None of us is okay, okay?

Many years ago, The London Times had a correspondent who ended many of his articles with the words, “What is wrong with the world today?” Finally, in response, G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936), the well-known Christian writer and apologist, wrote the following reply to the paper, “Dear Editor, What’s wrong with the world? I am. Faithfully Yours, G. K. Chesterton.” In those few words Chesterton beautifully summed up the Bible’s teaching concerning the central problem of the world. It’s people! More specifically, it’s what lies within us—our inner being or person. As the great theologian Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

 

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I’m not okay and neither are you. In short, we’re the problem in the world today. We’re our own worst enemy. As sinful as Satan is, our sin problem is so severe and all-encompassing that we’re in deep trouble all on our own. There’s no need to claim, “The Devil made me do it!” We sin quite well without him or anyone else tempting us to sin (cf. Jas 1:14). We’re disgustingly sinful in our own selves. In Romans 3:9-20, we’re faced squarely with the reality of our sin against God and other people. This text is a fitting climax to the entire section (1:18-3:20) and functions like a great baseball relief pitcher. In the eight or ninth inning, “the closer” comes in to replace whoever is pitching and promptly attempts to “put the game away” for his team. Well, Paul closes his argument here with the same kind of determination and authority. This text is the clincher, the closer, in this section of Romans. This passage, like no other, will tell us the truth about humankind. The bottom line is: I’m not okay, you’re not okay. Paul reveals three penetrating truths about humanity.

 

  1. We Are Universally Sinful (3:9)

Paul begins with a formal legal charge: All are under sin. He writes, “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.” In light of Paul’s previous remarks about the Jews (2:1-3:8), an objector asks whether he and his fellow Jews are better than Gentiles. Paul has affirmed that the Jew has certain “advantages” (3:2; cf. 9:4-5) that permit spiritual growth. However, here, Paul reiterates that there’s no difference between Jews and Gentiles—“all are under sin.” No one is exempt from judgment, not even God’s chosen people. Paul repeats his reason for this conclusion with the phrase, “we have already charged.” This is the ongoing message he has been giving, beginning with 1:18 and continuing up to this point (i.e., that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin).

 

It’s worth noting that the preposition “under” (hupo) is a military term that means to be under the authority of someone or something else. It was used for soldiers who were under the authority of a commanding officer. In this context, it means that the human race is dominated by sin. We’re under its power. The phrase “under sin” implies that we were born sinful and then began willfully committing sin as early as three to six months! A nursing infant who is told not to bite his mother may look her in the eye and bite even harder. A crawling infant may be told by his father to stop, and she may smile and crawl all the faster away from him. We’re sinful and we’re “under” sin’s power at a very young age.

 

Furthermore, the phrase “under sin” goes beyond “original sin” and our propensity to commit certain sins. Our problem is that we are enslaved to sin. In other words, we were born in sin, intentionally sinned as quickly as possible, and have exhibited sin during the course of our lives. Again, we’re under sin’s power. It will do no good to claim goodness. We are not good; only God is good (cf. Mark 10:18). As an ancient Chinese proverb observed, “There are two good men—one is dead and the other is not yet born.” Paul’s point is simple: I’m not okay, you’re not okay. On the contrary, we are universally sinful. Thus, if you and I want to overcome the junk in our lives, we must own our sin and recognize that God has provided a solution to our sin problem.

[Not only are we universally sinful, Paul will now demonstrate a second truth about us.]

  1. We Are Totally Depraved (3:10-18)

In these nine verses, Paul indicts all people as totally depraved. Total depravity means that there’s no spiritual good in humankind that is able to commend us to God. Many people have trouble with this concept. While not denying they are sinners, many people feel that their sin isn’t bad enough to condemn them. What they don’t understand is that any sin is wholly unacceptable to God. In this section it’s as if Paul says, “Are you still not convinced? Let me show you further proof from the Old Testament.” He uses a technique called “pearl stringing,” where he quotes verse after verse to prove his point. Interestingly, Paul carefully chooses a slew of Old Testament verses directly attributed to God. So the expert witness that Paul calls to the stand—God Himself. In 3:10-18, Paul reveals three categories of sin that demonstrate our depravity.

 

The first category is: Our character is depraved. In 3:10-12 Paul states: “as it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.’” Paul uses words like “none,” “all,” and “not even one” no fewer than seven times in the first three verses in order to make his point. Paul summarizes the fate of humanity by stating that “there is none righteous, not even one” (3:10). Verse 10 is a summary statement and the following verses flesh this truth out more fully. Verses 11-12 indicate that our whole inner being is controlled by sin.

(1) Our mind is depraved (“none who understands”). We don’t spend our time trying to understand God’s thoughts or His ways. We’re more interested in football, our favorite TV show, going to a concert, shopping, or hanging out with friends. We wouldn’t choose to spend considerable time attempting to understand God’s purposes or His program. We don’t go away on personal retreats to understand God.

(2) Our heart is depraved (“none who seeks for God”). If left to our own devices, we would never seek God. While it may appear that there are some who are actually seeking hard after God people are actually running from God. No sinner seeks God; rather, God seeks sinners. If anyone seeks God, it’s only because the Holy Spirit is working in his or her heart.

(3) Our will is depraved (“none who does good”). Consequently, we don’t do good works that honor God. Rather, our works are “filthy rags” (Isa 64:6) before God. Perhaps you’re thinking about a neighbor, a coworker, or a classmate that does seemingly wonderful deeds. I would affirm that this is prevalent from a human perspective. These “good works” are beneficial to your neighborhood, your workplace, and your school. However, from a divine perspective, these works fall short of God’s standard because they haven’t been carried out by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our mind, heart, and will are totally depraved. We’re sinful to the core.

Paul even goes so far as to state that together we have all become “useless.” Ouch! The word translated “useless” (achreioo) means “to corrupt” or “to turn sour” as milk. (Take out a gallon jug with sour milk and invite class members to smell it. Explain that this type of stench is similar to the stench of our sin.) Since the Bible speaks figuratively about God’s nostrils, there’s some precedent to say that the stench of our sin stinks to high heaven and reaches God’s nostrils. Our sin is repulsive and repugnant to Him. Indeed, I’m not okay, you’re not okay.

 

In 3:13-14, Paul shares another category: Our conversation is depraved. We betray our character by our speech. The heart blazes the way, and the mouth follows. In these two verses it’s as though humanity is given an annual physical exam. As you know when you go to the doctor for some unknown ailment he generally wants to look into your mouth. He puts one of those overgrown Popsicle sticks on your tongue and says, “Say ahhh!” Well, here God looks into the mouth of the sinner, and when we say, “Ahhh,” God says, ‘Yuk!’ Paul writes in 3:13a: “Their throat is an open grave.”

During biblical times embalming wasn’t practiced like it is today. So it goes without saying that an open grave must have reeked! In the same way, Paul is saying that the stench of man’s throat is like a rotting corpse. Interestingly, the phrase “open grave” literally means a yawning grave. I guess that means we should be careful when we yawn so that people don’t see down our throats into our decaying hearts.

 

In 3:13b-14 Paul goes on to say: “with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” Our tongues are a constant source of deception. Notice the present tense: “they keep on deceiving” (3:13b). Our conversation is so totally depraved that our native language is deception. Paul states that the poison of asps is under our lips. The asp was probably the Egyptian cobra. Under its lips was a sac full of venom. When this snake was provoked pressure was placed on the poison sac, and the venom would surge through the fangs that devoured its victim. One can scarcely think of a more graphic way in which to express the pain and suffering caused by vindictive and unjust words.

How many times have you assassinated someone’s character or reputation?

How many times have you cut someone else down in order to build yourself up? How many times have you cursed or even used the Lord’s name in vain? Gulp. How many times have you expressed bitterness in your speech (3:14)?

We are all guilty.

Even as believers who’ve been given a new nature from God, we still struggle with our conversation, don’t we? I know I do. It’s easy to speak words of deception and bitterness. It’s easy to be critical. All of us are guilty of slander and gossip in some way, shape, or form. James put it well: The tongue is a “restless evil and full of deadly poison” (Jas 3:8b). Our worst enemy is our mouth! This is what makes Jesus’ words in Matt 12:36 so terrifying: “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the Day of Judgment.” I know when I stand before Jesus Christ, I will have two give an account for my speech. I’m not looking forward to this accounting one bit. It will be a sobering day indeed when I fully come to grips with how I have dishonored God in my conversation. I’m not okay, you’re not okay. I’m totally depraved.

 

The third and final category of our depravity is found in 3:15-18: Our conduct is depraved. What the mouth utters, the feet usually carry out. Paul writes, “Their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known” (3:15-17). These verses describe America to a tee. Life is so cheap in our country today, particularly in the major cities. People kill one another over a set of car keys or a verbal insult or even a sinister look.

 

Today, there is at least one murder every twenty minutes. Furthermore, every year upwards of 50,000 people die as the direct result of someone else’s abuse of alcohol. And all that pales into insignificance when compared to the 1.2 million babies murdered every year under “freedom of choice” laws related to abortion. And if you’re innocent so far, do you still claim innocence when confronted with Jesus’ claim that murder is committed when one hates another person (Matt 5:21-22)?

 

Rom 3:17 would be an appropriate slogan for the United Nations: “The path of peace have they not known.” Indeed, we’re a warring people who constantly seek evil. Back in 1968, Will Durant wrote a book entitled, Lessons from History. In this book Durant wrote, “In the past 3,421 years of recorded history, only 268 have seen no war.” The search for peace goes on unabated because we don’t know the way of peace. Tragically, we’ve failed to recognize that there will be no peace until we acknowledge our sin and trust in the Prince of Peace.

What is the cause of all this violent and sinful behavior? The answer is found in 3:18: “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” As individuals and as a country, we have failed to fear God. Prov 1:7 states, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,” yet we have opted for foolishness instead of wisdom. God is left out of our conversations, decisions, and life. He’s ignored. When God is ignored, the consequences of Rom 1 are set into motion: He gives us over (1:24, 26, 28). This leads to the problems that are facing our country and our world today. Once again, we are the problem. We need to point the finger at ourselves. I’m not okay, you’re not okay.

[Paul has indisputably argued that we are universally sinful and totally depraved. Now he decrees a final truth about us.]

  1. We Are Helplessly Lost (3:19-20)

Paul concludes this passage with a verdict: GUILTY! These two verses also summarize the entire section (1:18-3:20). Paul writes, “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law so that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (3:19-20). The phrase, “Now we know that” indicates that what follows has already been established as fact. The Law has a message to those under the Law (i.e., Jews), which declares that the whole world is held accountable to God. Implied here is the responsibility of Jews to relay information from the Law to the world largely via their obedience. The Jews are to be an example to the world of how to carry out the standards of the Law.

The Jewish people of Paul’s day didn’t understand that they were condemned under the Law. They knew that they sinned, but they thought they had diplomatic immunity from God’s judgment because they were Jewish. The phrase “whatever the Law says,” refers back to the Old Testament passages that Paul quoted in 3:10-18. The word translated “closed” (phrasso) is literally translated “shut up,” that every mouth may be shut up! The Law brings us up short with God every time. So much so, that when we stand before Him, we’ll be silenced! This verb evokes the image of a defendant in court, who, when given the opportunity to speak in his own defense, remains silent, overwhelmed by the weight of the evidence against him.

 

Your brain is more incredible than the most vast computer system in the world. Every experience we have and every word we speak is recorded in our brains. Concerning the judgment day I think that in the last day God is going to take our brain out of our head, put it on a table there in his court room, plug in a recorder, and punch rewind. We are going to have to sit there and listen to our brain replay everything we’ve ever done, said, and thought. The prosecuting attorney doesn’t have to say a word. Indeed, when we receive a glorified mind and body and we stand before Christ, we will be shut up.

 

In 3:20, Paul explains that the Law was given for condemnation, not justification (i.e., “to declare not guilty,” see 3:24). The Jews had distorted the purpose of the Law. It was never intended to commend a man before God, but to condemn him. Like the blood-alcohol test is designed to prove men are drunk, so the Law is designed to prove men are sinners, under the wrath of God. The Law provided a standard of righteousness, not that men could ever attain such human righteousness, but to demonstrate they’re incapable of doing so and must find a source of righteousness outside themselves. That’s the point of all the sacrifices of the Old Testament. When the Law revealed man’s sin, God provided a way of sacrifice so that a man wouldn’t need to bear the condemnation of God. The Law was never given to save us, but to show us that we need a Savior.

 

The Law has been likened to a mirror. The purpose of a mirror is to reveal what is wrong with my face (e.g., gunk in the eyes, food in the teeth, messy hair, blemishes, etc.) As I carry on the activities of my day, I may somehow get dirt on my face and not even realize it. A mirror serves a wonderful purpose of showing me that I have a dirty face. It shows me that I have a problem. But the mirror cannot wash away the dirt! It makes a very poor washcloth. Likewise, God’s Law can show me that I am a guilty sinner (incapable of keeping God’s holy commandments), but it can never save me. It can only condemn me and show me that I need a Savior.

