday, and Saturday, whatever the tradition, fill in the blank. You make a mockery of faith in Jesus. If you believe that your tradition or your own good works save you, like the Jews in our text today. When you stand in judgement by Jesus Christ and the secrets of your heart are revealed. You will hear Jesus words from Matthew 7: And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Then you will spend eternity in hell.
What about those here who believe and have faith in Jesus Christ and know that they can only stand on the judgement day because of Jesus Christ and can’t wait to hear those words well done good and faithful servant. What is the caution for us? Is there sin in our lives that is getting in the way of the Gospel message we share? Are people seeing our sin and not hearing our words? Are people not listening because we are not speaking it? If we are not speaking it, why not?
What about us here at Cornerstone, as a church body? Do the people of Cascade and our neighbors in other communities see us as prideful, boasting in what we are doing or have done? How many people fill the seats instead of how the Holy Spirit is at work. Do they see us as a people humbled because of what we know, what we approval of and believe - or do they see us as those who like to argue biblical knowledge? Do they even see us?
Does our Gospel message leave the conviction of sin and judgment. There is a weight to this message that we should not take away from it, when we share the good news, we should not be ashamed to tell someone the truth of coming judgement and where they stand - guilty without Jesus Christ. If you believe it, love people enough to use God’s word to tell then they are sinners and they can’t save themselves, they need Jesus Christ. He is the only way to salvation when judgement comes.