No Special Favors

No Special Favors

Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans
by Bob Burridge ©2011

Lesson 09: Romans 2:1-11

It’s hard to be objective when it comes to our own sins. It is so much easier to see a spec in some one else’s eye than to examine what may be in our own (as Jesus said in Matthew 7:3). There is a tendency to be appalled with evil in others, but to excuse it or to overlook it in ourselves. We are easily tempted to imagine that we will not face the same judgment that others face. When the tragic consequences of poor judgment comes along people say, “I just didn’t think it would happen to me”.

This principle is specially important when it comes to our standing before a holy God. Regardless of how we “feel”, or of what we expect, God’s justice is never laid aside for anyone to receive special treatment.

As this 2nd chapter of Romans begins, Paul turns the focus away from the Gentile nations. He had just made it clear that all humans, even those ignorant of the written law, are inexcusable for their failure to honor God as the eternally powerful and divine Creator.

God clearly makes himself known to all humans by the display of his glory in creation. Failure to worship and to submit to this true God is therefore inexcusable. By ignoring the fact of a Sovereign Creator one also denies that there are absolute moral rules. If right and wrong means something different for every person depending upon his own convictions, then nothing stands in the way of doing what ever a person wants to justify. This persistent twisting of moral truth offends God the Creator. Paul explained that at some point God gives them over to their own ways. In Romans 1:25-32 Paul summarized the kinds of immoral behavior which have become common in our fallen world.

Now Paul turns the focus of his attention away from society in general to look more closely at those who have heard God’s written word. The informed who judge others have no excuse when the do the same things.

Romans 2:1-3
1. Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.
2. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things.
3. And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?

Many of the Jews had developed a false confidence in their relationship with God. They saw themselves as superior to every other group. It is true that God had made a covenant to bless Israel specially as a nation. Some of them mistook this outward national blessing, for a promise of individual redemption.

The Jewish Talmud is a commentary by the Rabbis on the Scriptures. In one place it says that to live in Jerusalem is “equal to observance of all the commandments.” “He that hath his permanent abode in (Israel), is sure of the life to come.”

After reading Paul’s list of the sins of the Gentiles in Romans 1:25-32, some of these Jews were probably nodding with agreement that such things were intolerably wicked. In their pride they believed they would not be looked upon as sinners by God. But their blessings as a nation had nothing to do with individual salvation. By judging others while doing the same things they proved themselves to be hypocrites.

Jesus directly dealt with this dominant idea among the Jews many times. In Matthew 3:8-9 he said, “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.”

In John 8:33 the Jews questioned Jesus saying, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?” Jesus answered them saying in verse 34, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin”

God’s judgment is “according to truth” (1:2). His justice is equal and consistent. It is based upon righteousness. Righteousness is obedience to God’s law from the heart.

The Jews thought their temple rituals and glorious heritage as “God’s People” would exempt them. In contrast, God is just. He will not overlook the sins of anyone just because they belong to some group, or because they practice certain rituals (even good rituals commanded by God). If God excused the Jews, while he condemned the Gentiles for the same things, then justice would not be according to truth as revealed in his law.

God’s patience should not be seen
as a reason to relax and to take comfort.

Romans 2:4, “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?”

God’s patient kindness had been shown to Israel for many generations. There are three words here which describe the divine riches shown to them:

1. “Goodness” is God’s general mercy that blesses with outward benefits. However, this goodness is not the same as his redeeming love. All are outwardly blessed in many ways, but only some receive his saving grace.

2. “Forbearance” is God’s putting up with them while they sinned. It does not show his approval of what they did, nor does it show that he is not concerned. That is a common mistake people make when they sin but nothing seems to happen right away.

3. “Longsuffering” is the patience of God which shows how that forbearance may extend for many generations and ages.

There is a holy purpose for God’s kind and patient forbearance. It should have stirred them to admire God’s undeserved blessings upon them. It should have led them to humble repentance to such a kind and merciful God. Instead they just continued to sin and presumed judgment was not coming.

People think that way today too. Some think that God’s patience with them means he is treating them specially. They take refuge in the good parts of their lives, or in their being part of a good church, or in the goodness of their family. They think that God’s justice is modified by favoritism. The plain fact is that nothing in us or about us can eliminate God’s justice.

Some, when sin seems to go unjudged, imagine a divine apathy. They presume that justice is easily set aside, and that God doesn’t take sin seriously. They invent the idea that love eliminates justice. But it would not be a very loving society where crime has no punishment. It would not be a very just God who failed to demand the penalties he said must come.

God is eternally just. His love does not allow for injustice. Instead, a great price is paid for sin: the death of the Savior. To those not represented by Jesus on the cross, the great price remains to be paid by them individually. Grace provides for justice to be paid by a perfect Savior, it does not by-pass justice. Mercy may delay punishment for a while, but it does so only to accomplish and to display fully what justice truly demands.

By continuing in disobedience,
God’s people were storing up a treasury of wrath.

Romans 2:5, “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,”

Paul describes them as having stubborn and unrepentant hearts. The word “hardness” describes a moral “stubbornness” or “stiffness” in their hearts. They remained impenitent as if they were still enslaved to sin and spiritually dead.

The truth is, we are each held responsible for what we do.

Romans 2:6, “who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds’ “

The clear teaching of Scripture is that each person will be judged according to his works. It is his sin that condemns him. It is God’s redeeming grace alone that transforms a life and enables good works to be done. Some have so perverted the fact of grace, that they abolish God’s sovereignty, justice, and holiness. It is as if grace was an improvement God later discovered as a better idea than his first plan. This cannot be in an unchanging and perfect God.