It is tempting to conclude my lesson on this negative note. However, you would be left with a sense of hopelessness and despair. While this may be Paul’s aim in 1:18-3:20, it is not the end of the story. Hence, I think it’s fitting for me to whet your appetite for the next section in Romans. In 3:21, Paul opens with the conjunction “but” (de). This three letter word that we often overlook may be the most important word in the Bible. The word “but” informs us that sin does not win the day. In a similar passage, Paul exclaims: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us…” (Eph 2:4). He utters these words after laying out total depravity (2:1-3). In both of these texts, the word “but” reminds us that God’s grace is greater than all our sin! Now that’s good news.

 

Like Paul, I have attempted to level you under the weight of your sin. I want you to feel the full brunt of your depravity. I desire for you to sense that you are hopelessly lost. If you’ve arrived at the end of yourself, there will be nowhere to turn but to Jesus Christ. Today, Jesus offers you His righteousness in exchange for your unrighteousness. If you will simply bring your sin to Jesus, He will offer you His perfection. Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sin and the sin of the entire world. He rose from the dead to demonstrate that He is God. He simply asks you to believe in His person and in His work. The decision is yours. Will you be pardoned or punished? I urge you: Believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior and cross over from death to life (John 5:24).

 

 

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Think rightly about yourself and God

What false beliefs do you hold? What ideas have you adopted that are contrary to Scripture? Have you ever thought that your sin was so great that it could keep you from God? Perhaps you’ve wondered if God could ever love and forgive a person like you. Have you ever felt so shackled by your sin that you justified it both mentally and verbally? Certainly one area that we err is in how we view ourselves in relationship to God. It’s so easy to think certain thoughts about ourselves and God that are not in keeping with the Bible. Hence, we must constantly go back to God’s Word and determine what Scripture says. In Romans 3:1-8 Paul says: Think rightly about yourself and God. Before we consider this text, let’s review how we got here. In 1:1-17, Paul gave an introduction in which he shared his ministry, his mission, and the theme of his book. In 1:18-32, Paul lambasted the blatant sin of the Gentiles. Then in chapter 2, Paul attacked the counterfeit obedience of the Jews. Now in 3:1-8, Paul raises and answers four objections that a Jew might have offered to squirm out from under the guilty verdict Paul had pronounced on him in chapter 2. In these eight verses Paul provides two contrasts between humanity and God.

  1. We Are Faithless, But God Is Faithful (3:1-4)

God’s faithfulness is powerfully vindicated in this section. Paul’s statements to the Jews in chapter 2 could be taken to mean that there’s no advantage to being a Jew. Thus, 3:1 opens with a question: “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision?” Although there are two questions in most English versions, there is only one question in the Greek text. (This translation is reflected in the NET, NIV, and NKJV.) To paraphrase the question, Paul is asking, “If Jews and Gentiles are both guilty before God, what advantage is there in being a Jew, particularly to being circumcised?” Today we might say, “If there is nothing to be gained by reading the Bible and going to church, why bother?”

 

Paul answers this question in 3:2 when he exclaims, “Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.” Paul insists that there are many great benefits to being an ethnic Jew. Here, he only gives the most important benefit (“first of all”): “they were entrusted with the oracles of God.” The phrase “the oracles of God” is likely a reference to the Old Testament, specifically those texts that refer to the future salvation of Israel. However, the privilege of the Jews went much further than simply having this revelation from God. They didn’t just possess the Old Testament Scriptures; they were “entrusted” (pisteuo) with them. This means that the Scriptures weren’t given to the Jews to keep for themselves. They were given to be both studied and shared. If you recall, God’s first Great Commission is found back in Gen 12:1-3 when God exhorts Abram to be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth. Unfortunately, as we know, the Jewish people were faithless and failed to fulfill God’s calling.

 

Imagine that we lose power in our church auditorium and our building is engulfed in flames. We all desperately need to escape this building before we are all burned to the ground. But only one person has a flashlight—me. [Turn on flashlight.] Instead of using my flashlight to help you find your way out and escape, I am busy studying the intricacies of the Scriptures. This is ludicrous, right? I would have failed to use my knowledge and my resources for your personal well-being. Similarly, though the Jews had a tremendous advantage in having the Law, Paul says they failed to use it properly.

 

The greatest advantage of being a Jew was the exposure it gave to the Old Testament from infancy. These Old Testament Scriptures were given to point the Jews to Jesus. Similarly, this is one of the great privileges of being raised in a Christian home. By reading God’s Word to us from infancy, God uses parents to persuade us that we were sinners in need of a Savior. Parents, this should be your primary agenda. Nothing is more important in this life than sharing Jesus Christ with your children. Don’t ever buy into the lie that they need to find their own spiritual way and come to their own conclusions. If you don’t influence your kids, I can assure you that someone else will.

Help your children to understand their sin.

Explain to them that they have missed the mark of God’s perfection (i.e., they have sinned in their works, words, thoughts, motives, and attitudes).

Bring them low so that they will look up to Christ.

This is your calling as a parent.

 

As a believer, you’ve been “entrusted” with the whole of the Scriptures. This is a very great privilege, but one privilege that brings added responsibility. Do you study God’s Word to know and serve Him better? Has your Bible study drawn you closer to God? Have you then taken this knowledge and shared it with someone else? Bible knowledge, if kept to ourselves, is contrary to God’s expressed will. Share what you know about Jesus and His offer of salvation today. Help others think rightly about themselves and God.

 

Paul responds to the Jews’ great benefit of the Scriptures with two more questions in 3:3. “What then? If some did not believe [If some were unfaithful], their unbelief [unfaithfulness] will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?” Perhaps you’ve used the expression, “What the…?” This goes all the way back to the apostle Paul; however, many people have included an expletive in this phrase. Here, Paul asks a rhetorical question that anticipates an indignant response of “No way!” Israel’s unfaithfulness will never frustrate God’s faithfulness. The certainty of all God’s promises rests on His character, not on our faithfulness. As you likely know, the Old Testament is the story of Israel’s unfaithfulness and God’s faithfulness.

 

Even when God’s people had sunk to the lowest forms of idolatry, God remained faithful to His chosen nation. This is truly amazing! God can’t deny Himself, and thus when His people fail Him, He will not—indeed, He cannot—fail to do as He’s promised. God is faithful to His chosen people. Romans 3:3 is a strong verse for the eternal security of Israel, God’s chosen people. It verifies that God still has a plan for Israel, and when we relate this aspect of His character to the believer today we know that His faithfulness to us is not dependent upon our faithfulness to Him. Paul said it best in 2 Tim 2:13, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.”

 

Just in case we didn’t get his point, Paul follows up the rhetorical question in 3:3 with the powerful words of 3:4a: “May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar.” The phrase “May it never be” (me genoito) is a very potent phrase. This is the first of ten times this phrase is used in Romans. This phrase has been variously translated: “Absolutely not” (NET); “By no means” (ESV); “God forbid” (KJV); and “Perish the thought!” It’s a phrase of outrage! Paul responds with both guns loaded to the notion that God could or would ever be unfaithful. He exclaims, “Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar.”

 

This idea is likely taken from Psalm 116:11 where the Psalmist writes, “All men are liars!” We might not think much about the sin of lying (e.g., “to lie is human”), but God does. In Proverbs 6:16-19, Solomon mentions seven things the Lord hates. Only one is repeated, and it’s not pride, shedding innocent blood, or sowing strife. As terrible as these sins are, they are not repeated. The only repeated sin is lying (“a lying tongue” and “a false witness who utters lies”). Returning to Rom 3:4, Paul uses the sin of lying to level all people (“every man”) under sin. His point is that all men, women, and children are unfaithful. Yet, Paul also states, “Let God be found true.” This means that He is faithful to His Word.

 

Paul is saying that God never gives up on anyone… under any circumstances! There’s nothing you can do that will cause God to leave you or forsake you. If there is, then your sin is greater than God’s grace. This doesn’t make sin any less sinful, nor does it excuse your disobedience, but it does mean that no matter what you’ve done, you can be forgiven.

 

Paul refers to one of Israel’s greatest heroes, King David, when he states in 3:4b: “. . . as it is written, ‘THAT YOU MAY BE JUSTIFIED IN YOUR WORDS, AND PREVAIL WHEN YOU ARE JUDGED [or “when you judge”].’” The phrase translated “it is written” occurs fifteen times in Romans. It’s a formula that alerts the readers that the writer is making a significant point from the Old Testament. In this case, Paul turns to the words of David in Psalm 51:4. The occasion was Nathan’s rebuke of David, after his adultery with Bathsheba (cf. 2 Sam 12:9-14). When confronted by Nathan, David acknowledged his sin and repented. He didn’t seek to offer any excuses for his actions. He had no word of defense for his sin. His sin only served to highlight the righteousness of God.

 

David knew that God was absolutely just and righteous in pronouncing sentence on his sin. The only hope that David had was the faithfulness of God. He didn’t speak of his good works nor did he promise future good works. The Law didn’t even make a provision for the forgiveness of the sin he had committed. He was worthy of death. But it was God’s faithfulness, combined with His mercy and compassion that gave David cause for hope.

 

The good news of the gospel is our “unfaithfulness” will not “nullify the faithfulness of God.” Even though David was an adulterer, a liar, and a murderer, God forgave him. If God can forgive David, He can forgive anybody! Do you need to be forgiven by God? Is there a sin in your life that you don’t think God could ever forgive you for? Please don’t let the enemy lie to you. If God can forgive David, He can forgive you and me. He only asks that we humbly come to Him, acknowledge our sin, and seek the forgiveness that He has made available in and through Christ.

The model that David provides for us in Psalm 51:1-4 is a thing of beauty. At one point it seems that David thought God’s judgment was too severe. But then he sees his great need (51:1-2). He wants to experience God’s grace. He has sinned and yearns for total cleansing, so he fully confesses what he has done. David acknowledges his sin (51:3) and grieves over how his sin hurt God (51:4). He refuses to defend himself against God (51:4b). David’s thinking is contrary to the Jews of Paul’s day, who would often blame God for their adverse circumstances. Similarly, we are to say, “Lord, it is my fault. What you say is right and what you have done is right. Whatever blessing I have lost is altogether my own fault.” When we lose out, we should not blame God, we should blame ourselves. We must own our sin and see sin as God does. Again, we must think rightly about ourselves and God.

[In 3:1-4 Paul has argued that we are faithless, but God is faithful. Now we’ll see a second contrast…]

  1. We Are Unrighteous, But God Is Righteous (3:5-8)

The questions Paul raises in 3:5-8 reveal a rebellious response to Paul’s indictment of sin and his condemnation of the self-righteous. These verses demonstrate God’s righteous judgment on unbelieving and rebellious Jews. In 3:5: “But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms).”

 

Although this objection is to be expected, it is nonetheless absurd and sinful. The phrase “what shall we say?” is found seven times in Romans and nowhere else in the New Testament. It may be used to introduce a conclusion Paul rejects or one that he accepts. In this case, Paul clearly rejects the notion. The word “not” (me) introduces Paul’s response to this question. When this word begins a Greek sentence, a negative reply is to be anticipated. This is one of Paul’s familiar literary devices. He asks a question, but doesn’t think there’s anything to it. That God might be unrighteous is so preposterous that Paul excuses himself for even mentioning such a thing. In other words, how could God be “just” to inflict wrath on me if my unrighteousness works itself out for the “good” of showing how righteous God is?

 

Paul exclaims in 3:6: “May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world?” It’s absolutely unfathomable that God should be unjust. If God can’t righteously judge in time and in eternity, we will have total anarchy. God’s righteous character demands judgment. If God refused to judge sin, He would cease to be God. Righteous judgment is an attribute of a holy, perfect, sinless God.

In 3:7-8, Paul tackles the same objection found in 3:5. The final line (3:8b) nails the coffin shut on the Jew. Paul writes: “But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner? And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), ‘Let us do evil that good may come?’ Their condemnation is just.” This is essentially the same argument as the one in 3:5, but this time stated in terms of “lie” and “truth.”

 

It is the ultimate justification for one’s sinfulness and demonstrates the utter depravity of man. It is the wicked and unbiblical philosophy that “the end justifies the means.”

It would be like saying, “Pray for sickness so doctors will have a chance to heal people.

Pray for more fires so firemen can show their stuff.

Pray for more disasters so ambulance drivers will have something to do.

It would be similar to a murderer saying to the court after his conviction, “My conviction proves the system works; therefore, I should be rewarded, not incarcerated.” This is ludicrous and outright sinful! Getting to the right place (i.e., God’s glory) by the wrong means (i.e., man’s sin) can never be justified. Paul says that the condemnation of those who say these things is just.

