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Romans (Series 1)

Self-Justification

Romans  2:12 - 3:8

Judgment on All

(Rom 2:12-16 NIV) 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.

One of the questions I hear most frequently is the famed “pygmy in Africa argument.” It goes roughly like this: what happens to the pygmy in Africa who’s never heard of Jesus Christ? If God sends him to Hell, isn’t that unfair? And if He doesn’t, what’s the sense of becoming a Christian? This passage provides us Paul’s answer to that question.

The first principle he establishes here is that judgment is on the basis of what an individual knows. If you know God’s law, you will be judged by God’s law. If you don’t, you’ll be judged by what you do know.

Then, in a simple parenthesis, Paul repeats last week’s argument: “and you all know that you are sinners.” How? Just as we said last week, if you condemn anyone for a violation of “law” (whatever you know that to be) you condemn yourself. You establish in your own heart and mind the existence of law, and then you violate it. Thus your conscience condemns you (or worse, you burn it out).

Our Lord gives us an example in the cities in which He performed miracles:

(Mat 11:20-24 NIV) Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. {21} "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. {22} But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. {23} And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. {24} But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you."

(One will recall what happened to Sodom?) We are judged by what we know, and that should produce a clear sense of sin in us.

If there is one tragic feature of our society today it is that: we have no sense of sin. By way of example, the O.J. Simpson trial should produce in us a sense of outrage. If he’s guilty, outrage at the crime. If he’s innocent, outrage at the frame up.

Indeed, this section also makes clear that legalism is useless -- the mere formal obedience to law produces nothing but a clear proof of sinfulness:

(Gal 3:10-11 NIV) All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." {11} Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith."

It’s the thermometer principle again: my obedience is the outward sign of my faith? All is well. My obedience is an attempt to get by without faith? Deep trouble.

Paul ends this section by talking about the day of Judgment -- not a particularly popular topic. It’s interesting that the section begins with an unusual twist of language in verse 13. We are not made righteous by obeying the law; we are declared righteous. God sees our obedience as sign of faith, and pronounces us (in Christ) as righteous. Even if our consciences (rightly) declare us as sinners, God declares us as righteous. As John puts it,

(1 John 3:18-20 NIV) Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. {19} This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence {20} whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

(There is one problem in this section we must hold until later: the idea of willful ignorance of God. “If I don’t ever take the trouble to find out.... if I just decide to be happy in my ignorance....how can God condemn me?” We must answer this one later.)

Those in “Relationship” to God

Paul now turns to the people with a special relationship to God. In his day, this would be the Jews. In our day, we can easily make the mental transition to the Christian. In a continuation of the last section, he now asks, in effect, “if you really are in relationship to God, does it show?”

(Rom 2:17-29 NIV) Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; {18} if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; {19} if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, {20} an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth-- {21} you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? {22} You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? {23} You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? {24} As it is written: "God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." {25} Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. {26} If those who are not circumcised keep the law's requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? {27} The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker. {28} A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. {29} No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God.

Characteristics of the Cognoscenti

Paul begins by pointing out three major characteristics of those who claim to be in a special relationship to God:

·         they brag about the relationship

·         they approve of what they know to be superior

·         they see themselves as “guides for the blind.”

It’s easy to say, “that’s not me.” But think about it:

·         Have you ever said, “I don’t know how people who aren’t Christians get through the day?”

·         Have you ever disapproved of the sex, violence, etc. in our society, and longed for a time when virtue prevailed?

·         Did you ever feel that if people would just listen to you, their lives would be so much easier?

If so, you qualify!

And his question to you is this: do you teach yourself? In short, do you continue to grow in the Spirit? Can you look at yourself and say, “I know I have a long way to go -- but I’ve also come a long way?”

The Insult to God’s Name

If you qualify (and most of us do) then you must remember that you are the only Gospel, the only Jesus, that some will ever see. Paul points out that God’s holy name is blasphemed because of such people. You think not? Ask this: what is the world’s impression of a Christian? I am reminded of an actress (a Christian) who was asked to play the part of a Christian on a popular television series. Her first reaction was to make sure that the character wasn’t “going to change into a nymphomaniac or something like that in six weeks.”

Symbol and Reality

Paul ends this section by pointing out the relationship between symbol (in this instance, circumcision) and reality (true belief). The relationship is a chain that runs right through the human heart. I give you three Christian examples:

·         The symbol is baptism; the reality is repentance

·         The symbol is communion; the reality is accepting grace in me.

·         The symbol is human obedience to Christ’s commands; the reality is the love of Jesus in your heart.

Arguments Against the Faith

(Rom 3:1-8 NIV) What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? {2} Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God. {3} What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God's faithfulness? {4} Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: "So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge." {5} But if our unrighteousness brings out God's righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) {6} Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? {7} Someone might argue, "If my falsehood enhances God's truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?" {8} Why not say--as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say--" Let us do evil that good may result"? Their condemnation is deserved.

Paul in this section deals with some arguments against the faith that this line of reasoning will provoke. Some of them sound rather silly today (and they did in his day too, as his reply points out).

Argument: There are so many hypocrites in the church, how can there be anything real about it?

Answer: There would be no hypocrites if there were no truth; and where the truth is, the hypocrites are most closely clustered around it -- in the hope that some of the credit will rub off.

Argument: People in this church have such puny faith. How could anyone think that this is for real?

Answer: It’s not their faith that counts -- it’s God’s faithfulness in keeping his promises that counts.

Argument: My sinfulness is a great way of showing God’s goodness (nothing is ever a total loss; it can always be used as a bad example). Since I’m doing him such a favor, how can He condemn me?

Answer: (You’ve got to be kidding!) Haven’t you heard that judgment is coming? Just who did you think He had in mind?

Argument: My evil lets God bring good out of it. Every time I sin, God gets the chance to bring good from it. How can that be wrong?

Answer: Your own mouth has just condemned you.

Two things are very clear:

·         We are extremely clever at justifying our sins, and

·         in the process of justifying, we condemn ourselves.

Now we may return to willful ignorance (what if I choose to remain ignorant of Christ?) To ask the question is to admit the answer: I chose to remain ignorant of the one who could save. Could there be any greater condemnation?

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