A cultish idea has crept into Christian circles today. Some react against the pagan idea that our good deeds can eliminate our past sins and guilt. They therefore assume that since works can’t save us, works are not necessary. That is an abysmal lie and a violent abuse of God’s truth. Nothing is more clearly taught in Scripture than that we ought to obey God. This principle has applied since man’s creation in Eden.

In the first 16 verses of Romans 2 there are 15 verbs about our actions, our works. God’s justice is based upon what we do, not upon what we say, know, or decide. We are not exempted by our heritage, needs, deeds or creeds.

Criminals are judged guilty because of what they do. They are not let off because they also did some nice charitable thing. They are not allowed to get away with murder because their parents were good, because they have joined community organizations, or have read some good books. They are not set free because they believe the right things about the constitution of the United States. Justice demands specific penalties for each crime. Nothing is rewarded but obedience to the law.

God has revealed in his word that the penalty for sin is death. Not just a penalty for committing many sins, but for even one transgression of God’s law. Paul summarizes this a little later after he has fully reviewed the issue. In Romans 6:23 he wrote, “the wages of sin is death.” The “death” mentioned here is both temporal and eternal death, complete separation from God forever.

The Bible could not be more clear on this: Judgment is based upon what we do.
Psalm 62:12, “… For You render to each one according to his work.”

Matthew 16:27 says that when the Son of Man comes in glory, “… He will reward each according to his works.”

2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”

Revelation 22:12, “… My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work.”

The rich young ruler asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life . Jesus answered him, ” … if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Matthew 19:17)

God says he will render judgment to every man, to each as an individual. If God looks on the heart, and he sees sin, he must judge that person with death for eternity.

We have also learned from Scripture that we are already born with guilt. The sin of Adam attaches to each of us because he represented the human race in Eden. God’s word says “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12)

So then, there is no hope for any person based on his personal innocence before God. Sinners do not plan on pure justice by absolute law. They hope for lenience. They imagine a mercy that outright dismisses justice. The fact is, since no one can do good deeds, no one is righteous. No one deserve blessing from God at all.

So then, is no one blessed? There is a way — but it is the way of Grace. The true believer is one who admits his total moral unworthiness before God. He also trusts God’s promise that Jesus Christ took his place to redeem him.

Far from generating pride. This unique doctrine of Christianity gives God all the glory. Only the perfect One, God united with humanity by a miraculous birth, only the infinite Savior, could satisfy justice in the place of another as his substitute.

By the death of the Savior, the penalty has been paid in our place. By the life of the Savior, righteous deeds were done in our place. Therefore, when God looks upon the one redeemed, he is judged by his works, not those he did on his own, but by the works of the Savior who lived and died in his place.

So then, do our personal deeds count at all? Indeed they do! But our good deeds are not the cause of God’s saving grace toward us. They are the evidence that his grace has both redeemed us and changed us.

The Pharisees and many today imagine a different sort of judgment by works. They imagine that each man has two accounts: one for his good deeds, and another for his sins. They imagine that judgment is according to which of the two is greater. This teaching is directly against the teachings of the Bible. Our inherited guilt, and any sin at all, tips the scale irretrievably. No one can clear his record of guilt by adding what appears to him as a “good work”.

Paul writes in Romans 3:20 “… by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, …” All the good works in the world will not satisfy justice for even one moral crime against God. God says that sin demands eternal death. That is what justice demands. Nothing else is just.

Different deeds of men bring specific results.

Romans 2:7-10
7. eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality;
8. but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness — indignation and wrath,
9. tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek;
10. but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

There are two possible results of God’s judgment upon an individual according to his works:
1. The person is condemned eternally according to God’s promise.
He deserves the Lord’s indignation and wrath. The fallen have selfish ambitions. They disobey the ways of their Creator. They do not live for the Glory of God. For them, there will be “tribulation and anguish.” God will certainly punish the wicked. Since all who are descendent from Adam are wicked, both Jew and non-Jew, any hope of special treatment is pure fantasy.

2. The person receives God’s promise of life eternal; glory, honor and immortality.
The only just hope of eternal blessing is perseverance in doing good. It must be done with a continuing and infallibly perfect committed effort. This is what must justly be awarded to those who are without sin: both of the Jews and of the non-Jews. The point is not that this is a way of salvation. Paul is saying that no one qualifies. This is what makes salvation by grace through the atonement of the Savior necessary.

Only one man, Jesus Christ has persevered in righteousness. Since no one is perfect in his obedience, there must be a means of justification other than personal merit. It is the way of Grace. Grace does not circumvent the law or justice. It satisfies it.

The Bible teaches a universality of punishment
which is deserved by every human soul.

Human distinctions make no difference in God’s Judgment. In verse 11 Paul tells us this directly.

Romans 2:11, “For there is no partiality with God.”

God is no respecter of persons. In Colossians 3:25 Paul wrote, “But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality.”

We know from what God tells us in his word, that some fallen and undeserving people are saved from the wrath they justly deserve. On what basis are they saved then, if not by the works they have done? Election to salvation is not based upon anything the individual has done, or upon some favoritism by personal merit. Electing Grace is an eternal decree of God to display his power and mercy. When his redeemed children stand in eternal judgment it is judged that the penalty of their sins has been paid in full by the Savior, and that the Savior’s good works have been credited to them. The good works they have produced in their lives are evidence of that change in their soul by the power of God.

He who expects special treatment, is dead in his sins and will suffer God’s just wrath forever. He who repents and rests humbly in Christ will be judged to be righteous and holy forever. In this gospel promise we find a revealed hope, a certainty, that replaces our fantasies with God’s truth.

(The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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About Bob Burridge

I've taught Science, Bible, Math, Computer Programming and served 25 years as Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Pinellas Park, Florida. I'm now Executive Director of the ministry of the Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies

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