 

However, we must keep two tensions in mind: (1) Sin is always sinful. There’s no such thing as “good” sin. Sin is the reason Jesus came to the earth. Sin is the reason He died on the cross. There’s nothing good about it. It’s evil through and through. (2) God is able to bring about good things from our dumb mistakes. That’s what the grace of God is all about. But please understand: The fact that God can bring good things out of bad choices doesn’t turn stupidity into wisdom! And, it doesn’t justify sin! Sin is always sinful!

 

When an unbeliever sins, he or she misses out on eternal life and is storing up wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God (2:5). The sobering truth is that all unbelievers will stand before Jesus Christ and give an account for their works, or lack thereof, at the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev 20:11-15). This will be an excruciating moment! Even as an unbeliever, sin is serious because hell is not the same punishment for every person—it is an individual judgment of works. Similarly, when a believer sins he or she misses out on some of God’s conditional promises in this life. There can also be severe chastening because God wants His children to be in fellowship with Him.

 

Furthermore, we will give an account of our Christian lives at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10). Paul acknowledged the “terror” associated with this event (5:11). Hence, it would be wise to think rightly about yourself and God.

It is worth mentioning that the apostle Paul appears to be accused of preaching a gospel that leads to licentiousness (Rom 3:8a; see also 6:12). Like Paul, when you preach that salvation is a “gift” or “free gift” you will be accused of promoting “easy believism” or “cheap grace.” However, these allegations are erroneous. Quite the opposite, while salvation may be simple, it’s not “easy.” Everything in us wants to earn our way to heaven. Consequently, it’s difficult to transfer our trust from what we can “do” to Jesus’ work. Calling God’s gift “cheap grace” fails to take into account two things: (1) Grace is not cheap; it’s free (3:24). (2) Grace is not cheap; it cost Jesus His life. The only reason we can have a free salvation is because God paid a tremendous price. In light of Jesus’ sacrifice, you and I ought to live lives that are worthy of our calling. We should express utter gratitude to Jesus for the free gift of grace. We must also urge others to press on to Christian maturity. Anything less is unbiblical. We who proclaim God’s grace apart from works should expect God’s grace to change believers from the inside out.

 

If you’ve never trusted in Jesus Christ, will you do so? God is eternally faithful and righteous. The Bible teaches that it’s appointed for man to die once and after that comes judgment (Heb 9:27). I don’t know when your appointment will come. I bet you don’t either. So why not be sure where you’ll spend eternity? Simply acknowledge that you are a sinner and express to God that you would like to believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior. I’ve received this free gift, and I know beyond the shadow of any doubt that I’m forgiven and God will be faithful to take me to heaven when I die or when He returns. For me, there’s no greater joy in life than knowing what my future holds and who is holding it.

Don’t believe the lie

Many years ago a man in San Francisco was caught speeding. The man blew through an intersection without realizing there was a camera on the traffic light. A couple weeks later he received in the mail a picture of his car and a ticket for $40. Since he had never had a ticket like this before, he decided to have a little fun. So he wrote out a check for $40, took a picture of the check and sent the picture back to the police department. A couple of days later, the police responded in return and sent him a picture. This time it was of handcuffs. He got the point, and they got their money.

There are some laws that we just can’t get away from. One such a law is this: Trusting in religion brings condemnation. Religion on the whole has been Satan’s great counterfeit to true spirituality. Religion has done far more damage to the church than all the atheists, communists, and world-class sinners. Religion is Satan’s greatest lie because it keeps so many people out of God’s heaven. I guess you could rightly say: Religion is all pain, no gain.

 

The overall purpose of Romans 1-3 is to level humankind under sin. Paul begins with Gentiles who are guilty of blatant disobedience (1:18-32). He then pronounces the moralist guilty of counterfeit obedience (2:1-16). Now in 2:17-29, Paul, a Hebrew of Hebrews, goes after his own people the Jews and demonstrates that even the Jew is a sinner who stands guilty before God. Paul issues two timely warnings that have greater relevance to us.

 

  1. Beware Of Religious Overconfidence (2:17-24).

With this section Paul begins a long sentence in which he piles up description after description of the Jews’ privileges (2:17-20), only to show that these blessings mean little because Jews have not lived up to their privileges (2:21-24). Like all good speakers, Paul begins with the positive. In 2:17-20, he summarizes three great privileges or advantages the Jews held over the Gentiles. The first privilege of the Jews is their name. Paul writes in 2:17a, “But if you bear the name Jew.” The name “Jew” means “praise to Yahweh.” This name reminded them that they were privileged among all the people of the world—they were God’s chosen people. So proud were they of this name that many of the Jews living in Gentile cities used it as a surname such as (insert your name), Jew.

 

In the same way, many modern day churchgoers pride themselves in their names: conservative, charismatic, Pentecostal, evangelical, Baptist, and Presbyterian just to name a few. It’s so easy to brag on a preacher or writer. Yet, a principle that we must always bear in mind is: When people are steeped in religion, they talk about names and churches; when people are steeped in Christianity, they talk about Jesus. We must be careful to distinguish between religion and a relationship with Christ. Religion is all pain, no gain. A relationship with Jesus, however, is the difference between pain and gain.

 

The second privilege of the Jews is their book. In 2:17b-18 Paul writes that the Jews “rely upon the Law and boast in God, and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law.” The Jews possessed the Old Testament and were the keepers of the Law. They knew God’s will in a way the Romans and Greeks never knew it. They knew what was right and what was wrong. They were a people of the book! Sadly, they often failed to see the big picture (i.e., recognize Jesus was the Messiah promised in the Old Testament) to fulfill their primary calling (i.e., be a light to the Gentiles). Likewise, a great danger that we face in the 21st century is getting high on our knowledge of the Bible without allowing it to affect our lives. Unlike the Jews, we utilize the full revelation of God’s Word—all sixty-six books. We have multiple versions, cutting edge Bible software, thousands of internet search sites and the Bible on CD and Mp3. Here in America we have every opportunity to know God’s Word. But we must ensure that we don’t fool ourselves into assuming that we know the God of the Bible when all we really know are the contents of the Bible. As R.E.M. once sang, “We need to ‘lose our religion.’” The reason for this seemingly extreme measure is religion is all pain, no gain.

 

The third privilege of the Jews is their works. In 2:19-20, Paul lists four advantages the Jews made for themselves: “. . . you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth.” These are pretty heavy claims, yet Paul never contradicts them. Each of these claims is good if used in the right way. If you widen the lens to take in all three advantages, they are all outward—a name, a book, and a series of good works. None of those things touch the heart, and since they don’t touch the heart, they can all be faked. They require no inward change. Without a change of heart, the Jew has no advantage at all! The truth applies to us as well. We must be careful not to place confidence in our Christian service, whether it’s children’s ministry, youth ministry, the worship team, or pastoral ministry. Our confidence must be in Christ, not works.

 

Do you like to watch boxing? I bring up boxing because in 2:17-20, Paul was shadowboxing. In 2:21-24, he abruptly turns aggressive and his blows become lethal as he confronts the Jew with the disparity between what he teaches others and his own manner of life. Paul’s right hand comes over the top and breaks the jaw of the Jew with four consecutive questions. This series of questions is an attempt by Paul to turn the complacent Jew back on himself to search his own soul. The Jewish religious leaders of Paul’s day were notorious for their inconsistency and hypocrisy in respect to the Scriptures.

 

Paul begins with the thesis question in 2:21a, “. . . you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?” The word “therefore” (oun) links 2:21-24 with 2:17-20. Paul argues that, given all the amazing advantages listed in 2:17-20, it seems that the Jews would teach themselves. It is important that we apply the sermon to ourselves first. John Calvin said, “If the preacher is not first preaching to himself, better that he falls on the steps of the pulpit and breaks his neck than preaches that sermon.”

 

In 2:21b, Paul writes, “You who preach that one should not steal, do you steal?” The Jews were stealing from one another, perhaps by collecting extreme interest or cheating on business deals. They preached against stealing, yet they themselves broke the eighth commandment. Paul follows this up in 2:22a with, “You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?” The Jews preached against adultery but were also guilty of breaking the seventh commandment as well. Finally, Paul questions the Jews again in 2:22b, “You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?” God’s Law commanded Israel to destroy pagan temples in Canaan (Deut 7:1-6) and zealous Jews sometimes acted on this statute. However, they often broke the second commandment by confiscating the temples’ treasures (Deut 20:16-18; Josh 6:18-19; 20). This isn’t the obedience that God demands. Verse 23 appears to be a fifth and final question; however, it is likely a statement since there is not a question mark in the Greek text. Thus, this verse should be translated: “You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law” (ESV; cf. NET, NLT). On one hand the Jews boasted in their knowledge of the Law, yet on the other hand, they were guilty of breaking the Law and dishonoring God. We would call this hypocrisy!

 

After doing a search on “hypocrisy” on the web, here is what I found:

Def: the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform

(1) Driving School owner drives drunk;

(2) a fire station goes up in flames because it didn’t install a smoke detector; (3) a robber who dresses up in police clothing;

(4) a Lowe’s Home Improvement store that failed to pass a building inspection; and

(5) Typo checking software that has a typo in their press releases. 

 

What about for us?

  1. Texting while driving, yet yelling at your children or others not to do it. Guilty as charged on this one. And perhaps the best of all hypocrisy examples in the modern world.
  2. Saying, “I have black friends” as if you have no prejudice against the race, but then holding tighter to your purse or locking your doors at the first sight of a black man. If you were brought up with fear of people of other races, maybe it’s time to work on letting it go.
  3. This is one of the most obvious examples of hypocrisy: thinking that gossip is bad, and then repeating it to a friend. This needs no explanation.
  4. Saying, “No child should go hungry,” but then neglecting to donate to a food bank or doing something about it. If you can afford that daily cup of fancy coffee, you can afford to give to someone in need.
  5. Here’s another one of the best hypocrisy examples out there: espousing the whole work/life balance thing but then not really modeling it yourself. Who is not guilty of this one from time to time?
  6. Telling your teenager to slow down on the road, but then you roll through a stop sign ‘cause you don’t want to miss the season premiere of God knows what. Try to model good driving habits for your kids always.
  7. Telling your children that stealing is bad, but “borrowing” some paper clips or other items from your office to take home. It may not seem like much, but it adds up over time.
  8. Complaining about the government, but not voting. This makes us so mad! Let’s just stop there. Now, with all these in mind, go do better, be better and live better.

 

 

Such examples demonstrate that hypocrisy remains a problem today. It is both timeless and universal. But our major concern shouldn’t be with the Jews of Paul’s day or even other contemporary examples. We should be concerned with ourselves. Do we also commit the same or similar sins that we denounce in others? Do we slander the welfare cheats yet take deductions on our income tax return to which we’re not lawfully entitled? Do we rebuke the pornographers publicly, yet vicariously live out other people’s sexual adventures through the media? Do we decry the breakdown of the family yet head for divorce court when faced with difficult marriage problems? What about you? Are you practicing what you’re preaching? Does your life match up to your lips? If not, humble yourself, forsake the spiritual snobbery, and submit your life fully to Christ. 

 

The hypocritical behavior of the Jews led to a disturbing result in 2:24. Paul explains: “For ‘THE NAME OF GOD IS BLASPHEMED AMONG THE GENTILES BECAUSE OF YOU’, just as it is written.” This quotation can be traced back to Isaiah 52:5 LXX (cf. Ezek 36:20-21) where God is mocked by the Gentiles on account of Israel’s disregard for and disobedience of the Law. The Gentiles knew that Israel was God’s “chosen people.” They expected them to live accordingly. When the Jews violated God’s Law, the Gentiles “blasphemed” (blasphemeo) God’s name. In other words, they developed a wrong attitude about God. On one hand, the Jews were so jealous for God’s name that they would not even pronounce it; they would substitute another word for God instead. Yet, their conduct caused the Gentiles to blaspheme that very name. The Jews utterly failed in their calling to make God known. Will we?

 

Friederick Nietzche (1844-1900) once said that the best argument against Christianity is Christians. Nietzche was so right! We are our own worst enemies. The acid test is not so much what we say about ourselves but what the world says about God because of us! Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16). Does your life point people to the Savior? Or, does your life cause people to blaspheme His holy name? We must recognize that there is nothing that God is more concerned about than His Name (i.e., His reputation and glory). Our job is to live godly and make Him look good before the nations. If we’re striving for practical righteousness in our lives, the world will sit up and take notice. If they see that we live lives of humility, integrity, and purity, they may just be attracted to what we believe.

[Confidence in one’s good works provides no assurance for salvation. God requires complete obedience. Thus, Paul exclaims, “Beware of religious overconfidence.” His second warning is . . .]

  1. Beware Of Religious Association (2:25-29).

These verses serve as “the great reversal.” Paul levels Jews and puts them on par with Gentiles. He does so by calling out their favorite religious work—circumcision. He indicates that even circumcision will not ensure salvation. Paul puts it like this: “For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision” (2:25). Paul is quite clear that circumcision is only valuable “if” (repeated twice) you continually practice the Law. For those Jews who have failed to keep the Law and are relying on their circumcision, it’s “uncircumcision.” Paul is slapping his readers silly with a spiritual 2×4. One of the greatest insults in Judaism was to call another Jew “an uncircumcised one,” and this is exactly what Paul is doing here. He’s showing no mercy on his fellow Jews! He argues that the circumcised Jew who transgresses the Law will literally “become a foreskin” (Greek). This means they are no different than a Gentile. What a slam upon these overconfident Jews!

 

Our primary problem in approaching these verses is that circumcision doesn’t mean to us what it meant to the Jews. To us, circumcision is an optional physical act performed on baby boys. Some are circumcised; some aren’t. Outside of the Jewish faith, few people are circumcised for religious reasons. Most undergo the procedure for hygienic reasons. But the act of circumcision was incredibly significant to Jews. God first instituted circumcision as a “sign of the covenant” that God entered into with Abraham and his descendants (Gen 17:10-14). All males descended from Abraham were to be circumcised on the eighth day as a mark of their identity as the people of God. To the Jews circumcision was intended to demonstrate that a man had committed himself to obey the Lord, and it invited God to cut off the man and his heirs if he rebelled against God. Unfortunately, many Jews came to think that the mere rite guaranteed their salvation.

 

One Jewish Rabbi stated that Abraham himself will sit at the entrance of Hell to make sure that no circumcised man was ever cast into Hell. However, circumcision was never meant to be an end in itself. The physical mark was meant to be accompanied by a deep spiritual commitment to God. Where commitment was absent, circumcision soon degenerated into ritualism. That’s roughly what happened over the centuries. By the first century many rabbis spoke of circumcision as if it were an automatic ticket to heaven. However, this is like placing a Mercedes Benz hood ornament on a broken down Yugo.

 

Circumcision was a ritual meant to be an outward sign or seal (Rom 4:11) of an inward reality. The outward ritual profits a person only if it is accompanied by the inner reality. The outward rite is worthless (of no benefit or advantage) apart from the inward reality. Apart from this, it is just ritual with no reality, a symbol with no substance. Now, in the place of circumcision, you can put a number of equivalent things: baptism, confirmation, church membership, communion, and other good works. Personally, I’m concerned for many who regard their infant baptism in much the same way the Jews regarded circumcision.

 

Some churches even teach that baptism saves from sin and guarantees entrance into heaven. To put a sharp point on it, this is one place where the practice of infant baptism may be rightly criticized. Multiplied millions of people today are putting their hope of heaven in the fact that a priest sprinkled some water on their forehead when they were a few days old. Whatever may be said in favor of infant baptism, this is the most damning indictment against it! It can become a religious ritual that leads many people away from saving faith in Jesus Christ. Hence, when a well-meaning individual acknowledges that he or she is trusting in infant baptism or any other work for salvation, please urge this person to believe in Christ alone. Religion is all pain, no gain.

 

In 2:26-27, Paul expounds on his thought that Jews face God’s judgment because they have sinned just like Gentiles. “So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law?” In these two verses Paul powerfully sets forth the truth that inner change happens without works. If the Gentile has the inward reality, then he has the one thing that really counts. The uncircumcised Gentile who perfectly keeps the Law (or as some argue: the Christian who fulfills the Law through the Spirit) is capable of surpassing the circumcised Jew who transgresses the Law. Paul even puts forth the possibility that if the uncircumcised Gentile keeps the Law he or she will judge the circumcised Jew who does not. Ouch! This is a serious slap across the face of the Jew who is reading this letter or listening to Paul’s words being read.

 

(optional) Do you like peaches? If so, I have a can of peaches right here that I’d be willing to give you. But what you don’t know is that this can of peaches is actually a can of peas. I replaced the labels, so that it has the appearance of being peaches, when in reality, it is a can of peas. (UGH! I don’t know about you, but I hate canned peas.) The outside of this can is not consistent with what is inside.

In our day cans and bottles have labels on them to indicate what is inside. Circumcision was a label, and it implied that the Jew was obedient to God. However, if he was not completely obedient the label was not only worthless but misleading. The contents of the can are more important than the label. Similarly, if a Gentile was completely obedient to God, the absence of the label of circumcision was not of major consequence. The Jews had put more emphasis on the presence of the label than on the contents of the can. Paul’s point is that disobedience brings condemnation and perfect obedience, hypothetically, brings salvation, regardless of whether one is a Jew or a Gentile. Circumcision or baptism or any other rite practiced in an attempt to gain salvation is analogous to a label on a can of fruit or vegetables. If the outer label doesn’t match with the inner product, something is rotten! Religion is all pain, no gain.

 

Again, let me be clear on this point. Paul is saying that all religious ritual is worthless unless something has already happened in the heart! Baptism can’t save you or help you. The Lord’s Supper can’t save you or help you. Church membership can’t save you or help you. Good works can’t save you or help you. These things aren’t bad—they are wonderful. God expects you to obey Him in each of these areas. But to whatever extent you base your hope of eternal life upon any of these things, you’re making the same mistake the Jews made 2000 years ago. Good works are always an expression of gratitude for the gift of salvation. They are never to be equated with salvation or included in the salvation equation.

Paul closes this section by explaining positively what a true Jew is: “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God” (2:28-29). The real message of this passage may be summed up in one simple sentence: Being a Jew is not a matter of racial heritage or religious ritual, but is instead a matter of the heart. No outward circumcision will ultimately earn praise from God. Salvation is by sheer grace, for God will not share His glory with another.

 

The great ignorance of religion is that people don’t realize that God approves matters of the heart. He seeks a circumcision of the heart by the Spirit. This is what results in the praise of God. Why? Because what a man is inwardly is the true measure of what he is before God. The word translated “but” (alla) in 2:29 is the strongest contrast in the Greek language. Paul transitions from the exterior to the interior, from the body to the heart. In doing so, he uses a play on words to summarize the point of this section. The word “praise” (epainos) links back to the word “Jew” (Ioudaios) in 2:17, because the word Jew means “praise.” It comes from the Hebrew word judah, which means “praise.” These Jews were praising themselves because they had the rite of circumcision. This was the great mark of the true people of God. Whenever anybody questioned their standing before God, they only had to refer to the fact that they were circumcised. Yet, they failed to appropriate true praise from God.

 

With this we come to the bottom line. As shocking as it may sound, there will be many church members in hell. In fact, hell will be populated with people from every religious persuasion. Why? It is because many people are locked into a false religious confidence. They trusted in religion instead of Christ. In the end, they were too religious for their own good. What are you trusting for your eternal salvation? Or, to put it more accurately: In whom are you trusting to take you to heaven? After all, salvation isn’t a what; it’s a who. The issue on the floor is your relationship with Jesus Christ. Let me give you five simple words that can take you all the way from earth to heaven. Here they are: Faith alone in Christ alone. Only Jesus can save you, so put your trust in Jesus only.

It was every business person’s nightmare. Arriving at Harv’s Metro Car Wash in Sacramento, CA were two dark-suited IRS agents demanding payment of delinquent taxes. “They were deadly serious, very aggressive, very condescending,” says Harv’s owner, Aaron Zeff. The really odd part of this: The letter that was hand-delivered to Zeff’s on-site manager showed the amount of money owed to the feds was . . . four cents. Inexplicably, penalties and taxes accruing on the debt—stemming from the 2006 tax year—were listed as $202.31, leaving Harv’s with an obligation of $202.35. Thank God, when it comes to our sin debt, Jesus paid it all; He didn’t leave a balance.

 

Aren’t you glad that the debt you owe has been paid for by the person and work of Jesus Christ? His sinless life and His excruciating death have turned away God’s wrath and satisfied His holy demands. Your sins—past, present, future—have been forgiven, forgotten, forever. All that is necessary for you to have eternal life is to place your confidence in Jesus Christ alone. Today, will you simply acknowledge your sin and turn to the Savior?

Judge and Jury

On March 26, 2000 at 8:32 a.m., Seattle’s famed Kingdome—home of the Seahawks, the Mariners, and at times, the Sonics—was blown to kingdom come. Working for the Seattle office of Turner Construction Co., the Maryland based Controlled Demolition Incorporated (CDI) was hired to do the job of imploding the 125,000-ton structure that had marked Seattle’s skyline for almost twenty-five years. The remarkable thing about the event was the extreme measures taken to ensure no one was hurt. CDI had experience with over 7,000 demolitions and knew how to protect people. Engineers checked and rechecked the structure. The authorities evacuated several blocks around the Kingdome. Safety measures were in place to allow the countdown to stop at any time if there was concern about safety. All workers were individually accounted for by radio before the explosives were detonated. A large public address system was used to announce the final countdown. In short, CDI took every reasonable measure, and then some, to warn people of the impending danger.

The Bible teaches a final judgment and destruction for this sinful world. Like the engineers who blew up the Kingdome, our heavenly Father has spared no expense to make sure everyone can “get out” safely. He especially warns us of judgment in the first three chapters of Romans. In 1:18-32, Paul dealt with humankind’s unrighteousness in fifteen verses. In 2:1-3:8, he deals with our self-righteous in a whopping thirty-seven verses. Paul spills over twice as much ink on the self-righteousness because they are the most difficult people to persuade of their sin. The apostle’s point is that all men need salvation either because of blatant disobedience or counterfeit obedience. In 2:1-16, he confronts those who think their works can justify them before God. He will make it clear that the self-righteous person is as guilty before God as the unrighteous person. He states: Excuses for sin will not be excused. In this text Paul answers the question: How does God judge people? He then provides three ways: God judges according to truth, works, and light.

1. God Judges According To Truth (2:1-5).
Paul insists that the self-righteous person is guilty before God. Now if you’ve never judged anyone, you’re welcome to stop reading right now. But I suspect you’ve judged at least one person on one occasion, so keep reading. Paul begins in 2:1 with these penetrating words: “Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you5 who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.” After hearing about the blatant idolatry, immorality, and wickedness of the pagan unbeliever (1:18-32), some of Paul’s readers must have become smug with pride. However, he abruptly cuts them down to size. He uses the word “therefore” (dio) to connect the overt sinner of 1:21-32 with the covert sinner who judges another (2:1-5). Paul also clearly implies that God’s wrath in 1:18-20 will fall upon the moralist. The word “excuse” (anapologetos) is the same word used in 1:20 where Paul writes that the wicked are “without excuse” because of God’s witness in creation. Interestingly, Paul’s focus moves from “them/they” to “you/yourself” (six times in 2:1). He points the finger at the moralist and says, “You are guilty!” While the moralist may not indulge in gross manifestations of sin as some do, all people have impure thoughts, motives, and attitudes. So even “nice sinners” who pass judgment stand condemned.

We are quick to notice the grain of pepper in someone else’s teeth but slow to deal with the burrito in our own. Jesus’ words are fitting: “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matt 7:3-5). We need to stop being oblivious to our own sin and deal with our junk before we approach another person. This may be as simple as changing pronouns. Like Paul in 2:1 we need to stop using “them/they” and “he/she.” Instead, we must first address me, myself, and I.

Tragically, we can all be self-righteous to one degree or another. We judge both ourselves and others poorly. We defend ourselves and find it difficult to believe that God’s judgment will touch us. Yet, we judge others severely and assume that they deserve God’s judgment. Have you ever noticed how we like to “rename” our sins? We do that by ascribing the worst motives to others, while using other phrases to let ourselves off the hook. Ray Pritchard provides the following examples: If you do it, you’re a liar; I merely “stretch the truth.” If you do it, you’re cheating; I am “bending the rules.” You lose your temper; I have righteous anger. You’re a jerk; I’m having a bad day. You have a critical spirit; I bluntly tell the truth. You gossip; I share prayer requests. You curse and swear; I let off steam. You’re pushy; I’m intensely goal-oriented. You’re greedy; I’m simply taking care of business. You’re a hypochondriac; but I’m really sick. You stink; I merely have an “earthy aroma.” Are we a sad bunch or what? We need to be reminded that excuses for sin will not be excused.

Paul further convicts us in 2:2: “And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.” Paul is saying that deep down we know within the core of our being that judging others is sinful, and God will judge us for inappropriately judging others. Can I prove this? Yes, I can. What’s the most often quoted Bible verse in the world? John 3:16? Nope. It’s Matt 7:1a: “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” The reason that this verse is so frequently quoted by believers and unbelievers alike is twofold: (1) We don’t want to be reminded of our sinfulness. (2) We are aware of God’s judgment. Yet, this verse is taken out of context. This verse doesn’t mean that we can’t judge sin. On the contrary, we’re commanded to judge sin. Jesus teaches us in this verse that we need to deal with our own sin before we point out a brother or sister’s sin. When it comes right down to it, the only positive thing that we really accomplish by our self-righteous illegitimate judgment of others is to demonstrate our awareness of God’s holy and righteous standards. If we will leave judgment in God’s capable hands we express our faith. He is the sovereign judge who judges “rightly.” Let’s give God His job back and ask Him to help us be perfectly content to allow Him to judge people instead of trying to do His job for Him.

In 2:3-4, Paul asks a rhetorical question that expects a resounding “NO!” “But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” When Paul really wants to get down to business he uses the phrase “O man!” (He uses this same phrase in the Greek text of 2:1.) It is his way of getting into his reader’s grill and going eye-to-eye, nose-to-nose. He has to be in our face because there’s a perverse tendency in the human heart to imagine that somehow divine punishment will pass us by. We’re so permeated with a sense of being “special” that we find it easy to rationalize that judgment can’t happen to us. Yet, God’s kindness, tolerance, and patience is not an opportunity to sin; it’s a call to repent! Repentance is simply a change of mind or attitude that should lead to a change of feet. It means we examine our own mind and heart first before we judge anyone else. Paul concludes 2:4 by emphasizing kindness for the second time. As important as God’s wrath is Paul sees God’s kindness as the primary impetus to bring about repentance.

In my parenting, I am prone to be a disciplinarian when necessary. I have felt that every offense needs to be punished. This may have worked well with my children up to age ten or so, but the authoritarian approach is not always as effective anymore. Instead, I have discovered that kindness cultivates obedience. When I heap love and grace upon my children they seem to be more responsive to my discipline. I became persuaded of this reality from my experience as a Dad. More importantly, when I reflected on how God treats me, I realized He overwhelms me with His kindness, tolerance, and patience. If He treated me as I deserve I would be a bloodied corpse. Instead, He pours out grace day after day. Am I suggesting we chuck discipline? Not on your life! But I am saying we need to have a better understanding of how God treats us. Honestly, I am astounded at times by how rebellious and sinful I can be. My prayer has been: “Lord, remind me of how utterly wicked I can be so that I have a great appreciation for you and a deeper empathy for my children and others.” There are times when only God’s kindness (and our kindness) can break through a hard heart. Hence, when I talk to unbelievers, I talk about sin, righteousness, and judgment, but I also woo them with God’s kindness. To always speak of hellfire and judgment is not a balanced treatment of God. It is both kindness and wrath.
Paul concludes this section with a disturbing verse: “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (2:5). Paul really goes after the moralist in this verse. He indicates that a stubborn and unrepentant heart leads to “storing up” (lit. “treasuring”) wrath. Whether this wrath is God’s present wrath, His Tribulation wrath, or His future wrath is debated. However, it seems evident that there’s a shift from God’s present wrath in chapter 1 to His future wrath in chapter 2 (see esp. 2:16). In either case, the moralist is being challenged to repent ASAP . . . before it’s too late!

You may have noticed in 2:2-5 there is a repeated emphasis upon God’s judgment. Yet many people in our culture balk at the notion of God’s judgment. Such individuals just want to focus on God’s love, mercy, compassion, and grace. While these attributes are certainly important, we must not neglect God’s holiness, wrath, righteousness, and justice. Upon closer examination, it is easy to see why that makes no sense at all. How loving is a God who ignores wrong-doing? How loving would God be if He looked at the Holocaust and said, “Oh, we’ll just ignore what happened there?” How righteous and good would God be if He saw the outright rebellion of men and did nothing? How could we call God just if He never addressed wrong? Do we consider parents who refuse to discipline their children loving? Or do we see them as weak and neglecting their responsibility? Do we see employers who overlook the disrespectful and lazy work of some workers as loving? Or do we feel they are being unfair to the rest of the workers? If our government responded to terrorist activity by saying, “Oh well; these things happen!” would we say our government was showing love or weakness? The answer to these scenarios is obvious. We respect individuals who execute grace and truth (see Jesus in John 1:14).

There are times when God’s love and kindness must be tough. This principle applies to us as well. We all want justice for the world, but we each carry within us a standard of righteousness based on our own perceived goodness. Furthermore, we will tolerate only as much evil in the world as we can accept within ourselves. When we feel resentment towards God for not eradicating evil in the world, we forget that eliminating all evil would mean the end of us too. Yet, if we genuinely care to eradicate evil from the world, we must look at our own sin. We must recognize that God doesn’t grade on a one to ten scale as we do. In light of His awesome holiness, it doesn’t matter whether our sin is in the form of an act, a word, or a thought; it’s still exceedingly sinful. As believers we must repent of our sin and then challenge moralist unbelievers to recognize their sin and turn to the Savior who has paid for their sin. Excuses for sin will not be excused.
[The first way that God judges is according to truth. Now we will see that . . .]
2. God Judges According To Works (2:6-11).
Paul argues that God will judge impartially according to a perfect standard. To put it simply: God only accepts perfect tens. Paul writes, “[He] who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.” Paul is not talking about salvation in this section. He is not showing us how we are saved, because we are not saved by works. He is showing us why we are lost. This section is about God giving humankind what we deserve. But with all the emphasis in the Bible on faith, why is humankind judged according to works? Although we can be saved on the basis of faith, if we reject God’s offer, we are condemned on the basis of works (cf. Rev 20:11-15). This is a crucial distinction. When a person rejects the righteousness which God has provided as a free gift in Jesus Christ, in effect, he chooses to establish his own righteousness, and this can only be judged on a performance basis.

Remember that 2:1-16 is a paragraph which must be interpreted in its immediate context as well as its thought unit (1:18-3:20). Paul has been arguing that the moralist is under God’s condemnation because, though he condemns other sinners, he practices the same (types of) sin in his own life (2:1-5). Thus, he argues in 2:6 (quoting Ps 62 and Prov 24:12) that God pays such unbelievers back according to their works. According to 2:7, those who by perseverance continue in doing good and those who seek for glory and honor and immortality will receive eternal life. Paul means exactly what he says: Any person who shows up at the judgment matching the description of 2:7 will receive eternal life. But if someone did, it wouldn’t be salvation. A person who could do that wouldn’t need to be saved; he would just be getting what he deserved. He would be rewarded according to his works. And Paul is careful to say, “To those who by perseverance continue” to do such things . . . day after day after day. If you take a day off, you miss it. And the best of us take a day off. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory God” (3:23). Since the moralist’s deeds are evil he earns wrath and indignation just like the hedonist (1:18-32). The theological point of the whole is that God is no respecter of persons (2:11) and that all have sinned (2:12). If people lived up to the light they had (natural revelation for the Gentiles, special revelation for the Jews, cf. 10:5) then they would be right with God. However, the summary of 3:9-18, 23 shows that none ever have, nor can they! Hence, we are condemned sinners in need of a Savior. This section serves as an indictment. Humanity is being hauled before God’s bar of justice, and the standards of judgment are the issue. No one gets eternal life on the basis of their works because no one perfectly obeys. Therefore, the only method of justification is by faith alone (see 3:21-26). In other words, no one fits 2:7.

Ultimately, there are only two religions in the world—do good (400 varieties in the world) or have good done to you (Christianity). Today, will you believe in Christ’s perfect person and work? Assurance can only be found in Him.

In 2:8-10, Paul uses the term “Greek” to refer to Gentiles. He then makes it clear that the Jews (the religious) will experience “tribulation and distress” first and foremost. The reason is obvious. Jews are more accountable than Greeks because they knew more and had the privilege of knowing God’s will before anyone else. To whom much is given much is required (Luke 12:48). Verse 11 gives the reason, “For there is no partiality with God.” The word “partiality” (prosopolempsia) literally means “to receive (a person’s) face.” God does not deal with a person on the basis of his “face” (surface considerations such as nationality, race, color of skin, wealth, etc.). God looks deeper than the surface. This verse is the point of the whole argument: Since God isn’t partial, His children should be careful not to exercise partiality. Instead, we are called to call sin “SIN” and look to the perfect One who offers salvation.
[Make no mistake, God will judge according to truth and works. Finally. . .]
3. God Judges According To Light (2:12-16).
Paul explains that no one will be judged for the light they did not receive; everyone will be judged for light they did receive. However, more knowledge brings more responsibility and greater accountability. In these five verses, the word “law” is used eleven times. Clearly, that is what is on Paul’s mind: the law of God and how God holds humanity accountable to it. He explains: “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; for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus” (2:12-16). These five verses are all one long, complex sentence. If you will notice, 2:13 begins with a parenthesis, and the parenthetical section doesn’t end until the end of 2:15. (To see this, read 2:12 and then go directly to 2:16). Verse 12 is clear that humankind is guilty before God whether they have the Law or not. All men are judged and condemned. Paul’s point, simply stated is this: Ignorance of the Law will not save the Gentile; possession of the Law will not save the Jew. Both are condemned before God the righteous Judge. In 2:13, he states that if one is seeking to justify himself by the Law he must be a doer of the Law. In 2:14-15, we learn that Gentiles will be judged according to the moral law. Paul says that when Gentiles instinctively follow God’s Law, they’re revealing that they know that Law.

This explains why, in almost every culture, it’s considered wrong to steal and murder. This also explains why a man with no knowledge of the Bible will know it’s wrong to commit adultery. Let me say something very important. Every human being lives according to a law, a standard of performance. For some, this is a vague standard. These people say, “I have lived a good life. I’ve never killed anyone!” Others will point to the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, or the Golden Rule. Each of these represents very good precepts for life. However, what most people don’t know is that God will hold them to their standard but will require 100% conformity to that law. In fact, God requires nothing short of absolute perfection. For those who have trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior, the free gift of Christ’s perfection is placed in their accounts. However, those who don’t receive Jesus as Savior face eternal condemnation for their sins.

If we’ve sinned even one time in word, thought, or deed, we’re eternally disconnected from God. In other words, we must do it all according to the Law, and we can make no mistakes to be justified. We must be perfect to please God.

Paul concludes our passage in 2:16 by stating that God will not only judge people’s actions, but their secrets as well. Are you ready to give an account of your secrets? I know I’m not! It’s scary enough to think about giving an account of my works or lack thereof. But my secrets? OH MY! In that day of accounting, the most “excused” sin will come into the light. Excuses for sin will not be excused. If you’re a believer, confess your sin to God right now. If you’re an unbeliever, repent of your self-righteous attitude and believe in Jesus as your Savior. This section begins in 2:1 with man in the seat of judgment and end in 2:16 with God on the throne of judgment. In 2:1 man is condemned by his own judgment; in 2:2-16 he is condemned by God’s judgment. The riveting point is: We ought to let God be God. Jesus is the just Judge who is also the perfect Savior. Let us cling to His cross and evade the present and future judgment that God will bring upon the self-righteous.

Did you know that judgment day is not far away? Romans 2 teaches that God’s future judgment will be according to truth, works, and light. Are you ready to face that judgment? Are you ready to stand before a holy and righteous God? God has leveled the Gentile and Jew and condemned every person who has ever lived or will ever live under sin. He has demolished us into dust and sprinkled us at the foot of the cross. It’s there that we must acknowledge our sin and trust in Jesus Christ alone.

The Black Backdrop

A young man walked into a jewelry store to shop for an engagement ring. Standing nervously at the counter, he peered through the glass top at a tray of beautiful gems. The salesman brought out some of his finer diamonds and held each precious jewel up to the light. The diamonds were quality stones, but the young man wasn’t impressed. None of them caught his eye. Realizing he needed a new approach, the salesman pulled a black velvet pad out of the drawer and placed it on the counter. Using his tweezers, he delicately picked up one of his choicest stones and laid it on the black backdrop. As he did so, all the light in the room seemed to pour through the stone causing it to shine as it had never shone before. The man was dazzled. He had seen this very diamond moments earlier, but not like this. All the beauty of this precious stone was now dramatically enhanced and clearly showcased for him to behold. Noting his approval to the salesman the man said that this was the diamond he wanted to purchase.

What changed the man’s view of the diamond? Why did the costly gem, which only moments before had appeared so unimpressive, now sparkle like the stars above on a moonless night? In the jewelry business, the dark background makes all the difference. When placed on a glass counter, the black velvet causes the light overhead to radiate brilliantly through the stone, revealing its true beauty and causing it to sparkle and shine more brightly. Remove the black backdrop, and it’s difficult to see the diamond’s splendor. It’s the darkness that causes the stone to burst forth with dazzling light. The same principle can be applied to the spiritual realm. In order to fully appreciate God’s love, we must examine it against the black backdrop of His wrath. The blackness of God’s wrath showcases the flawless gem of His great love toward us. But remove the black backdrop of His wrath, and our appreciation of the brilliance of His amazing love fades.

The gem of Romans is the gospel—the good news. However, before we can fully understand and appreciate the good news we must understand the bad news that Paul presents in 1:18-3:20. The theme of this section is that everybody everywhere is condemned before God. Therefore, Paul makes his greatest attempt to get us lost in our sin so that we can then be found. He wants us to emerge from this section with a feeling of utter desperation. Not a little guilt, but absolute desperation! Have you ever heard the expression, “Hunger is the best cook?” That’s a true statement, isn’t it? Well, my purpose in the next five sermons will be to get you famished—famished for God’s love. In 1:18-32, Paul uses a broad brush to paint the portrait of human wickedness. This text teaches: When we sin God says, “Have it your way.” Yes, that’s right; Burger King® plagiarized God in their slogan. In this section, Paul discloses two sobering realities.

 

  1. We Have Willfully And Foolishly Rejected God (1:18-23)

Paul demonstrates that when we reject God as Creator we turn to idolatry and are ultimately without excuse. In 1:18, Paul issues a summary statement for 1:18-32, and perhaps for all of 1:18-3:20: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Paul begins his discussion with “the wrath of God.” Obviously, this is not a popular concept. Yet, since the Bible doesn’t shy away from this topic neither must we. Simply put, God’s wrath is His holy hatred of sin. But God’s wrath is very different from our wrath. God doesn’t fly off the handle and “go off” on people. He simply reacts to sin. Have you ever been allergic?

 

Similarly, the Bible teaches that God is so holy that He naturally and violently reacts to sin. He can’t help Himself; He’s just plain allergic to sin! Hence, one of the greatest truths we can come to grips with is how much God hates sin. When you and I understand the utter wickedness of sin, we will appreciate God’s wrath.

 

Paul states that God’s wrath is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. This is particularly evident in those who continually “suppress [or hold down the truth.” Please note the phrase “the truth.” God believes in absolute truth; He objects to relative truth. He states that people suppress what they know to be true. In this context, the truth is that there is a God. The German philosopher Frederick Nichtze (1844-1900) wrote, “If you could prove God to me, I’d believe Him all the less.” This is what it means to suppress the truth. We must pray for our unsaved loved ones to have soft hearts that are responsive to spiritual truth. We must also pray that we don’t harden our hearts and suppress God’s truth in our lives.

In 1:19-20 Paul now explains the reason that God’s wrath is revealed: “… because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” One way God reveals Himself is through His creation.

 

Unfortunately, Paul emphasizes that even though all people know God as Creator, they reject Him. The term “known” (gnostos) means “capable of being known, intelligible.” Paul uses the noun “evident” (phaneros) and the verb “to make evident” (phaneroo) to emphasize that God has revealed Himself. These words mean “evident so as to be readily known.” So basically God says, “They know. I know they know, and they know they know.” Paul even states that this knowledge has been evident “since the creation of the world” (1:20a). The invisible God is visible through His creation. God’s “eternal power” is evidenced by the fact of His creation. God’s “divine nature” is evidenced by the fact that His creation is a created order, and not random chaos. This implies that God has a character, which gives order and purpose to creation. Please notice that Paul states that the truth of God in nature has been “clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (1:20b).

 

The two verbs in this verse are very important. “Clearly seen” (kathorao) means that everyone has seen something of God’s handiwork in the world. “Understood” (noeo) is even stronger. It means that the revelation of God in nature strikes the heart of every man. Understand that Paul isn’t suggesting that nature contains a revelation about God which every man may see. That’s not strong enough. Paul is saying that every man actually sees the revelation and every man actually understands it to some degree. This is why Paul can say in 1:20b that man is “without excuse.”

 

Have you ever been to Mount Rushmore near Keystone, South Dakota? Mount Rushmore is a huge sculpture of the heads of four Presidents (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt). Each head is sixty feet high! Now suppose you visited this mountain for the very first time and no one told you anything about how the heads were formed. What would you think?

(A) You would think that the heads were formed by chance. The sculpture somehow just happened.

(B) You would think that all the forces of nature (wind, rain, sleet, snow, etc.) had their effect upon this mountain for thousands and thousands of years until finally the rocks were accidentally shaped in just the right way.

(C) You would realize that intelligent men must have formed and carved out such a massive sculpture. By simply looking at Mount Rushmore you could learn certain things about the men who formed and carved it (even though you had never seen or met these men).

(1) These men must have had intelligence to be able to plan and design such a monument.

(2) These men must have had wisdom to be able to carry out such a great project. Indeed, it took more than six years to complete.

(3) These men must have had power to be able to carve into hard granite (using dynamite, etc.).

(4) These men must have had skill to be able to transform a rugged cliff into an artistic masterpiece. In the same way, by simply looking at creation, we can learn many things about the Creator. He is a God of power, wisdom, order, and beauty. Moreover, we are able to conclude that this Supreme Being deserves our worship and obedience. These facts explain why in every culture there is some belief in a Supreme Being. It is obvious that there is a God.

 

No matter how you ponder creation, God is knowable and evident. When I was growing up I was a big sports fan. I collected the autographs of famous athletes. These autographs represented the value of the athletes. Likewise, all of creation bears God’s autograph. When God wants to show off His glory and power, He points to creation. The design of creation points to the Master Designer—God.

If time permitted, I’d love to share with you about the complexity of the human cell, the intricacies of the human eye, and the immensity of the sun. I could spend hours talking about God’s creative genius.

Tragically, when we reject God we inevitably worship a substitute. This is called idolatry. In 1:21-23, Paul testifies: “For even though they knew God, they did not honor [glorify] Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” Paul asserts that humankind does know God (1:21). His power and glory are apparent and irrefutable. How do we respond to this revelation? With a failure to honor God and give Him thanks. Failing to glorify God is the root sin. We were created to glorify God. It is our ultimate mission in life. Thanksgiving is also central to the worship of God. Martin Luther (1483-1546) claimed that ingratitude is the root of all evil. How true! Even as a believer, I am guilty of ingratitude. You are too. How often have we refused to acknowledge God for the great God He is? How many times have we failed to give thanks? Who are some people in your life that you can be thankful for? What are some possessions in your life that you can be grateful for? Have you expressed thanks to God. When we refuse to give God thanks there are mental and moral consequences.

 

The mental consequence is that men “became futile in their speculations.” The moral consequence was that their hearts were “darkened.” Paul also tells us that the appearance of intellectualism is in reality a sham (1:22-23). The supposed wisdom is, in reality, foolishness. This reflects the wisdom of Psalm 14:1a: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Tragically, God has been “exchanged.” We’ve taken Him back like a Christmas present that doesn’t fit and we’ve said, “We want our money back.” This is the great insanity of idolatry.

 

It’s possible that you, too, are guilty of idolatry and you don’t even realize it.

(1) Is there an object, person, or activity in your life that’s a substitute for God?

(2) Are your affections centered on something God has created rather than God the Creator?

(3) Does this activity prevent or replace your love for God?

(4) Is there something you worship more than God? If you respond honestly to these questions, you may have recognized the idolatry that exists within you. Commit yourself right now to forsake idolatry. Begin this process by exposing your idol to another person. Request prayer and press on in the worship of God.

[When humankind rejects God’s revelation, God responds in a very surprising way.]

 

  1. God Deliberately Gives Us What We Want (1:24-32)

 

When we refuse to glorify God and give Him thanks, God gives us over to our sin. In other words, the penalty for sin is more sin. The first result of idolatry is found in 1:24-27: God gives us over to sexual sin. Paul writes, “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.” Please notice that it was God who gave us over (see 1:24, 26, 28). When we reject God, He gives us over to sexual immorality. Although many folks think this is a dream come true—this dream leads to death (cf. Jas 1:14-15).

 

Once the “passing pleasures of sin” (Heb 11:25) are over there is loneliness, emptiness, guilt, and many other potential emotional, mental, and physical consequences. If you’re committing sexual immorality, stop in your tracks. Repent of your sin and return to a lifestyle of purity. While God is a God of grace, He’s also a God of wrath. Consequently, He will exercise His present tense wrath (cf. 1:18) in an attempt to get us sick of ourselves. Even this is an expression of His love.

 

Unfortunately, the tendency of humankind is to ignore God’s love and to play once again by their rules. Verse 25 serves as a parenthetical statement to tie 1:24 and 26-27 back to the idolatry of 1:21-23.

In 1:25, the response of humankind is to exalt the creature over God. Paul writes, “For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” This verse states that man “exchanged the truth of God for a lie.” If you have a center column or side column reference Bible, you can see that the phrase “a lie” is literally translated “the lie.”

 

This begs the question: “What lie is Paul referring to?” I believe the lie that Paul has in mind is the first lie—the mother of all lies that began in the garden. The lie is godship, that we are the masters of our fate, the captain of our souls. This is a satanic deception straight out of hell. I believe that the worst time in our history was the period of “Higher Criticism of the Bible” (1800s to the present) where man stood over the Scriptures and decided what parts were true and what parts were false. People slowly lost confidence that you could trust God’s Word. Consequently, the creature became exalted over the Creator. There was role reversal of the most demonic sort. When this happened it can be legitimately said that man “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” Once God is brought down to creature level, the creature is then worshipped above God. Yet, even in the midst of penning this atrocious account, Paul bursts out into praise over God the Creator: “who is blessed forever. Amen.” What an example for you and me! When we read the Word there should be occasions when we break out into praise.

 

In 1:26-27 we come to the hot topic of homosexuality. Honestly, I’m not interested in what various denominations, pastors, and scholars say about homosexuality. I’m also not interested in how particular politicians view homosexuality. My chief concern is: What does the Bible say about homosexuality? Let’s read these verses carefully. “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.”

 

Paul’s view of homosexuality seems rather clear. He refers to the practice of homosexuality as “degrading,” “unnatural,” and “indecent,” and “error.” Whether our country likes it or not, whether we like it or not, the Bible considers homosexuality sin. It’s not an alternative lifestyle. God calls it sin throughout the Bible, and so must we. It’s not a hate crime to say so; it would be a biblical crime to not say so. If we’re to be Christ followers we must tow this line. But we must do so with compassion and sensitivity. We must be careful to not suggest that the sin of homosexuality is worse than any other sin. Homosexuality is only one of many unclean or dishonoring sexual practices. Many Christians can be downright brutal. We go off on this sin because it’s one that many of us don’t struggle with.

 

However, in 1 Corinthians 6, Paul lumps the homosexual and the coveter together. Have you ever wanted something that doesn’t belong to you? If so, then you are covetous, and so am I. In God’s sight, we’re no worse or better than the homosexual. We must avoid being judgmental (see Rom 2:1-11). Instead, we ought to spend more time striving against our own sin rather than pointing the finger at someone else’s sin. We must seek to share Christ with homosexuals and lesbians and let the Holy Spirit work His change in their lives.

 

Additionally, fathers, don’t ever shy away from expressing your love to your boys. Lavish love on your boys both physically and verbally. Don’t be afraid to hug and kiss them. Always tell them how wonderful they are and how much you love them. This is one of the greatest ways that I know to ensure that your boys have healthy, God-honoring relationships with other men. Obviously, this principle applies to mothers and daughters as well. But it’s especially critical between fathers and sons because statistically, men are three times more prone to adopt a homosexual lifestyle than women.

 

As we wrap up these verses, it is worth noting that Paul does not specify what the “penalty” received is. Though many Christians like to infer from this that the current AIDS epidemic (or more recent outbreak of deadly staph infections among homosexual men), this is uncertain. Paul merely notes that the penalty of their delusion is received “in their own persons” (en heautois). I believe he is referring to the gnawing, unsatisfied lust itself, along with the dreadful physical and moral consequences of sexual promiscuity.

 

In either case, the consequences are severe. When we sin God says, “Have it your way.” Beware!

 

The second result of idolatry is found in 1:28-32: God gives us over to every manner of sin. In 1:28, Paul writes, “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper.” Previously, Paul has said that God is “known,” “evident,” “clearly seen,” and “understood” (1:19-20). Yet, humankind refuses to even “acknowledge” (echo: “to have, hold”) God any longer. Their response is to dismiss God altogether. The result is dreadful: utter mental and moral darkness. This leads to a vice list of twenty-one different sins in 1:29-31. This is the most comprehensive list of sins in the entire New Testament. As you look through this vice list, please notice that many of these sins are fairly acceptable in the Christian community. Sins like greed, envy, strife, gossip, slander, arrogance, and my personal favorite—disobedience to parents— are common traits of many Christians and are found in every church. Yet Paul says that these behaviors are sin, and he cleverly links these acts with homosexuality, murder, idolatry, and every form of wickedness. This should change the way that we view sin. We are without excuse. Paul has leveled the playing field. This should humble us all and motivate us to achieve a new standard of holiness. We are to be holy as He is holy (cf. 1 Pet 1:15-16).

 

Paul concludes this passage by hitting way too close to home. In 1:32 he writes, “Although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.” Paul concludes by echoing a form of the verb “know” (epiginosko) from 1:19 and 21. Our tendency to rebel against the knowledge of God has been evident throughout this passage (1:18, 19, 20, 21, 25, 28).

 

Even though we know the truth, we tend to rebel against it. This is where we are at as a nation right now. As a result, God’s wrath is being revealed all over the place. We have idols everywhere we look. We’re trying to legalize homosexual marriage. Our TV talk show hosts are trotting out the most perverted guests they can find and the audience claps and roars at what they’re doing. The New English Bible captures the forcefulness of Paul’s idea when it translates the phrase as “they actually applaud such practices.” This is the wrath of God. God has backed off and has allowed the world to go stark raving mad! George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), the famous playwright and theater critic, said it well, “Earth is the place other planets send their insane.” Of course, when God gives people over and puts into motion His wrath, it doesn’t matter who’s in the White House or who’s on the city council or who’s on the school board. It’s irrelevant because when the wrath of God is your problem, the goodness of God is your only solution.

 

As we close, I want to take us back to 1:18. Please notice the first word of this passage. The word “for” (gar) is important because it links 1:18 and following to 1:16-17 and gives a reason for it. The gospel is necessary because there is such a thing as the wrath of God and only the gospel brings deliverance from His wrath. I also would like to draw your attention back to the word translated “gave over” (paradidomi). As I stated earlier, the verb “gave over” is used three times (1:24, 26, 28). As I studied this word, I found something interesting. This word isn’t found again until 4:25 where Jesus Christ is “given over” or “delivered” for our sins. That’s good news! We have a future hope. Why? Because as Martin Luther said, “God is not hostile to sinners, but only to unbelievers.” Will you believe the gospel? Will you receive Jesus Christ’s provision for your sin today?

Plug into Gospel power

Do you sometimes feel powerless? Do you feel like you’ve failed to flip the “on” switch? Perhaps you sense that something in your life is just not working properly? Did you know that you have a power source at your disposal? It’s called “the gospel”—the good news of Jesus Christ. In the gospel is all the power that you need for life. Turn on gospel power. Unfortunately, you may not be relying upon the power source that is available to you. Perhaps you’ve been considering Christianity but you haven’t yet been persuaded. You’re skeptical or maybe even cynical. You have a lot of questions about the Bible. You also assume that Christianity is a wimpy faith designed for weak people. I’m here to tell you that the gospel is powerful. It can and will change your life. It will give you a new hope and a new future.

Don’t take my word for it; believe it yourself. Maybe you’ve been a Christian for many years and the gospel is old hat to you. I need to remind you that the gospel is more than just believing in Jesus for eternal life. The gospel is the good news that Paul discusses throughout the entirety of Romans. It will take you to heaven and then bring heaven down to earth. But you must believe and apply the gospel. You must allow the gospel to change you from the inside out. Turn on gospel power. In Romans 1:16-17 we discover the key to unlocking the letter. In a mere two verses Paul unveils the thesis, the theme, and a summary of Romans. He also imparts four significant facets of the gospel.

 

  1. The Gospel Is Powerful (1:16a)

The gospel doesn’t contain the power of God; it is the power of God.

Paul begins 1:16 with the word “for” (gar), which ties back to 1:15. There he said, “I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” Why is Paul so eager to preach the gospel? He explains, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation” (1:16a). The first question we must ask is: Why does Paul make the statement, “I am not ashamed of the gospel?” In his thirteen letters, there’s no indication that he was ever ashamed of the gospel. This phrase is a figure of speech called litotes, which is a way of emphasizing something by saying it negatively. For example, if you say, “He’s not a bad athlete,” you likely mean, “He’s a pretty good athlete.” Paul is actually saying, “I’m proud of the gospel; I triumph in it more than anything else.” However, the great apostle is a realist and recognizes that this may not be the case for many of his Roman readers. Rome was the capital of the world. It was the seat of world culture and pride, the essence of pomp and power, the city set upon seven hills. To preach a God who became a man through a virgin birth, died as a criminal on a cross, rose bodily from the dead, went to live in heaven, and would return to earth one day didn’t make sense to sophisticated Romans. In fact, the cross would have been particularly offensive to the Romans. Only the worst types of criminals were crucified. Roman citizens were not allowed to be crucified. It was too degrading, and it would disgrace the empire for one of its citizens to be executed in this way.

 

Hence, the people of Rome were shocked and appalled by the gospel. How could a crucified criminal be a Savior? It was abhorrent and unthinkable! So you can imagine the temptation of Paul’s recipients to be ashamed of the gospel. Moreover, the preaching of the gospel invited persecution. The capital city of the empire was steeped in immorality and paganism, including emperor worship. To claim Jesus as the only way to God could get you killed. Most Romans would despise believers in Jesus Christ and probably do them harm. So when Paul writes, “I am not ashamed of the gospel” he explains that the wisdom and sophistication of Rome will not intimidate him, nor will the threat of physical injury or death.

 

Today in and around Longview, there are several reasons why people feel ashamed of the gospel: fear of losing face, fear of losing friends, fear of being labeled a fanatic, fear of taunting and scorn, fear of losing influence, etc. However, we have many bold believers in our church. They are infiltrating public schools, state agencies, businesses, and neighborhoods. We need these courageous believers to rub off on us. We need to share with one another how God is using us to speak up for him. Instead of always talking in the foyer about news, sports, entertainment, work, let’s talk about Jesus and how He has used us to share our faith in the past week. When we learn to share our witnessing successes and failures at church we’ll challenge and inspire one another. Furthermore, we’ll be more comfortable talking about Jesus outside of our church walls.

Paul isn’t ashamed of the gospel because “it is the power of God.” Did you catch that? The gospel releases “the power of God.” That’s why Paul says we ought not apologize for the gospel. Why apologize for releasing the power and blessing of God in someone’s life? That’s nothing to be sorry about. Unsaved people don’t stutter when they swear. They come right out with it. They don’t shuffle their feet and clear their throats when they tell dirty jokes. They are not ashamed of evil. You and I ought not to be ashamed of the gospel. I don’t hear anyone else apologizing for or being ashamed of their lifestyles. We live in a day when people go public with their evil. The sense of shame that used to characterize wickedness has been lost. People used to at least try to hide when they sinned. Now they take it out into the streets. What I’m saying is that we need to be just as bold with the gospel, because people need the message of the gospel more than ever today.

 

Unbelievers and believers alike need the gospel because “it is the power of God for salvation.” Like the term “gospel” (euaggelion), “salvation” (soteria) isn’t limited to those central truths by which a person is given eternal life. Salvation is a broad concept that encompasses three tenses: past, present, and future. When salvation occurs a believer is saved from the penalty, power, and presence of sin. This means every believer is saved to a new position, a new life, and an entrance into God’s heavenly presence. For Paul, “salvation” and “saved” are umbrella terms that capsulate all the aspects of his letter (i.e., justification, redemption, reconciliation, sanctification, glorification). Therefore, we can conclude that Paul is expressing his confidence that the truths that will be presented in Romans provide God’s power to deliver us from enslavement and bondage to sin. In other words, the “gospel” and “salvation” are not just for heaven, they are also for earth. God yearns to bring heaven down to earth in your experience. 

 

How can you turn on gospel power?

(1) Believe in Christ alone for salvation. Cross over from death to life (John 5:24) and receive power for this life and the life to come.

(2) Ask God for opportunities and boldness to share your faith. You won’t find opportunities to witness if you’re not looking for them. Pray for divine appointments and open doors. Remove the pressure; you’re not called to be a defender but a witness. Just tell others what Jesus has done for you (cf. John 4:28-30). Dwight L. Moody commented that the gospel is like a lion. All the preacher has to do is to open the door of the cage and get out of the way!

(3) Cultivate a hot heart. Have you ever had a friend who’s engaged? Engaged people go off! They can’t hold back. Now, there’s no class offered on how to declare the news of your engagement to a friend. The only thing that’s needed is a class on how to shut them up! Our problem is we’re too familiar with gospel, so we’re not motivated, compelled and captivated by the good news. We must pray that we’ll be moved by the power of the gospel as if we have just heard it for the first time.

 

[The gospel is powerful because it is the very power of God. A second facet of the gospel is…]

  1. The Gospel Is Simple (1:16b)

The most astonishing message ever shared with humankind is “good news” that is offered as a free gift with no strings attached. Paul states that the power of the gospel is available “to everyone who believes.” The sole condition of the gospel is belief. It is so simple that many people will miss it altogether. Belief occurs when you trust in someone else. If you know what it means to believe a doctor when he says, “You need surgery,” you know what it means to believe. If you know what it means to step into an airplane entrusting your safety to the captain in the cockpit, you know what it means to believe. If you know what it means to ask a lawyer to plead your case in court, you know what it means to believe. If you know what it means to sign up for an insurance policy, you know what it means to believe. Belief is complete reliance upon another person to do that which you could never do for yourself. It is trusting in this person because you are persuaded of his or her promise.

 

One of my great concerns is that many scholars, churches, and pastors are muddling the gospel. They are including in the gospel the responsibilities of a disciple. When we include baptism, public confession, church membership, and any form of good works with the gospel, we cancel out the sole condition of belief. Why do I say that? Because Christ plus anything equals nothing (C + A = N), but Christ plus nothing equals everything (C + N = E). We can’t add one single condition to the gospel other than belief. Have you believed in Christ alone? If you’ve trusted in Christ to bear the penalty for your sins, you’ll spend eternity with Him. I urge you to make sure that you’ve done so. 

 

[We will not discover a third facet of the gospel. Not only is the gospel powerful and simple . . .]

  1. The Gospel Is Universal (1:16b)

Since Jesus is an equal opportunity Savior His salvation is available to every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. Paul writes that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Last time I checked, the word translated “everyone” (pas) means everyone. While the gospel is for everyone, Paul states that it is “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Paul uses this phrase to humble Jews and Gentiles who were at odds with one another in the Roman house churches. He wants to make them deeply aware that they depend entirely on mercy, not on themselves or their tradition or ethnic connections. Paul wants Gentile Christians to understand several truths:

 

(1) The Jews are the historic chosen people of God.

(2) The Jews are the guardians of the Old Testament Scriptures.

(3) Jesus Christ is a Jewish Messiah.

(4) “Salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22).

(5) God will again focus His program on the Jews during the Tribulation period. Gentiles are not saved by Greek culture—or any other culture; they are saved by a salvation that comes through the Jews.

 

This should humble us and strip us of any arrogance and boasting in any presumed ethnic superiority. Whether we fully recognize it or not, we are truly indebted to the Jews. Similarly, Paul says to the Jews, your salvation isn’t your own. It’s God’s and He gives it to whomever He pleases. The words “also to the Greek” (1:16b) would have been as offensive to the Jews as the words “to the Jew first” were to the Gentiles. The Jewish Christians needed to recognize that what they thought were Jewish prerogatives were, in fact, shared by the lowliest Gentiles who believed. Jews must humble themselves to receive unclean Gentiles into full covenant membership and to share all the blessings of the promises of Abraham. Moreover, during the church age (Acts 2-present), God’s primary aim is to graft Gentiles into His family. Jewish Christians must respect this work and cooperate with it.

 

Although the pattern of Paul’s ministry was to go and preach to the Jew first (Acts 13:45-46; 28:25, 28), this does not seem to be the order for the church age. The Great Commission makes no distinction between Jews and Gentiles in the present age (Matt 28:19-20). Jesus Christ has charged Christians with taking the gospel to everyone. He has identified no group to which we must give priority in evangelism. Certainly we are still to proclaim the gospel to the Jews, but this phrase does not imply that we are required to evangelize the Jew before to the Gentiles. Even in context this phrase is preceded by the non-exclusive word “everyone.” The gospel is offered freely to all who will believe.

 

One Mercedes Benz TV commercial shows their car colliding with a cement wall during a safety test. Someone then asks the company spokesman why they don’t enforce their patent on the Mercedes Benz energy-absorbing car body, a design evidently copied by other companies because of its success. He replied matter-of-factly, “Because some things in life are too important not to share.”

This is true of the gospel, which saves people from far more than auto collisions.

But perhaps you’re feeling discouraged by the lack of believers around you. Take heart and adopt a global and historical perspective.

In 1900, there were about ten million Christians in Africa.

By 2000, the number had grown to 360 million.

By the 2025, the best estimates say there will be 630 million Christians in Africa. The numbers are even larger in Latin America and Asia. But by the middle of this century, if the Lord tarries, only one-fifth of the world’s Christians will be western Caucasians. Most Christians will be people living in what we call the Third World.

 

I share this to remind you that if you are a Caucasian, you will most likely be a minority in the heavenly state. Thus, we must do everything we can to ensure that our churches accurately resemble the eternal state. There are men, women, and children of different color, class, and background waiting to be reached with the gospel. Are you presently stretching yourself to reach out to those who may be different from you? God yearns to use you to share Jesus with others. Turn on gospel power.

[The fourth and final facet of the gospel is . . .]

  1. The Gospel Is Vital (1:17)

The goal of the gospel is to change your life. Hence, it is absolutely vital for both this life and the life to come. Paul explains: “For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.’” Paul uses the word “for” (gar) to link his powerful gospel with the “righteousness of God.” This is the key phrase in the book of Romans, and it’s used a total of eight times. In this context, the phrase reminds us that the “righteousness of God” is present in the gospel. Salvation is this: God declaring a sinful person righteous because of the person and work of Jesus Christ. The moment the Lord declares the sinner righteous, He then gives this person His righteousness. As a result, when God looks upon you, He sees the very righteousness of His Son.

 

In 1:17a, Paul suggests that this “righteousness of God” is revealed in other ways than by merely saving sinners. The expression “from faith to faith” is interesting and important. Faith has its origin, but it also has its out workings. The Christian life begins with faith and initiates a life characterized by an ever-growing faith. Or simply, those who are already justified will find a rich experience of life only as they trust God.

 

Let me attempt to illustrate this with another concept—love. Love is the basis for marriage. Love leads to marriage. Marriage then becomes the context in which a man’s love for his wife (and her love for him) grows. Marriage begins with love and continues to grow and express itself in love. Married life is “from love to love,” just as the Christian life is “from faith to faith.” The “righteousness of God” Paul says, is revealed “from faith to faith.”

 

This “righteousness of God” is revealed when individuals come to faith and live by faith. This means:

(1) When things are bad at home we don’t lose heart. We keep trying do what is right and trust that God will bring new life to our homes.

(2) When finances are tight we evaluate our spending habits and try to learn how to be good stewards of our money, and then trust God to supply our needs.

(3) When the future is uncertain and we don’t know what direction God is leading us, we continue to walk through open doors and trust that He is leading us to where we need to be.

(4) When our physical frame begins to decay we look for new ways to serve the Lord and trust that God still has some work for us to do.

(5) When people criticize us we listen and try to learn anything we can, and then we entrust ourselves to the Lord to help us live with integrity and conviction.

(6) When friends pressure us to do what is wrong, we turn away from these temptations understanding that doing what is right is more important than doing what is popular.

(7) When someone we love dies we draw comfort from our assurance that there is life beyond the grave, and we trust that God will help us cope with the ache in our soul.

 

Paul seals the deal in 1:17b by citing from Habakkuk 2:4: “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” Habakkuk had protested to God that Judah was corrupt, that God’s Law was ignored, and that justice was swallowed up by violence and wickedness. He asked God why He had not come to save His people. God responded in a way that Habakkuk never imagined. God was going to chasten His people with a strong and cruel people—the Chaldeans. They would sweep down on Judah and take these rebellious people into captivity. The cruelty and sin of the Chaldeans would not be excused or overlooked however, for God would punish this people for their pride and arrogance. Habakkuk was horrified! He could not understand how God could use wicked men to achieve His purposes. The Chaldeans, in his mind, were even more wicked than the people of Judah. Habakkuk determined to “file a protest with God.” He knew he would be rebuked, but he planned to challenge God’s rebuke as well. In Habakkuk’s mind God had a lot of explaining to do.

 

God assured Habakkuk that His plan was fixed and coming without delay in spite of Habakkuk’s protest. The Lord told Habakkuk that he would have to live his life, day by day, by faith. Habakkuk might not see the day of Israel’s restoration and blessing, but by faith he must believe the Lord’s promises would be fulfilled. His days might be lived out beholding the victory of the Chaldeans and the defeat of his people, but this too must be handled by faith. He must, by faith, understand that Judah’s defeat by the Chaldeans was the chastening of God and was the outworking of God’s good plan and purposes for His people. Faith was, for Habakkuk, and for every other Old Testament believer, the rule of the day, the rule for life. So it is for the New Testament saint as well. All who are justified by faith must continue to live by faith.

As I meditated on this text from Hab 2:4, I couldn’t help but think that our country may quickly find ourselves in a situation like Judah. God has been immeasurable patient and gracious with us. He’s given us power, position, pleasure, and prosperity. Yet, we have ignored Him and are now actively rejecting Him. Eventually, God’s patience will run out. Consequently, I suspect that He will one day judge America by calling one of our enemies to serve as His chastening tool.

 

The question is: Will you and I continue to live by faith when this occurs? Will we trust God’s purposes and continue to live obedient lives fully surrendered to Him?

 

At a circus a huge elephant was tied to an 18-inch stake. Could he not easily have pulled it out of the ground and be free? Sure! But he had tried it when he was a baby and was unsuccessful. The elephant had concluded that he could never pull the stake out of the ground. So there he stood, a massive creature capable of lifting whole trees, held captive by a puny stake. Many of us are like that elephant. God has given us all the resources we need to pull stakes out of the ground, but we’ve never trained our mind by exercising our faith. What small stake could faith release you from? It may be a frustrating job, financial troubles, depression, or an addiction. However large it may seem, in reality it’s merely a small stake to God. It’s not that we’re big and strong in ourselves, because we’re not; but God blessed us with the power of countless elephants when He gave us the gift of salvation. So let’s remember the power of the gospel and let it transform our lives.

A church on mission – part 2

  1. A Church On Mission Is Focused (1:11-13).

Paul’s mission is focused on building up people. In other words, he is others-focused. Paul expresses his heart in this way: “For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.” In 1:11, Paul writes that he “longs” to see the believers in Rome. The verb “long” (epipotho) literally means “to strain.” Compelled by Christ, Paul longed to visit the Roman church and he had three good reasons for such a visit.

 

First, Paul sought to impart spiritual benefit. In this context, the word translated “spiritual gift” (charisma) means “blessing or benefit.” Paul is speaking in a very wide and generic sense, not attempting to refer to the “spiritual gifts” discussed elsewhere in the New Testament. Are you on mission to bless and benefit your church family? What steps are you presently taking to bring this about?

 

The second reason that Paul longed to visit Rome was to establish believers. The verb translated “established” (sterizo) in 1:11 simply means “to strengthen.” This term was originally used of buildings, where it means “to be firmly fixed in place.” A building with a strong foundation that is made of solid materials can stand up under pressure. Similarly, a person who has spiritual stability spends most of his time standing up spiritually. The world may knock him down, but he doesn’t stay down. He isn’t easily moved. People who are spiritually stable don’t change their theology to conform to what they want. They know what they believe and stay with those beliefs regardless of what happens in their lives. Paul wasn’t just the greatest evangelist and church planter of all time; he was also a discipler. He understood the need for believers to be established.

 

Within the past few years, I have had trouble running. As a result I haven’t been able to run in 5K races like I used to in the spring. But after a long layoff, my endurance has undoubtedly diminished. I am likely as weak as a baby if I tried to run today. Spiritually speaking, many believers assume that yesterdays spiritual workouts are enough to sustain today’s spiritual strength. Nothing could be further from the truth. You can’t stay strong unless you continue to workout. Likewise, we must continue to spiritually work out and challenge other believers to do the same. How will you establish someone today?

 

One of the ways you can establish yourself and other believers is through encouragement. In 1:12, Paul uses a very unusual word for “mutual encouragement” (sumparakaleo), one that is used nowhere else in the New Testament. This verb ought to motivate you to verbally comfort and encourage other believers. One of our top goals as believers is to encourage one another as Christ’s return draws near (see Heb 10:25). Notice too that “faith” is to be the stimulus of encouragement.

 

My faith should encourage others, and their faith should encourage me. I need encouragement, and so do you. I like to say, “Every preacher needs a preacher.” One of the reasons I repeat this phrase is to remind myself of this great truth. No believer can make it alone; we need each other. Regardless of how long we have been a Christian or how active in church we have been, we will never be so mature that we can’t benefit from the spiritual input of other believers. Leaders must be humble enough to learn from others. We must learn not only to give, but also to receive.

 

Typically, the best place for mutual encouragement to occur is in small groups. When we come together for a corporate worship gathering there are certain things we can do well: We can sing worship songs to the Lord, we can listen to the Scriptures expounded, we can greet scores of believers, and we can reach out to unchurched people who come through our doors. But mutual encouragement from each other’s faith happens best in smaller groups. In a small group context, we can intimately share our faith struggles and successes. We can comfort one another and bear each other’s burdens. We can encourage each other to press on, and in doing so find inspiration in one another’s faith. If you’re not currently involved in a small group with other believers, please consider joining one today.

A third reason that Paul longed to visit Rome is found in 1:13—to bear fruit. If the church at Rome was already so fruitful, why was Paul on a quest for “fruit?” An answer to that question can be found in the fact that Paul never used the word “fruit” (karpos) to refer to new converts. “Fruit” is a broad term that points to the work of God in the believer. Thus, Paul was saying that he wanted to go to Rome to be used by God to see something supernatural occur in the lives of fellow believers who lived there. This is fundamental Christianity—living life in such a way that the fruit of spiritual maturity spills over into the lives of others. Indeed, the thrust of the book of Romans is a presentation of the process of discipleship, a virtual manual on how to be “established” in the faith. When we meet with other believers, the purpose is to obtain fruit.

 

Sadly, one of the reasons that many individuals and churches are unfruitful is because we don’t expect God to grant “much fruit” (cf. John 15:5, 8). But if (when) we expect God to bless our meager efforts, He often shows Himself in a mighty way. We must, therefore, be people of great expectation. We must have confidence that whenever we meet as a church family, God desires to pour out His Spirit and accomplish far more than we can ask or think (Eph 3:20-21). May we move forward as a church of faith-filled believers, for God seeks ordinary believers to join an extraordinary mission.

[Paul has shared two evidences of a church on mission: A church on mission is thankful and focused. Now he shares a third and final evidence.]

  1. A Church On Mission Is Eager (1:14-15)

Individual believers and churches must be thankful and focused, but it is especially critical to be eager. Apart from a passionate zeal, our mission falls flat. Paul puts it like this: “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome” (1:14-15). The phrase “I am under obligation” is placed at the very end of the sentence for emphasis; the entire sentence builds up to this startling statement. The word translated “obligation” (opheiletes) refers to someone who is a debtor. Paul recognized that he had been bought with a price; therefore, he wanted to glorify God in his body (1 Cor 6:20). Later in 9:16b, he exclaims, “…for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.” Why is Paul “under obligation?” The metaphor of a monetary debt doesn’t capture the urgency. It is like a city being conquered by a new king, who entrusts to the herald the proclamation of his victory and the offer of his pardon. The herald, therefore, owes it to all the citizens to tell them urgently. If he does not, they will incur the anger of the new king by not bowing the knee to him and accepting his pardon. This urgency makes Paul eager to preach the gospel.

 

After Paul’s Damascus Road encounter, he was overwhelmed with a burden to share Christ with others. Paul was not an intellectual snob. He saw Jesus Christ as an equal opportunity Savior. So he preached Christ to every language (Greek or any other Gentile tongue) and culture (wise or foolish). Likewise, we must seek out anyone and everyone—people from every “tribe, tongue, people, and nation” (Rev 5:9). Since we don’t know who God is drawing to salvation, a universal offer upholds God’s sovereign call. Furthermore, it allows our church to display a representation of the eternal state where there are people of different colors, classes, cultures, education, etc. Today, will you pray for a greater burden for those who have yet to believe the good news of Jesus? Plead with the Lord of the harvest to set your heart aflame.

 

One question remains: How can Paul “preach the gospel” to “saints” (1:7) whose “faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world” (1:8)? These individuals are already saved and on their way to heaven. As I discussed in 1:1c, the gospel is more than merely believing in Christ and being delivered from hell. In this context, “to preach the gospel” (euaggelizo) means more than just initially proclaiming the Christian message, but includes providing solid “building up” of those who have made an initial response (cf. 15:20).

 

In the book of Romans Paul preaches an expanded and developed explication of the gospel in all of its ramifications. It is the gospel of the “righteousness of God” by faith. And it is this gospel which impacts earthly lives and determines eternal destinies! Are you preaching this gospel to saints? Believers require both justification truth and sanctification truth to help us press on to full maturity in Christ.

 

Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point is a study of how human organizations change. How does a system reach the “tipping point” whereby an organizational culture is transformed? Gladwell documents that it takes no more than six children in a school to begin wearing a certain brand of sport shoe to reach the tipping point, whereby in just a few days one hundred children will begin wearing the same brand of shoe. This principle is relevant to businesses, organizations, and churches. When certain individuals step up and lead, dramatic change can occur. This can be especially true in the church. Christianity tends to be a minority movement. But when a remnant becomes emboldened and sold-out, a small group of believers can set the world on its ear. Just read the book of Acts and observe the exploits of Jesus’ eleven disciples.

 

Today, if you’re tired of playing it safe and are longing to fulfill God’s mission in your life and within your church family, step out in faith. God wants to lift you up and take you to a place of unprecedented health and growth. He wants to use you in a way that He never has before. All that He asks is that you humble yourself before Him and make yourself available. He will do more with your life and your church than you ever thought possible. God seeks ordinary believers to join an extraordinary mission.